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Common Tread

Socially distant motorcycle rides: Six great remote destinations to get away

Jul 23, 2020

If this were a different summer, you might be packing your motorcycle right now to ride to a big summer rally, a crowded race track or at least a busy local bike night. Instead, it's more likely those events have been canceled and a lot of us are looking for ways to have fun while getting far away from crowds, not seeking them out.

TeamZilla is here to help. To put together a short list of remote rides where you can get away, we gathered some suggestions from Lance and Spurgeon, two of Common Tread's most well traveled motorcyclists, and an additional contribution from J&P Cycles colleague Patrick Garvin, who has also laid down a lot of miles in his riding career. Check out these six great routes across the United States you can choose to get away from the crowds and then share your own social distancing favorite.

Spurgeon on the Lonliest Road
Reaching Ely, Nevada after successfully traversing the Loneliest Road in America. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Spurgeon: The Loneliest Road in America

If you're trying to avoid people, the obvious first place to look is the Loneliest Road in America. That title was given to a particular stretch of U.S. 50 that runs 250 miles across Nevada, connecting Fallon to Ely. Aside from the small towns of Austin and Eureka, there is not much along the route.

Eureka, Nevada
The town looks exactly as advertised. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

I first discovered this stretch of American history when I was riding my Triumph Bonneville across the country on the original Lincoln Highway. My first time navigating the loneliest road I was trying to stretch my fuel range, which turned out not to be a smart idea. Depending on the time of day, you can go hours without anyone passing by.

This route is a great stretch for folks in Northern California and Nevada who want to start out riding the mountains around Lake Tahoe. From there head east and make a stop at Sand Mountain to snap a photo shortly after entering this stretch of lonely road. If you want a bit of variety from the norm, loop off on Nevada Route 722, which passes through some local ranches before meeting back up with U.S. 50 in Austin. Once you make it to the eastern end of the loneliest road at Ely, you can ride out of town to visit the Great Basin National Park or turn north on U.S. 93 and check out the Bonneville Salt Flats. Either way, social distancing shouldn't be a challenge on this route.

Spruce Knob, high point in West Virginia
A view from Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, including part of the paved road that leads to the peak. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Lance: Where north meets south in the east

If you live in the northeastern United States, getting away from crowds and traffic of the major cities can be a challenge. Some head north, some west, but my favorite riding grounds within a day's ride of the New York-D.C. corridor is southwest, in the borderlands between Virginia and West Virginia.

The rugged mountains of eastern West Virginia are sparsely populated and there isn't a flat spot to be found anywhere, which means the roads are sinewy and opportunities to get off the pavement are plentiful for riders of adventure bikes. Be careful, though, because as Spurgeon found out on a riding vacation there, the roads demand respect and attention.

Along the Virginia-West Virginia border, the mountain ridges run roughly northeast to southwest, which creates an abundance of choices for a sport rider wishing to sample a variety of curves. Take one of the east-west roads that cross the ridges — like the stretch of U.S. 33 east of Judy Gap, West Virginia, or Virginia Route 39 west of Warm Springs, Virginia — and you'll be banking through hairpins, accelerating up steep grades and braking hard into downhill turns. Then turn on to one of the north-south roads that generally follow the valleys, like West Virginia Route 28, and give yourself a breather on more open sweepers.

There are plenty of great sites to take a break and enjoy the view, such as Seneca Rocks in West Virginia, or the ride to the top of Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. If you're venturing off the asphalt, take a ride through the Dolly Sods Wilderness area in West Virginia, a high and windy plateau with vegetation left over from the Ice Age that looks more like Canada. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is within sight of Route 28 and small towns such as Monterey, Virginia, and Thomas, Elkins or Marlinton, West Virginia, offer interesting places to stay or eat, and Snowshoe, a ski resort, is quiet in summer. Of course camping opportunities are numerous.

Beartooth Pass
One of the many spectacular views on the Beartooth Highway. Photo by Patrick Garvin.

Patrick: Beartooth Highway and wide open western spaces

Is it too much to call an 875-mile ride a "weekender?"

