As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

The 10 Most Scenic Motorcycle Routes in the U.S.

Experience America's most beautiful sites from your bike. 

By Trent Jonas

The 10 Most Scenic Motorcycle Routes in the U.S.

There’s nothing that feels quite as free as exploring the United States’ spectacular landscapes from behind the handlebars of motorcycle. From cruising down Hana Highway past waterfalls and black sand beaches to zipping through Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive, experiencing America on a motorcycle can be a breathtaking and unique experience. Here are the 10 most scenic motorcycle routes in the U.S.

Natural Bridges National Monument to Valley of the Gods, UT

Start with the stunning loop road in Natural Bridges National Monument, then take Utah Highway 61 south toward Mexican Hat. As you approach the edge of Cedar Mesa, you’ll be required to descend more than 1,000 feet in about three miles, as you negotiate the unpaved switchbacks of Moki Dugway. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view over Valley of the Gods, out to Monument Valley and the Four Corners. At the base of the dugway, take the Valley of the Gods scenic loop—be careful if it’s been raining, it can be muddy and slick! Clean up and relax at the Hat Rock Inn in Mexican Hat.  The next day, explore Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation, then head up to Bluff, Utah, and visit the Bears Ears National Monument Education Center, where you can learn more about the cultural and archaeological significance of the monument and find a whole lot more to explore on your bike.

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Paia to Haleakala Summit via Hana Highway, Maui, HI

Start early in the morning, and grab a box lunch at Hana Picnic Lunch Company in Paia, then slide down the street to Paia Bowls for coffee, a smoothie, and/or a quick breakfast. Then jump on your bike and hit the famous Road to Hana. You’ll drive along the winding, switch-backing road for more than 50 miles, passing waterfalls, black sand beaches, taro farms, and sweeping Pacific Ocean views as you traverse Maui’s rugged, rain-forested north shore to the small town of Hana. Fuel up there before continuing on to the Kipahulu district of Haleakala National Park. Stop to explore the Oheo Gulch before continuing south and west along the earthquake-damaged Pi’ilani Highway, across the La Perouse lava fields, to the Haleakala Highway. Turning right, you’ll head up the road to the summit of Haleakala, a 10,000-foot dormant volcano, where you will wait to watch the spectacular sunset over Molokini Crater in the Alalakeiki Channel before heading back down.

Highway 1 from Santa Barbara to Monterey, CA

Probably the nation’s most famous drive, California Route 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, hugs much of the Golden State’s shoreline. Get the best of what the PCH has to offer by starting in Santa Barbara and driving to San Luis Obispo. From there, continue up Route 1 through the Central Coast’s Big Sur region, where the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains burst dramatically from the Pacific, and the only thing between the mountains and the ocean is the road you’re driving. Allow plenty of time for stopping and enjoying the views (as well as slow traffic) as you wind along the coast all the way to Monterey.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC/VA

The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the spine of the Blue Ridge range of the Appalachian Mountains from the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the southern tip of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the parkway’s beautiful mountain vistas, abundant wildlife, and cultural sites certainly will not disappoint anyone who takes to their motorcycle to explore all this region has to offer. 

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Highway 61, North Shore Drive, MN

Scenic Minnesota Highway 61 stretches from the city of Duluth to the state’s border with Canada, along 150 miles of rugged, forested Lake Superior shoreline. Along the drive, you’ll be treated to waterfalls, lighthouses, rocky promontories, quaint towns, and plenty of gorgeous, unspoiled nature. Be sure to visit the many state parks and waysides along the way. For spectacular views of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains, and the Superior National Forest, stop in at Lutsen Ski Resort and ride the Summit Express Gondola to the top of Moose Mountain. Be sure to stop in the heartachingly scenic town of Grand Marais and have an on-the-water meal at Angry Trout Café

Scenic Byway 12, UT

You really have to drive Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 to understand just how spectacular and diverse the region’s terrain really is. Start in Springdale, Utah, the gateway to Zion National Park. Get an early start so you can take some time to explore the stunning canyon for which the park is named. Leave Zion via Route 9. When you reach Mt. Carmel Junction, head north on U.S. 89. Just when you think you may have already seen the best that Utah had to offer, you’ll encounter the turn onto Scenic Byway 12, and several minutes later, Bryce Canyon National Park. Do not miss Bryce Canyon! Although you’re only an hour and a half or so out of Zion National Park, this is a good place to stop. Find a place to stay in Bryce Canyon City, like Ruby’s Inn, then head into the park to explore the canyon’s otherworldly hoodoos and sweeping views of the Dixie National Forest. From Bryce, continue east and north on route 12, which winds for another 100 miles through the Dixie National Forest and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, even skirting the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. You’ll cross canyon-riddled desert landscape, forested mountains, and even traverse a narrow spine of a ridge no wider than the road, itself. When you reach the end of route 12, you’ll be at the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, another of the country’s amazing places to explore.

Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, SD

There is no better way to see all that the Black Hills has to offer than the view offered from the saddle of a motorcycle. And the best way to see the best of the Black Hills is to drive the length of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, which traverses Custer State Park, the Black Hills National Forest, and Mount Rushmore National Monument. The parkway affords views of some of the Black Hills’ wildest and most rugged terrain, as well as vistas of Mt. Rushmore, itself. Take advantage of your location to visit nearby Wind Cave National Park, which, like adjacent Custer State Park, is home to a herd of bison and several other species of wildlife. Jewel Cave National Monument is less than half an hour west of the byway loop, and Badlands National Park, about an hour east of the Black Hills, also has a starkly beautiful and otherworldly scenic drive that should not be missed.

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

No list of scenic motorcycle drives would be complete without mentioning Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road, U.S. 34. Start in either Estes Park or Grand Lake, Colorado, and follow the road through the park, across the ceiling of the country. At places, you’ll reach altitudes of 12,000 feet, affording sweeping alpine vistas across mountain tundra and through the Rocky Mountains. Stop often to hike, explore, and enjoy the majestic scenery. 

U.S. 31 from Manistee to Mackinaw City, MI

Some of the most spectacular scenery, and quaintest towns and villages, that the Great Lakes State has to offer can be found along U.S. Route 31 from Manistee to Mackinaw City. Be sure to stop off and enjoy all that Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petoskey have to offer. Don’t miss the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4-mile loop through Sleep Bear Dunes National Monument with sweeping views across Lake Michigan. If you’re up to it, press on from Mackinaw City, across the Mackinac Bridge, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where there’s plenty more to explore, including the Hiawatha and Ottawa National Forests, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the coastlines of three Great Lakes.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Running 105 miles along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Skyline Drive is the only public road in Shenandoah National Park—and with the amazing vistas and natural beauty that it has to offer, that’s just fine. The west side of the drive offers stunning Appalachian views across the Shenandoah Valley, while the rolling Piedmont hill country dominates the eastern horizon. Be sure to gas up before you head into the park, though, as fuel is not available within its boundaries.  

As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

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