What are the Best Motorcycle Rides in the Midwest?
Report based on a full-year of 2019's data of the Best Motorcycle Roads in the Midwestern region of the United States
To produce this report, we looked back at the entire 2019 motorcycle riding season’s data gathered by the MotorcycleRoads.com (McR) web site. This data comes in from the literally millions and millions of page views accessed on McR over the course of a year by various motorcycle riders (over 1 million riders visit motorcycle roads annually). If you are curious as to the details of how the popularity ratings are calculated, see Note 1 at the bottom of this article. Also, we used the US Census Bureau’s definition of the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).
Overall, the Midwest has a very strong collection of motorcycle roads with approximately 421 registered on McR and each year the number of favorite motorcycle rides contributed by riders grows. At the time of this analysis (Dec 2019), the average state in the Midwest had 36 registered motorcycle roads with the following states rising to the top with most motorcycle routes:
- Ohio has been the leader for over a decade and its total of 84 registered motorcycle roads is not only the most in the Midwest but nearly exceeds the total for the next two states combined
- Wisconsin has particularly come on strong over the last few years and in 2019 took over second place with 47
- Illinois has also had a lot of new motorcycle roads registered over the last few years and it’s total of 46 just recently got edged out by Wisconsin
The registered motorcycle road totals for all the states in the Midwest are listed below in the bar chart:
Moving past the discussion of quantity (# of registered motorcycle roads per state) and moving on to the quality aspect, reveals some more interesting trends.
Summary of this year’s Top 10 motorcycle rides rankings: The most obvious observation is that not only does Ohio dominate in terms of the numbers of registered motorcycle roads but also in terms of the quality of those roads as it has 5 of the Top 10 routes and even more impressively, has the number 1 route in the entire listing and 4 of the Top 5 in fact! Michigan posts the second most popular motorcycle road in the Midwest but has no other routes among the Top 10 while South Dakota this year has two routes in the Top 10, while Minnesota hosts one of Top 10 routes at position 9, and Illinois, also with one route to make the Top 10 at position 10.
So with all the analysis behind us, let’s jump in to the listing of the 10 Best Motorcycle Roads in the Midwest … starting at #10 and working our way to #1:
#10 Rock River Run (Illinois)
The tenth best motorcycle road in the Midwest is Illinois’ “Rock River Run” in northern Illinois running southwest from Rockford, Illinois for 42 miles. This route was registered back in 2007 and currently has a Rider Rating of 4.33 out of 5. It’s the most popular motorcycle road in Illinois and the route, as the name implies, follows the Rock River and ends up in Dixon, IL. It’s known for its great river scenery as well as curves that go along with a route that follows the path of a river. Tourism opportunities along the way include two state parks and a local landmark referred to as the Walter Strong Castle (you can tour for about 10$). One reviewer stated this is his all-time favorite Illinois motorcycle road and went on to describe the drive as a “gorgeous wind down the Rock River with a great over-look at Lowden State Park (from the Blackhawk statue). It's even a fun run at night. The only negative is that it's completely flat, no hills.”
#9 Minnesota’s The Incredible North Shore Tour
The 9th best motorcycle road in the Midwest is found further north yet also following the shore of a waterway – “Minnesota’s Incredible North Shore Tour.” This route hugs the coast of Lake Superior from Duluth heading northeast all the way up to the US-Canadian border! This route was also registered back in 2007 and has a 4.64 Rider Rating with 17 enthusiastic reviews on McR. The author gave the scenery a 5-star rating and talked about how riders are treated to “ocean views” as the vast Lake Superior lies to the east for the entire ride. The author also listed the route’s tourism opportunities as 5-stars as well as it has no less than 6 state parks along the way. Many reviewers comment not only about the many things to do along the way but also provide additional suggested excursions nearby or as an extension of this very popular Midwest motorcycle road.
#8 Northeastern Ohio's Curve Heaven - RT 164.