That's what it is to me: a perfect, long-weekend, three-day moto-camping ride. I'm lucky to live in one of my favorite places on the planet, the Black Hills of South Dakota, which also happens to be home to some great riding, both on- and off-road. But one of my favorite rides lies in the two neighboring states of Wyoming and Montana.

I pack up my tent, gear, clothes and tools and blast west on Interstate 90 (this is the boring part) to Sheridan, Wyoming, where I meet some riding buddies and enter the Bighorn Mountains. U.S. 14 just outside of Sheridan puts me almost immediately into some bitchin' switchbacks climbing the mountains. A fork in the road presents the choice of going left to Greybull or right to Lovell. To be honest, either way is nice, but my recommendation is to stay right. You’ll climb to above 9,000 feet as you cross Bald Mountain and descend through some more glorious sweepers.

At Lovell, I catch U.S. 310 north into Montana and just before Bridger hang a left on Montana Route 72 to Belfry. In Belfry, I turn onto Montana Route 308 and things are about to get real awesome. Route 308 takes you to Red Lodge, a touristy ski town with plenty of lodging options that make it a great stop for the night. I'm partial to the KOA on the edge of town. There’s also a bunch of good places to get grub but my favorite is an Italian joint (yes an Italian restaurant in Montana) called Ox Pasture. I could go on about the food but I’ll get straight to the point: the cannoli. I go there for the espresso and cannoli. And you should, too.

Beartooth Highway selfie
Patrick takes a selfie atop Beartooth Pass. Photo by Patrick Garvin.
The next morning holds the best day of riding you may ever experience. Head west on U.S. 212 down the famed BearTooth Highway to be treated to uber-tight switchbacks at dizzying heights. Massive snowfall means the route is impassable most of the year and the ride is best done in July or August. The ride to the 10,900-foot pass is not for the faint of heart and won't be forgiving if you miss a corner, but it's absolutely stunning and the ride down the other side is actually my favorite part. A landscape that barely seems real greets you at every corner.

Back in Wyoming, I hang a left on Route 296, otherwise known as Chief Joseph Highway. In my opinion it is one of the best roads in the country that no one talks about. It's loaded with sweepers and switchbacks and stunning scenery, Dead Indian Hill being the best spot to stop and slackjaw at the ridiculous views. You could camp up and down this road but I would heed the bear warnings. At the end of this illustrious piece of pavement is Cody, founded by the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody and and absolutely steeped in Old West history. There’s plenty to see and do in Cody, including a nightly rodeo in the summer. Yes you read that correct, the self-proclaimed rodeo capital of the world has a rodeo every night. I generally opt for a burger at the Silver Dollar bar and camp on the edge of town at place called Ponderosa Campground. Down the hill there's a nice spot by Sulphur Creek and even a few teepees, if you want to leave your tent on the bike for the night.

If you have the time, head west through the Shoshone National Forest, which is just a warm up for Yellowstone National Park. But I usually have to head east back home, routing my way through Ten Sleep, Wyoming, which takes me over the southern Big Horns. It makes a great long weekend of one-of-a-kind roads, incredible scenery, historical spots and not a lot of people. I consider myself lucky to have access to such an incredible part of this country.

Carlos Barrios White Rim Trail
There is no shortage of fun to be had on White Rim Trail. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Spurgeon: White Rim Trail is off-road heaven

Getting away from people is even easier if you leave the asphalt behind, and that's what off-road riders want to do, anyway. One awesome place to do that is White Rim Trail. Located about 30 miles west of Moab, Utah, the White Rim Trail consists of 100 miles or so of broken Jeep trail that winds its way through the northernmost portion of Canyonlands National Park. This route rewards riders with some of the most amazing scenic views America has to offer, but the difficulty of the terrain means you’ll have to work for your reward.

