Tennessee Motorcycle Travel Destinations
Home of the King, the Smokies and the Dragon
All kinds of good motorcycle touring possibilities exist in Tennessee.
The southern state, surrounded by eight others, could be incorporated into a multi-state tour, or within state, it offers enough to keep riders entertained not just for a few days, but weeks even.
The Volunteer State is divided into unequally sized Grand Divisions: Western, Middle, and Eastern, each offering different attractions.
Tennessee is very accessible. For example, the Smoky Mountains in the Eastern division can be reached in a single day’s ride by 75 percent of the entire U.S. population.
And while getting to Tennessee is not tough, once there, riders must choose between spending their time exploring places and riding on great roads.
So it helps to ask yourself: is your cup of tea the destination, or is it the journey getting there? Either way, Tennessee has you covered.
If it’s discovering roads you like best, whether you ride a big Harley or Gold Wing, a sport tourer, cruiser, dual purpose, or sportbike, there are ideal routes for your style.
And if you’re after destinations to explore, Tennessee offers diverse natural resources, museums, restaurants, lodges, mountainous regions, and even caves. In fact, it is home to the most caves in the U.S, at 8,350.
The main riding season is spring through fall. Daytime summer temperatures hover around the 90s, and can be notably cooler in the evenings, or in the mountains. Average rainfall is about 50 inches per year. During the fall, some parts offer spectacular views of the changing scenery. Tennessee is on Eastern Standard Time.
As noted, some areas need little introduction, but following are a few spots highlighted to give you a feel for what to expect, and to further investigate.
This city is the former home of the King. No, not a Harley-Davidson, Elvis Presley. He was born in nearby Tupelo on Jan. 8, 1935, grew up in Memphis, and his influence there remains larger than life.
Memphis, in Western Tennessee, is the state’s largest city. Things to enjoy include authentic Southern BBQ restaurants, as well as many other great places to eat, drink, and lodge. For music lovers, there are well-stocked record stores, Sun Studio and Graceland. The place is loaded with culture.
While a prime destination, Memphis is also a waypoint for larger trips. To get to Knoxville on the edge of the Smokies, it is five-and-a-half hours by I-40, or you can take the older, longer, and more interesting two-lane Highway 70 that parallels the interstate.
But before leaving Western Tennessee, you could head up the tail end of the multi-state, federally-protected Natchez Trace Parkway as part of a scenic route to Nashville.
The state capital happens to be the Country Music Capital of the World. The Grand Ole Opry is there, as are the headquarters for several music industry giants. And even if you like other kinds of music, you should have no problem suiting your tastes.
Naturally, it’s a great place to take in a show, shop, sample the culture, and of course, eat. It is not far from Murfreesboro, which in the 1800s almost became the state capital, but lost by one vote.
This town hosts NASCAR and drag racing at the famous Bristol Motor Speedway. If you go on your motorcycle, you’ll be able to park in a bike-only lot. It’s pretty convenient.
Bristol is reachable as a day trip from anywhere in the state.
They claim that on a clear day from Lookout Mountain, six miles outside downtown Chattanooga, you can see seven other states. Lots of beautiful waterfalls, rivers and streams are nearby.
This Middle Tennessee city, located around 10 miles above the Georgia line, was recently rated by one outdoor lifestyle magazine as second on its list of 10 best places to live.
In town are lots of places to eat, drink, and see, including the Tennessee Aquarium. And if you want to try something different, you could stay at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, a 24-acre vacation and convention complex.
On the lawn are railway sleeper cars saved from the heyday of rail travel. Each is on a segment of real track, has all amenities, and can be rented in lieu of an ordinary room.
The Great Smoky Mountains
The Smokies are so called because of dense natural fogs that fill the valleys. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers parts of Tennessee and North Carolina. It has an immense array of plant and wildlife, 800 miles of maintained trails, and is the most visited park in the U.S.
Campsites and RV sites are nearby and make a good home base for exploring, either by your own motorcycle, or one rented in town.
This little village is on the outside edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All sorts of entertainment can be found there, including museums, Dollywood – Dolly Parton’s family friendly theme park – comedy performers, and magicians.
Also in Pigeon Forge is Flyaway Indoor Skydiving, which offers a vertical wind tunnel enabling you to safely fly like a skydiver.
Car buffs won’t be disappointed either. The town is home to a dozen specialty auto shows from April to September for several types of hot rods, and other genres of automobile.
Approximately 11 million visitors per year come through this once-isolated hamlet of just 11.6 square miles. People usually traverse the area by way of “the Parkway,” U.S. Route 441 into Gatlinburg and then into the park.
This is another neat little town attracting millions of annual visitors, and offering outsized amenities to keep them all happy.
Lots of places to get great food, drink, and to see shows are there. Outlet malls offer a piece of retail heaven, and if you like weird and unusual stuff, check out Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.
Or if oddities are not enough, Ripley’s offers reality that can be just as appealing. In 2000, they created a new home for ocean creatures to live in the mountains.
The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was voted the number one U.S. aquarium by one group. In addition to displaying 10-foot sharks swimming past visitors through acrylic tubes, it has well over 6,000 other creatures, living in or around habitats created with 1.3 million gallons of water.
Located in the Smokies, one mile south from the North Carolina line is the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort in the town of the same name. The resort is open late February through November, and offers riders lodging, and ability to step out the front door and ride the Dragon, one of best roads in the country.
As mentioned, spending time at destinations is well and good, but if you are someone who just likes to ride, here the best is saved for last.
The State of Tennessee does a terrific job of maintaining smooth asphalt with tenacious adhesion. Finding a poor road around the Smokies, while possible, is a rarity.
Insider tip: While several routes get written about, a determined rider can take a map or GPS, head from the Smokies and make up his or her own route to almost anywhere and not be disappointed.
This is the most famous rider road in Tennessee. Officially called U.S. 129, the Dragon has 318 turns in 11 miles, with a few of them in North Carolina.
There are no roadside distractions, just tight twisty asphalt better suited to a sportbike, but ridable by all. Some guys on Electra Glides have come back to town, mildly surprised, saying they got a workout. Even so, most still say it was a blast.
Inside tip: Ride with respect for others, and ride smart. If however, someone recently crashed or any other incident happened, police presence will increase to help restore the public safety.
This is the name given to three roads that add up to a hundred or so mile triangular shaped loop. Leaving Knoxville, you could head northwest about 15 miles and pick it up around Oak Ridge, home to the formerly top secret Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This was where the Manhattan Project produced the atomic bombs that ended World War II.
It’s a very challenging ride, not for the faint of heart, with some intense switchbacks, and to be respected.
This road, while near the Dragon, and arguably just as good, can be a well-kept secret, even among locals.
It is actually in Maggie Valley, N.C., not Tennessee, but you could go southeast on Highway 139 from Sevierville, Tenn., and be there in about 30 minutes.
About 25 miles long, it is a little less tight than the Dragon, but just as twisty, and well paved.
Like all these roads, this is one that will fully test your skills.
When it comes to touring Tennessee, depending on your time, budget and imagination, you could have a trip of a lifetime.
Bring your bike, or rent one. EagleRider rental locations are located throughout Tennessee: Nashville, which rents Hondas, Memphis, which rents Harleys, and the Smokies, which rents Harleys and Hondas. All rent one way, or locally.
A lot of vacationers will rent a bike just to have around the lodge, RV or campsite for the duration of their visit, or will follow a pre-set route for single-day trips while staying.
Tennessee is a great place. If you would like to ride the state, you will no doubt need to do more homework, work out the details, and determine your best options.