What are the Best Motorcycle Rides in the West?
(Updated to help you plan for the 2021 Riding Season!)
To produce this listing, we looked back at all of the 2020 motorcycle riding season’s data gathered by the MotorcycleRoads.com (McR) web site. This motorcycle riding data comes in from the millions and millions of web site page views displayed on McR over the course of a single year by various motorcycle riders (1 million plus riders visit McR each year). You'll see below we rank a lot of different routes and refer to various ratings and so 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 Western region which includes the following states: California, Colorado, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii.
In the western region of the USA, Nevada saw the fastest growth rate of registered motorcycle roads by increasing its total by 27% in 2020. In fact, Nevada's 27% growth rate was the 3rd highest for the entire USA during the 2020 motorcycle riding season. The second fastest growing state in the western US region was New Mexico at 24% (5th fastest in the entire USA) followed by Oregon which saw a 22% growth rate (the 6th fastest in the entire USA when it comes to increases in registered motorcycle rides).
Overall, the US Western region currently has 509 registered motorcycle roads on McR and each year this number grows as motorcycle riders add more of their favorite motorcycle rides to the database of registered motorcycle roads/rides. In fact, the West has the second most of all US regions; second only to the South which currently has more registered motorcycle routes than any other US region with 718 at the time of this analysis (see Note 1 at the bottom of this article). The average state in the West had 39 registered motorcycle roads with the following Western region states having the most of all of the 13 US Western states. In terms of raw numbers of registered motorcycle roads, California continues to dominate the western region at 124 routes (growing by 10% in 2020) and Colorado sits at second place with 73 routes and growing slightly faster in 2020 by growing 11%.:
- 124 California motorcycle rides lead all states in the West and leads all states in the entire United States besting Ohio's 95 motorcycle rides, North Carolina's 102 motorcycle rides, and even mighty Texas's 111 motorcycle rides!
- 73 Colorado motorcycle rides places the "Centennial state" at second place in the West but as you will learn by reading the guide below, for whatever CO lacks compared to California in terms of quantity of motorcycle rides, it definitely makes up for any deficit when it comes to the quality of motorcycle rides
- 65 Washington motorcycle rides places it not far behind Colorado and in a solid third place with Arizona, Idaho, and Utah slightly trailing
For a complete listing of registered motorcycle road totals for each of the states in the US Western region, refer to the below bar chart:
Summary of this year’s Top 10 motorcycle rides in the West rankings:
Moving on from the discussion of quantity of motorcycle rides and on to the topic of motorcycle ride quality in the US West, reveals some interesting trends. This year, for the first time since this list of the Top 10 motorcycle rides of the US West was created, the great state of Montana has risen to the top and took #1 in terms of the western state with the most routes in the Top 10 listing. In second place, we see a 3-way tie with each of the following states having three of their motorcycle rides in the Top 10 (in alphabetical order): California, Colorado, & Wyoming (last year Washington had 2 as well but this year it dropped to having 1 of its roads in the Top 10 list). In second place we see a three state tie with each of these states having one of their motorcycle rides making the Top 10 list: Arizona, Idaho, and Washington
This really makes the Western region stand out among all US regions as the one region that has the most even spread of high quality motorcycle roads. You see each of the other three regions had one state that led its Top 10 list. In the US Northeast in 2020 it was Pennsylvania that dominated, in the Midwest it was Ohio that dominated, and in the South it was North Carolina that led the pack (albeit Tennessee was only one road away from tying North Carolina).
The US West states that did not have any of their routes make the Top 10 list are as follows (in alphabetical order): Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon. If you are a motorcycle rider in one of those Western states, please don't send me hate mail expressing how I'm clueless because I don't know about all the great motorcycle rides in your state, I use an automated scoring mechanism to avoid any bias in the system and so basically the numbers/votes/etc all come from the million plus motorcycle riders who visit the site each year and essentially 'cast their votes.' Also, if there are great motorcycle rides in your state (and I'm SURE there are as I have lived in many, many, different parts of the US and found wonderful motorcycle rides wherever I've been and that is essentially the reason I started this site back 20 plus years ago) that you feel are not rated highly enough, please "vote for them" by adding a Rider Review (click on the "Write a Review" link on any route description page), upload pictures, videos, add it to your "Rode It" list, and other actions that show enthusiasm for a given route. Also, if you see that a great route in your state is not registered on McR, then add that motorcycle road to the collection and let other riders learn about it, comment on it, rate it, add photos, videos, etc. and it WILL CLIMB in the rankings!
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 West and I’ll try to eek out just a bit more suspense by starting the list in reverse at the #10 ranked motorcycle ride in the West and working my way to #1 motorcycle ride in the West:
Last year this beautiful motorcycle ride in north-central Washington state was at the 8th position but this year it fell a bit to the 10th spot. If the next route was any further North, it would be a Canadian motorcycle ride. This approximate 100-mile ride along Highway 20 and over the Washington Pass is in a pretty remote section of Washington state East of Seattle and West of Spokane and is currently ranked #1 of all motorcycle rides in Washington. The remote location will obviously contribute to its pristine nature of the scenic beauty of this ride as the route's author commented on the beauty of its "old growth forests" and its abundant wildlife. Additionally the remote location will also almost assure that traffic will not be an issue too. However, the remote location also results in a route that you will need to pay particular attention to planning details as you gas, food, & lodging options are as expected few and far between. And, considering the far Northern latitude of this route and the high elevations of many of its roads, cold and/or hazardous road conditions can come into play particularly in the late spring or early fall so plan accordingly.
