The Midwest is best known for things like corn and tornados, neither of which are often associated with good roads or enjoyable driving. In fact, anyone who’s ever driven across Nebraska back when the speed limit was 55 knows that hell isn’t filled with lakes of fire, it’s filled with a single asphalt ribbon bisecting acre after acre of cornfields. The good news is that the Midwest also has truly entertaining roads, some spectacular scenery and some of the best local food you’ll find anywhere in the country. If you never thought of the Midwest as a road trip destination, here’s hoping the roads below will change your mind.
Calcutta, OH to Poland, OH
AMA members chose this as their 14th favorite road, and looking at it on a map it’s easy to see why. There are quite a few sweepers and even a switchback or two as you head north out of Calcutta. Locals advise that you actually pay attention to speed advisory signs; in other words “15 MPH” means “No faster than 20”, not “Let’s see how my car / bike does at 45”. The road straightens out as you approach Poland, but you’re still just west of the Pennsylvania border and deep in the rolling hills of farm country, so enjoy the scenery.
Harrisonburg, VA to Seneca Rocks, WV
I struggled with whether to include this road in the East or the Midwest, but ultimately opted for the latter. I haven’t driven this road, but looking at the map I’m asking myself “why the hell not?” Start in Harrisonburg, VA, then head northwest on Route 33. That’s it, just stay on 33, which makes this route ideal for the directionally challenged. The road has a few curves on the VA side, but it doesn’t look like anything epic until you approach the WV border. From there until Seneca Rocks, the road looks like a longer, less traveled version of The Tail of the Dragon. It’s now number one on my own personal “must drive” list.
Natchez Trace Parkway, from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN
Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Natchez trace is more about enjoying the scenery on a limited access road. Don’t expect the same roller coaster thrill ride as the ride to Seneca Rocks above, but sometimes a scenic cruise is just what the doctor ordered.
Durango, CO to Ouray, CO
Here was another dilemma: is Colorado in the West, or in the Midwest? I opted for Midwest, since you can’t see the Pacific Ocean even from the top of the Rocky Mountains. Let me start by saying that there are few bad roads in Colorado, and I could name a dozen favorites just near Boulder. As good as they are, they pale in comparison to the “Million Dollar Highway”, Route 550, which stretches north from Durango to the old mining town of Ouray. If scenery is your thing, this ride won’t disappoint. If it’s technical driving that you’re after, it won’t disappoint, either. Ouray is one of my favorite places on the entire planet, so I’ll just warn you in advance: visit it once, and you’ll have a hard time finding reasons to go back home again.
Red Lodge, MT to Cook City, MT
Here’s another route that easy to follow: head south out of Red Lodge on Route 212. Stay on Route 212 (easy to do since there aren’t many other options) as it winds up and down mountain passes, crosses into Wyoming and eventually reenters near-civilization in Cook City, MT. The road is closed in winter, and there isn’t a lot in between these two towns; if you’re uncomfortable being out where the busses don’t run, this trip may not be for you. On the other hand, if you want switchbacks that rival Italy’s Stelvio Pass and scenery that will blow your mind, this is your kind of road.
Next up is roads on the west coast, so let me know if I missed any in the Midwest.