One of the cool things about our jobs here at Four Wheeler is that we get to wheel a lot. Sometimes that wheeling is at the same places you wheel and other times it’s in a unique place or under special circumstances. Some of our wheeling adventures and locations stand out from others, thus we have favorites. What follows is a collection, in no particular order, of some of our favorite destinations and trips that we’ve done. It’s by no means a complete list, but we offer ’em up as a template for you to use to plan your own 4x4 adventures.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a string of barrier islands located between the Atlantic Ocean and the mainland. Depending on the time of year, many of the beaches are open to vehicles (if an area is closed to vehicle travel it is typically marked as such). Many folks use their 4x4s to access the beaches for fishing, but there’s also some great exploring. At the northern tip, there’s the very unique town of Carova Beach (carovabeach.info), with its stilted homes and loose-sand roads. Further south is the South Core Banks, which is accessible by a small vehicle ferry (davisferry.com) and features miles of incredible unspoiled beach. We’ve wheeled the Outer Banks many times in stock 4x4s—all you have to do is air the rig’s tires down to increase flotation in the sand. Tip: Bring along a tire pressure gauge and a small air compressor.
San Juan Mountains, Colorado
One of our favorite places to wheel in the state of Colorado is the San Juan Mountains. Located in the southwestern part of the state and part of the Rocky Mountains, the incredibly scenic mountain range is home to legendary trails such as Black Bear Pass and Imogene Pass. A stock 4x4 is adequate for most trails, but others require a modified 4x4 with increased ground clearance and larger tires. Many of the trails are only open for a few short weeks in the summer due to snow. Be warned, many of the trails are high altitude and situated precariously on the mountainside. Some of our most memorable trips were during heavy rain or snowstorms. A good source of info about the area is the Guide To Colorado Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails (funtreks.com), which provides trail ratings, maps, and other helpful info.
Rubicon Trail, California
We dig the Rubicon Trail. If you haven’t been there, you need to go because it’s a blast. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it offers almost non-stop obstacles in a stunning environment. We’ve talked with folks who hate slow-speed ’crawling, but they adore the Rubicon Trail even though it’s only approximately 22 miles in length, it takes about 21⁄2 days to complete at a leisurely pace. A well-equipped, modified 4x4 is recommended but we’ve done the trail in almost-stock Toyotas. A leisurely pace requires camping out two nights, so bring your camping and cooking gear in addition to tools and spare parts. A good source for Rubicon Trail information is the Rubicon Trail Foundation (rubicontrail.org). Among other things, this organization fights to keep the Rubicon Trail open.
Once upon a time, we loaded up our 4x4 and took off from our California office for Arizona with the intention of wheeling obscure trails—not the toughest, just the most obscure. It was called the Trails and Tents Tour (fourwheeler.com/trailsandtents), and due to our utter and inept lack of planning, we quickly figured the trip was doomed to be a chaotic experience that would result in bickering and evil stares. It did include those things, but it also included some great Arizona trails that could be done in a stock vehicle. With just an Arizona Atlas & Gazetteer as a guide, we found cool trails like Rattlesnake Canyon near Globe and forest roads north of Flagstaff. None of the trails were overly difficult, yet we still managed to puncture a tire sidewall on rocks in Rattlesnake Canyon. Tip: Your Gazetteer or GPS will show backcountry roads, but all may not be open to motorized travel.
Death Valley, California
Death Valley may not seem like a wheeling destination to some people, but it’s one of our favorites. The National Park Service says that Death Valley National Park has more roads than any other national park and many are dirt. We go when temps have moderated and the days aren’t furnace-like. Echo Canyon is always fun and it’s an 18-mile loop bordered by sheer rock walls. It can be done in most high-clearance vehicles (we punctured an oil pan under a stock Suzuki Vitara on this trail once). The trail takes a couple of hours at a leisurely pace to complete. Among other things, we also like to visit the Skidoo Town Site, the ghost town of Ballarat, Ubehebe Crater, Racetrack Playa, and explore Lippencott Mine Road. Tip: Due to its remoteness, plan to bring extra fuel, water, and food. Info on Death Valley National Park’s backcountry roads can be found at nps.gov.
The Moab area, located in the southeastern part of the state, is an off-road utopia, and its slickrock trails are legendary. One of the photos shown here is of our Dodge Power Wagon descending an obstacle on the Flat Iron Mesa trail. It may come as a surprise that one of our favorite trails is the incredible Kane Creek Canyon trail. As a matter of fact, it has been home to several staff trail rides. The trailhead is about 11 miles from Moab and crosses Kane Creek numerous times. Much of the trail is at the bottom of the canyon, but one area climbs high on the canyon wall on a shelf trail. The creek crossings may be impassable after heavy rain or in the spring. A great source for info on Moab area trails is the Red Rock 4-Wheelers website (rr4w.com). Red Rock 4-Wheelers is the incredible organization behind the Easter Jeep Safari.
H2our De Force: Nine Trails, Nine States, Nine Days
One of the greatest, if not the greatest, 4x4 adventure we ever took was H2our De Force. Two Four Wheeler staffers climbed into a 4x4 in California and traveled through nine states over the course of nine days, wheeling at a predetermined location in each state. Along the way we almost drowned our truck on the beach in Oregon; we stuck it to the rockers in snow in Idaho so bad the winch stalled during the recovery; we baja’d through mud in middle-of-nowhere Montana to get to a one-car ferry across the Missouri River that was piloted by an ultra-sarcastic lady; and we almost broke the truck’s steering during a nasty hillclimb in Wisconsin. It was a blast. You can read a collection of blogs from the trip at fourwheeler.com/h2our. H2our De Force is an example of wheeling in multiple destinations while traveling and has served as the template for several of our trips since then.