Also on last year's list but falling 2 spots this year is a great motorcycle road that is just west and north of Denver Colorado runs in a loop and eventually dumps you out near the town of Ft Colin's Colorado and is called the Waldon Loop. This is a great great motorcycle ride & loop starts out in Denver (technically in the Loveland Colorado area) and you head west, and quickly enter into the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and will have you inspired by the incredible mountain beauty and is near this major metropolitan area. It continues to head west and eventual swings southwest and then swings heading directly north and eventually turns east and brings you out of the eastern slopes and drops you off conveniently in Ft Colin's Colorado. Ft Colin's is a great college town with outstanding restaurants and a nice University to drive through (Colorado State University) At the time of this publication, this route was rated #2 of all motorcycle rides in Colorado. It is a relatively long drive at over 200-miles but assuming you follow the loop and start/stop in Fort Collins, CO and start/stop in Loveland, CO, you'll have tons of options for lodging if you decide to stay the night. You'll cross the continental divide twice, dive down into valleys and work you way through canyons latter climbing up to timberlines among the mountains.
Jumping up one spot from last year's list (from 9th position to 8th) is a perennial favorite of motorcycle riders and car drivers alike. It is a classic ocean coastal drives, the Pacific Coast Highway (aka simply 'PCH') is potentially the most famous in the world and has been drawing in riders from across the globe for many decades. Not only will this route provide the rider with amazing scenery but it also place them on relatively uncrowded roads considering the scenery and the notoriety of the drive. This is currently ranked the #2 of all motorcycle rides in California and it really has some great stops along the way for small things like grabbing a bite to eat or taking in some of the beautiful Pacific coast scenery but also some really great tourist accommodations like hotels, B&Bs, well kept Spanish Missions available for touring, the famous and incredible Hearst Castle, and obviously plenty to do at the major cities that anchor the North and South ends of this California motorcycle ride (San Francisco and LA).
Reentering the Top 10 list this year is one of the most beautiful rides in all of the world and as a motorcycle rider that has taken this Montana motorcycle rides many time, truly believe the only reason this road isn't always in the Top 10 and ranked higher in the list than it is, is simply because of its remote location in north-northwestern Montana. This road is the famous Going to the Sun road and the author who registered this motorcycle ride described it as "the MT Everest of continental US motorcycle-rides." This wonderful Montana motorcycle ride is tucked up inside of the Glacier National Park and due to its latitude, is not quite drivable year round as snow is often seen as late as July and can start return in Sep. For these reasons it just doesn't see that much traffic and so there is not much "word of mouth" singing its praises and so many motorcycle riders simply never hear of it or much less, actually get to travel its 50 awesome miles. Their are great lodges to stay in within the park and you'll find mountain goats and rams along some of the roads and pull over spots.
At the #6 spot is another Montana route that in this case is shared with its neighbor to the west, Idaho. This motorcycle ride basically cuts across the entire middle of Idaho and into Montana passing over Lolo Pass in the process. This route has the added bonus for the fact that you'll be traveling along a portion of the Lewis & Clark Trail and in the process, seeing some of the same incredible landscapes that these early western explorers observed! Additionally the route can be pretty intense as there is a section of road that is marked with a pretty inspiring (or frightening for some) sign that warns (promises!!) "Winding road next 99 miles." And, just like a lot of these wonderful Rocky Mountain roads that deliver wonderful curves, incredible scenery, and minimal traffic, this one can also suffer from scarce gas and food options along the way so be prepared particularly you riders out there with the 'peanut' gas tanks ... it can be a long, long, walk to the next town with a gas station!! The route is currently rated #1 of all motorcycle rides in Idaho and #2 of all motorcycle rides in Montana.
As we enter the Top 3 motorcycle rides in the West, we had about as far west as you can go and into a section of mountains in California referred to as the Coast Ranges. The official name of the Route is CA route 36 and it stars/stops in Red Bluff, CA and rides West to Eureka, CA (basically the furthest point West in the state of California). This route is about as intense as it can get and the government tries to warn you and everyone else of what they are getting into if they try it as there is a sign posted at the start that warns - Twisty Road next 140 miles! I was interviewed on The Weather Channel a few years ago on this famous route and it is currently ranked #1 of all motorcycle rides in California and the author summarizes the route well when he says "most likely the craziest elevation changes you will ever see (in the eastern portion from red bluff ,CA ) ... truly resembles a roller-coaster in spots ... this road is 140 miles of twisty heaven!" And, if you get on McR and read through some of the reviews you'll see that this route very literally attracts riders from all of the USA and the world!! The scenery is also as intense and extreme as the curves and elevation changes as you start out (this is all if you start on the eastern end and work your way west) winding your way up, down, around, and over arid mountains and eventually dropping down into lush and green red wood forests that look like they are something out a Jurassic Park movie and then eventually drop down onto the Pacific coast with its amazing deep blues. Walt Disney couldn't have dreamed better scenery for an epic motorcycle ride!
