Mengel Pass, Death Valley National Park, California
Location: Start at the ghost town of Ballarat, just outside of the Death Valley National Park Boundary and follow the signs to Goler Wash.N36 02.02' W117 16.84'
Length: 50 miles
Time required: 6 hours
Experience level: Intermediate to Manson disciple.
Points of interest: The Mengel Pass trail crosses the rugged Panamint Range and takes you near the infamous Barker Ranch, where Charles Manson hid out before being apprehended. As you cross over Mengel Pass, pay homage to Carl Mengel's gravesite at the top and be sure to stop at the Geologist's Cabion for a stunning view of the Striped Butte. High clearance 4x4s with traction aids are required between gradings of Goler Wash and are required to traverse the Pass.
What you need: Minimum of 33-inch tires, traction aids, recovery gear, and survival gear.
Information: Death Valley National Park (760) 786-3200 http://www.nps.gov/deva/
---Sean P. Holman
Mojave Road Southern California
Length: 128 miles
Time required : 3 days to enjoy
Experience level: Ranges from beginner in dry months to expert in wet ones.
Points of interest: The Mojave Road is one of our favorite trails, not because of its difficulty, but rather its remoteness, scenery and history. The Mojave Road will wind you over mountain ranges, through valleys, over dry lakebeds, and between canyon walls. Everything from sand to mud can be encountered, along with rare and protected species of animals and plants. Don't miss Fort Piute, Government Holes, The Mailbox, CIMA Dome, Cinder Cones, Soda Dry Lake, and Afton Canyon.
What you need: Capable stock rig, basic recovery gear, survival gear, and The Mojave Road Guide
Information: Mojave National Preserve (760) 733-4040 http://www.nps.gov/moja/
BLM Needles Field Office (760) 326-7000
---Sean P. Holman
Old Coast Road, Near Big Sur, California
Location: Approximately 15 miles south of Monterey, from the Intersection of Highway 1 and Old Coast Rd.
Length: 11 miles.
Time: 30 to 40 minutes, but why hurry?
Experience level: Beginner.
Points of interest: Wanna 'wheel through a California redwood forest? There aren't many places you can do it anymore, but the first few miles of the Coast Road will take you through thick stands of moss-covered old growth on an easy trail of graded dirt. After that, the trail winds through broad mountain valleys---cattle country---in the Big Sur backwoods before rejoining the Coast Highway at Molera State Park
What you need: Nothing! Actually, a stock rig can handle the road without problem during the dry season, though in winter storms the road can muddy up, and more aggressive tires and a rear locker would be good ideas. Some sections of road are steep with no guardrails, and it's also a popular destination for mountain bikers, so keep your speed down and enjoy a stress-free ride. Got a picnic basket? There are a number of turn-outs where you can spread out your blanket and enjoy stunning views of the rugged Big Sur coastline, hundreds of feet below.
Information: Andrew Molera State Park, 831/667-2315, www.parks.ca.gov/
Pismo Dunes, California
Sought after by all walks of life, Pismo Dunes is one of only two places in California where it is actually legal to drive your 4x4 on the beach. The calm, sweeping shores attract large crowds in the spring and summer months and are less frequented during the foggy off-season. Pismo visitors can expect plenty of off-camber hill climbs along with a plethora of whooped-out thoroughfares where adrenalin junkies can always find their match. Much of the area is allocated to overnighters, so bring the motor home, but remember to air down and keep a tow-strap handy. Flags are required on all rigs for safety, and we recommend keeping a very close eye on children. Serious injuries are pretty much a sure bet on the typical "big weekends," though during the work week the landscape is practically deserted. Be sure to keep speeds under the posted 15 mph on the beach section to avoid run-ins with radar-toting Park Rangers.
