Of all the seasons, fall is easily one of the best times of year to explore America on the back of your motorcycle. That’s not to say that motorcycle riding and touring isn’t fun year-round, but if you’re looking for the perfect combination of weather, road conditions, and scenic views, it’s hard to do much better than autumn. Summer rides can get a little steamy, not to mention all the traffic, and winter is an obvious no-go in most parts of the country. Spring rides can be a fun way to break out of your temperature-induced motorcycle hibernation, but fluctuating temperatures, slick roads, and unpredictable weather can make longer rides a little difficult.
Fall riding is a different story altogether. Roads are free of summer traffic, the temperature is cool and refreshing, and it provides the perfect opportunity to extend your season, getting in some vital practice before stowing away your bike for the winter months. All these factors aside, it’s the sheer beauty of fall riding that makes it such a popular time for motorcycle touring. Cruising through miles of colorful fall foliage is a one-of-a-kind experience that every rider should get the chance to enjoy for themselves, which is why we’ve compiled a list of some of the best motorcycle trips in the US for your fall ride. From the swamps of Mississippi to the shores of Lake Michigan, from Wisconsin’s glacial lakes to the rocky coast of Maine, join us as we saddle up and see what autumn has to offer for the two-wheeled set.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a staple of the motorcycle touring bucket list, allowing you to weave your bike through some of the Appalachian Mountains and take in a variety of stunning fall foliage along the way. At nearly 500 miles, the trail is a marathon of Mother Nature’s masterwork, allowing riders to take in gorgeous vistas as they make their way from North Carolina to Virginia. There’s plenty to see along the way, including the nation’s most popular national park. Smoky Mountain National Park sees almost 13 million visitors per year, but the Blue Ridge Parkway itself is even more of a draw. According to the National Park Service (NPS), the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited NPS site in the country, with around 15.7 million tourists pouring onto the route every year. Both Great Smoky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks are must-sees, and there are plenty of historic sites, Civil War battlefields, and more than 200 scenic pull-offs to fill your itinerary.
These fall trips tend to be more about enjoying the ride rather than getting anywhere in a hurry, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to the Blue Ridge Parkway. In fact, it’s the law. The twisty two-lane road has a posted speed limit of 45 mph, so if you’re looking to get your blood pumping, look elsewhere. For those who enjoy a more leisurely ride, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the perfect destination. When it comes to foliage, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great way to hedge your bets. Given its length and the wide variety of elevations it covers, it’s not a question of if, but when you’ll spot some bright orange, red and yellow leaves. The season tends to peak around mid to late October, but those arriving a little earlier can usually get their fill along certain stretches at higher elevations.
Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee and Mississippi
The legendary Natchez Trace Parkway is a top draw for motorcycle touring year-round, but it’s hard to beat the fall foliage season. Dubbed both a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road, the 444-mile route takes riders from the farmland of Middle Tennessee all the way to the cypress swamps of Mississippi. Completed in 2005, the Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the newer routes on the list, but its history stretches much further back. The route of the modern Natchez Trace Parkway has been a major artery for over 8,000 years. Migratory animals and Native Americans were the first to blaze the path, with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez people putting it to good use for thousands of years. The current Natchez Trace Parkway was a major trading route until the invention of the steamboat made the nearby Mississippi River a more economical option.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is best completed in two days, with Tupelo, Mississippi providing the perfect halfway point for a night of food, fun, and good old southern hospitality. Just don’t forget to pick up some of the town’s famous honey while you’re there, or at least blast the Van Morrison album in tribute. Like many of the other routes on the list, there’s a strict speed limit of 50 mph, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be bored by any stretch of the imagination. Civil War and archeological sites, plus natural wonders like waterfalls, make the trip a perfect bucket list tour. The Natchez Trace Parkway is most notable for what it doesn’t have. With no pesky stop signs to interrupt your flow, you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and take in the sights as you weave into the Deep South. If you’re looking for peak foliage, mid-to-late October is when the maple, hickory, and oak trees really start to pop.
