Home > Car Culture >  

10 Best Off-Road Trails: From Mild to Wild

These Off-Road Trails Offer Fun and Challenging Outings Around the U.S.

best off-road trails in Moab

Where to find the best off-road trails is a hot-button topic. Thousands of miles of dirt roads and 4×4 trails are just waiting for you to explore in your 4×4, sport-ute, or pickup truck. Narrowing those routes down to the 10 best off-road trails makes it nearly impossible to please everyone.

These 10 trails offer a range of four-wheeling challenges in a variety of locations that are outstandingly beautiful and well served by nearby communities. If you have a favorite not found here, let us know. Otherwise, these 10 best off-road trails should give you a good start to your four-wheeling adventure bucket list.

10 Best Off-Road Trails in the U.S.

To open our discussion of the best off-road trails, we must begin by saying that most of our picks are in locations that include other 4WD trails. There are dozens of off-road trails available in locations like Moab or Uwharrie National Forest. Picking just one jewel from among the entire treasure chest would be impossible. On the other hand, some singular trails such as the Rubicon Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains stand alone as icons of four-wheeling adventure.

The Rubicon Trail is on almost every 4×4 enthusiast’s “to do” list and offers views of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

In most places east of the Rocky Mountains, patches of accessible public land become fewer and farther between. Hawk Pride Mountain in Alabama and Katemcy Rocks in Texas are perfect examples of private off-road areas.

We should also add that many of our picks for the 10 best off-road trails host organized events such as those put on by Jeep Jamboree USA or local four-wheel-drive clubs. Group events are a great way to explore a new area.

Uwharrie National Forest, North Carolina­

Uwharrie National Forest contains hundreds of miles of trails ranging in difficulty. (Photo courtesy: Jeep Jamboree USA)

The Uwharrie National Forest provides four-wheel-drive vehicle enthusiasts room to roam in its 52,000 acres of heavily wooded, rolling hills. Located in North Carolina, the Uwharrie trails range from easy to difficult and have varying vehicle-use designations. Enthusiasts can access most trails with a Jeep or other four-wheel-drive SUV or truck.

Primitive camping is allowed in much of the Uwharrie National Forest, and a few RV campgrounds are also nearby. Charlotte is about a 90-minute drive from the national forest. Dozens of other closer towns also offer a full range of services with access to gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and hotel and RV park accommodations.

Drummond Island, Michigan

Drummond Island in Michigan’s UP offers magnificent scenery, a wide variety of ORV trails, and one of our 10 best Jeep trail choices. (Photo courtesy: Jeep Jamboree USA)

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ORV trails crisscross the state like a spiderweb, and many of them are accessible by 4×4 SUVs and pickups. Silver Lake State Park offers sand fans a 2,000-acre sand dune playground along the shore of Lake Michigan. However, Drummond Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is our pick for the best off-road trails in this region.

The Jeep trails on Drummond Island provide plenty of mud and water, and many include rocky sections that will challenge your driving abilities. The South Marble Head Loop is a popular option. Designated an official “Jeep Badge of Honor Trail,” this loop features large rock ledges that take skill and a little courage to navigate properly. Drummond Island and the surrounding communities offer services, supplies, and a range of accommodations.

Hawk Pride Mountain, Alabama

Some of the best off-road trails east of the Rocky Mountains are in private off-road venues such as Hawk Pride Mountain in northwestern Alabama.

Hawk Pride Mountain Off-Road Park is a great option for recreational four-wheel-drive enthusiasts in the southeast. Hawk Pride features over 1,000 acres with 90 trails rated from mild to wild for everything from highly modified Jeeps to stock SUVs and pickups. Some sticky mud bogs are there for those who dare.

Full RV hookups, cabins, and tent camping sites are available on site. A lodge and concessions are also on the property. You can find additional services and supplies, hotels, and RV parks at the nearby towns of Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Florence. The Huntsville metro area is a 90-minute drive to the east. Hawk Pride frequently hosts special events and organized trail rides, so check the calendar before visiting.

Katemcy Rocks and Wolf Caves, Texas

Another private off-road area is Katemcy Rocks near Mason, Texas. (Photo courtesy: Katemcy Rocks)

Not all of Texas is flat. In fact, the largest state of the lower 48 states boasts the “Hill Country” around Austin, which offers a variety of great off-road trails. Some are basically ranch roads, while others are rock-crawler territory. Two private off-road parks are located near Mason, Texas, a two-hour drive west of Austin — Katemcy Rocks and Wolf Caves. They are within five miles of each other and can be enjoyed on the same weekend if you plan your trip right.

Katemcy Rocks has gained a reputation for its rock crawling and scenic rolling hills. Its 800 acres of granite rock offer dozens of trails of varying lengths and levels of difficulty for vehicles ranging from stock to radical. Wolf Caves delivers another dose of rock crawling therapy packed into its 430 acres of granite outcroppings. Both offer lodging and camping options. Services, supplies, and accommodations are also found in Mason. San Antonio and Austin are about a two-hour drive from Mason.

Black Hills, South Dakota

The Black Hills of South Dakota features Old West history and dozens of trails to explore. (Photo courtesy: Jeep Jamboree USA)

The Black Hills of South Dakota surround the mining town of Deadwood, just a gearshift away from the bustling Rapid City metro area. In those hills are enough of the best off-road trails to fill a week of four-wheeling. You can crawl over boulders in the morning, enjoy lunch in a historic mining and gambling town, and take a scenic drive to Mount Rushmore that afternoon.

