Ten Terrific Wheeling Trips From Coast to Coast and Mild to Wild
Working at Four Wheeler isn’t all horsepower and giant tires. There are long hours for little pay, and we have gotten so good at jumping through corporate hoops we could win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. That’d said, you didn’t pick up this magazine to listen to us whine—you want to be inspired. “Bucket list”, that sort of thing. The kind of trip you talk about for years to come. We make an effort to go on a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip at least once a year, and we have set up camp in nearly every state in the union. These are the trips that stand out in our memory as the most scenic, most remote, challenging, and all around most rewarding. It’s the kind of trip where, as soon as you get home, you cannot wait to go back.
Synopsis: The Rubicon Trail is known for its rockcrawling challenges, such as the Little Sluice and the Soup Bowl, but just as big of a draw for the Rubicon is the breathtaking scenery and fantastic campsites that are only accessible by 4x4. The Rubicon is a county road that is passable once the snow melts in the spring and stays open through the first snow in the fall. Organized trips such as Jeep Jamboree make the trip less intimidating for those looking to make their first trip across the Rubicon.
Start: Loon Lake, California
Finish: Lake Tahoe, California
Length: 22 miles
Elevation: 5,400 to 7,000 feet
Terrain: High alpine with granite boulders, pine trees, and lakes
Camping: Buck Island Lake and Rubicon Springs are beautiful spots to spend the night with flat campsites, fire rings, and water
Vehicle recommendations: 33-inch tires, low gears, rock sliders
Watch out for: You’re required to pack out all of your trash, including human waste, so bring Wag Bags or a PETT toilet.
2. Mojave Road
Synopsis: Originally used by Native Americans, Mojave Road is dotted with water holes every 60 miles. The road has passed under the feet of Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers at various points in history. It makes an excellent long-weekend excursion from Las Vegas or Southern California and is filled with history and traditions, such as signing in at the Mail Box and leaving a rock at Travelers Monument.
Start: Bullhead City, Arizona
Finish: Newberry Springs, California
Length: 140 miles
Elevation: 500 to 5,100 feet
Terrain: Arid desert with occasional springs and oases, washboard two-track road, fall and spring are the best times to visit
Camping: There are an abundance of camping locations and side trips on Mojave Road, allowing the trip to be as short as two days or as long as you desire. Camp Phallus, Pleasant View, Mojave Camp, and Mid Hills are some of the more popular camp sites.
Vehicle recommendations: Fullsize spare tire, tow hooks, recovery strap, spare fuel, extra water
Watch out for: Dehydration is a real concern in the desert, so bring plenty of water.
3. Alcan Highway
Synopsis: The Alcan Highway was built during World War II out of necessity after the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands. The route connected airfields in the Northwest, and as a result, it is long and serpentine as opposed to a straight line to Anchorage. Originally quite rough and treacherous, the road is now entirely paved. What it lacks in difficulty it makes up for in beauty, remoteness, and sheer beauty. The road can be traveled year round, but the already sparse service along the mileposts is even more few and far between in the winter.
Start: Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Finish: Delta Junction, Alaska
Length: 1,187 miles
Elevation: 2,650 to 4,250 feet
Terrain: The road itself is paved, with semi-trucks and large animals like elk and moose being the biggest obstacles. There are numerous dirt spur roads off the highway that lead into the high alpine forests and freshwater lakes of British Columbia.
Camping: British Columbia has five provincial park campgrounds on the Alaska Highway; Yukon maintains eight government campgrounds; and in Alaska there are 10 state and federal recreation sites for camping along the Alaska Highway.
Vehicle recommendations: Full tune-up for reliability, GPS, paper maps, two spare tires, lockable storage, camper shell or other enclosed sleeping, large front bumper, spare fuel
Watch out for: Closed gas stations, bad fuel, and cracked windshields.
4. Continental Divide Synopsis: The Great Divide travels over 2,500 miles from Mexico to Canada through the mountain states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. As the name suggests, the route roughly follows the division where water flows west, to the Pacific, or East, to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. While the entire route is certainly worthwhile, exploring portions of the route is a less daunting effort and just as rewarding.
Start: Columbus, New Mexico
Finish: Rooseville, Montana
Length: 2,500 miles
Elevation: 4,000 to 13,000 feet
Terrain: Widely varying from desert to high alpine. Shelf roads, switchbacks, and steep ascents and descents will be encountered.
Camping: Camping varies along the route from established campgrounds, open camping, to hotels and hostels when you need to take a hot shower and charge electronics.
Vehicle recommendations: Full tune-up for reliability, GPS, paper maps, fullsize spare tire, spare fuel
Watch out for: Timing is important, particularly in Colorado, as you need to be late enough in the year for the snow to melt, but early enough to beat new snow
5. Camino del Diablo
Synopsis: Located along the Mexican border and crossing an active bombing range, you may encounter antelope, big horn sheep, illegal aliens, and the Border Patrol on the ancient Camino del Diablo. Used for over 1,000 years, the road was abandoned after the introduction of the railroad in 1870 and now is generally only travelled by off-road enthusiasts. This is about as remote as it gets within the continental United States.
Start: Ajo, Arizona
Finish: Yuma, Arizona
Length: 250 miles
Elevation: 200 to 2,000 feet
Terrain: Desert basin and range with Joshua trees, cactus, and other desert vegetation and soft sandy roads, summer temperatures can be well into the triple digits so winter is the best time to visit
Camping: Permits to traverse the road are required ahead of time by the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Papago Well, Tule Well.
Vehicle recommendations: Fullsize spare tire, tow hooks, recovery strap, sand ladders, spare fuel, extra water
Watch out for: Avoid illegal aliens and rattlesnakes, both of which you are likely to encounter.
