What are the Best Motorcycle Rides the South has to offer?
(Updated to help you plan for the 2021 Riding Season!)
Report based on a full-year of the 2020 riding season's data of the Best Motorcycle Roads in the Southern region of the United States
To produce this listing, I look back at all of the 2020 motorcycle riding season information that is gathered by the MotorcycleRoads.com (McR) web site (the site by default tracks number of visitors to each registered motorcycle ride description page, how the riders rated each of the routes in the southern portion of the USA, how many riders added photos or videos for the southern US motorcycle roads. This data comes in from the literally millions and millions of web site page views accessed on the McR web server over the course of the year 2020 by various motorcycle riders (approximately a million riders visit motorcycle roads annually). There really is just a lot of data to comb through and come up with trends and popularity ratings from and so if you are curious as to the details of how the ratings are calculated, see Note 1 at the bottom of this article of the Best motorcycle roads in the Southern region of the USA. Also, just for the record, I used the US Census Bureau’s definition of the Northeast region (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia).
Overall, the US Southern region currently has 718 registered motorcycle roads on McR and each year this number grows as riders add more of their favorite motorcycle rides to the collection. In fact, the South has the most registered motorcycle rides of all US regions at over 200 more than the region with the second most registered routes (the US West) at the time of this analysis (see Note 1 at the bottom of this article). That puts the Southern region at an average of 44 registered motorcycle roads per state (compared to the average US region that has only 39 per state). The bar chart below shows the totals and breakdown of each of the USA regions' share of registered motorcycle roads.
When it comes to the performance of each of the states within the Southern region, Texas is king with 111 registered motorcycle rides with North Carolina comes in at second place with 102 registered motorcycle rides. What's interesting to note here is there is a particularly fierce rivalry between two states: Texas and North Carolina. These two heavyweights of registered motorcycle roads have always been the tops in the southern region with Texas keeping the lead over the last 5 plus years. This year Texas rose 8% to 111 routes yet North Carolina seems to be making a move to catch Texas as it increased its number of registered motorcycle roads by 15% this year to end up at 102 total and bring its total within 9 routes of tying Texas. Also, these regions host two of the most popular motorcycle roads in the entire USA; Texas has the incredible - The Three Sisters Motorcycle Ride and North Carolina has what is probably the most infamous motorcycle road in the entire world - The Tail of the Dragon! These two routes have battled for the number #1 most popular motorcycle road in the USA for over a decade now. Keep reading below to see which of these epic motorcycle rides came out on top this year!
For a complete listing of registered motorcycle road totals for each of the states in the US Southern region, refer to the below bar chart:
Summary of this year’s Top 10 motorcycle rides in the South rankings:
Moving on from the discussion of quantity of motorcycle rides and on to the quality of motorcycle rides in the South of the USA, reveals some interesting trends. Even though Texas has the most registered motorcycle roads, North Carolina rises to the top when it comes to motorcycle ride with 3 of its rides making the Top 10 MOTORCYCLE ROADS OF THE ENTIRE USA list. However, when we look solely at the Southern states here are the break downs of Southern states with most motorcycle rides in their region's Top 10 grouping:
- North Carolina and Arkansas all come in at the top of the list with 3 of their motorcycle rides making the Top 10 in the South list (again though, consider that all of North Carolina's Top 3 made the USA's Top 10 list and you'll understand why I'm pointing out North Carolina first!). Also, keep in mind, that for these totals, many routes are shared by two or more states and therefore I've given credit to each of the states. For example, if you look at the Top 10 Motorcycle Rides of the South, you'll see that both North Carolina and Tennessee share multiple routes in that listing (where a portion of the route is in one state, and another portion of the route is in the other (e.g., "The Dragon" has portions in both states)).
- Virginia and Tennessee come in at the second spot with 2 of their motorcycle rides making the list of Top 10 Motorcycle Rids in the South
- Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia tie for the 3rd spot as they each have one of their routes make the Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the South
After explaining all that, here is the map of the Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the South. Follow the color key below to show you where the best motorcycle rides in the south are located!
Changes from the previous year's results to this year's:
- Tennessee's best motorcycle road moved up from the #2 spot to the #1 spot this year (bumping the best motorcycle ride in Texas down to #2)
- The incredible North Carolina motorcycle ride - The Hellbender 28 - shoots up from the 9th spot last year all the way to #6!
I must point out some "Honorable Mentions" that didn't make the very competitive list of Top 10 Motorcycle Roads in the South.
