Guide to the Best Overland Trails
Embarking on an overlanding adventure combines the thrill of exploration with the serenity of nature. Whether you're a seasoned explorer or new to solo overlanding, the allure of discovering uncharted terrains is irresistible. In this guide, we’ll delve into what makes an overlanding trail truly captivating, catering to both experienced enthusiasts and beginners. Join us as we uncover overlanding trails that promise an unforgettable journey — one where every path leads to a new adventure.
Find overland trails near you:
- Midwest trails
- Northwest trails
- Southeast trails
- Southwest trails
- Pacific coast
- Atlantic coast
- Beginner overland trails
What makes a good overlanding route?
Choosing the right overlanding routes can transform a simple journey into an epic adventure. While personal preferences vary, certain key factors universally contribute to a memorable overlanding experience. Here are some essential criteria:
- Varied Terrain: A mix of terrains, from winding forest paths to challenging mountain trails, ensures a dynamic and engaging journey.
- Accessibility: The balance between accessibility and remoteness is crucial. Too inaccessible, and it might be daunting for beginners; too easy, and it might not offer the adventure experienced overlanders crave.
- Remote Locations: Being far from major cities allows for a more authentic nature experience, free from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
- Scenic Beauty: Routes that offer breathtaking views, unique landscapes, and the chance to witness wildlife in their natural habitat add to the allure.
- Weather Conditions: A route with favorable weather conditions enhances the journey, though some adventurers may seek the challenge of harsher climates.
- Cultural Significance: Trails with historical or cultural landmarks offer an enriching experience, adding depth to the adventure.
Each of these elements contributes to what makes an overlanding route truly exceptional, promising an adventure that is as rewarding as it is challenging.
Best overlanding in the north
The northern reaches of the country, primarily encompassing the Midwest and Northwest in this section, offer a distinct overlanding experience characterized by rugged terrain and often cooler climates. Here, adventurers can expect to traverse through vast, mountainous landscapes, where the beauty of nature is amplified by the crispness of the air. This region promises a blend of challenging trails and serene wilderness, making it a haven for those who seek both adventure and solitude amidst the backdrop of some of the country's most breathtaking scenery.
The Midwest, with its vast landscapes and diverse terrains, offers some of the most rewarding overlanding adventures in the country. This region, known for its rich natural beauty and varied topography, provides an ideal backdrop for overlanders seeking both challenge and tranquility. From the deep forests of the Ozarks to the scenic stretches of Wisconsin, each trail in the Midwest promises a unique journey. Whether you're navigating through rugged paths or enjoying serene drives, these trails cater to a wide range of skills and preferences, making them a must-visit for overlanding enthusiasts.
Ozark Overland Adventure Trail - Arkansas
This trail, found in the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas, offers a scenic journey through untouched natural beauty. It features a mix of terrains and obstacles, including steep hills, rocky ledges, and muddy forest roads, providing unique experiences for overlanders.
- Distance: 160 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: 5 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Spring, Summer, or Fall for the best weather
- Difficulty: Requires a 4x4 vehicle with high clearance due to primitive routes
Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail - Wisconsin
Stretching more than 600 miles, this trail begins at the Wisconsin-Illinois border and extends to Lake Superior’s shore. It caters to various overland vehicles and offers diverse terrain, including deep ruts, sandy roads, and muddy paths.
- Distance: 600+ miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: 3-4 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Spring, Summer, or Fall
- Difficulty: Moderately challenging; suitable for high-clearance vehicles.
The Northwest region, encompassing states like Washington and Oregon, offers a unique blend of lush forests, rugged mountain ranges, and diverse ecosystems. Overlanders in this area can expect to navigate through dense woodlands, traverse mountain passes, and encounter a variety of wildlife. The region's trails range from easy scenic drives to more challenging routes, catering to all levels of overlanding experience.
Washington Cascade Overland Route - Washington
This 553-mile journey traverses mostly non-paved roads, running through the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range. You'll experience diverse scenery including dense forests, open arid pines, rocky ridgeline passes, and beautiful rivers and lakes. The route also passes through towns for resupply and offers numerous camping opportunities.
- Distance: 553 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: 5-7 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Summer
- Difficulty: Varies; some areas require only two-wheel drive with moderate clearance, while others demand a four-wheel-drive vehicle with higher clearance.
Crater Lake National Park - Oregon
Exploring Crater Lake National Park in Oregon offers a unique overlanding experience, where adventurers can engage with rugged terrains, witness stunning vistas, and connect deeply with nature. The park's routes through the Cascade Mountain Range present diverse and breathtaking landscapes. Approaching from different directions, whether from the pine forests and obsidian flows in the north or the high desert and hemlock forests in the east, each path to Crater Lake ensures a memorable journey.
