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Border Hopping the Virginias: Virginia and West Virginia Motorcycle Ride

Border Hopping Virginia West Virginia Motorcycle Ride
Crossing Anthony Creek near Blue Bend, West Virginia, as we make our way toward the Virginia border on this Virginia-West Virginia Motorcycle Ride. (Photos by the author)

Riding challenging curves through beautiful mountain scenery spikes my happy gauge, and the border region of eastern West Virginia and western Virginia is ripe with options. Great roads curve along rivers, wind through national forests, and roll through small towns, with interesting sights along the way.

The historic small city of Lewisburg, West Virginia, offers good restaurants and lodgings, providing a convenient base of operations. I connected there with my long-time riding partner Steve Efthyvoulou for two day-ride loops that took us over (and over) the border between the Virginias.

Day 1: Into the Alleghany Highlands

After breakfast, we pointed our bikes north on U.S. Route 219 to Anthony Road, where a right turn put us on an entertaining and frequently narrow road that parallels Anthony Creek. Recent deer strikes on this road involving riders we know had us on heightened alert for creatures aptly named Odocoileus virginianus. We continued deer-free through the village of Anthony and past Blue Bend. A right onto State Route 92 (Pocahontas Trail) took us south through Alvon and to the outskirts of White Sulphur Springs.

Border Hopping Virginia West Virginia Motorcycle Ride

Scan QR codes above or click Day 1 or Day 2 to view routes on REVER

A one-exit run on Interstate 64 east delivered us to State Route 311 (Kanawha Trail). We crossed into Virginia and entered George Washington National Forest. A few miles on, we encountered a curious double tunnel under a railroad. The original passageway was built of stone; the metal culvert must have come later. 

SR-311 hugs Tygers Creek southeast toward Crows, where we went right to follow Dunlap Creek. We crossed back into West Virginia, and south of Sweet Springs, SR-311 continues left as Peters Mountain Road, curving in spectacular fashion to a ridge. There it returns to Virginia and cuts through a patchwork of green including wilderness and recreation areas, campgrounds, and trails for hikers and off-roaders.

On the outskirts of Paint Bank, where SR-311 crosses Potts Creek, the Lemon Hotel proudly flaunts its vivid yellow exterior. This historic mountain home, dating from 1909 and now operating as a bed-and-breakfast, continues the yellow theme to the garage, chicken coop, deck chairs, guest bicycles, and likely other accoutrements. Green trim mimics the leaves of a lemon tree. I’d wager the yellow lodgings are fabulous, but I was more interested in following yellow lines painted on smooth, black asphalt.

Border Hopping Virginia West Virginia Motorcycle Ride
The very yellow Lemon Hotel is in Paint Bank, Virginia, along State Route 311 in the Jefferson National Forest.

Paint Bank Road continues switching back and forth down Potts Mountain, with several scenic views signposted. At New Castle, we turned left onto State Route 615 (Craig Creek Road). The road meanders less than its namesake waterway, but it’s still engaging. To our right, we noticed suspension-style bridges across the creek that look like scaled-down Golden Gate Bridges. Where Craig Creek makes its final sweep right to join the James River, we turned left onto State Route 621 (Roaring Run Road), which slices along Karnes Creek. 

See all of Rider‘s U.S. South motorcycle rides here.

At Low Moor, we turned left onto U.S. Route 220, cut north through Covington, and continued on Hot Springs Road, gaining elevation through curves into the Alleghany Highlands. Beyond the junction with State Route 684, we stopped at Falling Spring Falls. 

In his 1781 book, Notes on the State of Virginia, native son and future U.S. President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The only remarkable cascade in this country is that of the Falling Spring in Augusta. It falls over a rock about 200 feet to the valley below.” These days the drop is just 80 feet because mining operations from 1927 to 1941 rerouted the stream to the current falls. It’s still beautiful, but I wonder how the original 200-foot cascade looked.

Border Hopping Virginia West Virginia Motorcycle Ride
Passing through the village of Anthony, West Virginia.

Continuing on U.S. 220, we encountered arcs and hairpins climbing to a ridge, then curved down to the center of Clifton Forge, which offers multiple choices for lunch. Steve selected 42 Deli, where we ordered BLT subs overflowing with bacon. (There’s no such thing as too much bacon.)

After lunch, we continued north on Douthat Road to State Route 39 then turned left for more curves to the West Virginia border. Down in Marlinton, we turned left onto U.S. 219 through Buckeye and Hillsboro. In Pocahontas, we visited Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, site of an 1863 Civil War battle that ended organized Southern resistance in the still-new state of West Virginia. A walk up the observation tower rewarded us with a panoramic view of the Greenbrier River Valley. Continuing south on U.S. 219, a combination of sweepers and twisties returned us to Lewisburg to complete the day’s loop.

Day 2: West Virginia High

The next morning, our second loop started east from Lewisburg on U.S. Route 60 then turned south at Cadwell onto State Route 63 (Monroe Draft). At Organ Cave, this road joins U.S. 219 (Seneca Trail), and at Pickaway we turned right onto State Route 3 toward Sinks Grove and Wolf Creek. At Alderson, SR-3 crosses the Greenbrier River and bends gently west and south for a relaxed run along this scenic river.

Border Hopping Virginia West Virginia Motorcycle Ride
Twin peaks reflect off the New River in Sandstone, West Virginia.