- The Natchez Trace Parkway motorcycle ride has been one of the routes that has make the list year after year but as of recently was bumped out of the Top 10. So, if you're looking for a great, quite, lazy multi-southern state motorcycle ride, check this great one out.
- Ans, as if North Carolina didn't get enough props in this year's listing, I really need to point out another hard charging route in that state with an infamous name - The Devil's Whip (AKA North Carolina's Route 80) as this route has been rising in the national rankings and found its self in the 22nd position in the entire Top 50 US Motorcycle Roads!
Motorcycle Riding Hotspot Alert!!!: The area of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains is a virtual Hot Spot of great motorcycle riding. Additionally, Arkansas has been steadily rising in the years and particularly the northwest corner of Arkansas has become its own motorcycle riding Hot Spot as well. I have written an article about both of these motorcycle riding Hot Spots and a couple others if you are interested. Rounding out the remainder of the list, each of the following states has 1 route in the Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the South - Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, & Texas. General locations of each of The Top 10 motorcycle rides in the south are shown in the illustration below followed by a description paragraph and links to each of the these route's full page description which includes the route's map, photos, videos, comments, etc.
So, with all that summary information behind us, let’s jump right in to the listing of the Top 10 Best Motorcycle Rides in the South and I’ll try to eek out just a bit more suspense by starting the list in reverse at the #10 ranked motorcycle ride and working my way to #1 ride:
Making the Top 10 list of the best motorcycle rides in the south for the first time ever is a route in the western portion of Virginia, just a bit west of Fredericksburg, VA called Skyline Drive. This is the rated the second best motorcycle ride in Virginia and rides through the Shenandoah National Park area of the state for 105 miles of blissful mountain motorcycle riding. And, one of the greatest aspects of this motorcycle ride is that it is conveniently located just north of the were the iconic Americana style motorcycle ride - The Blue Ridge Parkway (coming up in the list below) - ends. So, if you are riding the Blue Ridge parkway from the south to north, you could continue on Skyline drive and make your route just that much more awesome!!
The next route slipped from the #8 spot down to here at the #9 spot but is still a great one as its name implies it is to be compared to an epic US route ... this great motorcycle ride is referred to as the Arkansas equivalent to the TN/NC Dragon and like the Dragon (11-miles), this one is a short-but-sweet 15-miles. You know you are in for a twisty motorcycle ride when the local government has posted as sign that prohibits truck traffic and bluntly states that the route has "impassable hairpin turns ahead." Well in this case, truck traffic's loss is your gain as not only will you not have to contend with annoying trucks along the way but also you will simply not have much traffic to deal with in general as this road is known for its low traffic levels. Additionally, because of the lack of commercial truck access, the pavement doesn't take as much of a beating so you'll be treated to some great pavement conditions. This motorcycle ride is in fact so popular that there is a bit of controversy on McR as it appear some Rider Comments are intentionally rating the route low so as to keep the ratings down and keep the word about this great Arkansas motorcycle ride from getting out.
The next one is a great great motorcycle ride & loop in the northeast corner of Georgia that has been on McR a relatively short amount of time but gathering a lotof attention and notoriety in that time (it currently has 44 Rider Reviews on McR so you'll have plenty of advice/opinions from other riders to review if you are interested in researching this ride further. Last year this Georgia motorcycle ride ranked a bit higher taking the 7th slot but this year it slid just a notch down to the #8 spot The route is by far the most popular motorcycle ride in the state of Georgia and part of a motorcycle riding Hot Spot called The Blue Ridge Box. Many riders describe how the route has become a bit of a right of passage experience for those who think they love twisty roads and those really do! Portions of this route are noted to be particularly narrow and caution is advised as there are a lot of driveways along this route which has residential traffic entering/exiting the road and causing a particular need for riders to stay aware of their surroundings and drive safely! Either way, if you are looking for Georgia's version of the Dragon and looking to for a ride that essentially has put Georgia on the map of great motorcycle rides, this is a drive you need to work into your plans.
