American roads are legendary for a reason. Long and wide, they wind through this county, offering unforgettable motorcycling experiences to both homegrown and visiting foreign riders.
But with so many fantastic roads in the U.S., their sheer number can be intimidating. How can you know which road to ride first?
Here is a simple starter list of 10 roads in the U.S. that should be on any rider’s bucket list. It’s hardly enough to do justice to the many beauties this country has tucked away in its mountains, valleys, and deserts—but it’s a start.
Blue Ridge Parkway—Virginia/North Carolina
An old standby if there ever was one, the Blue Ridge Parkway has attracted motorcyclists to its gently sweeping curves since it opened in the 1940s. A National Parkway and an All-American Road, Blue Ridge Parkway takes riders through Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over 469 miles and 29 counties.
Running the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway traipses Forest Service property all the way, ensuring dramatic scenery and stunning views.
The Parkway offers motorcyclists a unique, sinuous ballet of a road, with seemingly endless corners winding through gorgeous forests. This is a popular destination, so you will most likely not have the road to yourself. With a maximum posted speed of 45 mph, it’s best to lean back in the saddle and enjoy the rhythm of the flowing turns.
There are plenty of turn-outs to take a rest or let traffic clear. Corners can be tight and the road demands attention, especially with the amount of traffic in both directions.
Carmel Valley Road—California
Standing as an excellent adjunct when visiting the Monterey Bay and the Central Coast, Carmel Valley Rd makes a great day ride. From the mouth of Carmel Valley, all the way to Greenfield on US 101, Carmel Valley Rd features several distinct characteristics.
The 53 miles of sinuous two-lane road cut directly through the high-dollar real estate of Carmel Valley, with numerous venues for eating. A few miles up, in the village at mid-valley, you’ll come to Moto Talbott, a wonderful motorcycle museum with some unexpected two-wheeled treasures.
Heading east, the scenery becomes more barren, with the thick tree cover eventually opening up to a lovely, sprawling valley. The pavement is equally wide-ranging, with potholed, unmaintained asphalt giving way to stretches of sublime blacktop.
The constant application of throttle, brakes, clutch, and gears makes for a wonderfully fun and rewarding moto workout. Take water and snacks as there’s not much past the village. In Greenfield, there are several authentic Mexican restaurants.
Return the same way or ride around Monterey Bay, looping back at Salinas. This is Steinbeck country.
Million Dollar Highway—Colorado
The portion of US 550 known as the Million Dollar Highway begins in Ouray, CO (ice climbing capital of the world) and weaves through the San Juan Mountains to the town of Silverton in the south. The ride itself is only 24 miles, but what 24 miles those are.
Holding some of the most dramatic views of valleys and mountain ranges, the Million Dollar Highway possesses enough raw beauty to fill a day. The climb out of Ouray (or the descent into it, if you’re traveling north) is made up of sharp switchbacks.
Ascending into the mountains, the road opens up and rewards you with tremendous views. All along the route are tiny enclaves—some active, some abandoned—with several ghost mining villages that speak of other types of sought-after millions.
This is Colorado, with summits reaching 11,000 feet, so you’d be well-advised to check the weather as storms can roll in. Spring, summer, and fall are the best months for two wheels and offer sublime riding with striking backdrops. Panoramic views abound and the mountain landscape is populated by black bears, deer, elk, and mountain goats.
There are several urban myths about how the highway got its name. The most popular one claims that in the 1930s when the road was repaved, it cost an estimated $1 million per mile.
If you want to extend the ride, keep on heading south to Durango (a charming little town to refuel and eat), turn east on US 160, and pick up SR 149 at South Fork. Lesser known and teeming with lusty turns and amazing scenery, this ride is long but rewarding, with much less traffic.
Curvy roads with long travel times always pique a motorcyclist’s curiosity. Hana Highway on the Hawaiian island of Maui is just one such road.
Known as the Road to Hana, it is a narrow piece of asphalt that twists its way for 65 miles along SR 36 and 360, connecting the town of Hana and Kahului. Yet, the ride takes around two and a half hours as it traverses 59 bridges, of which 46 are single-lane crossings.
In between are an estimated 620 corners that ramble through vibrant tropical rainforest. The bridges date back to 1910 and are still in use, the only exception being Bailey Bridge which was put up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace one that was claimed by erosion.
The SR 36 portion consists of urban streets, a divided highway, and a high-speed rural highway, whereas SR 360 becomes a narrow and winding low-speed road mostly through mountains and rainforest. The road grants access to the communities of Keanae, Wailua, and Nahiku, and you’ll reach Hana at mile 34.
This is Hawaii, so it’s probably going to rain. That said, the sprinkles are frequent but often short-lived. Proceed with caution, as the dense tree cover keeps the moisture on the road and fallen leaves can make for a slippery riding surface.
Historic Route 66—Nationwide
US 66—better known and immortalized as Route 66—is a remnant of the original American road trip, the road that sparked America’s love affair with the automobile. Although we’re usually more fond of what the road once was than what remains of it today, Route 66 is still a uniquely American gem.
Route 66 stretches for 2,448 miles from Chicago, IL, all the way to the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles. Along the route are decaying fragments of a once vibrant past.
The roadside diners, motels, and gas stations that fed and refueled America’s insatiable thirst for travel are mostly gone, but in some cases they have been brought back as museums and historical attractions.
Route 66 has become a legend, attracting visitors from all over the globe. It was the primary route for migrants headed west during the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s. John Stenbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath immortalized the road in the popular imagination.