At Bellepoint, the Greenbrier and New Rivers converge, and just past Hinton we encountered a fantastic section of State Route 20. With tight turns and elevation changes, it moves along Gwinn Ridge with practically perfect pavement. At Sandstone we parked at the general store and walked around back for a close-up look at the New River. It’s among the oldest rivers on Earth, flowing northward through West Virginia valleys and canyons. On a perfect June morning, it couldn’t be prettier.

Reversing course, we enjoyed SR-20’s curves in the opposite direction. At Hinton, SR-3 presents a curvy stretch of two-lane to Shady Spring. There, U.S. Route 19 south got us down to Odd Road, which given its continual curves, is anything but odd for West Virginia. In the village of Odd, we turned right. Then at Coal City Road, we turned left for more twisties. At Amigo we picked up State Route 16 and wound through Stephenson and Corinne to Mullens.

Riding north out of Mullens on State Route 54 led us to a succession of twisty backroads including State Routes 97 and 3, Mattsville Road, Lower Sandick Road, and Clear Creek Crossing Road. In the village of Clear Creek Crossing, the riding got even better when we turned right onto Clear Fork Road. The tight curves border on perilous, but wow, it was fun! 

Border Hopping Virginia West Virginia Motorcycle Ride
East of Bellepoint, West Virginia, SR-3 curves gently along the Greenbrier River.

Clear Fork Road ends (sigh) at Maple Fork Road, then we went left on State Route 16, right on 61, and left on 41. Farther on, we reached a highlight of the day, Babcock State Park, featuring Glade Creek Grist Mill and a series of streaming waterfalls.

Returning to SR-41, we continued to U.S. 60 and got exactly what we’ve come to expect from a great West Virginia road: smooth tar with elevation changes and thrilling curves. What a way to finish this ride. At the intersection of U.S. 219, we were back in Lewisburg.

Morning presented a 664-mile highway jaunt to get home. That’s a long way in a day but a small price to enjoy border hopping the Virginias.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

Virginia-West Virginia Motorcycle Ride Resources


Scott A. Williams Contributor

Scott “Bones” Williams engages readers on motorcycle touring, gear, and culture. His writing conveys his love of speed and motion, preference for roads less taken, and role as goodwill ambassador. 

The post Border Hopping the Virginias: Virginia and West Virginia Motorcycle Ride appeared first on Rider Magazine.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride in Oklahoma | Favorite Ride

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
The Route 66 Interpretive Center, one of several interesting stops on this Route 66 motorcycle ride, uses audio-visual exhibits to immerse visitors in the history of the Mother Road. The building was built in 1937 and served as an armory until 1971. Photos by the author and Steve Skinner.

U.S. Route 66 was established in 1926 and was billed as the shortest, fastest, and most scenic all-weather route connecting Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. Dubbed the “Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, Route 66 was used in the 1930s by migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl in search of a better life out West. During World War II, it facilitated the movement of troops and equipment. And during the post-war economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, Route 66 became indelibly linked to the Great American Road Trip.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

My home state of Oklahoma boasts about 400 miles of the historic highway – the most of any of the eight states touched by Route 66. The Mother Road played a central role in my budding love affair with riding. In 1977, at the age of 14, I rode a 100cc 2-stroke Kawasaki along one of the best stretches of Route 66 in the state – the 100 miles between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The 200-mile round trip was my first long motorcycle journey. It took me all day and cost about $2 in gas, and my long-suffering parents had no idea what I was up to.

See all of Rider‘s Southern U.S. motorcycle rides here.

Forty-six years after that formative adventure, I retraced my route, only this time I allowed time to take in the roadside attractions and small-town charms that make Route 66 such an iconic piece of Americana. Once again, I felt right at home on the Mother Road. 

Not far from my home, I hopped on Route 66 at its junction with Interstate 35 in Edmond. I headed east through wooded terrain and past sprawling Arcadia Lake before stopping at the Arcadia Round Barn. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it was built in 1898 by a local farmer who thought its round design would make it tornado-proof. Science may not support that belief, but the Round Barn has survived in the middle of Tornado Alley for 126 years. It’s now a museum, gift shop, and live music venue.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
The Arcadia Round Barn, built in 1898, was designed to be tornado-proof and still stands in the heart of Tornado Alley.

Continuing east, the countryside along this stretch is a mix of woods, farmland, and grazing pasture. Although not the transcontinental artery it once was, Route 66 remains important to the communities it passes through. The tarmac is mostly in great shape, and the occasional sweeping turns are enough to get you off the center of your tires.

In Wellston, I stopped at The Butcher BBQ Stand, one of the best barbecue restaurants around. The award-winning flavors were developed during eight years on the competitive barbecue circuit, including more than 400 1st-place finishes. One of my riding buddies calls this barbecue “meat candy,” and he’s not wrong. Thirty minutes before The Butcher opened, the line was already out the door.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
The Butcher BBQ Stand offers award-winning smoked meats on Route 66 near Wellston.

Just a few miles down the road in Warwick is the Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum, which was originally a Route 66 service station named after the proprietor back in the 1920s. The building was purchased in 2007 by Jerry Reis, and he opened the museum in 2010. It’s not only a great place to see a bunch of classic motorcycles, but it also has great Route 66 swag.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
Seaba Station in Warwick has an impressive collection of vintage bikes and memorabilia as well as a great gift shop for some Mother Road swag.

