Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

101 Places to Wheel Before You Die - Far West

Posted in Project Vehicles on April 1, 2008
Share this

Arroyo Seco del Diablo, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
Location: Situated between Vellecito Wash Trail and Fish Creek Trail, the trail is generally run from South to North.N32 52.94'
Length: 8 miles
Time required: 1 hour
Experience level: Intermediate
Points of interest: Arroyo Seco del Diablo is a great trail, mostly known for the Diablo Drop Off - a steep sandy decent that is fun to run in reverse in high horsepower rigs with lockers. This trail winds through the scenic Carrizo Badlands and should be combined with Vellecito Wash and Fish Creek for fun wheeling and fantastic scenery that offers a very good overview of the Anza-Borrego State Park.
What you need: A capable stock rig or one with basic modifications - 31s, traction aids, etc.
Information: Anza-Borrego State Desert Park (760)-767-5311
---Sean P. Holman

Black Rock Desert, Nevada
Location: Miles of dirt roads located approximately 110 miles north of Reno
Time: At least two days
Experience Level: Intermediate (due to remote location)
Points of Interest: While "desert" conjures up images of an endless expanse of sand, the High Rock Desert is actually a diverse landscape home to various hot springs, settler history, and wildlife. It is also home to the world famous Burning Man festival.
What You Need: High clearance 4WD vehicle with large capacity fuel tank or spare fuel, spare parts, spare tires, and a supple suspension
Contact info: BLM Winnemucca Field Office-
---Harry Wagner

Brooklyn Jeep Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Location: The trail begins off of California Highway 62, east of 29 Palms.N34 06.82'
Length: 14 miles
Time required: 5 hours
Experience level: Intermediate
Points of interest: This is a great trail through the defunct Brooklyn Mining District of the Pinto Mountains, just north of the Joshua Tree National Park boundary line. Countless mines and challenging terrain will keep you entertained for at least half a day, be sure to combine this with Old Dale Road in to JTNP. Body damage is possible, but not likely.
What you need: Minimum of 33-inch tires, recovery gear, and supplies in case of breakdown.
Information: Joshua Tree National Park (760) 367-5500 BLM Palm Springs South Coast Field Office(760) 251-4800
---Sean P. Holman

Burns and Rattlesnake Canyon, Big Bear, California
Location: The trail head can be found just east of the intersection of Baldwin Lake Road and Vale Drive, east of Big Bear, California.N34 16.77 W116 47.78
Length: 20 miles
Time required: 4 hours
Experience level: Beginner
Points of interest: This trail, also known as 2N02, winds its way from the top of the San Bernardino Mountains down to the desert floor of Yucca Valley, taking you through rugged beauty and even an old growth Joshua Tree forest thrown in for good measure. Difficulty is low, scenery high and is the perfect day trip for the family, but you don't want to be in the canyon during inclement weather due to risk of flash floods.
What you need: Capable stock rig
Information: San Bernardino National Forest Big Bear Ranger District 909-382-2600
---Sean P. Holman

Charouleau Gap, AZ
Where it is: Northeast of Tucson, Arizona
Length/time: Plan on a long day or camp overnight to complete the approximate 20 mile trail.
The Wheeling Experience: This scenic high desert trail near Oracle offers a diversity of terrain including sandy canyons and rocky hills. With trail elevations at ~4000-5000 feet, the vistas of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest are enticing. The trail can be run year round with possibility of snow in the winter and high water levels in the washes after thunderstorms. Plan on wide day/night temperature extremes in this arid climate.
Points of Interest: The "Car Wash", a sometimes deep creek crossing can be an eye opener if the area has seen recent rains. As an aside, the Biosphere 2 research center is near here.
What You Need: To complete the trail, 32" tires and at least one locker would be advisable. Clearance issues may be a concern in rocky areas or where deep water sits after rain storms.
Contact info: The trail lies in Coronado National Forest. More information is available at:
---Jay Kopycinski

County Road 3N34, "Dishpan Trail," near Big Bear, California
Location: Approximately 12 miles of west of Big Bear, from the intersection of C.R. 1316 and Green Valley Lake Rd.
Length/time: 5 miles to Stove Flats turnoff, 10 miles to Pinnacles.
Time: 2 to 4 hours, depending on how much of the trail you run.
Experience level: Advanced.
Points of interest: None in particular, but you can run this trail knowing that you are following in the footsteps of immortals---er, former FW editors---because back in the day, we used to wheel The 'Pan every year in our Four Wheeler of the Year test. The first few miles are a rock lover's paradise---mostly uphill, with numerous "rock gardens," rutted sluices, cliffside dropoffs, and tree-lined squeezes. The trail was closed after the devastating fires of 2003, but reopened three years later. Sadly (for us), the passage of time and the evolving affects of nature have made this trail a lot gnarlier than it was 10 years ago, so we don't take stock test rigs over it anymore. For the SoCal hardcore, however, it's a must-wheel.
What you need: Advanced off-road driving skills, and a vehicle that's set up for a black-diamond trail: Low gearing everywhere; Dana 44s minimum (60s or nodular 9s would be better yet); lockers in both diffs; a flexy suspension; 33-inch tires minimum; a mandatory winch; spare 'shafts, hubs, U-joints, rod ends, and all those other parts that rocks love to eat; and the tools you'd need for field fixes.
Information: Big Bear Ranger Station, 909/382-2790,
---Doug McColloch