As mentioned in the summary above, Ohio simply dominates when it comes to popular motorcycle roads and at the 8th spot is the state’s first appearance on this Top 10 list with the “Northeastern Ohio's Curve Heaven - RT 164.” This route is a bit unique to the other Ohio motorcycle roads on this list as it is (as the name states) in the Northeast area of the state ... yet nearly all the other popular Ohio motorcycle roads are found further south. Like the two routes above, this route also was registered in the year 2007 and currently sits at a 4.19 out of 5 Rider Rating. It’s a route that meanders through thick woods and among hills of sandstone and is considered “very TECHNICAL” by the route’s author; yet traffic is pleasantly light. When it comes to tourism opportunities though, this route doesn’t offer much so take this one for the turns, hills, & secluded wooded scenery as one commenter made a point of emphasizing when they stated “crazy fun road, actually scary at times. Lot's of blind hills, and some gravel in turns. Very roller coaster like, one of the best I've been on as far as curves go” … so be careful on this great Ohio twisty motorcycle road!!
#7 The Central Hill Loop (South Dakota)
The next two routes on our Top 10 listing come in from South Dakota. The first one is a spectacular route in the southwest corner of the state forming a 57-mile loop sitting in the 7th spot and titled by the author – “The Central Hills Loop” when it was registered back in 2008. Since then the motorcycle road has climbed fast on to the list of the most popular motorcycle roads in the Midwest. It is part of a lot of riders’ McR “To Ride” lists and has a great collection of photos contributed by riders over the years. The loop passes by the world famous Mount Rushmore National Monument, the great tourism town of Keystone SD, and Custer state park so there are plenty of GREAT things to do along this route (the author was way too modest as they only gave it 4 stars for Tourism Opportunities). A quick read through the many rider comments on this route will convince you that this route cannot be missed if you are in the area. It is considered to both offer stunning scenery and very challenging curves so you’ll have to manage the demands of a motorcycle ride amongst beautiful scenery and grade A twisties!
#6 16A To And Thru Custer State Park (South Dakota)
South Dakota also places a route into the 6th ranked Midwest motorcycle road spot with a 26-mile jaunt in the same area as the “Central Hill Loop” (described above) called – “16A To And Thru Custer State Park.” This has been registered since way back in 2003 and steadily climbed the rankings to where it is now primarily because of its incredible scenery in southwest South Dakota. Many riders and photos contributed call out the incredible rock formations jetting out from the lush forests and winding roads positioned between geological obstacles. And speaking of obstacles, on this route many riders talk about the thrill of riding among free roaming bison (who are often times on the road and don’t seem too concerned about those noisy little two-wheeled contraptions getting in their way) and single lane tunnels carved through the mountains! According to one of the rider/commenters, the three tunnels on this path were specifically designed to frame Mount Rushmore so (assuming you are headed in the right direction) will get great views of this wonderful American monument.
#5 Ohio's Dragon's Tail
As we enter the Top 5 of the Top 10 listing, Ohio is going to show its dominance as it will appear in 4 of the 5 next listings with the first of its entrants at the 5th spot – “Ohio's Dragon's Tail.” Like the Dragon that the route is named for (the Dragon is only 11-miles), this route is pretty short when it comes to miles at 20. Yet, in those short 20 miles you’ll be not only treated to the twisties that you would expect with a name like this but also take in some great views as show in the photos and video posted on McR documenting this great southeastern Ohio ride. And, unlike many of the other roads that are known for their extreme twists and turns, this one interestingly seems to have plenty of street signage to keep you prepared for upcoming turns and incline changes.
#4 Ohio Route 26
The number 4 spot also goes to an Ohio motorcycle road this one a much longer 75-mile drive in the far southeast corner of Ohio with a much more modest title than many of its Ohio motorcycle road counterparts; simply referred to by its state given name – “Ohio Route 26.” This route generates a lot of buzz as 24 Rider Reviews were posted at the time this report was generated and yet the route has only been registered since 2009. The scenery is listed by the author as 4-stars and calls out some great scenic amenities like covered bridges, barns, and quaint little farms. However, it appears the main draw on this route is also the curves with the author emphasizing them in this excerpt from the Drive Enjoyment description - “Some curves are decreasing radius so be careful! VERY CURVY! I have ridden Rt 555, and 536. This road is similar to 555 without gravel. I fully enjoyed this road as I could lean down without the fear of a heap of gravel in the turn apex like 555.”