I next headed east-northeast toward the town of Chandler, where roadside attractions include the Route 66 Interpretive Center and Route 66 Bowl, a bowling alley with dozens of authentic vintage oil company signs lining the parking lot.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
Route 66 Bowl in Chandler with its collection of authentic oil company signs is one of the many Mother Road landmarks to visit on this ride.

Another 14 miles up the road, we stopped for lunch in Stroud at the Rock Cafe, another Route 66 institution. Opened in 1939, it’s named after the local sandstone used in its construction, and over the years it has been a trusted stop for long-haul truckers, a high school watering hole, and even a makeshift Greyhound bus station for soldiers shipping out during World War II. Pixar executives made stops at the cafe when developing the hit movie Cars and based the character “Sally Carrera” on proprietor Dawn Welch. The burger I had there was outstanding – and it was cooked on “Betsy,” the original 1939 grill.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
The iconic Rock Cafe in Stroud gets its name from the sandstone used for its construction in 1939. The delicious food served up there is still cooked on the restaurant’s original 85-year-old grill, “Betsy.”

The final stop on my Mother Road reunion tour was Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on Route 66 in Tulsa to see “Muffler Man” Buck Atom, Space Cowboy. Few authentic Muffler Men – giant statues used by businesses for eye-catching advertising – remain. Buck Atom was created using a mold from a salvaged 1960s Muffler Man cowboy. Christened in 2019, Buck is 20 feet tall, and he now holds a silver rocket instead of a muffler. He stands guard over a gift shop at the site of an old Route 66 gas station in the heart of Tulsa. The new, old-time Muffler Man fits right in on the Mother Road.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Oklahoma
A reimagined Muffler Man stands tall at Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios in Tulsa.

Headed back to my home in Oklahoma City with daylight fading fast, I hopped on the interstate to make time – the very interstate that marked the end of Route 66’s prominence in Oklahoma, bypassing many of the communities stitched together by the Mother Road. True, the ride home was faster, but it was far less interesting. Just like during my first highway riding adventure back in 1977, I’m more at home on the Mother Road. 

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Resources


Tim DeGiusti Headshot

Tim DeGiusti lives and works in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Tim returned to motorcycling in 2012 after a long break, and since has ridden throughout Oklahoma and 38 other states (and counting).

The post Route 66 Motorcycle Ride in Oklahoma | Favorite Ride appeared first on Rider Magazine.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Great American Scenic Byways Tour

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Parkinson's Foundation
Every trip starts with a send-off and the first mile. This banner about supporting the Parkinson’s Foundation made the entire journey with me.

In 2021, Steven Goode completed the Great American Deli Schlep, a 75‑day, 15,000‑mile motorcycle ride during which he visited the best Jewish deli in nearly every state and raised funds for MAZON, a Jewish nonprofit that fights hunger in America. You can read Goode’s feature about that ride here. –Ed. 


I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” This is a quote by Susan Sontag and words I ride by.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Beartooth Highway
Beartooth Pass Summit (see next photo) was the crescendo of a magnificent ride on Beartooth Highway from Wyoming into Red Lodge, Montana. Hairpin curves, few guardrails, and sweeping views make it one of the best scenic byways in America. (Photos by the author)

After completing four major motorcycle trips around our wonderful country, each ranging from 11,000 to 17,000 miles, I told my wife I was done with long‑distance rides. Sort of the same way I’ve told her, many times over, that this was going to be my last motorcycle purchase. Of course, she didn’t believe me. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour

So when a riding buddy said we should plan a big trip, I was all in. All I needed was a cause and a theme for the ride.

For a cause, I chose the Parkinson’s Foundation. In 2001, my mother passed away from Parkinson’s disease. A motorcycle trip supporting this cause would be a great way to not only honor her memory but raise money to support finding a cure and providing resources for those afflicted with this terrible disease.  

Although my mother most likely would not have approved of my 60‑day, 16,000‑mile motorcycle trip – she was still a mother after all – she would have been extremely proud of my commitment to this cause. She had a wild side, but she didn’t show it often for fear of encouraging her sons to follow in her path, which we did anyway.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Steven Goode
My late mother was the inspiration for this tour. This photo shows us in our backyard in 1979.

For a theme, we decided to ride the top scenic byways in nearly every state. To help us plan the trip, National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways (fifth edition) was an invaluable resource that provided descriptions, photos, maps, and interesting facts. 

When I told the Parkinson’s Foundation about my plan, they were immediately supportive and offered to help create public awareness for the trip. An important part of the publicity was social media. I’m in my late 60s, and I didn’t do Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc., so their team handled that for me. They also created logos and designed T‑shirts, banners, and a web page for my blog. Klim supported the ride by providing me with a Latitude Gore‑Tex suit, and Nelson‑Rigg provided some waterproof luggage.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour

Scan the QR code or click here to make a donation to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

We named the ride The Great American Scenic Byways Tour supporting Parkinson’s Foundation. After reviewing the route and the time necessary to complete the ride, my friend said the trip would require too much time away from work, so he bowed out. Since I had already committed to the Foundation and this was a personal ride on behalf of my mother, I decided to go alone. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Cherohala Skyway
My friend Bruce Benton joined me for a wonderful ride on the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee and North Carolina.