- Distance: Varies depending on the chosen route and areas explored within the park.
- Recommended Trip Duration: The duration can vary widely; however, a comprehensive exploration could take several days to a week, accounting for various trails, camping, and sightseeing.
- Best Time of Year to Go: Summer for clear skies and accessible roads. Late spring and fall also offer unique experiences with varying weather conditions.
- Difficulty: The difficulty level varies depending on the route and the weather conditions. Some routes may be accessible for standard four-wheel-drive vehicles, while others may require more advanced off-road capabilities, especially during winter or in more remote areas of the park.
Overlanding in the south
Overlanding in the southern United States offers a blend of diverse landscapes, from the arid deserts of the Southwest to the lush, tropical environments of the Southeast. Adventurers here can expect warmer climates, often accompanied by geographical features such as mountains, rivers, and flat expanses that stretch far into the horizon. This region is a paradise for those seeking to experience the vibrant mix of natural ecosystems, from the dry, sun-baked trails of the desert to the verdant, water-rich paths of the tropical areas. Each journey through the South promises an adventure rich in scenery and diversity.
The Georgia Traverse - Georgia
The Georgia Traverse is an epic overland route through the heart of the American South, showcasing the hidden beauty of Northern Georgia. This predominantly off-pavement Georgia overland trail stretches nearly 400 miles. Designed to be traveled from east to west, the route is suitable for all-terrain vehicles, though the terrain might challenge higher roofs or wider vehicles due to overgrown sections.
- Distance: 390 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: 4-10 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Year-round, though road closures can occur in winter.
- Difficulty: Generally accessible and not overly challenging. However, there are a few sections along the way that may require more advanced driving techniques and a vehicle capable of handling tougher terrain.
Ocala National Forest - Florida
The Tread Lightly! Four Wheel Drive Way in Ocala National Forest, recognized as Florida's first Jeep Badge of Honor trail, presents a unique opportunity for overlanders. This 81-mile journey showcases the diverse ecosystems of central Florida, offering a blend of stock-friendly paths alongside segments with soft sand and mud, adding a mild challenge to the experience. The trail provides a balance of accessibility for standard off-road vehicles while still offering sections that test your driving skills and vehicle's capabilities.
- Distance: 81 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: 1 day
- Best Time of Year to Go: Spring and Summer
- Difficulty: Most of the trail system is easy to traverse, but there are some areas of mud and water, as well as extremely soft sand.
The Southwest region of the United States offers a dramatically varied overlanding experience, characterized by its vast arid deserts, rugged mountains, and deep canyons. The terrain here ranges from the flat, expansive desert landscapes to the challenging, rocky mountain trails. Overlanders in this region can expect hot, dry climates, particularly in the desert areas, with cooler temperatures in the higher elevations of the mountains.
The Alpine Loop - Colorado
The Alpine Loop in Colorado, stretching between Ouray and Silverton, is a spectacular off-road adventure that takes you through the heart of the San Juan Mountains. This 63-mile trail winds over two breathtaking 12,000-foot mountain passes. The journey along the loop is a step back in time, tracing the paths of early 19th-century mining roads. The route offers extraordinary views of rugged mountain terrain and is dotted with remnants of Colorado's rich mining history.
- Distance: 63 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: Anywhere from 5 hours to 2 days (depending on how much time you want to spend in the area).
- Best Time of Year to Go: Summer
- Difficulty: Somewhat challenging, requiring a high-clearance 4WD vehicle
Texas Hill Country Tour - Texas
The Texas Hill Country Tour invites explorers into a picturesque landscape of rolling hills, mesas, and valleys. Stretching 148 miles, the route meanders through central Texas' captivating hill country, offering a glimpse into the area's natural beauty. The journey is characterized by a mix of county dirt and gravel roads, interspersed with paved sections and numerous river and creek crossings.
- Distance: 148 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: 1-3 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Year-round, with the best weather in fall and spring
- Difficulty: Easy, suitable for vehicles with all-terrain tires; 4x4 may be needed for creek crossings after heavy rainfall.
Coastal overlanding trails
Coastal overlanding offers a unique blend of challenges and rewards, with routes that run alongside the vast and beautiful shores of the United States. These trails often present a more temperate climate, with the sea breeze bringing both saltier air and potentially more wind. Overlanders traveling these routes can expect varied landscapes, from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs, each offering stunning views of the ocean. The proximity to the sea also means a chance to experience diverse ecosystems and wildlife. Coastal overlanding combines the thrill of exploration with the serene beauty of the sea, making it a favorite among many adventurers.