Also slipping one spot (this one from #6 to #7) is another Arkansas motorcycle ride that is a bit further west than the Arkansas Dragon above. This ride is an official Federal government Scenic Byway that has portions in both Oklahoma and Arkansas: The Talimena National Scenic Byway. This 55-mile route has been on McR all the way since 2004 and is by far the most popular motorcycle ride in all of Oklahoma and has a very strong 4.35 out of 5 Rider Rating on McR. When most people think of Oklahoma they do not think of mountains and/or impressive elevations. What they don't realize is that Oklahoma has a particularly rugged mountainous section in the Southeastern portion of the state. In fact this route boast being in the midst of the highest points between the entire Appalachian mountain range and Rocky Mountain ranges: Stair Mountain and Rich Mountains. This rugged terrain makes for some great curves and elevation changes ... some of those elevation changes are quite dramatic as the author pointed out that there are sections with 13% grades. And, as you can see in the photo above, this route has some particularly inspiring fall leaf colors that if you can time your ride correctly, will leave you amazed. So if you're looking for an Oklahoma scenic surprise (note the route travels in portions of western Arkansas as well) and you love fall "leaf peeping," put this route into your McR "To Ride" list and work it into your future riding plans
Alright, so this is the motorcycle route that has generated the most trouble this year and all the changes you read about in the routes above. Last year the Hellbender 28 sat at #9 but this year it has made the biggest gains of all Southern motorcycle rides and now has muscled its way into the 6th spot. Overall, this motorcycle ride has really grown in popularity over the years as it is in close proximity to the Dragon and viewed by many riders as either a tune-up for riding that famous route. Either way it is considered to be one of the triad of must drive motorcycle rides in the Southwest North Carolina/Tennessee border area - Hellbender, the Dragon, and the Cherohala (all described on this page). It is a 22-mile route which makes it twice as long as the Dragon and doesn't have as nearly as much traffic (which makes this a more preferred ride over the Dragon for a lot of riders). It offers typical incredible Appalachian Mountain scenery that includes great views of Fontana Lake and the nearby dam. Gas/food/lodging options are sparse in this area so plan ahead if you plan to make the trek.
#5 brings us to yet another motorcycle ride in the great motorcycle riding state of Arkansas with a catchy name and a great following among riders in the Arkansas area - The Pig Trail. This route has been the rated the best motorcycle ride in Arkansas for a number of years and a row now which says a lot as Arkansas itself is really beginning to be recognized as a great Hot Spot of motorcycle riding. The ride is relatively short at only 19 miles but the Pig Trail has 50 Rider Reviews posted currently on McR so you'll find plenty of motorcycle rider opinions on this great Southern region motorcycle road. In addition to the great Ozark mountain scenery you'll be treated to, you also will get a virtual buffet of twisties to "dine on." The author said it best when he/she described the motorcycle rides drive enjoyment factor as including: "Hair raising hairpin turns, switchbacks, curves, curves, hills, curves and more curves!" ... get the point! And, check out all the great photos posted on McR to give you a feel of some of the views of "yesteryear" as you drive past vintage Arkansas backwoods buildings with some falling into dilapidation and others being maintained and turned into nice little places to stop and enjoy a bite to eat and some souvenir shopping. Like a handful of routes in McR (e.g., The Dragon, the Triple Nickel in Ohio) this route even has its own patch floating around so if you can take this motorcycle ride along Arkansas Route 23 and can get your hands on one of these patches, you'll be able to show the rider world that you've rode the famous Arkansas Pig Trail!
A perenial favorite for motorcycle riders not just in the USA but worldwide and is one of those rare 100+ mile routes that actually is a continuous drive across drive across multiple states and has become one of the most famous rides in the world (particularly famous among the auto touring crowd too!): the one and only Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). Like its fellow 400+ mile cousin parkway way to the west, the Natchez Trace Parkway (NTP. Described in the #10 slot above), this route (~467-miles) is also a US federal government designated parkway. Both the NTP and the BRP are recreational rides with modest speed limits (the NTP's max is 50 mph but more frequently around 40-45 mph where the BRP max is 45 mph and has multiple sections down at the 35 mph limit). The differences between the two parkways is scenery however is quite stark. The NTP travels among lovely green forest primarily along flat landscapes yet the BRP is almost entirely meandering roads in the high country of the Appalachian mountain range. The route has many nature stops and scenic overlook pull-overs along the way but very few gas & food opportunities along the way so you will need to plan your route to weave in the needed gas, food, and lodging stops along the way. Despite the fact that this route requires some planning and has restrictive speed limits, the route is very popular among the motorcycle riding community as it has a 4.63 out of 5 Rider Rating with 53 reviews waiting for your perusal.
