Travel

The Most Scenic Motorcycle Rides in America, According to Bikers

Tight turns and big views on an iron horse.

Hitting the open road on a scenic drive is extremely gratifying. But do it on a motorcycle with the wind whipping around you as you plough over the pavement and it's downright spiritual. Whether you're winding through the legendary roadways of the Black Hills or skittering along the clouds of the North Cascades, blasting past the seafood shacks of the Gulf Coast or the dunes of the Great Lakes, there’s something uniquely special about taking a road trip via iron horse. 

For a look at some of America's greatest motorcycle trips, we tapped into a network of pros who have made the road a way of life. Follow their directions to surreal stretches of pavement that will take you through cities and wildernesses you'll never forget -- then forge your own path and find your own perfect stretch of road. 

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Sonoma County, California
The bridge over Lake Sonoma | Gary Saxe / moment / getty images

Stewarts Point, Northern California

“There is a road in Northern California which is quite special: Heading north on the 101 just past Healdsburg is the exit for Dry Creek Road (through the Dry Creek Valley). As you ride up toward Lake Sonoma, the road veers off to the left and becomes Skaggs Spring Road, which is one of the most incredible motorcycling roads in the US. 

"The asphalt is smooth but seasoned enough that the grip is perfect, which is critical because it’s easy for the eyes to wander when taking in the rolling hills. The corners are a perfect combination of sweepers, off camber, and elevation changes where you find your gear and your rhythm, then just throttle through like you’re waltzing with your 158-horse-power partner.

“Just as you feel as though you’ve caught your stride on this two-lane masterpiece, the road narrows, the surface changes, and you’re now covered in a canopy of trees. The previously arid temperatures are now cooling down, moisture is entering your lungs, and you tense up since the rhythm has been replaced -- and it’s exhilarating. There are points of this road where the roots from giant redwoods have created natural launches to catch that brief moment of air, and the patchwork of tar sealant has your backend sliding.

“As you crest the hill and slow down through a little Rancheria and start to catch a whiff of the salted air and a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, the road comes to a stop at Highway 1 and Stewarts Point. This is a road I will never tire of, because every time I venture out there, it feels like the first time.” -- Jason Chinnock, CEO, Ducati North America

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Sedona, Arizona
Coffee Pot Rock is one of many wild sights | Gunter Marx / Corbis Documentary / getty images

Flagstaff to Sedona, Arizona

“(Arizona State Route 89A) is about 27 miles of some of the most gorgeous views in America, especially as you drive through Oak Creek Canyon. 

“About 14 miles south of Flagstaff, you'll be in the higher regions of the canyon, so make sure to stop at the overlook at Oak Creek Canyon Vista to see what you're about to ride into. There's also a walking pathway there and a visitor's center. Often Native American artisans sell their crafts and jewelry.

“Just past the Vista one heck of an epic ride awaits, with tight hairpin turns and switchbacks complete with breathtaking views of aspen, oak, and maple forests; waterfalls, red rocks and cliffs. Honestly, you might want to do this ride twice: once real slow to take in the views, then again at a slightly faster pace to enjoy tossing your bike through curves. 

“There are also a lot of places along 89A where you can stop and just take in the views. Another popular place to stop is Slide Rock State Park, essentially God's version of a 30-foot-long water slide. It's called 'Slide Rock' because, after millions of years of flowing water, the rock has been smoothed into a natural slide. Most people take a ride down it in their jeans. It's definitely a must-do, especially on hot days. 

“Once you reach Sedona, it's just a great place to take in more of Arizona's beautiful colors. The ride from Flagstaff along 89A only takes about 40 to 45 minutes, so there's plenty of time to enjoy it a few more times.” -- Autumn Holley, biker and fitness model

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Hudson River Valley, New York

“My favorite ride is the great city escape from Manhattan out into the winding roads of the Hudson River Valley in New York. The fall season makes for an utterly beautiful ride with the temperatures being cooler and the changing colors of tree leaves.

“Take Seven Lakes Road out of Sloatsburg through Harriman State Park to Perkins Memorial Drive in Bear Mountain State Park for the lookout across the valley. Then go down to the river and head north up to West Point. Follow the 218 up to Cornwall-on-Hudson for a quaint lunch and walk around town. For the return take the 9 out of Cornwall, then hook up to the 19 for some great country roads to erase any stress from your day, week, or month.” -- Jennifer Hoyer, media relations manager, the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy

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Study Butte, Texas
West Texas roads stretch to infinity | Oliver Strewe / the image bank / getty images

The 166/118 Loop near Marfa, Texas

“First off, I highly recommend staying in Marfa, as it is one of the weirdest (read: coolest) places I have ever been. Be sure to stay at El Cosmico, which is an incredible campground that has old Airstreams turned into ‘hotel’ rooms (pro tip: call 24 hours before you arrive and have a wood-burning hot tub waiting outside your room).

“I rode this loop clockwise because I headed out from Marfa on 90 headed west to go find the Prada Marfa art installation. After taking some photos, I backtracked to Route 505, which hooked up with 166. I took a left on 166 and headed up and around Mount Livermore until the road ended. I took a right on 118, and man this route did NOT disappoint: great elevation changes; long, fast sweepers; some peg scrapers; and beautiful vistas. At one point you see the McDonald Observatory in the distance, which I had never seen before and it is a sight to behold: massive telescopes coming out of the desert with nothing else around. I am dying to go back and shoot the night sky here.

“As you get to the end of 118, take a right on 17 and as you come into Fort Davis I highly recommend stopping at Fort Davis Drug Store, an awesome old-timey diner to grab a flat-top burger and maybe the best milkshake I have ever had. Then just follow 17 back to Marfa and try not go directly into a food coma.” -- Anthony Carrino, official Triumph ambassador

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 Malibu, California
Take a quick pit stop in Malibu | BROOK PIFER / DigitalVision / getty images

Southern California Coast/Ojai

“There's a reason people love riding in California. You can get beautiful coastal views, breathe in the salty ocean air, then head skyward, carving your bike through the switchbacks as you weave your way up the mountains. 