For those of you who are curious how someone plans a 16,000‑mile trip, here are a few guidelines. First, get a map of the United States and put markers next to the places you plan to travel to. Second, using the rough route map, create a spreadsheet with columns for the city in which you begin your day’s ride; the destination city for that day; miles you plan to ride each day; and notes about the route, landmarks, and things to see. Good planning is key for a successful ride, and being organized reduces stress. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Bayshore Scenic Byway
In Delaware I rode the Bayshore Scenic Byway. My Honda Gold Wing was a faithful companion on my deli schlep and scenic byways tours.

A key element to any trip of this magnitude is planning for unforeseen events. My mantra is “It’s all about Plan B.” On a two‑month trip, there will be at least one unexpected twist pop up. Mine came three days in when my dermatologist called to tell me I had a melanoma on my back and he wanted to surgically remove it as soon as possible. Plan B: I turned the bike around, made a beeline to Chicago, had the surgery, and was back on the road 17 days later. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Outer Banks Scenic Byway
Cape Hatteras Light Station on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway in North Carolina.

The beauty of this ride’s theme was that each scenic byway has its own personality. Like a thumbprint, every byway is unique. Almost everyone I met during the trip asked me, “What is the best scenic byway?” Just like when asked what the best motorcycle is, I answered, “The one I’m riding.” There are good reasons why National Geographic picked each of these byways to include in its guide. Each one gives the rider a special glimpse into the beauty of the region.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour
This is the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, where the weather seems to change every minute. The quintessential scenic byway is one of America’s treasures.

For example, the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway in Kentucky took me into forested backcountry, and I was able to get lost in my thoughts in the deep woods. One of the interesting features of this scenic byway is the Nada Tunnel, which is 900 feet long but only 12 feet wide and 13 feet high. There’s a single lane through the mountain, with no lights or painted lines. While pondering how to go through it, I asked some local Harley riders for advice. They said, “Look for a headlight at the end of the tunnel. If you see one, don’t go.” I felt like I was in a Road Runner cartoon.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Nada Tunnel
The Nada Tunnel is located near the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway in Kentucky.

In Newport, Rhode Island, the scenic 10‑mile Ocean Drive provided a glimpse of how the other half lived during the Gilded Age in the late 1800s. The Vanderbilt, Astors, and Morgans all had their summer homes along this rocky coast. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Ocean Drive Rhode Island
Mansions along Rhode Island’s Ocean Drive.

Spanning two states, the Talimena National Scenic Byway follows Arkansas Highway 88 and Oklahoma State Highway 1. On the morning I planned to ride it, the forecast said it would be 105 degrees in Dallas, Texas, my next destination. I left at 5 a.m. to arrive in Dallas in time to beat the heat. This early start gave me an opportunity to watch the sunrise over the byway. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Talimena National Scenic Byway
Sunrise over the Talimena National Scenic Byway, which goes through Arkansas and Oklahoma.

After five days on the road, I could no longer remember where I was the day before, what I had for dinner the night before, or which hotel I stayed in. That’s one of the great things about a two‑month motorcycle trip – getting lost in the journey. Writing a blog forced me to recreate the trip daily so it didn’t become one huge blur, and it also allowed friends, family, and supporters to follow my progress. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour
An old steam train in Essex on the Connecticut Valley Scenic Byway.

Another benefit of a trip of this scale is all the things I learned along the way. Like a school on wheels, I learned about our United States up close and personal, gaining a new appreciation for each region’s distinct personality and history. After the trip, I had a better understanding of our collective history. Whether it was exploring what life was like on plantations, following the Trail of Tears, or riding the path of Lewis and Clark, I was able to take a long look at our country and how we grew up as a nation, both the good and the bad. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Oak Alley Plantation
Slave quarters at the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. This tour provided an education on America’s past, present, and future.

Every long motorcycle trip has unexpected moments, and one left me speechless and cleaning the mess off my bike for days. Leaving Elko, Nevada, to ride to Idaho, I took State Route 225, a two‑lane road with virtually no traffic. As I was riding north, I noticed something that looked like pinecones on the pavement up ahead. Once I got closer, the “pinecones” began to scurry. As I continued to ride north, they completely covered the road. Then I noticed that the road’s tire tracks were turning red, not asphalt gray. It was an infestation of Mormon crickets, which are about 2 inches long and don’t fly, and I was riding through an invasion of Biblical proportions that went on for 50‑plus miles! 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Sawtooth Mountains Ponderosa Pines Scenic Byway
Taking a pause to enjoy a view of the Sawtooth Mountains after riding the Ponderosa Pines Scenic Byway in Idaho.

My original plan was to ride through California’s Death Valley National Park. Just before I left, I received a call from my son. “Dad, did you hear that a 65‑year‑old guy just died in Death Valley? He had two flat tires on his car, and nobody came to his rescue. Are you sure you want to go into Death Valley by yourself, on your motorcycle, with temperatures reaching 115 degrees?” Plan B: Due to the intense heat and time constraints after my unexpected surgery, I opted to bypass California, Oregon, and Washington. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway
The Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway in Kansas.

My favorite scenic byway changed from day to day. When I was on the East Coast, I loved the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway in Maine. Riding the 17.6‑mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge‑Tunnel (U.S. Route 13) in Virginia, which includes a tunnel under the water, from Norfolk to Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, was spectacular.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Maine
Somewhere in Maine, on my way to Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway.

