Classic Roads: Demon’s Backbone (Ohio SR 536)

Classic Roads: Demon’s Backbone (Ohio SR 536)

When thinking of challenging, twisty motorcycling roads, Ohio may not be the first place to pop into your mind. But that’s probably because you haven’t heard of SR 536.

This stretch of asphalt has many names, including the Ohio Dragon and Ohio’s Tail of the Dragon. But what state doesn’t claim to have its own Dragon?

No, the SR 356 is also known by a much more evocative name—the Demon’s Backbone. And let me tell you, the demon’s back is as twisted as his ways.

The Demon’s Backbone begins officially as soon as the New Martinsville Bridge crosses from West Virginia to Ohio, but the first half mile or so is unsigned. Just hang a right at the bridge, then shortly turn left at the entrance to the Hannibal Locks, and you’ll be on the demon’s back.

Of course, you’ll avoid this issue if you simply turn onto the road at the north end off SR 78.

Once you’ve mounted the demon, I hope you’re ready to put in some effort to tame him. The Demon’s Backbone is among the most challenging riding roads in all of Ohio.

It’s one curve after another, with only short sections in between. Some turns are mellow, but you’ll also encounter sharp hairpins that’ll keep you on your toes as you weave through the stunning scenery.

The road goes through very rural surroundings with few homes, although some new ones are being built. Take in the peaceful farmland and the lusciously green (or blazing orange, depending on the time of year) forests at your leisure.

My personal favorite beauty spot was the absolutely gorgeous—albeit brief—vista of rolling hills and bushy trees east from the top of Hannibal Ridge. Sadly, there are no pullouts there, so you might want to slow down for the view.

As usual with remote, curvy rural roads, be cautious of wildlife and remember to give farm vehicles a wide berth.

Some gravel may find its way onto it from farm entrance roads, especially after heavy spring or fall rains. Overall, the pavement is in decent condition and I encountered road crews doing repairs to the more deteriorated sections.

Really, the only downside of the Demon’s Backbone is that he’s not very tall. At roughly 13 miles in length, the curves don’t last all that long.

Then again, that only means that you can turn around and let the demon feel your wheels again on the same day.

Points of Interest

Hannibal Locks and Dam

Located at the south end of the Demon’s Backbone, the Hannibal Locks and Dam are an impressive feat of engineering. Completed in 1975, these concrete locks replaced old wicket-type locks. There are walking trails and picnic areas, as well as a fishing pier on the West Virginia side of the river.

Once here, you should also check out the Ohio Valley River Museum, housed in the Hannibal Locks and Dam visitor center. The museum has exhibits and displays detailing the history of riverboats and other ways to traverse and manage the Ohio River. It’s a great way to stretch your legs out of the saddle before heading back onto the Backbone.

Kiedaisch Point Park

Kiedaisch Point Park, located off of the Demon’s Backbone, provides a different view of the Ohio River and the Hannibal Locks. Rising high above the surrounding terrain, Kiedaisch Point lets you marvel not only at the river but also at the rolling hills stretching far beyond New Martinsville on the opposite shore.

Yet, there’s more to do at Kiedaisch Point than just staring at the Ohio River. The park offers several hiking trails for the sportsy, while picnic tables let you have a more relaxed day. But the greatest secret of the park is the Kiedaisch Wall, a sheer crag cliff that accommodates both new and seasons rock climbers.

Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum

If you can tear yourself a bit farther away from the Demon’s Backbone, the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum in Barnesville is well worth a visit. Located some 25 miles from the north end of the Backbone, this house museum is a beautiful (and affordable) time machine back to the 19th century.

The red brick and sandstone mansion was completed in 1893 and housed the Bradfield family until 1965. Now serving as a museum, its 26 rooms are impeccably restored with gorgeously extravagant Victorian furniture and decoration. If you’ve ever wondered what utter luxury looked like some 150 years ago, this is where you can find out.

Historic Monroe Theatre

The Historic Monroe Theatre in Woodsfield (near the north end of the Demon’s Backbone) was originally built in 1939 but eventually fell into disrepair. Reopened in 2019, the venue is once again alive with the sound of music, drama, movies, and all other kinds of arts and entertainment for all ages.

If you’re into theater or live music, check the show schedule before your Backbone ride. Even if you’re not one for the performing arts, it’s worth dropping by to see the venue itself. Major restoration work is underway to bring everything about the theater back to its former glory.

Demon’s Triangle

If the Backbone didn’t satisfy your urge for demonic riding, why not extend your moto trip by tackling the entirety of the Demon’s Triangle? Demon’s Backbone is just one part of this route that circles Monroe County.

The Demon’s Triangle servers up more twists and turns through the hilly Ohio countryside. It’s a lot of fun, challenging riding that takes you through small towns, beautiful woods, grazing cows, and more. The Triangle shows the demon’s back isn’t his only ride-worthy body part.

Facts & Info

The Sparkman Lake campground in Woodsfield, OH, makes for a great home base for tackling the Demon’s Backbone. It’s a short ride away from SR 536, which lets you nicely warm yourself up before battling the demon. The campground’s cozy and clean cabins and the four-bedroom lodge offer free private parking, so your motorcycle will be safe and sound near your accommodations.

In addition to the Demon’s Backbone, Sparkman Lake is conveniently located for seeing everything else this region has to offer. The nearby Monroe Lake Wildlife Area is a great way to spend a day active off the saddle, and the campground also serves as a gateway to the entirety of the Demon’s Triangle.

Best Time to Travel

Ohio gets snowy, so I can’t recommend tackling the Demon’s Backbone in winter. Otherwise, you’ll find something to enjoy during all other seasons.

If you’d like to see Mother Nature in the nicest clothes this region has to offer, though, time your ride either for spring or fall. In spring, she adorns herself with beautiful wildflowers, while in fall she puts on a gorgeous dress of red, orange, and yellow.