Coastal US 1, Maine
If you’re on the hunt for some of the most dramatic fall foliage on offer, set your GPS for the Pine Tree State. The nickname might be a bit confusing, as pine trees don’t actually change color, but luckily Maine’s trees are almost as common as its lobster shacks, souvenir shops, and gruff locals. Stretching from New Hampshire border all the way to Canada, US 1 hugs 260 miles of the Maine coast, treating riders to views of not only dramatic fall foliage, but also lighthouses, picturesque seascapes, and more. Ever wanted to try eating your weight in shellfish and crustaceans and wash it down with some of the best craft beer the country has to offer? If so, this is the trip for you.
Before the advent of the interstate highway system, US 1 was Maine’s major thoroughfare for the summer tourist crowd, and the signs are everywhere. From quaint coastal villages and tourist attractions to antiques, countless breweries, and one of the country’s most popular national parks, there’s a lot more to see than just leaves along Route 1. Highlights include Rockland’s Farnsworth Museum, the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, and of course, Acadia National Park. Early birds will be treated to the first sunrise in the US atop the park’s Cadillac Mountain. If you want to experience the country’s easternmost point, it’s a short detour off Route 1 to the West Quoddy Head lighthouse. Coastal Maine foliage lags behind the rest of the state by a fair margin, so if you’re looking for peak leaf-peeping, shoot for mid-to-late October.
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive, Wisconsin
For those who know their motorcycle history, it’s little surprise that Wisconsin is such a prime motorcycle touring destination. The birthplace of Harley-Davidson has some of the country’s most picturesque touring routes, including the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. If you want to cruise along 300 miles of charming shoreline, Door County to the north is a great option, but for those looking to explore some unique, hilly terrain, the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive is a can’t-miss ride. Riders can start from either Elkhart or Whitewater Lake, tracing the 120-mile route that makes occasional forays into the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
The name itself is a clue to the area’s unique geological history, as the term “moraine” refers to a mass of rocks and debris that have been deposited by a glacier. This corner of Wisconsin was carved up by glaciers some 10,000 years ago, resulting in some peculiar natural features like steep ridges, deep lakes, and gumdrop-shaped hills. Holy Hill is one such feature, and its 165-year-old Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary is a top draw for the religious and architecture lovers alike. If the shrine doesn’t wow you, the scenery sure will, with Holy Hill’s 1,400-foot elevation allowing for great views of the surrounding countryside. The sights are already breathtaking, and it only gets better when the leaves start to turn. Prime foliage season is around the third week of October, so start planning your trip today.
Tunnel Of Trees, Michigan
Sticking to the Midwest, Michigan offers another one-of-a-kind riding experience in what’s known as the Tunnel of Trees. Weaving along the shores of Lake Michigan on M-119 between Cross Village and Harbor Springs, Tunnel of Trees is the easiest way to experience a 360-degree fall foliage experience. As the name suggests, there are several points along this 20-mile route where you’ll feel totally ensconced in the warm hues of fall foliage, which is so thick as to block out the sky. It’s not the longest route on the list, but it’s the perfect detour for your next Midwestern motorcycle sojourn. Splendid natural beauty aside, the ride also happens to be a lot of fun. Twisty, technical turns with intimidating names like Devil’s Elbow and Horseshoe Curve will keep you on your toes. But if you’re looking to decompress, there are plenty of idyllic fishing towns, beaches, and lighthouses along the way. The route is within spitting distance of Canada, so foliage fans should note that the season starts early up here, with trees starting to turn within the first few weeks of September.
When the days start to get shorter and the kids go back to school, there’s still plenty of riding to be had. Fall foliage season can provide the perfect topper for a season full of motorcycle touring, allowing riders to experience the thrill of the open road before packing their bike away for the winter. That said, fall riding isn’t without its hazards. The same leaves that make for such a stunning ride can also be slippery when wet, as well as obscuring potholes and other obstacles. The short days mean you’ll need to get an early start if you have a long trip planned, and the lower temperatures might cause your softer summer tires to harden up and lose some traction. The same areas that make for such great fall riding also tend to be the stomping grounds of deer, moose, and other wildlife, so make sure you keep your head on a swivel when you’re leaning through those country roads. With a little preparation, the right mindset, and the perfect route, your fall foliage trip could be the highlight of your touring season.