I rode White Rim Trail for the first time last year when a group of friends and I trailered our dirt bikes out West to ride Utah and Colorado. The day we rode the trail, we trailered the bikes before sunrise to Horsethief Campground in an effort to conserve fuel. We still had to load our packs with extra fuel and water. The amount of fuel needed will vary depending on your machine, but I would recommend roughly six liters of water per person if you tackle this ride in the summer. We rode in July and temperatures were in the triple digits by 9 a.m. and shade is virtually non-existent.

White Rim Trail
Shade on the trail is at a premium. My friends Jeff, Liz, and Amelia hunker under a cliff for lunch with Carlos riding on top of them. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

From the campground, we rode south and joined the trail at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. We then proceeded to tackle the 100-mile loop in a clockwise direction. According to Google Maps, you’ll want to set aside nearly six hours for the trip. Speaking from experience, it took my group of experienced riders a little more than seven hours to complete the entire loop riding 250s and 350s with plenty of photo stops along the way. In those whole seven hours, the only other people we saw was one couple in a Jeep.

Contrabando Creek movie et
In the state park outside Big Bend National Park, you can spot the remainder of an old movie set at a site called Contrabando Creek. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Lance: Social distancing is easier in "The Uninhabited Land"

From the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier to the country roads of the Great Smoky Mountains, the U.S. National Parks provide spectacular backdrops for some great motorcycle riding. But when you really want to get away from everyone and everything, no national park in the lower 48 is probably a better choice than Big Bend in Texas.

In addition to the few paved roads in the park, Big Bend has 180 miles of dirt roads inside its 800,000 acres, so exploring opportunities are numerous. Just understand your place in nature, however. Mountain lions and black bears roam the trails, roadrunners dart across your path to get an adrenaline fix and, during their mating season, tarantulas the size of my hand can be seen scrabbling around. But because Big Bend is nowhere near any major cities and not on the way to anything else, you usually won't see crowds of humans. It's been that way basically forever. When the Spanish explorers passed through nearly 500 years ago, they called the area "la tierra desplobada" (the uninhabited land) and kept on going in search of gold elsewhere.

From the hot and dry banks of the Río Grande, where maybe six inches of rain falls a year, to the breezy, 7,000-foot-plus peaks in the Chisos Basin, Big Bend features a variety of stark and dramatic topography. On your way out (or in), sample River Road from the park west to Presidio, where the road vaults from the riverside in the valley to 5,000-foot overlooks. Like most of West Texas, you'll find those overlooks to be generally lacking human presence.

Acadia National Park
Near Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park. Photo by Kim Carpenter.

Spurgeon: Getting to Acadia National Park is half the fun

Acadia is the northernmost National Park on the East Coast. And visiting it was actually the very first road trip I ever took on a motorcycle. With barely three months of riding under my belt I strapped my dad’s 30-year-old saddlebags over the back of my freshly purchased 2005 Triumph Bonneville T-100 and hit the highway.

Spurgeon Dunbar Triumph Bonneville T-100
A very young Spurgeon Dunbar heading out on his first motorcycle road trip. Photo by Barbara Jo Dunbar.

There are a lot of different routes you can take, but my earliest learned lesson occurred on this trip: Unless you’re going somewhere in a hurry, limit your miles to no more than 300 per day and stay off the highways. That was a good recipe for a fun ride all those years ago and even a better idea in this summer of COVID-19. In my case, to get from from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Bar Harbor, Maine, I rode north through New York state and then east across Vermont and New Hampshire, bypassing the traffic pitfalls between New York City and Boston. You can opt for Vermont Route 9 or U.S. 4, or improve your odds by going further north and taking U.S. 2 across Vermont and New Hampshire and all the way to Bangor, Maine before dropping into Acadia.

Acadia is located on Mt. Desert Island and it's not a huge national park. On summer weekends, it can get a little busy, since there are only a few loops of roads. But find a quiet camping spot on a weekday and you can get away by hiking endless trails through the wilderness, picking wild blueberries, and eating fresh clam chowder for breakfast right on the docks. Some may want to try the more touristy options, such as the lumberjack shows or whale-watching trips, but I personally recommend a packable fishing pole and a quiet spot on the edge of the water.

What destination do you recommend for a socially distant ride?