The great American highways might have been created with cars and trucks in mind, but there’s no better way to feel the open road than on a motorcycle. For those who are craving some nature and some time behind the handlebars, it’s easy to get both when you take a cruise on America’s most beautiful roads.
If you’re looking to see the wonders of the USA on the back of your favorite bike, here are eight must-do rides. Some are reasonably newbie-friendly, while others are challenging roads best suited to experts. Each one offers a unique experience that shows you something great about the backcountry corners of America, and each will give you a greater appreciation of the exquisite scenery in the Land of the Free.
- Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia/North Carolina)
The Blue Ridge Mountains are some of America’s oldest and most beautiful natural features and, as luck would have it, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 500-mile road created specifically to allow you to enjoy them. Get your friends together, sync your helmet communication systems and enjoy a group ride on these beautiful mountain passes. You’ll find not one but two spectacular national parks along its length: the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Shenandoah in Virginia. If you don’t mind some crowds, come in the fall for a truly spectacular display of the colors of autumn leaves.
- Pacific Coast Highway (California)
An iconic route for the development of west coast biker culture, the PCH stretches over 650 miles up and down the coast of California. The best views (and some of the most challenging conditions) are generally agreed to be in the route’s central Big Sur section, but just about any section of this highway will provide some famous scenery. Note that since it’s also a major state road, traffic can easily ruin the fun, so scout out a section ahead of time and find out from the locals which times you can catch a quieter ride.
- Beartooth Highway (Montana/Wyoming)
A ride for the true wilderness lover, the Beartooth Highway snakes its way through the mountains of Montana and Wyoming and is crowned with a glorious summit called the Top of the World that clocks in at a whopping 11,000 feet. Go just another 50 miles or so, and you’re in Yellowstone National Park, another of America’s true natural gems, and Old West aficionados should make sure not to miss the town of Cody, home of Buffalo Bill. Note that the Beartooth requires more attention to weather conditions than some other routes since it’s prone to everything from extreme winds to mid-summer snow.
- The Twisted Sisters (Texas)
Looking to push your riding skills to the limit? The infamous Twisted Sisters route of Texas will test you like no other. These three country roads form a 100-mile loop that’s infamous for its challenging twists, dips and hairpins. Like a lot of skill rides, the Sisters are best experienced with a group of friends to enjoy the views with and look after one another, so grab your buddies for this one (and maybe a motorcycle Bluetooth headset to stay connected.)
- Tail of the Dragon (Tennessee)
One of America’s most famous rides, both for its legendary Blue Ridge scenery and the high skill level required, Tennessee’s Tail of the Dragon is a classic piece of motorcycle history that lives on today. Unfortunately, its popularity means that you’ll often have to navigate around swarms of other riders, as well as state troopers looking for an easy ticket, but it’s worth it for what could be the ride of your life. (Check out the nearby Cherohala Skyway, too, which has equally spectacular scenery and is typically less crowded.)
- Oahu (Hawaii)
When it comes to scenery, Hawaii has so many wonderful rides that it’s almost impossible to choose, but touring Oahu by motorcycle is a great choice, thanks to the numerous attractions you can scope out on the way. From the famous dormant volcano called Diamond Head to the heartbreaking beauty of the Oahu North Shore, there’s no shortage of amazing locales to scope out around Oahu. Just beware of sudden rainstorms and fog as you explore these ancient and mysterious islands that form a very different part of America.
- Million Dollar Highway (Colorado)
Colorado has more than its share of scenic riches, but the Million Dollar Highway (US 550 between Ouray and Durango) just might outshine them all, at least from a motorcyclist’s perspective. As if the mountains weren’t enough, you can catch a glimpse of the abandoned Idarado Mine on your way up, a relic of the industry that originally put Colorado on the map. Note that this one isn’t for the faint of heart—the two-lane road hugs the side of the San Juan Mountains for dear life, many sections don’t include a guardrail, and RVs and campers frequently go barreling down the road.
- State Route 36 (California)
The road itself may not have the cultural clout of the PCH, but California’s State Route 36 is a beauty all unto itself. For one thing, it passes through the gorgeous and iconic California redwood forests, and it also offers a gorgeous glimpse of the many mountain ecosystems of the Golden State. It’s also a slightly gentler ride than some others on this list, although riders should still exercise caution around the route’s numerous blind corners.
With such a big and broad country to explore, lots of people swear that the best way to see it is on the back of a bike, and we’re inclined to agree. When it’s time to start planning your next great bike trip, take the opportunity to remind yourself about one thing that’s incredibly right with America: its bounteous natural beauty.