Rubicon Trail, Lake Tahoe, California
Perhaps the most well-known trail on earth, the Rubicon transverses nearly 9 miles of California's most scenic backcountry. Best enjoyed on weekdays when traffic jams are virtually nonexistent, the 'Con offers visitors a pristine slice of Sierra Nevada splendor mixed with an abundance of 5+ obstacles and colorful natives. There isn't a thing this trail hasn't seen in the 50-plus years of service, so local law enforcement maintains a strict presence, assuring that open containers and poor judgment remain isolated. The best way to fully appreciate the Rubicon is to spend at least three days camping in designated areas along the way. Be aware of seasonal campfire restrictions, and never trust food supplies around local thieves masked as raccoons and bears. Be ready to pack-out all refuse, as this trail system has become the poster-child for all anti-wheeler enviro-activism in recent years. Take the kids and a fishing pole, but be watch out for rattlesnakes. Finally, enjoy the natural beauty that graces the region, but please, be courteous and show respect to others and the terrain because many claim we are about to lose the Rubicon for once and for all.
Sand Mountain, Nevada
Location: 25 miles east of Fallon.
Time: Many people bring trailers or motorhomes to Sand Mountain and stay all weekend, although there are no facilities.
Experience Level: Beginner to advanced
Points of Interest: Try to drive up to the top of the mountain or in and out of the sand bowl and the super bowl on the back side of the recreation area.
What You Need: Wide tires and lots of horsepower are optional and will make for more fun in the dunes, but plenty of drinking water is mandatory.
Contact info: http://www.nv.blm.gov/carson/Recreation/Rec_SandMtn.htm
Santiago Peak, Cleveland National Forest, California
Location: Easiest way to access is from the South, where Highway 74 intersects with a dirt road at mile marker 5.5. N33 38.24' W117 25.28'
Length: 30 miles
Time required: 3-4 hours
Experience level: Beginner
Points of interest: This is an easy fire road that provides access between Orange and Riverside counties and offers the highest point in Orange County. Don't forget to have lunch at the top near the radio towers, where on a clear day you can see the mountains of San Diego to the South and Catalina Island to the West.
What you need: Capable stock rig.
Information: Cleveland National Forest Trabuco Ranger District (951) 736-1811
---Sean P. Holman
Stoneyford, California Stoneyford, Little Indian Valley, Northern California
The Stoneyford has a wealth of moderate 4x4 trails to explore. Most are old fire roads and cat tracks, and many have steep, loose hill climbs and descents. Some difficult sections (but not all) have bypasses, conditions change with the season and caution is strongly advised.
Best time to go: The calendar is open. Elevations are between two- to three-thousand feet and climes range from hot in the summer to freezing in the winter. We've plowed hub-deep snow and slicker-than-snot mud in the winter, and sweated our backsides off in the summer.
Getting there and GPS coordinates:
The run as loop or one-way: From Indian Valley Reservoir, N39-09-33/W122-32-37, head up the ridge trail from lake. Enjoy hill climbs and great views enroute to N39-11-38, W122-34-26. Left turn. Follow the ridge south to N39-10-11 W122-34-16.5, stay left (both will take you back to camp). At N39-09-26, W122-33-26.3 a left to the hwy and left back to camp. Day two: Head back to the first waypoint from day one. Right turn. Another right at N39-12-55 N122-35-51. Stay on the ridge route to N39-14-50, W122-34-07 and left to Stoney Creek. Check the depth before crossing. A right turn on Goat Mountain Road will take you to the pavement.
Difficulty and gear: This is a 3-5 on a 1-to-10: Careful navigation will get high-clearance vehicles through these trails without issue. But we don't recommend a late-model land-sled (i.e. Excursion). Lockers are handy but not mandatory. Fill up at your last gas and you should be fine. Camping is available lakeside near the trailhead (state fee may apply) and there plenty of room for trailers.