Out West, it was U.S. Route 191 (Coronado Trail) in Arizona and State Route 12 in Utah. Beartooth Highway in Wyoming and Montana is a must‑ride. It is hard to choose only one scenic byway because each is special, and every one of them gave me new perspectives on the areas I was traveling through.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Coronado Trail Scenic Byway
U.S. Route 191 in Arizona between Alpine and Morenci is known as the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway – one of my all-time favorites.

People also asked, “How do you pack for such a big trip?” My only advice is to take less than you think you need but all that’s necessary for unforeseen conditions (rain, cold, heat, etc.). You must think through all the variables and prepare a Plan B. If traveling solo, use a satellite tracking device so family and friends know how to find you. 

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Bryce Canyon National Park
Riding through Bryce Canyon National Park, which is located just off Scenic Byway 12 in Utah.

Long motorcycle trips are not for everyone, but I love not knowing what is on the other side of the hill and feeling the thrill and power of the bike beneath me, experiences that keep me going day after day. I highly recommend checking out National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, picking a region, and planning your own adventure. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Take the time to enjoy the sights, sensations, and sinuous curves on America’s rich bounty of scenic byways.

Great American Scenic Byways Motorcycle Tour Pike Peak
On the way down from the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

During his Great American Scenic Byways tour, Steven Goode raised nearly $22,000 for the Parkinson’s Foundation. To make a donation, use the QR code above or click here. To read Goode’s blog, visit this page on Facebook. Below you’ll find a complete list of the scenic byways Goode rode on this tour.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

Great American Scenic Byways Tour

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Southern Exposure: A Tennessee and Kentucky Motorcycle Ride

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel
This Kentucky and Tennessee motorcycle ride includes a section of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which starts less than 20 miles from downtown Nashville. The historic road follows an ancient pathway for 444 miles to Natchez, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River. (Photos by the author and Cheryl Kessel)

When a family friend decided to celebrate a milestone birthday in Nashville, our interest was piqued. Being big music fans and suckers for seeing new places, especially those with famously good motorcycling roads, my wife, Cheryl, and I decided to tag along. Others handled the search for accommodations and entertainment opportunities for the trip, so I was left to handle the most important job: securing a motorcycle for some adventuring. 

None of the rental companies in Nashville had a motorcycle that matched my criteria, so I searched the Riders Share peer‑to‑peer rental website and found a BMW F 750 GS. I had never used this kind of rental service before, and after some easy back and forth with the motorcycle’s owners, our rental was secure. The owners even agreed to deliver the bike directly to our lodging for a small fee. All we had to do was pack riding gear. 

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel

Scan QR codes above or click Day #1 or Day #2 to view routes on REVER

After a late‑night arrival in Nashville, we settled into our rental apartment downtown. About noon the following day, a clean, blue GS rolled up. The friendly owners, Madison and Tim, gave me some great local knowledge tips for our first afternoon of riding.

Day 1: Leiper’s Fork and the Natchez Trace Parkway | Tennessee Motorcycle Ride

We did not have time on this trip for the complete 444 miles of the famed Natchez Trace Parkway, but I knew we had to ride part of it. Tim gave me a strategy for seeing some great locations and sampling the parkway in an afternoon of riding. Nashville is a hive of tourist activity, and leaving the metro area went how you would expect. We weaved around party buses and through the dense traffic, finally leaving behind the neon lights, blaring music, and bar‑hopping activity for a Tennessee motorcycle ride through the countryside.

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel
The 1,572-foot-long Natchez Trace Bridge is an impressive structure both from below and from above. It carries the Natchez Trace Parkway 145 feet above State Route 96.

We headed northwest on Interstate 40 through farmland and beside impressive southern mansions, both historic and modern. Our eyes, conditioned by the muted pastel hues of our home state of Arizona, were dazzled by the vibrant greens of the Tennessee landscape. After exiting the freeway at McCrory Lane, perfectly furrowed crops and geometrically mowed estate lawns lined the sweeping corners. On State Route 96, the Natchez Trace Bridge, with its sweeping, whitewashed double arches, grew on the horizon. 

See all of Rider‘s Tennessee touring stories here

A bit more riding brought us to Leiper’s Fork. The quaint village, once a virtually unknown dot on a map, has emerged as a small, thriving arts and entertainment center. It is also near sprawling estates owned by music and entertainment superstars like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and Nicole Kidman.

On the town’s short main street, we dropped a kickstand at the Fox & Locke Restaurant, a historic establishment with a common feature at any bar or restaurant in this neck of the woods: a stage for live performances. Cheryl ordered the classic BLT, and I chose the catfish sandwich – flaky white fish topped with a medley of slaw, grilled onions, and pickles – which was a culinary highlight of our entire vacation.

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel
The Fox & Locke in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, is a favorite stop for motorcyclists near the Natchez Trace Parkway.

After a walk by the shops and galleries of the small town, we rode onto the Natchez Trace Parkway. It was almost surreal how the traffic dropped away, the road became smooth, and the terrain morphed into an undulating delight. Mowed grass lined the sweeping corners of the parkway, and wooded thickets added to the texture of the ride. I did not have to slow for traffic once on our way to the Parkway’s northern end, which included riding over the massive bridge that we rode beneath earlier. The entirety of the Natchez Trace is now on my bucket list of rides. 

After exiting the Parkway, we passed another famed local eatery, the Loveless Cafe, but I was too full from lunch to indulge in their legendary biscuits and gravy. We made our way to the Belle Meade Estate and Winery for a brief tour of the historic property before rolling back into Nashville.

