Inspiration: Big Trip

Year-round riding guide

Year-round USA riding guide

The top 5 routes

When the nights draw in and the weather worsens Aaron Heinrich, editor of Asphalt and Dirt, gets inventive. It helps that he lives on America’s west coast but hey, it’s only a flight away.

Riding year round is an option for those who live in California and the southern states. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Trying to narrow down a list of great year-round riding routes takes some serious thought.

Every rider is definitely not created equal and while these routes are rideable all year round, some are still subject to heat (100 degrees-plus), rain (variable) and wind (hurricanes) at different times of the year.

Twisties may be a welcome challenge for some, while for others they can be a source of stress. Some riders like their routes to have historical significance, others just want the scenery. Then there are those who want it all.

The following five routes take all of this into account and while they might not tick all the boxes, they get pretty close. So let’s start from the east and follow the sun.

Naples to Key West, Florida – 200 miles

This route takes you to the southern-most point of the contiguous US and into Hemingway country. Not technically challenging but you’ll see some incredible views of the ocean by the time you get to Florida Keys, and more than likely a few crocodiles as you head inland from Naples.

Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida

Locals familiar with the route recommend taking Highway 997 to avoid going through Miami, unless fighting traffic is your thing. Watch for the signs that point you to Key Largo, then get on Highway 1 and stay on it all the way south.

This area got hit by Hurricane Irma, so there will be fewer amenities out in the Keys. But there are spots that have started opening to tourists again and scenery is available in large quantities.

The Blues Highway – 274 miles

Given the inextricable tie of music to motorcycling, it seemed to make sense to include a route that had some musical meaning. The Blues Highway is actually Highway 61 heading north out of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and ending in Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis Tennesse
Memphis Tennesse

You’ll follow the Mississippi Delta the entire way, riding through large chunks of flat land with miles of crops, and deep bayous with cypress trees and cotton fields. Small towns like Greenville, Cleveland and Clarksdale await before Memphis.

Feel free to head east on nearly any of the side roads, then point yourself back west and you’ll eventually end up back on Highway 61. While in Memphis head to Beale Street, billed as the home of the blues. Once you get there you’ll see why.

Three Sisters, Texas – 130 miles

The best part about this route is it will rid you of any preconceptions that might have you thinking all of Texas is flat and ordinary. While getting to this route takes a bit of work, the best town to start from is Medina. Austin or San Antonio are the closest major cities.

Bluebells in Texas
Bluebells in Texas

Wild flowers bloom in the spring and fall, and the roads, maintained by the state, are 337, 335 and 336. The risks include lots of curves, falling rock and summer heat, if that’s the time of year you choose to go. Also, there’s not many gas stations along the way, so gas up often.

The entire region is famous for spring-fed rivers that run through the canyons formed by the aquifers leaking out of the plateau to the north. You’ll ride through quaint towns with names like Leakey, Camp Wood and Barksdale.

Summer temperatures can soar into the 100s, so dress light and bring plenty of water. Otherwise, temperatures are mild throughout the rest of the year, with occasional rain in the winter and spring.

Hemet to Borrego Springs, California – 105+ miles

This is not a long route, but it will take you through some of the more scenic parts of the southern California desert. While spring is the best time to check it out, the desert changes are seasonally subtle, as are the changes in vegetation.

California Desert
California Desert

You’ll ride past chaparral-covered slopes to mixed oaks and pines as the elevation climbs up and over the pass to Warner Springs Ranch. From here, you drop down into the Anza Borrego Desert, a vast bowl featuring palms, desert scrub and a plethora of wild flowers in the spring.

Pacific Highway, California

Biggest problem with this route is trying to figure out just where you want to start and end. It’s all great! You could ride Highway 1/101 all the way from the Mexico border to Washington (1,300 miles) but it’s not recommended unless you want to ride through San Diego and Los Angeles and breathe car and truck exhaust up close and personal. Instead, there are a couple of other options.

Golden Gate Bridge

One would be to start from San Luis Obispo and head north, then end your trip in San Francisco (230 miles). This will take you through Big Sur, near Hearst Castle, and some spectacular coastal cliffs. Keep in mind that part of Highway 1 in this area is still closed due to a landslide from last year’s torrential rain. The state has done a good job of rerouting and marking the detours.

The other would be to start in Mill Valley, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, and avoid San Francisco altogether. You’ll hug the coast all the way to Leggett (171 miles), where Highway 1 heads inland and becomes 101. Similar scenery to the other route but typically less traffic.

The Bixby Creek Bridge at night, in Big Sur, California

Temperatures are mild throughout the year, but rain can be a factor from November to April. The intrepid soul with major wanderlust can stay on Highway 101 and follow most of the Pacific Coast all the way to the top of Washington.

So what are you waiting for? Time to get out and ride.