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My Favorite 4x4 Trails

Posted in Features on January 25, 2017
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I am asked all the time which trail is my favorite. Usually, the trail I just did is my favorite trail ever. That’s how I feel after a fun day of wheeling and exploring.

Some might expect me to highlight trails in my own backyard of Sedona, Arizona, but I enjoy a varied diet. I like trails that offer a whole package: views, at least a little challenge, some historical point of interest or natural wonder, and far enough away from town to feel like an adventure, not just a trip to the gym. Here are some trails that consistently bring a smile to my face, in no particular order.

Sevenmile Rim, Moab, Utah

Many people are surprised at this lesser-known red rock trail. I love it because it has a little of everything and so many options that you will never run it the same way twice. There are rocky ledges, views, sandy flats, views, steep slickrock climbs, and yes, views. I regularly take stock Jeeps through here, but even the big rigs will find some fun options. With the stunning Monitor and Merrimac Buttes and the famous Wipeout Hill along the way, it will be the picture you use on your desktop.

Sevenmile Rim is picturesque, varied, and fun–a little of everything that Moab has to offer in one trail.

Backway to Crown King, Arizona

This trail climbs from the desert floor around Lake Pleasant at 1,700 feet in elevation, tops out over the pine-covered Bradshaw Mountains at about 7,000 feet, and drops you into the historic mining town of Crown King. The tiny town of Crown King offers a couple of tasty restaurants, a historic saloon, lodging and camping options, and other interesting nearby trails. The main route of this trail up from Lake Pleasant is mostly easy 4WD with only a few non-optional high-clearance obstacles but offers some great play areas as well. Though popular and doable in a stock Jeep, it should not be taken lightly. It is remote, it is long, and like many Arizona trails, it can change in an instant and be flooded, snowed under, or on fire with very little notice. Bottom line: Be prepared, don’t go alone, and make good choices.

This is one of the harder options on the Backway To Crown King Trail in the mountains of central Arizona.
Arizona’s famous Crown King Saloon is the perfect stop after the long ride up from the valley floor. The structure was originally built in Oro Belle, one of the mining districts farther down the mountain, through which you drive on the trail.

Alpine Loop, Ouray, Colorado

The high shelf trails are guaranteed to take your breath away, either from the stunning beauty of the high peaks or the fear of certain death should you venture off the edge of the trail. You can pick and choose which parts of the loop you would like to connect, but most trails will pass through the picturesque ghost town of Animas Forks. There are huge vistas on Engineer Pass, surreal rainbow-colored mountains in Corkscrew Gulch, incredible wildflowers along Cinnamon and California Pass, and waterfalls everywhere. Bring a rain jacket and squeeze your trip in between July and early September.

A rainbow-colored landscape in Corkscrew Gulch awaits those who venture along the Alpine Loop near Ouray, Colorado.
The first mile of Engineer Pass on the Ouray side takes you up along spectacular Mineral Creek. If edgy roads are a bother, then you won’t like much about the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
This is my favorite mineshaft house from the nearby Yankee Girl Mine. Mine buffs will be in heaven on Colorado’s Alpine Loop trails.

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Glamis, California

Sand dunes are intoxicating and addictive. The wind-rippled crests and lingering gold light will mesmerize you, even if you resist the urge to scream “yee ha!” as you throttle through a rainbow arc across the face of monster dune. Reading the sand and picking a line through a sea of dunes takes a lot of concentration and quick decision-making. It can be overwhelming with choice after choice in any direction, unlike most 4WD trails where you only have a little wiggle room along a narrow trail, but that is part of its unique fun!

Camping among the ever-changing wind-swept dunes of Glamis is a must-do experience.
Don’t skip the dunes because you think you need a high-horsepower sand rail. There is something for everyone at Glamis. The small dunes are fun for an easy, flowing drive. As you head deeper into the dunes, they get taller, and more aggressive driving is required.

The Rubicon, Georgetown, California

With beautiful rivers and lakes, blue skies, green trees, and endless Sierra granite, the Rubicon has been called the toughest trail in the world. What the Rubicon lacks in single pants-wetting obstacles, it makes up for in constant rocks. It will beat you with stamina. It will put beach-ball sized rocks in your path until your brain and body are weary, then it will change to off-camber ledges until you are not sure which way is level any more, then it will squeeze you between rock and tree after rock and tree. It is 20 miles of never-giving-you-a-break. And I love it. Whose bucket list is it not on?

The classic Sierra Nevada granite boulders migrate and grow, making the trail different every time you go. Some complain about the Rubicon Trail being “paved” in certain areas, but there are always other areas more chewed up to make up for it.
You’ll find no better accommodations on the planet. The lakes and rivers along the Rubicon Trail are JUST warm enough to swim in.

Ask me next month what my favorite trails are and you may get a different answer. My best recommendation? Go find the ones that make your heart soar with joy.

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