#3 The Ohio Cousin of the Tail of the Dragon
Ohio’s next road in the Top 5 is the short but sugar sweet 12 mile – “The Ohio Cousin Of The Tail Of The Dragon”. As the name implies, this is another route that reminds riders of the world famous Tail of the Dragon further south in TN/NC. The 61 rider reviews contributed for this route should give you an idea of how much excitement this Ohio motorcycle ride has been generating since it was registered back in 2007. The route’s author gave the ride 5-stars for Scenery and 5-stars for Drive Enjoyment. The route starts out near the Ohio River and travels northwest into deep woods in and near the Wayne National Forest. Expect little traffic and the same attributes that are in abundance in southeastern Ohio – hills & curves! And, like a number of registered motorcycle roads on McR this route is partially named after the famous Dragon’s tail in TN/NC but one of the reviewers went so far as to state his preference of this route over the world famous ride to the south - “frankly the southern dragon is over hyped.....fun but not particularly visually stimulating....536 is a better ride for my money”!
#2 Tunnel of Trees Road (Michigan)
Ohio graciously takes a break from dominating the Top 5 roads in the Midwest and lets its northern neighbor of Michigan muscle its way into the listing with the famous & beautiful – “Tunnel of Trees Road” in northwestern Michigan (not in the Upper Peninsula of MI) along the Lake Michigan shoreline. This route has been a registered motorcycle road on McR since way back in 2004 and is a famous US road that attracts riders and drivers from all of the country and the world for that matter. It is a lovely 22-miles through thick woods where the deep blue lake waters are visible at times to the west and quaint cabins and lake shore homes dot the woods and lakeshore. However, many times the rider will be treated to a virtual tunnel of trees shading the road and creating an incredible sense of solitude. The road is in great shape typically as the state understands the tourism draw it represents and so they go the extra mile to keep the blacktop smooth. However, the tradeoff is that the road with its strong reputation and draw as a destination can be crowded and so if traffic is going to bother you, you’ll want to plan to take the drive during a week day or the early hours to try to put yourself on this route when traffic is lighter. And, if you’re looking for a route with plenty to do along the way, this route will not disappoint as there are many great stops at restaurants, souvenir shops, and motels/hotels. Lastly, this route regularly is identified as one of the best fall scenic drives in the USA so if you can time your trip to ride through the “tunnel” when the route is blanketed in incredible autumn colors, you just may be in for the ride of a lifetime!
#1 The Triple Nickel - Route 555 (Ohio)
And at the number 1 spot, Ohio takes back over with a 34-mile motorcycle route with a great name and a fan base that extends across the country and beyond – “The Triple Nickel – Route 555.” This great route is south of Zanesville Ohio and has been registered since 2006 and has dominated as the number one route in Ohio for about a decade now. To get a feel for what draws riders to this ‘mecca in the Midwest’ for motorcycle riders, read through the collection of 70 motorcycle rider reviews and comments that were available at the time of this report. Also, it has amassed a great collection of photos and videos which give the reader a great feel for the scenic splendor and curve bonanza that await motorcycle riders who find themselves on The Triple Nickel. From the photos posted on McR, you’ll see that the excitement for this route has grown so much that apparently some rides have actually had patches made to show that they’ve rode the Nickel.
Interested in more motorcycle ride articles like this?
|The Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the Midwest|
|The Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the Northeast|
|The Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the South|
|The Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the West|
Note 1: All facts and figures below were gathered during early Jan 2019 and will change over time as new motorcycle roads are added to the collection.
Note 2: How were these popularity ratings calculated?
A motorcycle road’s popularity can be based on a wide variety of factors. Our analysis considered some obvious indicators of motorcycle road popularity such each roads’ “Rider Rating” scores (star ratings) and which motorcycle road description pages were visited the most. But, the analysis dug deeper and looked at some less obvious yet valuable indicators of a motorcycle road’s popularity such as how often a given motorcycle road was added to riders’ “To Ride” lists, how often a given motorcycle road was added to riders’ “Rode it” lists and enthusiasm indicators such how often photos and/or videos were uploaded for a given road and which roads are attracting the most buzz among motorcycle roads indicated by those roads that are receiving the most number of new/recent comments. For the sake of being consistent and as objective as possible we use a popularity algorithm that “crunches those number” and allows us to develop a ranking of the popularity of each of the motorcycle roads used as a basis for this guide.
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