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel Nashville
Nashville is a nonstop mix of neon, live music, and bustling watering holes.

We spent the night sampling what has made Nashville famous – music. I doubt there’s a Broadway Street music hall that we did not visit. Night clubs sporting the names of famous country stars teemed with tourists as music blared from every direction. Multi‑leveled bars offered performers on each floor. We opted for the rooftop settings as they tended to be less intense and crowded. Far from a lazy Southern city, Nashville is a frenzy of people and music often referred to as “Nashvegas.”

Day 2: Burning Barns and Bowling Green | Kentucky Motorcycle Ride

With country music still ringing in my ears, I geared up for a solo ride north of Nashville as Cheryl opted to sleep late. I headed northwest toward Ashland City on State Route 12, a smooth and pleasant roll through sweeping corners on a road which lived up to its designation as a state scenic parkway. From Ashland City, I made my way onto State Route 49 on a northeastern path toward Kentucky.

I was fully engulfed in farmland. End‑of‑season cornfields dried in the September sun, and various other crops were green and thriving. An unexpected sight led me to stop and reach for my cellphone. Smoke was wafting from the gables and overhangs of a large red barn. I could not help but think about the short story “Barn Burning” by one of my favorite Southern authors, William Faulkner. Just before I did my civic duty by calling 911, I noticed another barn on the horizon emitting the same white smoke. A quick Google search set me straight. 

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel tobacco barn
As it cures, tobacco hangs like giant bats in a Kentucky barn.

It was tobacco curing season, and farmers were drying their crop at 135‑140 degrees with carefully controlled fires within those barns. What was, at first, a concerning sight was now a source of intrigue and education for this Arizona boy. After passing by those smoldering structures, I saw another type of tobacco curing: huge red barns had doors opened wide, and tobacco hung from ceilings. If I hadn’t already done my roadside research, I may have mistaken the tobacco leaves for drying animal hides.

See all of Rider‘s Kentucky touring stories here

The ride through farmland continued as I passed from Tennessee into Kentucky, another tobacco‑producing state. The road carried new signage as Kentucky Route 383. I rolled into Franklin, a historically rich small city with a beautiful brick and stone downtown area, where Johnny Cash and June Carter were married at the First United Methodist Church. There is much to do in Franklin: thoroughbred racing and gaming at The Mint at Kentucky, tours and live dueling reenactments at the Sandford Duncan Inn, and Kentucky’s largest sunflower maze in August at Ruby Branch Farms. Kentucky is famous for its whiskey, and the Dueling Grounds Distillery is on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel
A farmer took his tractor to new heights in the region’s rich farmland.

On my way out of town, I stopped at The Fork In The Road, an art installation of a Paul Bunyan‑sized utensil located at the corner of Bunch and Uls roads. Continuing north on U.S. Route 31W toward Bowling Green, I passed Octagon Hall, an eight‑sided brick home built in 1847 that is now a museum of Civil War artifacts.

Bowling Green is not just a bustling and vibrant Southern city; it is also the only place in the world where Corvettes are made. I rode past and beside several of the sleek Chevys as I made my way through the city, which is also home to the National Corvette Museum. I motored through the attractive Western Kentucky University campus with its white‑columned and red‑brick buildings. The campus also preserves several historic structures like the impressive Felts Log House, which was built by a Revolutionary War veteran around 1810 and relocated to its current location in 1980. 

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel
This unassuming building squats directly on the Tennessee/Kentucky state line.

After WKU, I made my way to the downtown district. The town square is a lively city centerpiece. A garden‑like central park sits in the shadows of historic stone buildings, and a beautiful fountain sits as the heart of the setting. My walk around the city center included several historically significant buildings and memorials. The area is well worth a visit.

The quick route back to Nashville from Bowling Green would be Interstate 65, but where’s the fun in that? I rode U.S. Route 231 south through southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee until I made the southwestern turn onto U.S. Route 31 toward Nashville. It was a nice, relaxing end to my “exposure” of this part of Tennessee and Kentucky. We ended the night back on the streets of Nashville, visiting the famed Ryman Theater, listening to country music, and sampling Tennessee whiskey. 

Kentucky Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel Bowling Green
The beautiful town square in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a great place to drop a kickstand and stretch the legs.

Nashville, Bowling Green, and the other smaller towns I visited all exuded their own Southern charm. This was my first visit to the area, and it won’t be my last. I plan to ride the entire Natchez Trace Parkway, and the Nashville area will be either the staging location or the end game to that journey.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here

Tennessee Motorcycle Ride Resources

Kentucky Motorcycle Ride Resources

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Asphalt Heaven: Riding West Virginia Backroads

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Seneca Rocks
Fog was stubborn this morning at Seneca Rocks, but it couldn’t dampen my admiration for West Virginia backroads.

What I like most about motorcycles is that they lean, a trait I describe to nonriders as “dancing with a machine.” A motorcyclist can select a dance partner ranging from a svelte sportbike to a big‑­boned tourer, but how well that partner performs depends on the quality of the dance floor: the road. 