Superstition Mountain, near Brawley, California
Location: Situated northwest of El Centro in Southeastern California, the area is accessed by the appropriately named Wheeler Road where it intersects Huff Road (N 32 52.904, W 115 43.112). From I-10, take 86 S past the Salton Sea and down to the burg of Westmorland, take a right at the stop sign onto Forrester Rd., then go South to Imler Rd. and turn right. Imler eventually makes a long, lazy turn to the South (and becomes Huff Rd. in the process). Wheeler Rd. is on the right, just after the huge dips. Coming in from the South on I-8, take either the Dunaway or Drew off ramps to Evan Hewes Hwy, just to the North - then go East or West as needed, Huff is between the two.Once on Wheeler heading West, be sure to keep left at the Y in the road early on, then it's a six mile drive on a very wide and usually very good dirt road - which gradually turns right, towards the North. Pick a spot, any spot, East of the no-camping zone in the huge area in the general vicinity of N 32 56.129, W 115 48.201.
Length: With 13,000 acres of open area, Superstition Mountain is as long of a trek as you want it to be. Just don't stray into the bombing range (to the north of Pole Line Rd. and clearly marked) or your stay may become eternal.
Time required: With so much to explore, one could spend months poking around---especially so on the north side of the mountain, where the terrain is mostly rock, and with lots of canyons begging to be conquered. The San Diego 4 Wheelers put on the annual Superstition Mountain run in mid-January, and this is an ideal time to visit the area, both because the desert climate is perfect that time of the year and since the Blue Angels tend to practice their stunts overhead then. Oh, and because you also get to participate in a great organized event.
Experience level: From never-had-moved-the-lever-before to seasoned 'wheeler, there is something for everyone. Since the area is vast, go with another vehicle or two as it could be a long hike out. On the mostly sandy southern slope, there are some dunes and bowls ----prime country for the unaware to get in trouble.
Points of interest: With sand on the south slope and rocks on the north one, and sometimes a mix between the two, the Superstition Mountain is the point, and surrounded by flat, uninteresting military property. There are three radio tower sites along the ridge to use as landmarks, and they tend to come in handy.
What you need: Bring everything you might need, as there is nothing around for tens of miles. Brawley is the nearest town, but for more specific hardware, El Centro, Yuma, or Indio might have what you need. Or not.
Information: To get the scoop on Superstition Mountain contact the El Centro BLM office (www.blm.gov/ca/elcentro/superstition.html, or 760/337-4400), or look it up on www.dirtopia.com.
Tank Trap, Hollister Hills, California
Think: 4x4 equivalent to the last quarter of the Super Bowl. The Tank Trap trail in Hollister Hills State SVRA remains at the pinnacle of gnarly. During early June each year our staff of TTC judges along with park officials add nearly 1-million gallons of water to the upper section of the Trap. Gravity equalizes water amongst seven 3- to 6-foot-deep water holes, which dot the uphill climb. In the middle of it all a steep off-camber canyon section ensures drivers side sheet metal will never be the same again. Add the stress of a 30-minute time limit, poison oak in every direction and you get an experience like no other. It takes good teamwork to finish and months of preparation to win. Waterproofing is the key word here. Even the most overbuilt of rigs can be easily defeated by the Tank Trap.
The Magnificent Seven at Johnson Valley, California
Location: Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area, approximately 20 miles east of Lucerne Valley, from the intersection of Hwy 247 and Boone Rd.
Length: 9.5 miles
Time: A three-day weekend.
Experience level: Advanced to Insane.
Points of interest: Comprising the three celebrated "Hammers" of rock-wheeling lore----Jack, Sledge and Claw---along with nearby Outer Limits, Aftershock, Wrecking Ball and Sunbonnet Pass, the "Magnificent Seven" are Johnson Valley's crown jewels. Most offer extremely steep climbs---two thousand feet or more in barely a mile---up narrow canyons and tight notches strewn with car-sized boulders. Taken together, they're as technically challenging as any trail network in the U.S., and all sport double-diamond trail ratings. Best of all, the trails can change appreciably each year as Mother Nature rearranges her handiwork via winter storms and flash floods.
What you need: Superior rock-driving skills and an experienced spotter; fortified Dana 60s minimum; lockers at both ends; heavily upgraded drivetrain including all 'joints, 'shafts, and links; mega-travel suspension with remote-reservoirs; 35-inch tires minimum; full skidplating and rockguards; heavy-duty winch and bumpers; all the parts and tools you'll need for fixes since you probably will break something; and the willingness to sacrifice sheetmetal. And since you're in the desert, have twice as much water as you think you'd ever need, and all the requisite survival gear.