From the rocky, fog-laden shores of the Pacific Northwest to the sun-drenched beaches of Southern California, the Pacific Coast is a paradise for those seeking scenic beauty and diverse terrain. Overlanders can expect to navigate through dense forests, coastal dunes, and along cliffside roads that offer stunning ocean views. The environment along this coast is shaped by the Pacific Ocean, resulting in milder temperatures, high humidity, and in some areas, frequent fog and mist.
Pacific Crest Overland Route (PCOR) - California, Oregon, Washington
Spanning 2,650 miles, the PCOR parallels the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, traveling through California, Oregon, and Washington. This route takes overlanders through some of the West's largest wilderness areas and national parks, offering a mix of famous locales and little-known wilderness areas.
- Distance: 2,650 miles
- Recommended Trip Duration: Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy this route, it’s recommended to take 1-2 months.
- Best Time of Year to Go: Fall is ideal for the entire trail; Spring and Summer for the Pacific Northwest section.
- Difficulty: Varies; includes snowy mountain passes, mud, and desert terrain. Requires a full range of recovery gear, saws, and emergency supplies.
The Atlantic Coast of North America is marked by its varied environments, offering overlanders a range of terrains and natural beauty. From the rocky shores of the Northeast to the sandy beaches and marshlands of the Southeast, this coastline is rich in history, culture, and diverse ecosystems.
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge Overlanding Trail - Florida
The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is an excellent destination for overlanding enthusiasts seeking a blend of wilderness exploration and wildlife viewing. This trail takes you through the heart of this National Wildlife Refuge, showcasing diverse habitats including tidal swamps, pine forests, and marshes. The refuge is spread along the Suwannee River as it meets the Gulf of Mexico, offering a mix of freshwater and saltwater environments.
- Distance: Varies, but a typical loop can be around 50-70 miles, exploring various parts of the refuge.
- Recommended Trip Duration: 2-3 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Fall to Spring
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate, with well-maintained roads but potentially challenging due to remote locations and limited facilities.
Acadia National Park Loop - Maine
The Acadia National Park Loop in Maine is a captivating journey through one of America's most treasured national parks. As you traverse this scenic drive, you'll be enveloped by the rugged beauty of Maine's coastline, featuring dramatic cliffs, serene forests, and striking mountain landscapes. This 27-mile loop road winds through the heart of the park, offering access to many of Acadia's most famous landmarks.
- Distance: 27-mile loop road
- Recommended Trip Duration: 1-2 days
- Best Time of Year to Go: Late spring to early fall
- Difficulty: Easy
Best overlanding trails for beginners
When starting out in overlanding, choosing the right trails is key to a successful and enjoyable adventure. Beginner trails should offer manageable challenges while still providing the thrill of exploration and discovery. Here's an overview of some starter routes across the United States for new overlanders:
Valley of the Gods Road - Utah
Valley of the Gods Road in southeastern Utah is a hidden gem offering a serene and less crowded alternative to the more famous Monument Valley. This 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through stunning red sandstone formations, towering buttes, and vast, open landscapes that epitomize the American Southwest. The road is generally passable for most vehicles under good weather conditions, but it's important to check the weather forecast beforehand as rain can make the road slippery and challenging.
Alpine Loop - Colorado
Located in the San Juan Mountains, this trail offers stunning mountain vistas and historic mining towns. It's a great introduction to high-altitude overlanding. With a distance of about 65 miles, you can expect this trip to take 1-2 days. Familiarize yourself with driving at high altitudes and be sure to check for seasonal road closures, as the trail is typically open from late May to early October.
Mojave Road - California
Traversing the Mojave National Preserve, this historic trail offers a taste of desert overlanding without extreme challenges. It's also a great introduction to desert landscapes and history. Roughly 140 miles long, this should take anywhere from 2-3 days for a good trip. The best time to visit is during the spring and fall to avoid extreme summer temperatures. Prepare for remote desert conditions by carrying extra water, fuel, and emergency supplies.
Experience overlanding like never before
Overlanding offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the great outdoors and connect with nature in a unique way. Whether you're a beginner just starting your journey or an experienced adventurer, there's always something new and exciting to discover. The trails we've discussed, from the serene beauty of Valley of the Gods in Utah to the historic Mojave Road in California, are just the beginning of what overlanding has to offer.TAXA overlanding vehicles are thoughtfully designed to provide everything you need for your adventure, balancing comfort and functionality, ensuring that you're fully immersed in your experience while being prepared for any challenge nature might present. Learn more about how our overlanding trailers can elevate your adventure, or speak with a specialist who can guide you through your options. Let's embark on this journey together!