The 7 Wonders of American Off-Roading

Off-roading requires at least one of a few ingredients, either dirt, sand or some other substrate, and a lot of open space. In all the rural glory of America, most people can access an off-roading area with relative ease. Here are 7 of the most iconic off-roading destinations in America.

Mojave Road

In eastern California’s Mojave National Preserve lay these two tracks of dry expanse. The allure to the trail lies within its historic significance. Its 138 miles of tracks exist in nearly the same condition they were in 150 years ago when pioneers used it to cross California.

The road enters the park near Piute Spring on the east and extends to Soda Dry Lake near Zzyzx on the west. The Mojave Road could hit 120 degrees in the summer, then play host to snowstorms in the winter.  At any given point, you’re probably hundreds of miles from major cities. The eastern end sits at an elevation of 500 feet, while the western side is at 5,167 feet. Yes, you read correctly, there is an unincorporated community called Zzyzx.

Photo: Wikimedia

Rubicon Trail

West of Lake Tahoe lies a 22-mile route that stretches to about 80 miles east of Sacramento. Obstacles on the trail can be intimidating, as their names imply. If you aren’t ready to overcome the harrowing trail with sections known as the Devil’s Postpile, the Soup Bowl, the Sluice Box, Thousand Dollar Hill and Silby Rock, then you may as well stay home.

Bypasses on the Rubicon Trail are available for some of the more daunting sections, but the Rubicon Trail isn’t known for its legendary byasses. Open valleys, steep ledges, granite slabs, rock-bottom streams, switchbacks, boulders and exposed tree roots await. Finally, at Observation Point you can take a look back at the terrain you’ve covered before taking the dirt road to Lake Tahoe. If you aren’t convinced that the trail is among the elite in the world, consider the fact that Jeep named the “Rubicon” version of the Wrangler after it.

Photo: Wikimedia

Magruder Road Corridor

A thick, green-covered 174-mile road from the Red River Ranger Station in Nez Pierce, ID to Darby, MT makes up the Magruder Road Corridor. An undeveloped trail, its beauty is the allure here, with spectacular views of the Bitterfoot and Clearwater Mountains along the way. At 22,916 feet, altitude is your friend in presenting wide-open views of the northwestern landscape.

The difficult-rated trail is mostly made of unimproved road, with few passouts for oncoming vehicles. The vast expanse of land means travelers must bring adequate provisions, and more importantly a sufficient fuel supply. There are hotels and cabins along the way, but RVs and tents are welcome as well. The trail is shared by off-road vehicles like 4x4s, quads, and dirt bikes, as well as hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. The trail is open March through October.

Silver Lake Dunes

A much smaller space makes up Michigan’s Silver Lake Dunes, at just 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. At 2,000 acres, only 500 are available for off-highway vehicle use. That said, you won’t find yourself bored at the rolling sand dunes. One day of attacking the unforgiving rises and dips of geological perfection will leave your body and mind teetering on exhaustion. It’s the only place in Michigan where you can enjoy the dunes on four wheels, and two-person dune buggies are welcome and available to rent.

Drummond Island

For Michigan-bound four-wheel drive enthusiasts with more than sand in mind, Drummond Island offers a challenge on several fronts. The Lake Huron island on the edge of the Canadian boundary waters contains a 47-mile network of rutted two-tracks and rocky forest roads. Boulder-strewn trails and mudholes require low speeds and make the trail more appealing to the Jeep, truck and SUV drivers. ORV stickers are required in the more difficult portions of the trail.

The 133-square mile Island is a spectacle in itself, and hosts many people who fancy a quiet summer getaway. Unfortunately for those people, there exists a rowdy crowd called off-road enthusiasts, and they have different ideals when it comes to sound and solitude.

Ocala National Forest Trails

As Michigan’s destinations can assert, not all off-roading is restricted to the West. Florida’s Ocala National Forest offers a southeastern take on the world’s most rigorous motorsport. The 607-square mile forest is full of Florida scrub and the world’s largest concentration of sand pine. 500 lakes and ponds add to the scenic element. Many of the trails are laid out as loops, so you can use a staging area to hit several different paths. Campsites, RV hookups and shallow warm freshwater springs add to the weekending aspect of the park.

Moab, UT

Moab is often considered the nation’s off-road capital, and for good reason. The unique slickrock, the unparalleled western views and a culture of off-road lifers all contribute to the atmosphere of adrenaline that its trails offer. Wind-form rockscapes seemingly straight off the pages of National Geographic provide endless routes, beaten and untouched, for the meandering mind to escape on.

The slickrock is likened to sandpaper, offering grip while also eating tire rubber. Blackened areas suggest that the path is safest and probably most-traveled. Frequent slips into soft sand will keep even the most calculated drivers guessing. Know before you go that this place is ground zero for off-roaders, and the earlier you arrive the better.