Information: BLM Barstow Field Office, 760/252-6000, www.ca.blm.gov/barstow/johson.html
Tillamook State Forest, Northern Oregon
Nestled just to the west of Portland, Oregon Tillamook offers family-friendly fun under a dense forest of Ponderosa Pines and Costal Redwoods. The Tillamook trail systems are managed by the OHV friendly Oregon Department of Forestry, and the area remains open to the public year-round. Highlights include a large section of rocky terrain known as the Crushers complex, and eight developed campgrounds that offer a range of conveniences. Most campgrounds operate from May through October and charge a small fee.
Truckhaven Hills, Near Salton City, California
Location: There's no real official entrance for this large area located just west of Salton City, in the southeastern portion of California, and it has traditionally been accessed from North Marina Dr. off of Hwy 86 S (N 33 18.163, W 115 58.916). Recent development along N. Marina Dr. has prompted many to instead use access off of S-22, the Borrego Salton Seaway, which runs along the southerly border of Truckhaven Hills and also forms the northern boundary of Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreational Area.
Length: Since the area is full of trails and washes to explore, the distance your drive can cover could be anywhere from a few hundred feet to tens of miles, depending on the level of difficulty you seek out.
Time required: One could easily spend weeks, maybe months, playing around in the ever-changing landscape (although, moonscape may better describe it) but it would be wise to go sometime between October and April as it can get stupid-hot in the summer months. A great way to get familiar with this place is to attend the annual Tierra Del Sol Four Wheel Drive Safari held in early March.
Experience level: Perhaps the true beauty of Truckhaven Hills---which isn't much to look at as far as the scenery goes---is that the most capable vehicle can struggle in a narrow notch while a stocker can often drive alongside on nearly flat ground within 15 feet. In other words, you can pick your level of difficulty to suit anything from a dilapidated 2WD to the best built 4x4 ever and have fun either way.
Points of interest: It's tough to describe the dirt that makes up most of Truckhaven, but it does provide an ever-changing mass of challenges---the name of this area pretty much says it all. It would be smart to note the location of the microwave tower to the west and Salton Sea to the east to enable finding camp again, or a road out, from within the vast area. Getting up on a ridge or other higher point helps a lot.
What you need: Most importantly, common sense. Combined with the normal list of required equipment for organized runs, there shouldn't be a need for anything else. If you know you'll break down or get lost, by all means bring firewood as it can get cold at night. Or, you could drive your motorhome as close to the action as possible and then watch TV (but that's just wrong!) when the sun sets.
Information: At this point the Truckhaven Hills (aka the Freeman properties) is in flux. Legal battles are going on, but it's been said that the Ocotillo Wells SVRA (ohv.parks.ca.gov/) is handling the area now, while there are both BLM and private sections in the mix. Useful information can also be found at www.dirtopia.com.
Waipi'o Valley, Big Island, Hawaii
Located on the Big Island's Northeastern side and accessible only from the City of Hilo, Waipi'o (why-pee-o) Valley embodies all that we love about Hawaii's backcountry. It is a lush sanctuary of river crossings, hidden swimming holes, spectacular cascading waterfalls and a pristine mile-long black sand beach. A group of native Hawaiian taro farmers still tend flooded fields year-round as camera-toting tourists file in by way of organized safari tours. Rental car agreements restrict unsupervised travel on the valley floor, but that usually doesn't stop experienced wheelers with a sense of adventure and a trusty 4x4. Several hiking trails zig-zag up the majestic mountains on each side of Waipi'o valley. For those who desire privacy in paradise, a lucky few occasionally stumble into a locals-only swimming hole complete with rope swing and thick foliage for camouflage. Warning: Keep an eye out for a hood-deep water hole that locals refer to as the "puka." The unassuming puddle, smack dab in the middle of one of the many roads, may look shallow but trust us; it'll stop any rental Jeep in its tracks.