Our favorite trails are in the Bogus Jim Creek area. The Bogus Jim Trail is a moderate to easy drive but offers entry to some whoppers such as Fruity Pebbles, Got Milk, and Jake for those with 4×4 vehicles equipped to tackle them. All three are rated 6 on a 1-10 difficulty scale by the Black Hills 4 Wheelers, which puts on events in the region. Drivers can find campgrounds from primitive to full hookups in the area. Rapid City offers access to services and supplies, restaurants, and other accommodations.

Buena Vista, Colorado

High elevation off-road trails and ghost towns are abundant in the Buena Vista, Colorado area. St. Elmo sits at the southern end of the Tincup Pass Trail.

The town of Buena Vista in central Colorado is surrounded by some of the area’s best off-road trails, historic mining sites, and some of the country’s highest mountains. Among the many trails in the region, the 13-mile long Tincup Pass Trail is one of our favorites. Most begin the trail at its southern end in St. Elmo Ghost Town. Tincup Pass is considered moderate because of its narrow mountainside sections and steep, rocky patches, but most can conquer it in dry weather in a near-stock 4×4. The trail climbs well above the tree line and tops out at 12,154 feet when it crosses the Continental Divide.

If you’re interested in more technical rock crawling, Chinaman Gulch Trail is the place to go. It’s considered extremely difficult and meant for highly modified vehicles. Tincup Pass and Chinaman Gulch are just two of the many off-road trails in the Buena Vista area. You can find a full range of accommodations, services, and supplies between Buena Vista and the neighboring towns of Americus, Johnson Village, and Nathrop.

Farmington, New Mexico

Chokecherry Canyon near Farmington, New Mexico, offers trails with terrain ranging from easy to extreme.

Just outside Farmington, New Mexico, lies a bundle of the best off-road trails surrounding the Brown Springs Campground. Located in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, the heart of this collection of trails is in Chokecherry Canyon. This area has long played host to competitive rock-crawling events. With names like Skinny Canyon, Bear Trail, Anasazi Refrigerator (our personal favorite), and Rainy Day, there are off-road trails perfect for everything from near stock to highly modified 4x4s.

Farmington offers complete services and supplies and has small-town charm with local restaurants. There are big-box stores, too. Accommodations range from campgrounds and RV parks to hotels. Local sites of interest, other than driving the challenging but rewarding trail systems, include the remains of 900-year-old Puebloan buildings at nearby Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Moab, Utah

Among our best off-road trails is Hell’s Revenge near Moab, Utah. It’s a white knuckle ride requiring a modified 4×4 vehicle.

Moab is situated in the heart of southeastern Utah’s red rock country. It hosts the annual Easter Jeep Safari event and offers dozens of the best off-road trails to choose from. Some are downright hair-raising, while others offer a nice drive on dirt roads and sandstone. Our personal favorite is Hell’s Revenge which is known for its technical driving on steep sections of sandstone with scenic views of the La Sal Mountains. Fins and Things is a much easier trail if you’re looking for a mellower option, supplying cheap thrills with little chance of expensive repairs.

Moab may be small, but it offers services, supplies, food, and accommodations, all within or very close to town. Jeep rentals are also available — we recommend Barlow Adventures in Moab. Salt Lake City is about a four-hour drive from Moab. Grand Junction, Colorado, is two hours away by car.

Rubicon Trail, California

The Rubicon Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range is famous for its beautiful and challenging terrain, putting it on the “to do” list of many 4×4 enthusiasts.

The Rubicon Trail is the Holy Grail of four-wheel-drive trails for many off-roading enthusiasts. Most begin the Rubicon Trail at Loon Lake on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Rubicon then wanders across a broken and sometimes steep granite and pine landscape on its way east to Lake Tahoe. Within this trail’s short but extremely challenging 12 miles lie some of the most beautiful alpine scenery in the country.

Lake Tahoe and all it has to offer are at the trail’s eastern terminus. The city of Sacramento (about an hour from the Rubicon’s western trailhead) and its surrounding municipalities offer plenty of options for services, supplies, and accommodations. The trail can be done in small groups or as part of a large event such as Jeepers Jamborees. Either way, it’s best done as a multi-day trip in a highly modified vehicle.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oregon

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area covers 40 miles of 4×4 accessible coastline from Coos Bay in the south to Florence in the North. (Photo courtesy: Warn Industries)

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is an off-road-friendly, 31,500-acre portion of the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon. Spanning some 40 miles of the coast from Florence in the north to Coos Bay in the south, the recreation area is a playground for all levels of four-wheel-drive activity. Carving the top of a dune under full throttle or cruising along the beach should make any four-wheel-drive enthusiast happy.

Oregon Dunes offers tall dunes, beaches, small lakes, campgrounds, boat ramps, canoeing, and fishing. It would be easy to spend a week swimming, fishing, and hiking, while regularly hitting the dunes for a spin in your favorite 4×4. Towns such as North Bend, Reedsport, Gardiner, and Florence provide services and supplies and offer all levels of dining and accommodations.

Get Out Exploring

As with any off-road adventure, do some research before hitting the trail. In addition to knowing the route, try to find some recent trip reports for current road conditions and details on any of the more difficult obstacles you might encounter. For downloadable digital trail maps of these 10 best off-road trails and other 4×4 trail destinations, check out OnX Offroad or BFGoodrich OnTrail.

About Stuart Bourdon

A passion for anything automotive (especially off-road vehicles), camping, and photography led Stuart to a life exploring the mountains and deserts of the Southwest and Baja, and a career in automotive, outdoor, and RV journalism. He has held editorial staff positions at publications such as Four Wheeler, 4Wheel & Off-Road, Jp (all-Jeep), Trailer Boats, and Camping Life. When not behind a camera or in front of a computer, Stuart can often be found behind the wheel.