Dalton Highway, aka "The Haul Road", near Fairbanks, Alaska
Location: Approximately 85 miles north of Fairbanks, from the intersection of Elliott Hwy and Dalton Hwy.
Length: 415 miles.
Time: 12 to 18 hours.
Experience: Technically speaking, beginner, but . . .
Points of interest: Spectacular scenery---pristine wilderness, wildlife and desolate tundra in the Alaska north country---on this narrow and isolated 400-mile gravel/washboard road that ends at Deadhorse, near the Arctic Ocean. Built in the '70s as a pipeline road and supply route to the oilfields at Prudhoe Bay, the road is frequently trafficked by 18-wheelers, many pulling multiple trailers, and the huge plumes of dust and gravel they kick up virtually guarantee you clogged filters, a cracked windshield, and busted headlights as souvenirs. There are a few primitive campsites dotting the route, but for the most part, you're on your own here.
What you need: A knack for self-sufficiency, respect for the big rigs, and a road warrior's spirit of adventure. Also, spare fuel, food and water (you can buy supplies in Coldfoot, about midway along the route, but nowhere else for 200 miles in either direction), some stout shocks and tires, and an iron butt in general---the mostly-rough road gets more punishing the further north you go, and summer rains can wash out huge sections of it with little warning. Expect delays due to road repairs, have a CB keyed to Channel 19---it's the one the truckers use---and all the survival gear you'd need should you break down in grizzly habitat.
Information: BLM Fairbanks District Office, 907/474-2251,
---Doug McColloch

Diamond Creek Road, Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Diamond Creek road runs from Route 66 at Peach Springs, Arizona down to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. While it is heavily used by river rafters as a shuttle take-out route, the bulldozed path winds down and around some spectacular scenery, which eventually ends at the mighty Colorado's edge. Creeks repeatedly interrupt the fast-descending road, making for some great photo opportunities while the final mile runs in the stream-bed of Diamond Creek. Lasting only18 miles, the route is easily completed in under an hour, though a heavy rain in the headwaters of either Diamond Creek or Peach Springs can add significant difficulty and even render the road impassable for days on end. The summer monsoon season (typically July through September) offers unpredictable conditions, so be ready to evacuate quickly. When the road is too badly damaged, the Hualapai Indian Tribe closes it for repair. Once floodwaters recede, heavy equipment typically has it back in use in a few days time. Beware of extreme heat in the summer months. A handful of sandy riverside clearings exist for camping, however you must first obtain a permit in Peach Springs.
---Robin Stover

Dusy-Ershim Trail, Northern California
Location: We could tell you, but then you might go there.
Length: 40 miles
Time required: 4 days
Experience level: Expert
Points of interest: Long regarded as California's best kept secret, the Dusy is arguably the best trail in California, with its narrow passages through trees and boulders that prevent a really good line and making body damage a high possibility. Enjoy Thompson Hill, which will make or break your trip.
What you need: Minimum of 33-inch tires, locker, body protection, recovery gear, and survival gear.
Information: US Forest Service High Sierra Ranger District (559) 855-5360
---Sean P. Holman

Florence Junction, AZ
Where it is: East of Phoenix metro area
Length/time: Area has a variety of trails from very short rock play trails to all day runs
The Wheeling Experience: This area is prime Sonoran desert wheeling consisting of sandy washes, rock crawling, and picturesque canyons. We like Highway to Hell, Woodpecker and Ajax Mine trails, Axle Alley and Martinez Canyon, but there are many more in the general area. Box Canyon just south is a popular mild trail destination. Wheeling is good year round, but very hot and dry in the summer. Flash floods can occur there. Just be mindful during thunderstorms.
Points of Interest: In the area you'll find various mining camp remnants and Indian petroglyphs carved on the rock canyon faces. Martinez Mine is a large abandoned mine that still has building structures in the canyon.
What You Need: Trails are mild to wild so suitable for a wide range of vehicles. This is the desert so you'll want to prepare for large swings in day/night temperatures and bring plenty of drinking water.
Contact info: Most trails lie within Forest Service and BLM lands.
---Jay Kopycinski