“I start on Highway 1 -- AKA Pacific Coast Highway -- (in Santa Monica) and make my way up along the coast. This part of the ride is best done slow and easy so you can take in the views of the ocean and all the fancy cars, houses, and people as you pass through Malibu. You'll be on the coastal highway for 40-some miles before you have to connect up with US-101 for a bit. And from 101, once you see the signs for CA-33 N: that's your exit!

“The first several miles of California State Route 33 are nothing special. But you will pass through Casitas Springs, once home to Johnny Cash. Continue on CA-33 for about 7 miles, and you'll reach Ojai. People also say there's something spiritual and magnetic about the Ojai Valley, and I have to agree. Go there once, and it imprints on you, keeps calling you back.

“Now we get to the EPIC part of the ride. CA-33 north of Ojai, where there's a good 38 miles of twisting, winding, curving, beautifully paved road that cuts through Los Padres National Forest. Around some of the curves you're surrounded by a wall of rock, but trees and shrubs seem to just grow out of the rock wall and reach out into the road. In other areas, you'll see large rocks jutting out of the ground seemingly smoothed over by wind.

“Riding CA-33 is where you really get to bond with your bike. The hairpin turns left and right, the gradient changes... all force you to remain focused on one thing: your ride. And once you do, it's meditative and an adrenaline rush at the same time. If you ever hear motorcyclists talk about ‘dancing’ with their bikes, this is one place to do it.” -- Andria Yu, certified RiderCoach for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation

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Portland to Sumpter, Oregon

“This route is like a journey back in time starting in the heart of Portland, (then moving) over the dormant volcano called Mt. Hood, into amber waves of grain in farm country, through the canyons of prehistoric lands, and back up the mountains to a small gold mining city in eastern Oregon... sometimes touted the most remote area in the lower 48. 

“This (roughly 350 mile) trip is like a perfect slice of the American NW, filled with everything from urban landscapes to rivers, mountains, and canyons to small mining towns. Not to mention the road less traveled. Enjoy hundreds of miles of twisty roads and some landmarks along the way. 

“The town of Sumpter is a little community in the mountains with a few hotels and local bars. You can tour the old mining dredge or go fishing along the many streams and lakes in the area. The weather changes on a dime so pack everything. 

"“It’s not an easy ride, so take your time. Some cool things to check out along the way include the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood; the location of the Rajneesh Cult in Antelope; a cool snake in the road in Big Bend; dino bones in Fossil; the Painted Hills in Condon; and an old gas station in Ukiah." -- Thor Drake, owner of See See Motor Coffee Co. (Portland, Oregon)

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Kelly's Drive Philadelphia
Kelly Road is Philly's true golden road | By SK Photography / shutterstock

Kelly Drive, Philadelphia

“This scenic stretch of road travels alongside the Schuylkill River, connecting the outskirts of the city to downtown Philly. The route is often underestimated by the under-experienced rider. I made my riding bones on many late night/early morning rides on Kelly Drive.

“Kelly Drive is best ridden when there is little to no traffic about, thus going for a ride somewhere around or after the midnight hour is most satisfying. The route includes a selection of flowing sweepers, short straights, and a few technical corners. With the river at your left or right depending on your direction of travel, a dash of moonlight or the crispy dawn air, it is an undeniably spiritual ride.

“Avoid morning and evening rush hour. If you’re not a night or early morning rider, the early afternoon is OK. Take a couple of 'sighting laps' to familiarize yourself with the road. It is pretty well-maintained but we are still talking about Philly.” -- Allan Lane, publisher and editor in chief at SportBikes Inc. Magazine

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Woodside to Pescadero, California

“This section of 84 has big, sweeping, fast corners and takes me out to my favorite coast. From there I get to see the Pacific Ocean for a bit on an easy straight section of Highway 1 before turning inward onto Pescadero Creek, a completely different type of road with tight, twisty, slow turns. This loop pushes both of my high and low speed skills to the limit all while taking in the gorgeous scenery. 

“If you’re brand new to riding, this isn’t the road for you: You better have a solid set of cornering skills under your belt before attempting this. With only two lanes, there are always cars and tourists coming from the opposite direction who may not know how to drive these roads nearly as well as they should. Don’t overestimate your abilities and keep your speeds easy, because you’ll easily cross that double yellow line into oncoming traffic if you don’t know what you’re doing." -- Joanne Donn, Gearchic.com

Illinois River Road

“I like the Illinois River Road and riding down to cross the Illinois River by ferry at Kampsville, Illinois, then down and cross back over at Grafton and stop in Alton.

"When you cross the ferry at Kampsville there was a good place to stop and eat right on the river, but due to flooding and changing of hands this place closed and was torn down. But if you continue on to Brussels there is Old Point Pub that has good food. Then you can grab the Brussels Ferry (south dock) and ride that over to Grafton where there are lots of little shops, a great ice cream place, and a couple of nice wineries, including the Hawg Pit BBQ that has a great view of the Mississippi River. You can continue on to Alton and stop by the famous biker bar Fast Eddies.

“I like this route because I love the rivers and watching the water. Taking a motorcycle on the ferry is also a cool experience. The route is very scenic with views of the river and farmland. It has some nice hills and curves but nothing that a flatlander can't handle. It is a very relaxing ride. Because this is a very motorcycle-friendly route you meet other bikers and have a great time.” -- Dellann “Fire Dog,” national road captain for the Leather & Lace Motorcycle Club

Nick Hilden is a contributor for Thrillist.