The Ten Best Paved Motorcycle Roads in America
Part Eleven of an Eleven Part Series
By Mark ‘Buck’ King
Over the last fifteen years I have had the privilege and blessing to have ridden almost all of the top motorcycle roads in the country. Practically every bike magazine and web site has at one time or another published their own list of the top roads. All the lists are a little different. Some list many of the same roads, but in a different order. Some add a different road and leave another out. I really don’t think anyone can rank these roads for anyone but themselves. Your opinion might be quite different from mine, but you won’t know that until you ride these roads for yourself. So I encourage you to quit reading articles like this and get out there and ride them for yourself!
So why eleven parts to the series on the top ten roads? That’s because there are many GREAT roads that didn’t make my top ten that just might be on YOUR top ten lists.
Part Eleven – The Other Roads
These are all great roads and on your list some of them might even be among the top ten. They are unranked meaning that any of them could be the #11 on my list. I’ll have a few words about each and try to let you know why they didn’t make my top ten.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The BRP celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2010. It was a product of the New Deal’s efforts to provide jobs to the unemployed of the Great Depression. Construction began in September 1935 at Cumberland Knob near the North Carolina and Virginia state line. Again, because we are there and ride parts of it often, we take it for granted.
The concept was to create a connection between the Shenandoah National Park and the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The last section was completed in 1983. The 469 mile Parkway’s history has been highlighted by documentarian Ken Burns in the six-part “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” series originally aired on PBS.
Most of us have ridden portions of the BRP so I really don’t need to say much more about it. To find out more and plan a ride this web site can be very useful:
The Kancamagus Highway, also known as "The Kanc," is a 34.5 mile scenic drive along New Hampshire's Route 112 in the northern part of the state. It is well known as one of the best Fall Foliage viewing areas in the country.
The Kancamagus Scenic Byway takes you through the White Mountain National Forest with breathtaking views of the White Mountains, the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge. The Kanc takes you to an elevation of just under 3,000 feet at its highest point at Kancamagus Pass on the flank of Mt. Kancamagus near Lincoln, NH.
I rode this highway in 2004 during the summer, but a trip in autumn would be much more colorful. The Kanc needs to be combined with some other itinerary points in New England to make a longer ride worth the journey from Tennessee.
Angeles Crest Highway
The Angeles Crest Highway, CA2 runs 66 miles between Flintridge and Mountain Top junction at CA138.
The concept for this scenic highway was developed in 1912, and the funding allocated beginning in 1919. The construction, piece by piece, started in 1929 and continued until 1956, with the exception of the years 1941 through 1946 during WWII.
The route ascends up and winds its way through 66 miles of the Angeles National Forest, through the San Gabriel mountain range with views overlooking the Los Angeles basin.
The twisties on the Angeles Crest Highway rival any I have seen anywhere. No one from the Los Angeles area needs to come east to ride Deal’s Gap because they have the equivalent right in their back yard.
Most of us have been to East Tennessee to ride the “Tail of the Dragon” multiple times so I won’t say much about this famous and for some who crash infamous road. In fact, on my first visit years ago the Highway Patrol had closed the lower end so that a life flight helicopter could land and take one asphalt surfer to the hospital.
It is considered by many as one of the world's foremost motorcycling and sports car roads. Anyone looking for an exciting highway will enjoy the 318 turns on this 11 mile stretch of US129. But be careful not to wind up nailing parts to the “Tree of Shame.”
The Pikes Peak Highway is a 19 mile toll road that runs from Cascade, Colorado to the summit of Pikes Peak in El Paso County, at an altitude of 14,115 feet.
The road to the summit is now (since 2013) paved all the way to the top. When I rode to the top a few years (2007) ago the upper third of the road was still gravel. I can see that the last third would be somewhat easier without slipping in gravel on those very tight switchbacks.
The paving was the result of a settlement from a 1998 lawsuit from the Sierra Club, which claimed that gravel runoff from the original road had polluted streams and vegetation on the mountain. The Colorado Springs government spent a decade slowly paving parts of the top 12.5 mile portion of the road.
The pavement has totally changed the character of the annual Pike’s Peak Hill Climb for automobiles now that there is asphalt all the way to the top.
The switchbacks are the tightest I have ever seen, even with paving all the way to the top this road is not for the faint in heart.
While you are this close to Colorado Springs be sure and visit the Garden of the Gods for some more incredible scenery.
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway begins at the junction of Interstate 70 and State Highway 103 near Idaho Springs, Colorado. The byway is 28 miles long and gains over 7,000 feet of elevation. Achieving a final elevation of 14,130 feet, this is the highest paved road in North America. It is only a few feet higher than Pike’s Peak.
As you climb Mt. Evans it feels as though you are going to meet the clouds before you make it to the summit. The pictures don’t really capture the beauty of the big blue Colorado sky and those pure white clouds. The magnificence of the scene is almost overwhelming.
Like Pike’s Peak, these switchbacks are tight. I was glad not to be doubling anyone the day I rode up to the summit.
You GS guys should be proud of me. That’s me on the Wing riding a gravel road!!!
The Oh-My-God Road (sometimes spelled Oh-My-Gawd) is a very scenic 8.46 mile long trail located near Idaho Springs, CO. It links Idaho Springs to Central City near Highway 119. The road includes 12% grade sections as elevations go from 7,581 to 9,383 feet.
It is smooth and wide in almost all places, and would be easy to travel on a street bike or even in a passenger car. And there are no guard rails to obstruct the scenic views.
