Cruising around the U.S. on a motorcycle makes for the perfect pandemic outing. After all, motorcycle touring offers the ultimate in social distancing. It’s also tremendous fun, turning a road trip into a dopamine-charged adventure as you open the throttle and sweep through the curves. Plus, you’ll never feel such a sense of freedom and heightened awareness, nor so close to nature, from inside a car.
All that’s required is a great set of wheels, the correct protective road gear, and a bit of planning. To get you started, we’ve chosen some of America’s most magnificent motorcycle road trips — from one-day outings to multi-day adventures — from sea to shining sea. Most routes combine fabulous scenery with some roller-coaster twists, turns, and dips. Others offer journeys through American history, with plenty of smooth hardtop where you can enjoy a lazy pace or even crank open the throttle.
Coast Highway 1, Maine
Connecting Portland with the Canadian border town of Calais, this 260-mile, forest-fringed, two-lane coastal highway unfurls through classic New England countryside. Views of the low-lying coast are infrequent, but the joy of this ride comes from reveling in dozens of short scenic loops off U.S. Route 1. Each one curls around slender peninsulas pinned by historic lighthouses and lined with quaint seaside hamlets. Lobster shacks stud the sandy shores, emanating tantalizing smells of crustaceans, while stops for whale watching and boating adventures are equal temptations. In Acadia National Park, Cadillac Summit Road spirals up to the highest point on the U.S. eastern seaboard, combining thrilling curves and twisties with sensational views from the summit. When city-dwellers escape the urban heat on summer weekends, the coast highway can be bumper to bumper with cars and RVs, so spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Just the thought of cruising this iconic ride will induce grins of anticipation, although not necessarily for adrenalin junkies. Snaking southwest almost 500 miles along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains (from Afton, VA, to Cherokee, NC), the nearly flawless, narrow two-laner has a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit. So slow down, submit to the leisurely pace, and savor the kaleidoscopic Kodak moments as you soak in awe-inspiring vistas. More than 200 pull-offs and overlooks on the BRP provide plenty of opportunities to safely “ooh” and “ahh.” Motorcyclists will also love sweeping bends, although care is needed for the many decreasing radius curves. And be ever-cautious of deer and other wild animals, plus slippery wet leaves in autumn. Connecting the gateways to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (south) and Shenandoah National Park (north), and the Civil War battlefields of Virginia, your ride begs to be extended into a multi-day trip.
Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi
A serene and leisurely ride, the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway is a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road for good reason. Gliding through a cypress swamp, rolling farmland, and a national forest, the “Old Natchez Trace” also saunters through history as it winds from Nashville, TN, to the Mississippi River in Natchez, MS. The sinuous two-laner completed in 2005 (and part of the National Park Service) roughly follows an old travel corridor. Riders follow segments of the original Natchez Trace Indian Trail once used by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Native Americans and by American traders until the advent of Mississippi steamboats. Some 90 marked stops tempt you to marvel at gorgeous waterfalls, Civil War sites, and Indigenous archeological sites on an unhurried, bucolic trip through time. Best yet, there are no trucks, nor even a single stop sign its entire length. Set your cruise control at 50 miles per hour (the speed limit) and revel in the Zen experience.
Going to the Sun Road, Montana
Short, sweet, and smooth as silk, this stellar solely-in-summer ride kicks it up a notch, drawing serious adventurers seeking the Holy Grail of mountain roads. One of America’s epic alpine routes, the 50-mile two-lane causeway transcends Glacier National Park east-west as it writhes up and over the Continental Divide via the 6,646-foot summit at Logan Pass, then augers down 3,000 feet to Lake McDonald. Along the way, it delivers more twists, turns, and thrills than a James Bond movie. But take it easy; the speed limit is 45 miles per hour at lower elevations and 25 miles per hour higher up. That’s just slow enough to let you soak in the jaw-dropping views of glaciers and craggy mountain ranges. Scenic pullouts line the road, which tops out amid windswept alpine tundra. The road is typically fully open from late June through late October, depending on weather conditions. Check the weather (which is highly variable) before setting out. To double your fun, ride the road in both directions.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
In a region where virtually any route is a no-brainer, Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 outclasses all others for sheer geological overload. Some 130 miles of pure driving bliss, this All-American Road worms through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — a 1.9-million-acre desert wonderland of multi-hued pinnacles, arches, and cliffs, book-ended by Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. The road climbs from 5,223 feet to 9,636 feet between Panguitch (on U.S. 89) and Torrey (at Utah 24), with tight, thrilling twisties and hairpins especially numerous along the vertiginous “Hogsback” section around Boulder. Be sure to take the Bryce Canyon and short Escalante Petrified Forest side trips. Dual-sport riders can even find some unpaved areas for off-road fun, such as Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The road is open year-round, but winter storms can briefly close it until the heavy snow is plowed.
Owens Valley, Mono Lake to Owens Lake, California
California is replete with popular scenic highways, yet few — if any — can compete with the uninterrupted beauty of Highway 395, unspooling dramatically through the flat, straight Owens Valley at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevadas. This is world-class touring for the sheer pleasure of relaxed riding. The rift valley is framed along its entire 130-mile length by snow-capped peaks soaring to 14,000 feet to each side. Fab side trips offer steep, serpentine climbs up to the sparkling lakes and volcanic marvels of Mammoth Lakes, Whitney Portal, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which each offer breathtaking vistas. Stitching together a chain of laid-back Old Western towns, U.S. 395 also leads past such fascinating historic sites as the WWII Manzanar War Relocation Center and the ‘Movie Flat’ area of the Alabama Hills, where hundreds of Western movies were filmed.
Pacific Coast Highway, Morro Bay to Monterey, California
California’s signature road trip, Pacific Coast Highway — or simply “the 1,” or “the PCH” — tops the list of many a motorcyclist’s dream rides. Hugging the shore the entire way, this cliff-hanger combines unsurpassed scenery with more curves than Kim Kardashian. PCH snakes all the way from Southern California to the Oregon border, but the 123-mile Big Sur section between Morro Bay and Monterey is considered the ultima thule. You’ll salsa past seal-strewn beaches, pounding surf, and giant redwoods soaring above plunging cliffs. Fill up on gas before you start as you quickly leave civilization behind to weave and dance along the remote mountain-backed shoreline. Avoid summer weekends, and check road and weather conditions before setting out: long sections of the PCH are often famously shrouded in fog (especially in summer) or closed due to landslides. Once you reach Monterey, keep going as the fun continues beyond San Francisco to Oregon.