Off-roading is the most adventurous thing you can do with your car. Whether you have a specific trail in mind, an off-road park nearby, or you simply want to go for an impromptu escapade, wherever you are, it can be both fun and safe. Most basic two-wheel drive cars can handle dirt roads, ventured at slow speeds, yet a 4x4 is needed for trails, parks, and off-roading in general. Rugged terrain is best ventured with one or more of the following elements…

  1. A buddy – it’s recommended to go with a buddy, since if you ever get your car stuck, they can help you escape with a tow rope. You’ll also want to make sure that wherever you go, there’s cell phone reception, in case of emergency. One emergency that’s easily avoidable is to make sure that you’ve got a full tank of gas. Otherwise, you may not get very far or if you do, you may not get back.
  2. Portable air compressor – If, you’re travelling across sand, you are better off having lower tire pressure. Perhaps, up to a third of what it is for normal highway driving. Lower pressure, increases the surface area of the tire, which can then grip slippery terrain more easily. Decreasing tire pressure is also good for mud. Yet, once the off-roading session has been completed, it’ll be important to re-inflate the tires, since having low pressure can damage them and also decrease fuel economy. This is accomplished with a portable air compressor, which is important to keep on hand. You can also use a digital tire gauge to confirm that the tires are at the correct psi.
  3. Transfer case – A transfer case is a useful piece of metal that can switch between 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive on an as-needed basis. 2-wheel drive is good for most situations, since it’s generally possible to get from point A to B with power supplied to just two wheels. However, when it comes to off-roading and steep inclines or decents, it can be useful to go into 4-wheel drive. This powers all four wheels for maximum grip on trickier terrain. Putting the car into a low gear is also important for climbing, since it increases the torque that forces the wheels over bigger objects. When on a decent, low gears also slow the car, in addition to the brakes.
  4. Locking differentials – On most cars, there are open differentials, which allow the wheels with the least amount of resistance to spin the fastest. This is practical for turning corners, since it’s the outside wheels that have to turn much faster than the inside ones. Yet, off-roading, sometimes a wheel can lose traction. Power going to this wheel would not get the car moving, since it’s not gripping anything. The locking differential would be used to lock the axel, so that the wheel with more resistance, also receives power. This way the wheel with traction can get the car unstuck, which is important for off-roading.

There are plenty of popular off-roading vehicles to pick from that offer the basic features needed to have a good time. The Chevrolet Tahoe ZR2 has locking front and rear differentials, the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro includes All-Terrain tires, and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon comes with a tool kit for removing all those unnecessary doors and the roof. In fact, most car manufacturers offer an SUV, since they’re very popular, and every SUV has at least some level of off-roading capacity. Once, you’ve got the right vehicle, all you need is some hands on experience. Here are a few places to take your off-roading adventure…

8) Dalton Highway

The 666 Kilometer long Alaskan drive begins at the town of Livengood and goes straight north, all the way up to Prudhoe Bay. They say that very few people have driven the stretch and it’s quite often described as America’s lonliest road. However it offers some of the most spectacular views the world has to offer, like the Yukon River and the Brooks Mountain Range. It’s only got 160 kilometers of paved road and the rest is gravel road and steep, mountainous inclines. It’s very important to fully stock up on gas and supplies at each checkpoint, since they’re so few and far between.  

7) TransAmerica Trail

You can go off-roading across the whole country, from east to west, starting at Hatteras, North Carolina and ending at Port Orford, Oregon. TransAmerica includes 8, 368 Kilometers of country dirt roads and trails with varying level of difficulty.  Apparently, there are deep sands in parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma whereas Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are beautiful and offer a wide open road. Yet, there’s so much variation in terrain, since the trail spans such a large distance, so anyone who completes it will have experienced all that off-roading has to offer.  

6) Baja, California, Rosarita Trail

Many California vacationers flock to the town of Rosarita in Mexico, since it’s just 35 minutes from the California, US border. Rosarita has beautiful beaches and offers a wild nightlife however one of the main attractions is the off-roading terrain. Most popular are the mountainous trails that have off-roading features for every skill level, not-to-mention the beautiful coastal views. Then there are the Baja dunes on Rosarita Beach, which can be explored and jumped for fun. The Baja, California peninsula is so popular for off-roading that a race was started by the National Off-Road Racing Association, called Baja 100, in 1967. The town of Rosarita is a prime spot for the race’s spectators, yet the race covers well over 1000 kilometers, from Tijuana, Baja California to La Paz, Baja California.  

5) Denali Highway

It’s only 217 kilometers long however the dirt and gravel highway takes at least 3 hours to trek. The highway is somewhat rugged and requires that you drive slowly, yet off-roading opportunities lie all around. The best part about off-roading along the Denali highway is that there are beautiful glacial mountain views, like the Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range, and also rivers, like the Nenana River. The highway is super isolated, so there’s plenty of wildlife, and you’ll discover more animals, than other drivers on the road.

4) Death Valley

Death Valley consists of 3.4 million acres of desert in California and Nevada. It’s a protected national park however still offers almost 2, 000 kilometers of off-roading fun. Off-roading Death Valley is amazing because for one, it’s the hottest place on earth however it also offers some of the most natural beauty to be seen. This includes mountain peaks that are 3 kilometers high and dips, like Badwater, that that are among the lowest on earth. One should not venture into Death Valley without brand new tires, since getting a flat in the middle of the desert would be an inconvenience to say the least. It’s also important to be full up on water supplies, since drinking water helps the body to regulate the extreme highs and lows in temperature, throughout the day. A perk of off-roading Death Valley is that the National Park offers a “Morning Report” PDF with all the important information, like weather and conditions.

3) Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is an alternative to Monument Valley, which is separated by about an hour drive. Many suggest that Monument valley is the more beautiful Utah location to visit however Valley of the Gods is a more remote spot that includes a modest 27 kilometers of off-roading pleasure. The trail is for beginners and doesn’t even require a 4x4 because the ground is so easy to drive. The dirt road is super well maintained and the main reason to do the trek is to experience the landscape that includes fancy rock formations, like the “Lady in the Bathtub”, in privacy.

2) Whipsaw Trail

Whipsaw trail offers a 97 Kilometer long off-roading experience amidst southern BC’s woods. It can be completed in about 10 hours however it’s recommended to campout over night and stop every so often to ‘stop and smell the roses’. They say that it’s possible to enjoy the trail without much in the way of specialized off-roading equipment, like locking differentials, however one can find challenges if they wish to. It becomes especially challenging after any rain or snow. Most importantly, the BC forest is majestic.

1)   Rubicon Trail

Stock Jeeps are made for this trail and you can actually buy a Jeep Wrangler with a Rubicon trim. The 35 kilometer long trail is known for being challenging and having conditions that change on a daily basis. There are many large rocks to climb over, which shift regularly and the busy path is also narrow. The trail is located in a region called the Sierra Nevada that is largely concentrated in California however also spans parts of Nevada. It’s recommended to only take a top-condition Jeep to this trail, since the obstacles put strain on the car and old parts will break. It’s also important to have at least one locking differential axel, since it provides the necessary grip for moving over large rocks or going down steep descents.

Conclusion

All you need for off-roading is a little pre-planning to match your equipment and skills to a suitable trail. Whether you want to go for a super easy trail, like Valley of the Gods, that doesn’t even require a 4x4 or you’re more interested in an intense Rubicon experience, or anything in between, there’s something out there for you. Off-roading seems to be less about showing off driving skill, or worrying about your lack thereof, and more about experiencing the great outdoors in an exciting way. Anyone with a Jeep’s gotta’ try it out at least once.