As we enter the Top 3 we now have yet another North Carolina/Tennessee shared motorcycle ride to discuss. This route has essentially been the #2 motorcycle ride in North Carolina and the #2 ride in Tennessee for essentially as long as McR has been documenting the motorcycle roads of the USA (since 1998). And, despite the fact that other state's #1 and #2 routes often change position from year to year as the ratings are dynamic and are influenced by changes in rider enthusiasm for each route in the McR database, unfortunately I believe this route will be perpetually doomed to be a #2 route. That is because, unfortunately for the Cherohala Skyway, has the unfortunate circumstance of being in the same states as the near-universally venerated and iconic motorcycle ride is - The Tail of the Dragon. Yet, this perpetual #2 offers such incredible beautiful mountain scenery and 4 times the number of miles of great curves as it's rockstar cousin (the Dragon is 11-miles and the Cherohala Skyway is 44 miles), and significantly less traffic, that it would be a #1 state route in just about any other of the 50 US states. So, suffice it to say this route has lived in the shadows of the Dragon and been relegated to a #2 ranking but it would be a major mistake if you were to overlook this simply awesome motorcycle ride. If you read through some of the near 60 Rider Reviews on McR you'll see that many riders rate it above the Dragon and have begun spending more time on this routes pavement than that of its more larger than life neighbor to the north (The Dragon is just about 10-miles (as the crow flies) to the north of the Cherohala Skyway). No matter which route you end up coming away thinking is better, putting a motorcycle trip together that includes these two neighboring/ultra-poplar motorcycle roads and adding the Hellbender 28 described above (they are in the same general area), just may be the best possible trifecta of motorcycle rides available in the USA and the ingredients for some motorcycle rides of a lifetime.
As I mentioned in one of the introductory paragraphs above, there is a fierce rivalry in the world of motorcycle roads between two fantastic riding states - Texas and North Carolina. Last year, the Three Sisters stepped up and took over the #1 slot after being at #2 the previous year. However, this year the Tail of the Dragon "rose from the ashes" and once again bumped those Three Sisters down to the #2 spot (to check out this battle for yourself, bookmark the best motorcycle rides in the USA or visit the McR homepage regularly to see any updates as the route rankings are updated automatically & 24/7). Despite the fact that it found itself at the #2 spot this year, this Texas motorcycle ride has a near cult following and has garnered an incredible amount of comments and ratings on McR (130+ enthusiastic Rider Ratings at the time of this report). It lies just northwest of San Antonio Texas in a region they call Texas Hill Country and as you can see in the photo offers 130-miles of great scenery, winding roads, and at times motorcycles seem to own the road. The route travels along side or crosses over many different rivers, streams, & creaks and portions of the road are carved out of rock walls and some nice scenic pull-overs will give you expansive views. In addition to the three roads that officially make up the sisters, there are some off-shoot roads through canyons and other beautiful rolling hill areas that offer you additional options for extending your ride in this Hill Country region. Like a lot of such popular motorcycle roads known for scenery and curves, this route travels through some remote areas where gas and other necessities are few and far between so you'll need to do some trip logistical planning if you're heading to the sisters anytime in the future. And, for those of you that have never driven motorcycles over cattle guards, you probably need to ask around and/or research that as those have been known to cause inexperienced riders a bit of riding stress and this route has more than a few of these along the way. Either way, if you have not yet driven the Three Sisters, this route should find its way into your motorcycle riding bucket list as it has been drawing riders from all of the world and a ride this celebrated must be living up to the hype to stay this popular.
Every year, around this time (Dec/Jan) I put together the Top 10 motorcycle roads of the year guides like this for each of the 4 Regions of the USA and it is this moment that I look forward to the most: figuring out if the Twisted Sisters (aka The Three Sisters) or the Tail of the Dragon will rank #1 in the South. In a way, it is a shame that they are in the same region as they both are such amazingly popular motorcycle roads that the fact that either one of them is ranked #2 is an unfortunate yet unavoidable disservice. They have both been far and away the number one motorcycle rides in their states for essentially the 20+ years MotorcycleRoads.com has been documenting motorcycle rides in the USA. But, because of a US Census Bureau decision to include them in the same US South region, they have to compete each year and simply both of them can not be named #1. So, this year, the impartial and unemotional McR algorithm determined that The Tail of the Dragon rose up to find itself to be the best motorcycle ride in the South. On the surface, both have outstanding Rider Ratings; the Dragon has an impressive 4.29 out of 5 rating and the Twisted Sisters has a slightly higher 4.35 out of 5 rating. This Tennessee motorcycle ride's reputation has been building for years and it is simply a fantastic, ultra-short (at only 11-miles, but ultra-sweet (a reported 318 curves packed tightly in those 11-miles), and a following among the motorcycle community that is simply iconic. It is a motorcycle ride that should be near or at the top of every motorcycle rider's bucket list!
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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.
As always, I hope to provide you with insightful & valuable motorcycle riding community information to help you get the most out of all of your motorcycling experiences.
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