Imperial Sand Dunes
Where it is: Southeastern California near Glamis, California
The Wheeling Experience: Mother Nature has amassed a vast expanse of fine, blown sand and carved great rounded canyons and dunes across this area. People head to this sand box in droves to enjoy the awesome site of the dunes or kick up some serious sand with high horsepower rigs. It's fun to play follow-the-leader through the dunes or hang out at one of the competition hills. Best season is Halloween to Easter.
Points of Interest: Glamis on the north end has large dunes and the highest concentration of vehicles. Dune Buggy Flats (Gordon's Well) and Buttercup areas close to I-8 are popular family destinations and sport their own wide range of vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
What You Need: Most any wheeled vehicle can play in the sand here. Paddle tires get you up bigger hills, but 4WDs can do well with standard tires by airing down to increase flotation. Any vehicle running in the dunes must run a safety flag for visibility.
Contact info: Fee permits required for entry, camping and off-highway vehicles. More info can be found at:
---Jay Kopycinski

Jarbidge, Nevada
Location: 105 miles north of Elko, Nevada
Time: At least two days to scratch the surface of the area.
Experience Level: Intermediate (due to remote location)
Points of Interest: The town of Jarbidge is located far off the radar in the northeast corner of Nevada, near the Idaho border. The quaint town is miles from pavement in any direction and home to some of the best stream fishing and backpacking in the country. Jarbidge Road is famous in the land use community as one of the only roads that was reopened after being closed by the Forest Service. It crossed Jarbidge Creek numerous times and terminates at the Jarbidge Wilderness boundary.
What You Need: High clearance 4WD vehicle with large capacity fuel tank or spare fuel, spare parts, spare tires, and a supple suspension in order to get to Jarbidge. If you plan on travelling to the end of Jarbidge Road make certain that your vehicle is properly prepared for deep water crossings.
Contact info:
---Harry Wagner

Jemez Mountains, New Mexico
Location: Miles of dirt roads located approximately 60 miles north of Albuquerque
Time: One day
Experience Level: Beginner
Points of Interest: Various roads lead to remote hot springs and fishing spots, as well as the Valle Caldera and Bandelier National Monument. Native American pottery shards and excellent rock climbing routes can also be found in the Jemez.
What You Need: High clearance 4WD vehicle and a sense of adventure
Contact info:
---Harry Wagner

Lippencott Mine Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Location: On the western side of Death Valley at the end of Racetrack Road. N36 38.36' W117 34.43'
Length: 8 miles
Time required: 2 hours
Experience level: Intermediate
Points of interest: Lippencott Mine Road is a loose jagged road that clings to a hillside, bridging Death Valley National Park with Saline Valley. Be sure to spend time at the Lippencott Mine Complex, for a lunchtime vista.
What you need: Capable high-clearance 4x4, 33-inch tires are recommended. Road conditions can change depending on the season and recovery gear and survival supplies should be carried.
Information: Death Valley National Park (760) 786-3200
---Sean P. Holman

Mana Road, near Hilo, Hawaii
Location: Waimea, from the intersection of Highway 19 and Mana Rd.
Length: 45 miles.
Time: 4 to 6 hours, depending on conditions.
Experience level: Intermediate to advanced.
Points of interest: Dude, the trail's in Hawaii---does it get any better than that? But this isn't a sand-and-surf run---it's a high-altitude mountain ride around the periphery of Mauna Kea, the Big Island's biggest volcano, at elevations ranging from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. Most of the trail is graded dirt and gravel, though there are some rutted sections, some streambeds to ford, and occasionally steep inclines that can be tricky, depending on the weather. For your efforts, if skies are clear, you'll be rewarded with spectacular vistas of the volcano itself, the island's north shore, and the island of Maui to the northwest.
What you need: In fair weather, a stock Jeep with an experienced driver and the requisite recovery gear should be able to handle it. But rains can be heavy at times---especially on the Waimea side--and the trail can transform into a series of slippery slopes and sticky mudholes, so a set of aggressive tires, a rear locker, and a winch should be considered the minimum for a safe outing. Rain gear, warm clothing, and even some Rossignols are good ideas too; Mauna Kea can see snowfall in the winter, and yes, there are skiers in Hawaii.
Information: Hawaii Div. of Forestry and Wildlife, 808/974-4221,
---Doug McColloch

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
---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
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,
---Doug McColloch

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.
---Robin Stover

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.
---Robin Stover

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:
---Harry Wagner

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.
---Chris Collard

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 (, or 760/337-4400), or look it up on
---Jimmy Nylund

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.
---Robin Stover

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,
---Doug McColloch

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.
---Robin Stover

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 ( is handling the area now, while there are both BLM and private sections in the mix. Useful information can also be found at
---Jimmy Nylund

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.
---Robin Stover

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results