Every state has favorite motorcycle roads hidden deep in a forest, high on a mountain pass, or winding across a prairie. These roads are well known to locals and sought out by passing sport touring riders.
We’re on a mission to point motorcyclists everywhere to the best roads in each of the 50 states. Earlier we wrote about top roads in the western states and northeast states. This time we set out to explore the best riding in the Midwestern States.
What Makes a Good Sport Touring Road
As a reminder, our picks were driven by five qualities that a truly satisfying sport touring motorcycle road must have.
- No less than 25 miles – A good motorcycle road can’t tease; it has to run at least 25 miles to let riders connect with its rhythm and temperament.
- Sufficiently well paved – Spirited riding happens on good motorcycle roads, so it follows that the road itself must have decent pavement.
- Uncrowded – Riding, particularly sport touring, is about getting away from traffic to enjoy a lively combination of nature and machine. Traffic on a good motorcycle road allows plenty of room to ride.
- Curves a plenty – Bring on sweepers, wide corners, and technical sections in a frothy mix. After all, isn’t that the point?
- Scenic and historic – The scenery that surrounds a good motorcycle road adds character much like artwork in a favorite restaurant. It’s something to look at between bites.
Top Motorcycle Road in Each Midwestern State
Here are the top motorcycle sport touring roads in each of the 12 Midwest states.
Wisconsin – Southwest Rolling Hills
Wisconsin is well known for two things – cheese and football. And perhaps not as much for motorcycle roads. But it turns out there are plenty of good motorcycle roads to be found.
We put together a 117 mile route stretching through western Wisconsin farmland that is sure to entertain riders of all kinds. Start the ride from either Genoa or Stoddard on the Mississippi River, and then follow state routes through Wisconsin rolling hills and dairy farms. Riding in the Kickapoo Valley on WI-131 between Ontario and La Farge is a highlight. The road curves gently over tree covered hills and between open grassy fields, crossing the Kickapoo River several times along the way.
Speaking of rivers, we would be remiss not to call out the option to ride WI-35 between Genoa and Stoddard along the Mississippi River. The road itself is uneventful, but the river views are worth the price. Don’t miss Old Settlers Overlook about halfway between towns. It’s off the highway up a narrow and rough, but paved, road. The sights up and down the river are worth the time.
Michigan – The Keweenaw Peninsula Loop
The best riding roads in Michigan are along one of the two Great Lakes that border the Wolverine State. It’s no surprise then that our top pick is about as far north as one can go without dipping a toe in Lake Superior.
This 67 mile loop starts in Allouez Township and ends in the town of Allouez on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Heading north on MI-26, take in views of Lake Superior and visit the historic Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. On the inland return ride, explore Michigan’s farm and forest country. Look for the Cliff Mine a short distance off US-41 near Phoenix MI. This long depleted copper mine offers another glimpse into 1800’s Michigan history.
Illinois – The Northwest Triangle
The best sport touring rides in Illinois happen to be in the northwest and southwest corners of the state. This route traces a 41 mile triangular path between three small towns in the northwest corner of the state. Towns are small and roads lightly traveled creating the perfect respite for riders.
Start in Galena where Civil War history buffs will find the Ulysses S. Grant Home Museum. Then ride down US-20, known as the US Grant Memorial Highway, toward the Village of Elizabeth. Along the way, take W Mt Hope Rd off US-20 for a stop at Thunder Bay Falls and Lake Galena.
From Elizabeth head north on the gently curving N. Elizabeth Scales Mound Rd all the way to Scales Mound. Scales Mound at 925 feet and nearby Charles Mound at 1251 feet are the highest points in the state. End the day meandering back to Galena through corn fields along W. Stagecoach Trail.
Indiana – Ohio River Scenic Byway
The southern border of Indiana is delineated by the Ohio River along which the Ohio River Scenic Byway loosely follows. We say loosely because the byway only occasionally nears the river. Nevertheless, this 61 mile route between Tell City on the Ohio River and White Cloud north of the river is full of picturesque Indiana landscapes.
Ride from White Cloud into the Harrison-Crawford State Forest following the Ohio River Scenic Byway (IN-62). The road sweeps through the forest and every so often opens to views of the nearby Blue River. The scenic byway veers away from the river west of Leavenworth, where it quietly rolls by a mix of forests and farms in rural Indiana.
The Ohio River is a highlight on this route. Two overlooks are worth a stop. The first is the Overlook Restaurant near Leavenworth. Step out on their dining deck for an incredible panorama of the Ohio River and the wooded hills of Kentucky on the other side. The second is Eagle’s Bluff Overlook near Cannelton. It’s off the scenic byway a bit, but the turnout is well marked, and the road is paved. Eagle’s Bluff gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the Cannelton Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant. The complex features two locks on the Indiana side of the river, while the dam extends to the riverbank harvesting hydroelectric power for customers in Kentucky.
Ohio – Ohio Forests Loop
Here’s a 55 mile romp through three forests in Ohio, all in the southeast part of the state. The ride circles through the historic mining town of Nelsonville on the Hocking River in the Wayne National Forest, crosses the north edge of the Vinton Furnace State Forest, and touches the Zaleski State Forest.
Follow OH-691 south as it winds through the forest then pick-up OH-356 toward Knox Township. The road is constantly turning, disappearing left and right behind trees lining the pavement. Cut over to Madison Township and then head north to New Plymouth and on to Nelsonville to complete the loop.
