By Mark Dubbs
Fall is a magical time of year for riding motorcycles. The season brings in new smells, cooler temperatures, and brilliant colors. America is full of beautiful places with smooth roads to explore. Everyone has their own opinion on the best places to ride, but here are five places, from my experience, that you absolutely must add to your riding bucket list.
I grew up in the Midwest so I might be a little biased here, but the “Tunnel of Trees” road in Michigan is one of the most beautiful forest routes in the country. The road runs along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan with flourishing trees that create an enclosed canopy cover. Through the trees you can see views of the lake shore with old cabins scattered in the forest.
There are great attractions to ride to in the area. Mackinac Island is a popular stop for tourists about 35 miles from the route. You can ride north to the town of Harbor Springs for shopping, dining, and lodging. Fall is the best time to experience the vivid autumn colors through the Tunnel of Trees Road.
If I could get away with putting the entire state of California on this list, I would. Pacific Coast Highway is probably the most famous road to ride for scenic views in California. Yosemite National Park has mountains with waterfalls flowing over cliffs that are out of this world. The Redwoods make you feel like a tiny ant riding through legs of giants. The roads to Santa Cruz will take you instantly from forest to cliffs that overlook the ocean. The Sierra’s offer several national forests, such as Tahoe, that have some of the best mountain riding I’ve ever experienced. There are endless twisties, nature trails, and scenic surprises with delightful historic towns scattered all throughout northern California.
But, if I had to pick one spot that has truly captured my heart, it is the little stretch of Foresthill Road from Auburn to CA-49 across the North Fork American River. The ride begins by crossing the Foresthill Bridge, which is the tallest bridge in the state and the 4th highest in the US. Then you get to carve canyon roads in the foothills of the Sierra’s. The turns are just right to lean deep into them without needing to reduce much speed. If you’re riding a dual sport, you can rip around an MX course called Mammoth Bar right off Old Foresthill Road that is open to all. The views from the Golden Chain Highway are nothing short of spectacular. The North Fork American River is an attraction for many tourists because of its beauty. Make sure you stop by Ikeda’s for a burger or Awful Annie’s for their Grandma’s Bread Pudding with Brandy Sauce.
Pig Trail is a famous route for motorcycle enthusiasts, located on Highway 23 through Ozark National Forest. This road is in the Boston Mountains section of the Ozarks and showcases brilliant fall foliage. The sights are known to cause euphoria as you cross the Mulberry River and the Ozark Highlands Trail. The Mulberry River is a tourist attraction for fishing and white water rafting. The road winds through valleys alongside streams with sharp mountain switchbacks.
The difficulty of the route makes it not recommended for novice riders. Some people refer to the Pig Trail as the “Arkansas Dragon.” You can purchase pins and patches that tribute the ride saying, “I Survived the Pig Trail” at the Turner Bend Store after your ride. The town of Huntsville is a short ride north where you can enjoy food and lodging.
The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap is an 11 mile passage into motorcycle madness. It is the most famous destination for two wheel aficionados in the American East. US 129 runs along the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest from North Carolina into Tennessee. This mayhem adventure route boasts 318 curves. Some of the curves have their own names, such as Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End, and Brake or Bust Bend.
There is an iconic tree nicknamed the “Tree of Shame” that has a collection of motorcycle parts in its branches from riders who couldn’t slay the dragon. The protection from the national forest prevents development, so there are no roads funneling into the highway. This provides peace of mind to riders as there are no surprises from merging traffic. However, the Tail of the Dragon didn’t get its name for its safe riding. The speed limit was reduced from 55mph to 35mph in 2005 with good reason. But, if you have what it takes, the Tail of the Dragon is one of the most beautiful and fun roads for fall riding in the country.
The entire state of Utah is second to none for motorcycle riding. You can go from the beautiful canyons of the Wasatch Mountains to the red rocks of Moab, where you might feel you’ve landed on Mars, in just a few hours. The mountains of Utah are where the best photographers go to capture incredible images of motorcycle riders because of the extraordinary roads and incredible scenery.
My personal favorite road to ride on in autumn is the Alpine Loop. The Alpine Loop is part of the American Fork Canyon, officially Highway 92, which runs through the Uinta National Forest to Provo Canyon, Highway 189. The ride is twenty miles of pure alpine bliss. In September and October, you will see the golden leaves of the aspen trees creating a glowing contrast with the crimson maple leaves. The climb up the 12,000 foot elevation gives you a breathtaking view of Mount Timpanogos. The best part of the Alpine Loop is that it is secluded. It is not a major passageway for a daily commuters. There are very few cars that get in your way. Every time I've been there, it felt like I had the whole road to myself.
Just down the road is Robert Redford’s Sundance with old fashioned cabins nestled in the woods. You can take a short detour to Cascade Springs and hike along a boardwalk that takes you to clear natural springs. If you want the best combination of adrenaline-pumping canyon carving with scenic views, the Alpine Loop is the mecca of fall motorcycle riding.