Top 5 Historic Stops between Raleigh and Miami via Motorcycle

Dec 5, 2021


Triumph motorcycle ridden on the U.S. east coast.

Motorcycle riding from Raleigh to Miami on the US-64, US-421, and US-17 is a fantastic alternative to the often-congested I-95 freeway. This Atlantic Coast motorcycle route hugs the eastern seaboard and presents motorcycle riders with a wealth of colonial properties and coastal wildernesses rarely seen further inland. 

By sticking to the Atlantic Coast, motorcyclists avoid the industrial sprawl of the interstate corridor in favor of largely undisturbed woodlands, wetlands, and twisted roads.

It’s hard to ride motorcycle routes in the East without running into a historical place or building of some significance—the Atlantic Coast motorcycle route is no different. 

From the remains of Roanoke, the first English colony in North America, to the astoundingly well-preserved Midway Church in Midway Georgia, motorcycle riders will be confronted with beautiful and haunting connections to the past. 

The Atlantic Coast motorcycle route is also steeped in military and defensive fortifications, especially those dating back to the Civil War. Forts Sumter, Fisher, Clinch, and Raleigh dot the length of the Atlantic Coast, testaments to the pivotal conflicts which shaped American history. Start your journey with a motorcycle rental in Miami and ride into the past with these five destinations along the Atlantic Coast.

1. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site — Roanoke Island, North Carolina

Make your first stop at the site of the first English colony in North America! Roanoke Island, located off the coast of North Carolina via US-64, is where Sir Walter Raleigh decided to hunker down in 1584. Six years and three voyages later, the colony of Roanoke became forever known as the “Lost Colony,” all its inhabitants having abandoned the place for an unknown destination by the time the next supply ship arrived. 

While the original colony no longer stands, its original earthwork fortress does. The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site’s visitor center houses artifacts from the colony and drawings of native plants and animals that the scientists John White and Thomas Hariot first encountered in the New World. 

Aside from these historical materials, the visitor center features plenty of displays and a short video explaining the colony’s history. Head over to the adjacent theater and watch a play called the “Lost Colony,” which tells the story of Roanoke in dramatic form. 

The gorgeous Elizabethan Gardens right next door will give you a chance to appreciate the native flora and breezy island weather. Cap off your Roanoke revelry with a visit to the historic port of Manteo or the Outer Banks resorts.

Manteo is the county seat for the whole island and features a reconstruction of the Elizabeth II, the ship the colonists used to cross the Atlantic over 400 years ago. The ship functions as a sort of interactive exhibit, complete with costumed 16th-century reenactors and real straw beds.

From start to finish, this 190-mile ride should take you three hours. Although it’s long, this ride puts you on the Atlantic Coast and prepares you for the rest of the journey south. Please note: admission to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is free. Entry onto the Elizabeth II will set you back $10, while admittance to the Elizabethan Gardens costs $9.

2. Fort Fisher State Historic Site — Cape Fear, North Carolina

Film history is as much a part of American history as the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, and at our next historic destination, you’ll find yourself at the namesake of two of the greatest films.

J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 original and Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake were both named after North Carolina’s Cape Fear. This location south of Wilmington, North Carolina, got its name from the shipwrecking shoals located just off the cape, which is itself the result of the silty outwash of the Cape Fear River and Bald Head Island. Luckily, you’ll be exploring Cape Fear via motorcycle.

That means you’ll get to see the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. This earthen fortification and its seacoast gun date back to the Civil War, when the Confederates built it to defend Wilmington Harbor. More impervious than Fort Sumter, Fort Fisher was the site of the largest amphibious battle of the entire Civil War and still contains the remains of a Union blockade runner. 

Visit the fort’s informative visitor center for a detailed multimedia explanation of the battle, before heading to NC State Aquarium to get a look at the underwater wildlife you can’t see on land.

Further north along the west bank of Cape Fear River, Highway 133 takes you to Southport, a popular filming location, pleasure-craft harbor, and the exact midpoint between New York City and Miami. You can take a ferry every hour to get to and from Fort Fisher and Southport.

If you’re still not satisfied with your historical research, add the state’s oldest building to your bucket list and take a boat from Southport to Bald Head Island. Here you’ll find Old Baldy Lighthouse, built in 1817.

3. Fort Sumter National Monument — Charleston, South Carolina

Continuing through historically-significant destinations along the Atlantic Coast motorcycle route, we encounter the Fort Sumter National Monument off the coast of Charleston, a holy grail for Civil War history enthusiasts. The former military fort was forever enshrined in American history after being bombarded and then captured by the Confederacy in the opening battle of the Civil War, one month after President Abraham Lincoln’s fateful inauguration.

Like Fort Roanoke, Fort Sumter is only partially restored (it was mostly destroyed in the second battle in 1863). The chief way you’ll experience the region is by boat rather than on foot. 

