My Favorite 4x4 Trails
An expert off-road guide reveals her top trips
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, UtahMany 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.
Backway to Crown King, ArizonaThis 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.
Alpine Loop, Ouray, ColoradoThe 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.
Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Glamis, CaliforniaSand 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!
The Rubicon, Georgetown, CaliforniaWith 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?
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.