My favorite motorcycle dance floors are smooth asphalt ribbons that snake over mountains and along waterways, and some of the best I’ve found anywhere are West Virginia backroads. Appropriately called the Mountain State, it’s where the Allegheny, Blue Ridge, and Appalachian mountain ranges converge. With the highest average elevation of any state east of the Mississippi River, the roads curve over and around a rugged, varied landscape. The quality of road surfaces in West Virginia is generally superb (see sidebar at end of article). For riders who love to lean, it’s idyllic.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams

Scan QR codes above or click “Day 1,” “Day 2,” or “Day 3” to view routes on REVER

As I made my way south into West Virginia on these great winding roads, a familiar anthem played in my head, albeit somewhat revised: Asphalt heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shanandoah River…

No disrespect to John Denver, but your humble scribe gives top billing to the West Virginia backroads. I was headed to Elkins, a small city at the edge of the Monongahela National Forest in the heart of Randolph County where a group of riders had bivouacked at the Holiday Inn Express. This location offered easy access to the region’s fantastic roads and a short walk downtown to multiple options for post‑­ride dinner and libations.

See all of Rider‘s West Virginia touring stories here

Next morning, I mounted my BMW R 1200 RT and joined routemeister Ed Conde for a well-planned 245‑­mile loop through the Allegheny Highlands. In morning fog, our group rode south on U.S. Route 250, then turned north on State Route 28 at Thornwood. The road was fantastically curvy, though a low‑­pressure warning for my rear tire was a cause for concern. After turning east on U.S. 33 at Judy Gap, we stopped at the Germany Valley scenic overlook, which was fogged in but had room for several bikes to safely pull off the road. I discovered a screw in the center of my tread, but the right tools – and folks willing to help – made for a quick repair.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Spruce Knob
Stiff winds atop Spruce Knob forced these evergreens to grow leeward.

At Franklin, we turned north on U.S. 220. Just past Upper Tract, we continued north on Smoke Hole Road. This very narrow, winding two‑­way road has continuous blind corners, elevation changes, and no center line, with several curves signposted at 5 mph. In one curvy section, we had to get past a farmer whose tractor was pulling a trailer with implements sticking out the side. He pulled as far over as he could, and we squeezed by and acknowledged his effort. The pavement was not as smooth as most roads that day, but the adrenaline meter was pegged. Smoke Hole Road isn’t for the faint of heart.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams
Located on U.S. 33 on the way to Franklin, this convenience store looked at home in West Virginia.

We rejoined SR‑­28 near Cabins and wound our way south along the North Fork South Branch Potomac River to Seneca Rocks, where ragged rock ridges reach skyward 900 feet. During World War II, American soldiers trained on these cliffs, and many applied the skills they learned to scale the cliffs of Normandy on D‑­Day. These days, the rocks are popular with climbers and photographers.

Our ride had been largely within the Monongahela National Forest, and we were back in the heart of it. We rode west on U.S. 33, north on SR‑­32, north on SR‑­72 (Dry Fork Road, another winding, single‑­lane gem), and east on U.S. 48, part of the Seneca Trail, to the hip little town of Thomas in Tucker County. At The Purple Fiddle, where “Live Music Lives,” our lunch break included a performance by a physician-musician who sang about a strained relationship with his one‑­eyed grandmother: “We don’t see eye‑­to‑­eye.”

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Spruce Knob
David Somers of Northfield, New Jersey, motored toward the summit of Spruce Knob along NF 104.

Lunch cravings satisfied, we rode north through Silver Lake and Aurora, over to Macomber, and down to Parsons. A growing part of West Virginia’s energy industry is powered by wind, and we encountered giant turbines spinning atop ridgelines. Later, riding south on deliciously winding U.S. 219, a wide‑­load pilot vehicle stopped all traffic so a tractor‑­trailer hauling a giant windmill blade could get through a section of tight turns. The impressive rig rolled by as we waited. The long blade had wheel‑­trucks attached directly to it, turning the blade into a trailer transporting itself. As the afternoon sunshine grew warmer, we eased back to Elkins.

Out of several local restaurants near the hotel, I picked C. J. Maggie’s and joined other riders for supper at the bar. Later, as we socialized on the hotel’s back patio, the mayor of Elkins, Jerry Marco, paid us a visit. Hizzoner was gracious and welcoming, genuinely pleased to have dozens of motorcyclists staying in his city.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Elkins
Truth in advertising.

In the morning, I hit the road early and solo, with more twisties and high elevations being my key goals. As I pulled my bike up off the sidestand, I felt some soreness across my chest. Rowing the handlebars of a 630‑­lb sport‑­tourer at a quick pace over hundreds of miles of tight curves had proved a workout.

Aiming the RT east along winding U.S. 33, I made rapid progress toward Alpena, Harman, and Onego. Asphalt heaven, West Virginia repeated in my head as smooth, curvy blacktop unfolded like a roller coaster. It was worth the 600‑­mile ride from my home in western Massachusetts to ride these roads. And here’s some down‑­home irony: The primary author of John Denver’s hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is Bill Danoff, who revealed in an interview that the song was inspired by his upbringing…in western Massachusetts! Danoff felt the word “Massachusetts” didn’t sound musical, so he wrote the song about West Virginia.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams
A lay-by along NF 112 offered this midmorning vista toward Circleville.

I turned north on SR‑­28 for a view of Seneca Rocks, then back south to U.S. 33 and Briery Gap Road, where a right turn revealed a view of wickedly serpentine asphalt ahead. Time to apply those trackday lessons on body position.