6. High Water Mark
Synopsis: Located in the Ozark Mountains, this trail follows forest roads through tight trees and across numerous stream crossings that provide excellent fishing. A power line road along the trail is an optional spur for those looking to test their suspensions and locking differentials. The mild winters and foliage make this an excellent area to explore throughout the year when other trails on this list are covered under feet of snow.
Start: Russellville, Arkansas
Finish: Harrison, Arkansas
Length: 167 miles
Elevation: 1,000 to 1,700 feet
Terrain: Heavily wooded with creeks and waterfalls
Camping: Richland Creek offers campsites with vault toilets and fire rings, but primitive camping is available at other locations within the Ozark National Forest along the route.
Vehicle recommendations: Fullsize spare tire, raised differential breathers, sealed airbox
Watch out for: The water crossings can get too deep to pass through following heavy rains. Check the depth before crossing.
7. Baja Peninsula
Synopsis: Made famous by the Baja 1000, the Baja peninsula is a magical place that offers an exotic destination that you can still drive to from America. Despite stories of violence and drugs, we have never had any of the issues in Baja that are reported to plague mainland Mexico. Surfing, kayaking, fishing, and more can all accompany your adventure down the peninsula. Try to eat tacos at least once a day.
Start: Ensenada, Mexico
Finish: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Length: 1,200 miles
Elevation: 0 to 6,000 feet
Terrain: The terrain of Baja varies from rocky canyons to sandy beaches and whooped out race courses
Camping: The best places to camp in Baja are on the beaches, such as Coco’s Corner, Bahia de Concepcion, and Bahia de los Angeles
Vehicle recommendations: Spare tire, tow rope, sand ladders
Watch out for: There are numerous checkpoints along the peninsula so remember to have your passport on you and don’t take any firearms, ammunition, or drugs into Mexico.
8. Alpine Loop Trail
Synopsis: Southern Colorado has some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation. There are a variety of passes and roads that were created during the silver mining boom of the 1870s. The Alpine Loop combines two of the most popular passes in the area; Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, into one trip through the San Juan Mountains. A wide selection of other trails in the area can be combined to create an even longer trip. The beauty of this area is a greater appeal than the challenge, consider Poughkeepsie Gulch if you want a bigger obstacles.
Start: Silverton, Colorado
Finish: Ouray, Colorado
Length: 65 miles
Elevation: 7,000 to 12,900 feet
Terrain: The trail is maintained dirt roads, but they can be steep and narrow with tight switchbacks that favor a smaller vehicle. Much of the drive is above the tree line with spectacular views.
Camping: Numerous campsites can be found between Silverton and Animas Forks or South Mineral Campground along US 550. Amphitheater Campground just south of Ouray is one of our favorites.
Vehicle recommendations: Fullsize spare tire, tow rope, spare fuel
Watch out for: Vapor lock and altitude sickness can be an issue at high elevations.
9. Pony Express Route
Synopsis: The original route of the Pony Express Trail ran all the way from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. The sections in Utah and Nevada are still largely undeveloped and on public lands, making them perfect to explore. Several of the original Pony Express stations are still standing along the route. There were 184 stations placed 5 to 20 miles apart to supply riders with fresh horses. The route was only used for a year before it became obsolete as a result of the telegraph.
Start: Fairfield, Utah
Finish: Carson City, Nevada
Length: 250 miles
Elevation: 4,500 to 6,900 feet
Terrain: Basin and range with wide valleys filled with sage brush and high mountain passes with juniper and aspen trees. The road itself is maintained and passable with a stock high-clearance 4x4.
Camping: Simpson Springs is the most popular camping location, although dispersed camping is permitted on BLM land
Vehicle recommendations: Fullsize spare tire, extra fuel
Watch out for: The trail is well marked in some areas but not others. Carry a GPS and atlas of the area you are exploring.
10. Moab to Mexican Hat
Synopsis: The 100-mile-long White Rim trail lies in Canyonlands National Park and winds through spectacular scenery along the rim. While there are many options of how to connect White Rim to Valley of the Gods in Mexican Hat, we suggest spending time along Comb Ridge and exploring the washes on both sides of the sandstone spine. While you are there, don’t forget a trip up Moki Dugway and the dirt road out to Muley Point.
Start: Moab, Utah
Finish: Mexican Hat, Utah
Length: 300 miles
Elevation: 4,000 to 7,000 feet
Terrain: Terrain varies greatly along the route from sandstone and slickrock to sandy washes and graded dirt roads.
Camping: Valley of the Gods and Comb Ridge offer open camping. Permits are required for camping along White Rim available at the Canyonlands visitor center (make in advance as reservations fill up fast).
Vehicle recommendations: Fullsize spare tire, extra fuel
Watch out for: Flash flooding can make these roads impassable so monitor the weather before and during your trip.
No Love for the East Coast?
Readers living east of the Mississippi River might be disappointed by the locations of these trails. There was no intended bias, but the sad reality is that there is far more public land to explore in the western states than there are on the East Coast. That is not to say that there are no opportunities to shift into low range in the Appalachian Mountains or the Ozarks, but most of the more challenging terrain is found in private OHV parks. In a park setting it is more common to set up camp and then explore for the day before returning to your original destination rather than follow a point-to-point track.
These trips just missed the cut for our Top Ten and are definitely worth exploring, particularly if they are relatively local to you or you have already knocked off the other ten on the list.
Dusy Ershim, California
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Oregon Trail, Oregon
Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, West Virginia
Black Dragon Canyon to Devil’s Canyon via Eagle Canyon, Utah
McKenzie Trail, British Columbia
Lewis and Clark Trail, North Dakota
Death Valley to Saline Valley, California