Unfortunately, Route 66, along with so many of the small towns it passed through, fell victim to the new Interstate system in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Ultimately, Route 66 was officially removed from the U.S. Highway System in 1985.
It’s worth the trouble to find the areas of Route 66 that have been resurrected as tourist stops. The riding is going to be primarily of the upright, sightseeing type.
Trail Ridge Road—Colorado
Known as the Highway to the Sky, this gem of a road in Rocky Mountain National Park is situated in one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the country. Offering numerous switchbacks and rolling corners with dramatic panoramas of the Rockies, the road’s most popular section is the 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake.
A full 11 miles of the route are above the treeline, the evergreen forests tapering off at the 11,500-foot mark. The remaining elevation to the 12,183-foot peak is unobstructed for spectacular views.
The road quickly ascends through forests of aspen and ponderosa pine into thick batches of fir and spruce. Near the peak, you can see stunted, wind-battered shrubs clinging on for dear life.
It gets cold and windy up on top, so prepare accordingly. If you choose to brave Trail Ridge Rd, you’ll be rewarded with vistas sweeping north to Wyoming and east across the front range to the Great Plains.
Beware of wildlife, which includes elk and the somewhat larger and more stubborn moose. The Trail Ridge Rd is one of the 10 America’s Byways in Colorado and has been designated an All-American Road.
Pacific Coast Highway—California
I’ve ridden this route so many times it is practically imprinted on my mind. The Pacific Coast Highway, or SR 1, offers what I believe to be the best combination of road and scenery.
The awe-inspiring two-lane stretch between Hearst Castle in San Simeon and the lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea in the north is a particular highlight. In between lie roughly 90 miles of beautiful pavement that sinuously straddles the craggy coastline.
The highway’s graceful bends are lined with tall pines and redwoods with the Pacific Ocean on one side and tall cliffs and mountains on the other.
However, the Pacific Coast Highway pays for its remoteness and rugged scenery with frequent road closures due to landslides. Check with Caltrans to ensure the road is open before you head out for the roller coaster ride.
Numerous pullouts allow you to savor the mighty Pacific crashing on the coastline. Amenities are sparse and tend to be pricey, and gas is in limited supply.
The road tends to get packed with crowds of tourists. Go during off months, though, and you may just be lucky enough to have a perfect motorcycling day with the road all to yourself.
For a unique riding experience, give US 1 to Florida’s Key West a try. Passing through enclaves with names like Key Largo and Theater of the Sea, the Keys have their own special kind of romanticism.
US 1 is perhaps one of the easiest routes to navigate as there’s no way to take a wrong turn. Once you depart Miami and leave the mainland, you’ll traverse 42 bridges (including the Seven-Mile Bridge, Florida’s longest) that take you across 44 individual islands that make up the Keys.
Just follow the white asphalt roadway and the bridges that carry you over the water all the way to the terminus at Key West, the southernmost point in the continental U.S. Start with a full tank and refuel every chance you get, as the road is 98 miles long with few gas stations.
Riding US 1 is as close to being on the water while riding a motorcycle that you can get. The route is only slightly elevated off the sea, which gives you a strange sensation of floating—alongside 36-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean.
The end point at Key West sits just 18 feet above sea level. This small enclave of cross streets and quaint homes was home to Ernest Hemingway. There are several eateries and bars that like to brag about his patronage in years gone by.
There’s something to be said for arriving at land’s end. It gives a definitive marker to your travels.
Being part of the Caribbean, the Keys are subject to rapidly changing weather. Hurricane season runs June to November.
Going-to-the-Sun Road may be only 60 miles long, but it’s one of the most beautiful roads in the continental U.S. Traditionally focused on the route from West Glacier to St. Mary, the road passes through Glacier National Park.
As Going-to-the-Sun Road is blasted out of granite cliffs, you can expect sheer rock faces and drops, alongside hairpin twists and turns. The route is lined with glacial lakes and waterfalls, all against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
The road itself is an engineering marvel, which gives riders the unusual benefit of being able to see the best views of the area from the seat of their motorcycle. The name originates from a Blackfoot legend of a spirit who came down from the sun to teach the Native Americans how to hunt. He left them an image of himself as he ascended back to the sun.
Going-to-the-Sun Road offers a unique opportunity to unite with nature, the unspoiled landscape unspooling at every turn with dramatic views of the sloping Rockies. Water and food are limited, so stock up and prepare accordingly. There’s no gas available, so fuel up before you start out.
Be aware of strict speed limits between 25-45 mph. The best time of year to tackle this road is June to October, as it’s closed in winter. Get on the road early to avoid the inevitable crush of tourist traffic.
Ocean Drive—Rhode Island
The 10-mile-long Ocean Drive might be short, but it’s packed with commanding coastline of the Atlantic as it twists in and out of small picturesque coves with white sand beaches. You’ll pass by mansions from the Gilded Age in the vicinity of where Jackie Kennedy grew up.
Rhose Island is a playground for the well-to-do, and there are a number of iconic stops, such as Hammersmith Farm and Gooseberry Beach, as well as the Ida Lewis Yacht Club and New York Yacht Club. Other attractions include the Eisenhower House and Fort Adams State Park.
If you travel here in summer, you’ll be treated to a full schedule of fairs and festivals to keep you busy. Conversely, winter makes travel unpredictable, especially on a motorcycle.
If you want a truly memorable experience, get up for a dawn ride. At daybreak, the sky is painted in dramatic palettes of red and pink to greet the rising sun. Sunset also presents its share of stupendous colors, but you’ll be sharing the road with more travelers.