The Mother Road, Main Street America, Will Rogers Highway or whatever you choose to call it is the most famous road in America. Linking Chicago to Santa Monica most of the original road has been replaced by the Interstate Highway System much to the demise of little towns who were bypassed and destined to become ghost towns like Glen Rio, TX. What little is left of this town sits on the Texas – New Mexico border. I-40 was routed north of town less than a mile but it still sealed the town’s death warrant. The picture of me on the wing is in Glen Rio where the Route 66 marker was painted on a stretch of the original Mother Road.
Another of my favorite spots on the Mother Road is Shamrock, TX where this iconic Art Deco gas station has been restored to new condition by the historical society there. It was named the “U Drop Inn” and in its heyday offered a gas station, a café, and a small motel.
There is something very emotional about being on some of these original Mother Road stretches.
Do a little research, decide where you want to go back in time, and then seek it out. It makes me feel like a little boy again in the back of the station wagon headed from Dallas to Los Angeles to see my Aunt Lois and Uncle Leslie.
Tucumcari, New Mexico is another classic Route 66 town that fared better than some. The iconic Blue Swallow Motel is still in operation there. It offered a small one-car garage next to every room.
There are several Route 66 museums along the route. My favorite is the one in Clinton, OK. Riding the Mother Road is like riding a piece of history. Don’t miss this experience!
I have ridden the entire length of the Trace several times both northbound and southbound. It was originally a network of trails blazed by Indians. The Trace is reported to have been traveled in part by famed Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto. It experienced its heaviest use from 1785 to 1820 by the “Kaintuck” boatmen
who floated the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. They sold their cargo and boats and began the trek back north on foot to Nashville and points beyond. In those days folks called it the Devil's Backbone because its remote, thick forest was home to deadly snakes and equally dangerous bandits. The Natchez Trace Parkway was established May 18, 1938 as a national scenic byway.
We all know the northern end better because we are so close to it and it is certainly ‘twistier’ but the southern end has a charm all its own punctuated by Spanish moss and a couple of beautiful lakes.
Some riders have told me they never ride the whole length because they get bored. Personally, nothing is more medicinal to my soul than to have hours to think through and solve some of my problems. I have a little embroidered pillow my sister gave me that says, “You never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office.”
If you decided to ride all the way to the end in Natchez sometime, consider doing it in April or October and then run down to the Louisiana State Prison in Angola, LA for the Angola Prison Rodeo. This is one of the last prison rodeos still held. I promise, you will get a kick out of it!!
Lolo Pass Idaho
US12 from Kooskia, ID to Lolo, MT is about 135 miles of pure fun. There are some tight turns but for the most part these are big sweeping turns that are great to ride at high speed. Oops, I mean at the posted speed limit. Steve Stratz and I were on this road chasing a Corvette and had a great time. We decided to back off a little and let the ‘Vette go. Turns out it was a good decision because we did catch him a few miles later after the Idaho Highway Patrol had pulled him over.
Ride this one both ways to get the full experience the road has to offer.
Lolo Pass (US12) was completed in 1962 and reaches its highest elevation of 5,233 feet at the pass itself. The road passes through the Bitterroot Range of the northern Rocky Mountains.
Lolo Pass was used by Nez Perce in the 18th century, and by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, guided by Old Toby of the Shoshone, on their westward snowbound journey in September 1805.
The same sign that says “Curves Ahead” also says “no services next 75 miles” so make sure you fill up in Kooskia or in Lolo before entering this highway because there's nothing but trees, rivers and twisty roads for lots of miles! At the north eastern end of the road, try KT's Hayloft in Lolo, MT (Intersection of Hwy 12 and Hwy 93) for breakfast or lunch!
Most of us ride the Cherohala Skyway on the way to Deal’s Gap so I think we are all pretty familiar with the sweeping turns and scenic vistas the road provides.
From Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC the road covers just about 50 miles. The Cherohala Skyway was opened in 1996. The road has been designated a National Scenic Byway. It cost over $100 million to construct. The Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.
Fall is a great time to ride the Cherohala. Just remember it can be anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees cooler at the higher elevations than it is in Tellico Plains on the Tennessee end or in Robbinsville on the North Carolina end.
The Cabot Trail
I’m stretching the term country again to include all of North America. Nova Scotia tourism officials brag that this is the most scenic drive in the world.
It is the only road in this series of articles that I have not personally ridden, although it might be next on my list.
The total loop is 185 miles around.
The Cabot Trail makes a loop around Cape Breton Island, cutting across the top of the island and closely following the western and eastern coastlines.
Most who have ridden the road give the advice to ride it counter-clockwise because being in the outside lane gives you a better view of some of the more spectacular ocean vistas along the way. Because most people who drive it in cars choose to go clockwise, it may be slightly less congested going counter-clockwise.
No matter what direction you choose, you need to keep a couple of things in mind:
- Once you begin this drive, you have to finish it, either by completing the loop or by turning around and retracing your path. There are no roads that cut across the center of Cape Breton Island.
- Tour buses and RVs do make this drive, and they move very slowly on the grades. Passing lanes are few and far between. Pack some patience in your tank bag.
Getting to Nova Scotia is a little easier now that the high speed ferry from Portland, ME is back in service after being out for several years. It started back up in May of 2014. It is a little pricey, but allows you to make the journey much faster that going around by land. The ferry leaves Portland at 9:00PM and travels overnight (a 10 hour ride) while you sleep in a cabin onboard. The whole experience is probably worth whatever the cost.
The are some other highly touted roads like the Arkansas Pig Trail, Arkansas Scenic 7, The Alphabet Roads of Missouri, and the Twisted Sisters in Texas. There are probably many others that you can find all over the country. They are usually found on maps by looking for the roads with the green dots and out on the road marked with signs like this:
Well, as Porky the Pig always says, “That’s All Folks!”
I hope you enjoyed this series and will keep checking the BMWMCON web site for all things related to our club.