You can leave the bike behind and take a 30-minute ferry tour from Patriot’s Point all the way to the fort. From the ferry, you can observe the fort’s walls, an iconic scene in Charleston Harbor. Check out the Visitor Education Center’s museum for a low-down on the events leading up to the first battle of the Civil War and later uses. 

You can buy tickets for a full tour of Fort Sumter once you arrive. Patriot Point is located off Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which spans the Cooper River and is home to the mothballed aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy).

The Yorktown serves as a first-rate maritime museum for multiple historical eras. Fans of World Wars I and II will feel obliged to check out the fighter planes, destroyers, submarines, and river patrol boats inside.

You can get to Fort Sumter before reaching Charleston. As you ride US-17 along the South Carolina coast, pay attention to the signs once you arrive at Mount Pleasant. Make sure you make a slight left on Magrath Darby Boulevard and then continue onto Patriots Point Road. Turn right to stay on Patriots Point Road, and make a final right to arrive at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. 

As stated above, you can take the ferry from Patriots Point to Fort Sumter. If you want to continue onto Charleston, stay on US-17 instead. As far as logistics go, expect the ferry to cost you $21 and admittance to Yorktown $22.

4. Midway Church — Midway, Georgia

Moving from the Carolinas into Georgia, you’ll have the chance to add another historic notch to your belt with the small town of Midway, Georgia’s best-kept secret. Just over 2,000 people populate this tiny blip on the map of Georgia, whose main attraction is the Midway Church. 

Originally established in 1752 by rice planters and their slaves, the Midway Historic District (including the Midway Congregational Church and Cemetery, the Midway Museum, and Old Sunbury Road) was added to the National Register of Historic Places as recently as 1973.

Park at the adjacent Midway Museum—Georgia’s first colonial museum—and have a docent show you into Midway Church. Here, two signers of the Declaration of Independence—Lyman Hall and Button Guinett—once sat and prayed. 

This un-modernized church was built in 1792 in its classic New England Style and features its original 200-year-old pulpit and slave gallery (where slaves were separated from white parishioners). The adjoining cemetery dates from the 17th century. 

Ride south of Midway on US-17, and you’ll see another miniature house of worship, the so-called “Smallest Church in America” in Townsend, Georgia. This one is newer than the Midway Church, having opened in the 1960s. Although its 12-seats might make it the smallest church in American history, its chief value is more kitschy than historical. 

Marking your way toward Midway isn’t only a nice historical detour—it’s a great way to avoid the boring and often congested interstates (especially I-95) and experience Lowland Georgia’s charming two-lane cruising.

As you ride down US-17 south of the Ogeechee River, you’ll end up hitting Savannah. Stick to US-17 as you head southwest, and take exit 164A to merge onto GA-21 South/I-516 East/US-17 South/US-80 East toward Lynes Parkway. Next up, Take exit 3 for US-17 South/US-80 East toward Savannah/Brunswick, then turn right onto US-17 South (while keeping an eye out for signs for Richmond Hill/Midway). This gets you straight to Midway. 

If you’re looking to ride to the Smallest Church, head south on US-17 South toward Martin Road as you leave Midway. Look for a small sign on US-17’s east (left) side indicating the church. If you have a big appetite after seeing all those small churches, never fear—hearty servings of BBQ ribs, chicken, and seafood await at the Old School Diner six miles east of the Smallest Church and an hour and a half from Savannah.

5. Florida House Inn — Amelia Island, Florida

Riders looking for a tropical getaway that still offers historical value will find just what they’re looking for on Amelia Island. Fernandina Beach, the main settlement on the island, was formerly northwestern Florida’s main port. Nowadays, Fernandina Beach receives visitors eager to take in its late-Victorian architecture and white-sand beaches. Florida House Inn easily serves as the centerpiece for the entire place. It’s Florida’s oldest hotel. 

Next up, you’ll want to stop by the Palace Saloon to see Florida’s oldest saloon. Grab a drink at the saloon’s carved-wood bar and listen to live music before moving on to the north end of Amelia Island. Here you’ll find a pre-Civil War fortress made entirely out of bricks. Fort Clinch State Park surrounds the fortress and encompasses over 1,400 acres of sand dunes, forests, and marshes. 

You can even camp out along the edge of Cumberland Sound if you want to spend multiple days exploring the natural and the man-made. South of Fernandina Beach, use Hwy-A1A to get to Little Talbot Island and its large state park (in Jacksonville, Florida). 

You’ll find plenty of beaches, cycling trails, and more campgrounds. A little further off the bridge is the only surviving pre-Civil War plantation in Florida. If you visit this gem of the Old South, you’ll find an elegant lodge.

If you’re going to spend a few days at the starting and ending points, look into the motorcycle rides around Miami for some additional riding. East Coast riders who aren’t fond of historical stops exclusively, or those who prefer inland to coastal routes, should consider these Motorcycle Trip Recommendations Between New York City and Miami

Now all you have to do is rent a motorcycle with Riders Share. Search for the right ride, in the right city, at the right price—and with 100s of motorcycles, locations, and prices to choose from, picking a street bike will be the easiest part of your journey.