Overlanding is becoming more popular in the US. Adventurers want to explore wildernesses in 4x4s self-sufficiently, without bringing a team of mechanics, tow trucks, or guides.
Overlanding trips can last from a few days to several months and take place in marginal locations, such as deserts, mountains, tundra, and jungles. The goal is to immerse oneself in nature while enjoying the unspoiled beauty of remote destinations.
People love overlanding because it offers a rare opportunity to escape the crowds. Enthusiasts often report how primal it feels to go out into nature and rely on oneself.
They also enjoy the sense of freedom it brings. Modern 4x4s are so capable they can go just about anywhere.
Fortunately, you don’t have to improvise and drive wherever your instinct tells you. Today, multiple overlanding routes across the US provide an enjoyable and predictable experience. Read all about them below.
1. Valley Of The Gods Road in Utah
The Valley of the Gods Road, near Mexico Hat, is only 17 miles long, but the scenery is so spectacular it deserves a place on this list. As you drive along it, you’ll experience some of the finest natural beauty that Utah, Colorado, and Arizona have to offer.
If you are new to overlanding, the Valley of the Gods is a good place to start. Most of the route is a well-maintained dirt track. And, because of the low rainfall, mud and swamp are unlikely.
It’s also a very quiet place. Despite offering one of the best adventure loops in the country, the Valley of the Gods dirt road is usually deserted, making it a great option for anyone looking to get away from it all.
The track begins around 7.5 miles north of Mexican Hat on Highway 163. Drivers turn off at the fork and then follow it to Highway 261. At the end of the trail, they have the option to continue onto the Moki Dugway, a section of tight switchbacks that climb up Cedar Mesa.
Despite being relatively unknown, the Valley of the Gods has been featured in several TV shows, including CBS’s Airwolf and the BBC science fiction show Doctor Who. Moreover, unlike the nearby Monument Valley, there are no tribal restrictions on where you can go.
2. The Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route
The Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR) sits at the other end of the spectrum. This epic off-road trail runs for more than 1,250 miles and takes most drivers eight to fourteen days to complete.
The best time of year to go is July through October. Temperatures are reasonable, and rainfall is generally low.
Most overlanders start their adventure at the southern end of the route in Jarbidge, NV. They then make their way north until they hit the Idaho town of Porthill on the Canadian border.
Local state and municipal authorities maintain the Idaho BDR to a reasonable standard. Therefore, you shouldn’t need a modified 4x4 – a standard vehicle will suffice. Just watch out for forest fires, logging, and fallen trees along the route.
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3. The Transamerica Trail
The Transamerica Trail made it onto this list because it is the ultimate destination for any overlander wanting to relive the experience of early pioneers making their way out west. The route offers a mix of scenic vistas and unique attractions, giving everyone who tries it an experience of a lifetime. Along the way, you’ll face various challenges, including mud, sand, snow, and rocks, and several trail surfaces, such as gravel, dirt, farm, and paved roads.
The trail starts in Eastern Tennessee at the Tellico Plains. It then runs through Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Idaho, finishing on the Oregon coast at Battle Rock near Port Orford.
The cool thing about the Transamerica Trail is how it gives you options. While the traditional route begins in Tennessee, you can now travel 4x4 from coast to coast, thanks to the Atlantic Ocean spur (a new addition) and the Oregon spur. You can also drive along the Shadow of the Rockies, a section linking the northern and southern east-west trails, cutting out the part of the loop that goes into the mountains.
All tracks are multi-directional and navigable with GPS. Parts of the trail are waymarked, making navigation even easier.
4. The Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail
Running between Hazel Green and Point Detour, the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure trail is more than 600 miles long and offers some of the most challenging off-road terrain in the U.S. You can go virtually any time of the year except winter.
The route comprises a mix of grass, dirt, gravel, and sandy tracks, plus some forest fire roads. We chose to include it because you can do it without a 4x4 (though you’ll still need some advanced driving skills).
It takes the average adventurer around two and a half days to complete the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail. Most of it is relatively easy paved and gravel roads. However, there are some more challenging sections to keep you on your toes. Beware of the deep sand near the Black River falls since this is where you are most likely to get stuck.
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5. White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park
Lastly, you might want to consider the White Rim Trail in the Canyonlands National Park – a route we included here because of its remarkable scenery. It is just 110 miles long and offers spectacular views across Utah.
If you decide to tackle this trail, you’ll need to take a high-clearance vehicle with you. Many parts of the trail can flood when the Green River spills over its banks.
You can do the trail in one day, but it is difficult. You’ll need to set off early and get back late. Furthermore, you’ll need to obtain a day-use permit. Only 50 are available per day, and you can only get them 24 hours in advance.
In summary, there are at least five incredible overlanding destinations in the USA. They are suitable for all skill levels, from novice to expert.
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