These are not technical roads, but rather a ride on quiet two-laners through green countryside that’s sure to clear one’s head.
North Dakota – Theodore Roosevelt National Park Loop
North Dakota is not known for motorcycle roads like its cousin to the south. Most of the state is carved up in neat chunks of farmland. But the Dakota Prairie Grasslands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the west side of the state present a much more diverse landscape. Take this 36 mile loop through the National Park to enjoy the best riding in North Dakota.
Start in the small park town of Medora, perfect for learning more about the historic significance of the park and a snack before setting out. From there head into the South Unit of the National Park on East River Road. Meander along Scenic Loop Road past vast plains and colorful rock formations. Take advantage of the many overlooks for wide views and more information about the surrounding area. Because this National Park is off the beaten path it has fewer visitors per year than most meaning less traffic for riders to deal with.
South Dakota – Iron Mountain Road
What North Dakota may lack in good motorcycle roads, South Dakota more than makes up for. Roads like Spearfish Canyon Highway, Needles Highway, the CanAm Highway and so many more are all top-notch. But since we can name only one, Iron Mountain Road (US-16A) takes the prize in South Dakota.
This exceptionally technical road stretches 16 miles southward from Mount Rushmore National Monument to Custer State Park; (named after Col. George Custer whose last stand was at Little Bighorn in Montana). There are a few vista points along the way, but the road is the real attraction demanding all of a rider’s attention.
Once off Iron Mountain Road, keep riding through Custer State Park on highway 16A to the town of Custer 16 miles further on.
Nebraska– Whitetail to Valentine
The Cornhusker State, famous for growing corn, is also blessed with a few good motorcycle roads. The one we like best runs north-south across the center of the state. This 169 mile route features quiet paths through vast prairies and acre upon acre of corn fields.
The route begins in Whitetail at the Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and heads north past the Merritt Reservoir to Valentine Nebraska. The first miles out of Whitetail on NE-61 are best described as gently curving road over equally gently rolling prairie. At Beem Lake, turn east onto NE-2 and then north on NE-97 to Valentine.
Take a break at the Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area. And if riding on gravel is not a problem, ride up to the Snake River Falls about 3 miles north of Merritt Reservoir. The turn off is on the west side of the road and poorly marked. A windmill and a clump of trees are useful landmarks.
Kansas – Flint Hills National Scenic Byway
The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway is our pick for top road in Kansas. Admittedly there are few roads in this state that meet the criteria we set out for a top road. But this one is worth the ride and offers a variety of Midwest landscapes to enjoy.
The entire route covers 80 miles. Start from Cassoday and head north on the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway toward Council Grove. The road bends easily without requiring much effort to follow. The landscape is surprisingly lush, not what a touring rider might expect in central Kansas. From Council Grove, leave the Scenic Byway and follow Old Kansas 10 Rd to Alta Vista. This road is comparatively windy but rough. A nice change of pace for the final miles on this route.
Minnesota – The Gunflint Trail
Take a twisty 57 mile ride on the Gunflint Trail, a national scenic byway that traces the northern edge of Superior National Forest. Originally a mining trail, this road winds through epic conifer and pine forests abundant with wildlife including moose.
The area contains thousands of lakes, most of which are only accessible by hiking trail. Riders who aren’t into hiking can take advantage of the Swamper Lake Rest Area for a roadside lake view.
Start the ride in the artsy town of Grand Marais on Lake Superior and ride in a northwesterly direction on the Gunflint Trail to its end deep in the Superior National Forest. At the end of the trail spend some time off the bike exploring the area. Check out the historic Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center overlooking one of the many bays on Saganaga Lake.
Iowa –Sabula Island to Marquette on the Great River Road
On the east edge of the Hawkeye State, where the Mississippi River establishes a border with Illinois, lies the Great River Road formally named US-52. An enticingly curvy road that winds 103 miles between the river towns of Sabula Island and Marquette, along the way passing pine and oak tree groves, farms and ranches, and quaint river towns. The Great River Road offers an enjoyable mix of tree-framed windy road separated by stretches of open fields and rolling hills.
Ride the road in either direction. Expect commercial activity and some congestion near Dubuque, but otherwise traffic is typically light on this route.
Be sure to stop in the picturesque towns of Bellevue and Guttenburg for panoramic Mississippi River views. Both offer plenty of cafes to enjoy a snack while looking across the river to Wisconsin from Guttenburg or Illinois from Bellevue. And with luck, in either town catch one of the Midwest Inland Waterway river locks in action.
Missouri – Mark Twain National Forest
Riding in cool fresh forest air has to be one of the most zen-like motorcycle experiences of all. This 104 mile ride through the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest is all of that and more – trees, greenery, and peaceful local roads.
Located in south central Missouri, Mark Twain National Forest was established in 1939 to preserve Missouri pine, hickory and oak forests. Today, there are only a few paved roads suitable for sport touring in and around the forest. The stretch between Bixby and Potosi on MO-32 and County Road DD makes for an exceptionally fun 35 miles of riding.
But this route is good sport touring start to finish. The section leading to Bixby from the south winds through quiet forests and past small towns on roads that are well off the main grid.
Variety Best Describes Midwest Riding
Sport Touring in the Midwest states runs the gamut from long stretches of gently winding countryside to the most intense twisties found anywhere. Every choice on our list of top Midwest roads delivers what matters most – exciting riding surrounded by essential American landscapes.
Photos in this article not otherwise attributed are used under the Creative Commons License.
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