Staying put at the #4 position for the second year in a row is a route that takes for approximately 200-miles of riding through northern Wyoming and not far from the MT/WY border and called the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. It is a very intense ride as you spend much of your time either navigating mountain top roads, or climbing up to them or dive down away from them. At the time of publication, this route was rated #2 of all motorcycle rides in Wyoming. Like many of the rides in the Rockies, this one is particularly remote and you definitely have to plan your gas, food, and lodging steps along the way. However the route has a particularly great added bonus and that is it basically is going to bring you to the door step of the #1 motorcycle road in all of the west - Beartooth Pass (described below). Combining these two motorcycle rides into one trip and throwing in a trip to the incredible Yellowstone National Park which these rides essentially take you too, could make for the motorcycle trip of a lifetime!!
Jumping up 2 spots this year and settling in at the #3 position we find another motorcycle ride in Colorado and this one is one of my very favorites - the San Juan Mountain Skyway! This route is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and takes you through a series of restored mining towns and over mountain passes that will amaze you. There is one particularly both famous and perhaps dangerous section of switchbacks and twisties that is referred to as the Million Dollar Highway. At the time of this publication, this route was ranked #1 of all motorcycle rides in Colorado. I happened to have been interviewed on the Weather Channel about this route and so if you'd like to see those short interviews - interview 1, interview 2. Other than the beautiful scenery and great Colorado twisties this route also 'hits it out of the park' when it comes to tourism opportunities as you will have great little restored mining towns spread out along the way and they all have a nice collection of places to eat, sleep, and shop. Durango, CO is the biggest of the towns you'll pass through and it is a great place to either set up for the drive and/or end your drive with a stay as this route is in a pretty remote corner of the state and it will take you a while to get to it unless you happen to live in this area. Telluride,CO is another great stop along the way as it has a really cool old mountain town feel mixed in with some high end hotels and restaurants and plenty of art & craft shops to browse. And, finally Ouray, CO is another restored mining town that is a great stop to stretch your legs and take in the feel of walking through a historic mining town in the old west. I also posted an unedited video I took from a GoPro on this route a few years ago.
Last year, this route entered the list from out of nowhere and yet has proven that it was no fluke as it stayed at the #2 spot for 2 years in a row. If by chance you know a little about my background, I joined the Air Force and was on my first airplane ride down to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX 7 days after I graduated high school about the spend the next ~ 25-years in the AF. My first assignment after basic training was at Luke AFB, just west of Phoenix, AZ. It was there that I bought my first street bike and started riding on my own through different regions of Arizona. For an 18-year-old Indiana kid, riding through the US southwest literally felt like I was in an entirely different world. When you are a kid and you don't really know much more than what you hear from folks or see on TV, I expected Arizona to look like the Sahara desert or a scene out of an cartoon western scene with those classic tall cactus with the vultures perched on top (later I learned those classic cactus are called Saguaro cactus). No don't get me wrong, Arizona certainly has those sections to it but it has so so much more scenery to offer that is both wonderful and unique among the US. So after I started this website, I waited in disappointment for a long time as Arizona roads were slowly (for some reason I still don't understand) added to the collection and slowly climbed up their ways in the ratings. It was just recently when finally a great Arizona motorcycle ride, the Coronado Trail, finally fought its way to a prominent position like this year! The Coronado Trail is found along the eastern border of Arizona and takes riders through a variety of diverse Arizona scenery and through historical locations. This is currently ranked #1 of all motorcycle rides in Arizona.
The mighty Beartooth Pass motorcycle ride has been a dominant Western motorcycle road for about as long as I've been creating these Top 10 listings (the first was in 2013). As mentioned above in the description of the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway route, this route takes riders through about some of the most extreme Rocky Mountain terrain you can find anywhere in the lower 48 states. The pictures posted on McR will give you just a glimpse of how much of a stunning scenic ride this will be and the pictures can't nearly relay the intensity of the driving itself will be. Multiple riders describe the sheer cliffs, the harrowing switch backs, and the sometimes tunnels of plowed snow that you travel through (often times leading to trickling trails of water that can freeze if sitting in shadows and/or when temperatures dip as they are known to do). If you take this route early in the spring or late in the fall you have to CHECK weather and travel conditions before committing to your trip! Lastly, as also mentioned above in the Chief Joseph route description, a motorcycle rider would be greatly remiss if you didn't work this ride into a trip to Yellowstone National Park as this ride essentially drops you off at the park's doorstep. The rugged and awesome and inspiring Rocky Mountain scenery, combined with the intense curves and elevation changes, along with access to a world class national park, are all reasons contributing to this route not only being rated #1 of all Montana motorcycle rides but also being considered the best motorcycle ride in the US West!
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Note 1: All facts and figures below were gathered during early Jan 2020 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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