What are the Best Motorcycle Rides the USA's Midwest has to offer?
(Updated to help you plan for the 2024 Motorcycle Riding Season!)
Report based on a full-year of the 2023 riding season's data of the best motorcycle roads in the Midwest region of the United States
To produce this report, we looked back at the entire 2020 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 2 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).
As compared to the other three US region, let's look at the number of registered motorcycle rides before we get into the quality of the rides considerations. In comparison to those other three US regions (Northeast, South, and West), the Midwest has a healthy collection of motorcycle roads per state with an average of 44 making it second only to the South's 49 per state (see image below) in terms of density of registered motorcycle roads per state.
However when we take a more broad view at the total number of registered motorcycle roads in each state, we see the Midwest has a very strong collection of motorcycle roads with approximately 530 registered on McR and each year the number of favorite motorcycle rides contributed by riders grows (refer to image below).
At the time of this analysis (Dec of 2023), the average state in the Midwest had 44 registered motorcycle roads with the top states being Ohio, Missouri and Indiana. Ohio not only has the highest number of registered motorcycle roads, but as you'll see below, the state is also blessed with some the most popular motorcycle roads of the US Midwest. Some additional comments on the great motorcycle rides available in the state of Ohio ... over the years I've watched this state really become a hotspot of great motorcycle roads and have seen that these great motorcycle rides are concentrated in an area called the Buckeye Hills. The Buckeye Hills is an area found in the eastern and southeastern portions of Ohio in the general area south of I-70, east of Columbus, OH and bordered by the Ohio River that divides Ohio and West Virginia (just over the border into the WV area is also another great place for twisty/scenic motorcycle rides). The Buckeye Hills is documented on MotorcycleRoads.com as one of the US's Hotspot's of great motorcycle rides and you can learn more about this region by viewing the Guide to Ohio Motorcycle Rides. Also, as part of our McR Road Ranger program, Ohio has been assigned a prolific motorcycle rider with the McR user name of Akumu. Akumu has been documenting his time on Ohio's motorcycle roads for many, many years now and regularly updates the Ohio motorcycle rides description pages with helpful comments, videos, and photos.
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 5 of the Top 10 routes in the Midwest are found in the Buckeye state as well as the number 1 route overall. Michigan posts the second most popular motorcycle road in the Midwest and recently had a second route enter the Midwest's Top 10 list for the first time. By far the biggest update to this year's rankings is the fact that the state of Missouri, which had been lost in the "also ran" grouping of states with relatively meager number of registered motorcycle roads has over the last year or so, show up to become the route with the second most number of registered rides at a very impressive 90! Credit for this surge in registered rides goes to the recently established Missouri Road range, Michael Chance, who's been on a terror of sorts in registering Missouri's best motorcycle rides. As for the other states of the Midwest, refer to the below graphic for a state-by-state total:
Midwest Motorcycle Roads that Made the USA's Top 100 Motorcycle Roads Listing:
Moving past the discussion of quantity (# of registered motorcycle roads per state) and moving on to the quality aspect, reveals some more interesting trends.
When we look within the Top 100 motorcycle routes of the USA and see how many Midwestern motorcycle rides, we end up in seeing that the Midwest place 18 of its rides within those Top 100. Not surprisingly due to Ohio's dominance over the last 10 or so years now, we see that Ohio puts in the highest number at 5. However, for the first time, another Midwest state, South Dakota, has tied Ohio also with 5 motorcycle rides in the Top 100. After that Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri all post one or more of their rides in the USA's Top 100 motorcycle roads.
Summary of the Midwest rides ranking within the USA's Top 100:
So with all that 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 The Incredible North Shore Tour (Minnesota motorcycle ride)
Moving up down one spot from last year (from position #9 to #10) is the 10th highest rated motorcycle road in the Midwest and is found 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 4.69 star-rating with 19 enthusiastic reviews on McR. The author who registered this ride 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.
#9 Michigan's "East Coast" Cruise (Michigan motorcycle ride)
Entering the Top 10 motorcycle roads in the Midwest for the first time is the second most popular motorcycle ride in Michigan - Michigan's "East Coast" Cruise”. This route hugs the eastern coast of Lake Huron for about 2/3rds of the east coast of the state. Their are numerous opportunities to take a break from the great scenery and take part in the many tourist hangouts along the coast with great places to eat, shop, and relax. There are many rider ratings on this route also providing motorcycle riders with helpful tips and advice when traveling this route.
#8 Northeastern Ohio's Curve Heaven - RT 164 (Ohio motorcycle ride)
Falling back two spots this year is the first Ohio motorcycle ride in the 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 4.25 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 Highway 61 - LaCrescent, MN To Red Wing, MN (this is both a Minnesota motorcycle ride and a Wisconsin motorcycle ride)
Minnesota's Highway 61,remains at the #7 position of this year's ratings and is a great river route that hugs the Mississippi river on it's western shores (from both sides if you also take the optional western banks of the ride and turn it into a loop that essentially circles a portion of the mighty Mississippi) and with the gently turning river, has a great number of gentle turns and curves along its path. And, the river's path not only makes for great riding but the ride's scenery is highly rated as well. In fact, the rider who registered this motorcycle road went as far as to say - "most beautiful scenery I've ever seen, been to 28 states, nothing like it !!!" Another rider commented that they believe the Wisconsin side of the river offered the best scenery but you'll get plenty of miles to judge that for your self as the route covers approximately 50-miles on each side of the Mississippi's shores.
#6 Ohio's Dragon's Tail (Ohio motorcycle ride)
Falling back from #5 last year is the famous – “Ohio's Dragon's Tail.” Like the Dragon that the route is named for (the original Dragon (aka Tail of 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.
#5 Ohio Route 26 (Ohio motorcycle ride)
Another Ohio route that slipped one position from last year is 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.”
#4 The Ohio Cousin of the Tail of the Dragon (Ohio motorcycle ride)
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”!
#3 Central Hills Loop (includes the Needles Highway) (South Dakota motorcycle ride)
Entering the Top 10 motorcycle rides in the Midwest list for the first time is a route from South Dakota called the Central Hills Loop. And impressively, not only does it enter the Top 10 but flies right up to the Top 3 spot! This 57-mile route lies just southwest of Keystone South Dakota and is a favorite ride for motorcycle riders when visiting Mt. Rushmore and/or Sturgis.
#2 Tunnel of Trees Road (Michigan motorcycle ride)
The top Michigan motorcycle ride and a perennial favorite Midwest motorcycle ride stays strong at the #2 spot for many, many years - 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 motorcycle ride)
And at the number 1 spot, is an Ohio 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.
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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.
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