Farther on, a right onto National Forest 112 took me through a tunnel of trees. This road was fairly smooth, suitable for a spirited but reasonable pace. Sight distances were short, and at the crest of a blind rise, an oncoming car reminded me to be wary of oncoming traffic.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams
Zipping along NF 112 felt like being in a tunnel of trees.

A few switchbacks added excitement, but it was repeated deer sightings that quickened my pulse. A doe suddenly appeared in the road ahead, and I hit the binders. She trained her big ears on me and then looked behind. Moments later, a wobbly, spotted fawn appeared at her side. It was captivating to see two beautiful road hazards step effortlessly up a steep incline and vanish into the woods.

Turning right onto NF 104 took me to the summit of Spruce Knob. At 4,863 feet, it’s the highest ridge in the Allegheny Mountains and the highest point in West Virginia. On this clear day, the view from Spruce Knob was spectacular.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Spruce Knob
Spectacular view from Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

Reversing course, I again savored those wicked twisties descending Briery Gap Road. My ears popped as I reached U.S. 33, now 3,000 feet below the summit. I stopped again at Germany Valley, this time enjoying a fog‑­free view and no flat tire, then rode all the way to Brandywine in Pendleton County. I turned south on County Road 21 and rode past Sugar Grove Station, a National Security Agency communications site that reportedly intercepts all international communications entering the eastern U.S. Since I wasn’t expecting any illicit communiques that morning, I turned west to enjoy curvy Moyers Gap Road.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Germany VAlley
With no fog and no flat tire, the view of Germany Valley was beautiful.

At U.S. 220, I turned south and briefly entered Virginia (what a young boy there called “regular Virginia”). At U.S. 250, I cut right and stopped in Monterey for a late lunch at High’s Restaurant. This venerable eatery now holds the distinction of serving me the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had: rainbow trout, sourced from a local creek, fileted and grilled to perfection, and piled on a brioche bun. “Delicious” can’t do it justice.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams
High’s Restaurant in Monterey, Virginia, is a great spot for lunch.

As I continued north and east on U.S. 250, I rode up and down ridges and leaning through a succession of tight curves that had me laughing inside my helmet. And it was clear the instant I crossed the state border and entered Pocahontas County: Virginia’s road surfaces are good, but West Virginia’s are superb. 

From Thornwood, the ride back to Elkins reversed the beginning of the previous day’s route. A fun road in the opposite direction was its own fun ride. Back at the hotel, I connected with other riders and walked downtown to another local eatery, Mama Mia Pie & Pasta. Over Italian entrees and local craft beers, we compared notes from our day’s riding.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams Spruce Knob
David Somers (foreground) and Mitch Pivor of Dover, New Hampshire, motored down from the summit of Spruce Knob along NF 104.

Morning presented another opportunity to ride glorious West Virginia asphalt, this time with my long‑­time riding partner Steve Efthyvoulou. Temps started cool, and the previous day’s crystal blue sky was now tarnished gray with smoke from massive wildfires in Canada. We went south on U.S. 250, a now‑­familiar route out of Elkins. Turning south on SR‑­28, we saw signs for the Green Bank Observatory, home of the world’s largest steerable radio telescope. Astronomy nerds will want to stop, but today we were observing asphalt, laid out before us in smooth, banked curves.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams
The view over Hightown, Virginia, from a lay-by along U.S. 250. Steve and I rode through that farm a few minutes later.

At SR‑­66 we turned west toward Snowshoe, one of West Virginia’s premier ski resorts. It was June, so the slopes were green, and we stopped for lunch at Kickin’ Chicken. Loaded with protein, we paralleled the Tygart Valley River on U.S. 219 north to Valley Head, where a left onto SR‑­15 set us up for an afternoon twist fest. The road presented often tricky curves to Webster Springs, where we picked up SR‑­20 for more fantastic curves. Flat light due to the wildfire haze softened the contrast between sun and shadow, improving visibility on these technically challenging roads.

Asphalt Heaven West Virginia backroads Scott A. Williams
Some roads just sound enticing. This one is off U.S. 33 near Oak Flat.

Near the West Virginia State Wildlife Center, we turned right onto Alexander Road. This narrow, curvy two‑­lane is full of tight corners and elevation changes, all the way to U.S. 250, where we turned north on a familiar route back to Elkins. Another amazing day was in the books. Though I had previously ridden through West Virginia several times on the way to other riding destinations, this was my first dedicated trip to ride the Mountain State – and I just scratched the surface. Without a doubt, there’s asphalt heaven on West Virginia backroads.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here

West Virginia Backroads Resources

Sidebar: Why are West Virginia Backroads So Good?

Randy Damron, a liaison between West Virginia’s departments of Transportation and Tourism, clued me in. Damron rides a Honda Gold Wing and a Kawasaki KLR, so he understands the motorcycling community. He explained that the improved quality of the state’s roads in recent years owes much to “Roads to Prosperity,” a road construction and maintenance initiative to support West Virginia residents, industry, and tourism.

Transportation and Tourism partnered to create four West Virginia Mountain Rides (with more on the way) that are in excellent condition, have good shoulders and guardrails, and run through beautiful scenery. The Seneca Skyway, for example, is a signposted 300-mile loop that includes several roads covered in this story. Go to the West Virginia Department of Tourism website and click on “Road Trips” to learn more.

And check out Episode 150 of the West Virginia on the DOT podcast, where Damron and co-host Jennifer Dooley had me on the show. Visit the West Virginia Department of Transportation website to listen.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com