Editor’s Note: Also see How To Be Prepared For An Epic Suv Off-Road Adventure
Overlanding is thought to have been introduced in Australia back in the early 1900s. But despite this century-plus long history, overlanding is still comparatively new in terms of outdoor recreation, especially in the US. Today, its increasing popularity in North America has resulted in the mapping of a host of new overlanding routes and sections. Some of these routes are emerging as the US’s most iconic destinations for overlanders.
The combination of car camping and off-roading offers infinite possibilities for challenging wilderness experiences, entertainment, and remote solitude. While the overlanding vehicle itself is an essential ingredient in the overall recipe for a good overlanding trip, so is the route.
With endless options for overlanding routes dispersed worldwide, choosing an objective can be difficult. But with everything from easygoing weekend rides to vigorous multi-week tours, some of the best routes are found here in America.
The U.S stretches roughly 3,000 miles coast-to-coast and it provides a wide range of options when it comes to terrain types. From dry, extreme deserts to breezy coastal beaches, no matter your skill level or preferred location, there's an overlanding route that'll make the grade.
In addition to the sheer variety of terrain, several other factors make the U.S. an excellent place for your next overlanding mission, including frequently updated trail conditions and route changes, a thriving community of overlanders to connect with, and routes that accommodate all skill levels, from easy to expert. Looking for a first-rate multi-week route? There are plenty of those, some requiring a large amount of road cover to complete (assuming the conditions are suitable during the entirety of the trip). How about a day trip? Sure. You can find overlanding routes that can be finished in just a few hours. These diverse routes are quickly making the U.S one of the world’s overlanding hubs.
With so many options, we decided to take a deep dive into a few of the most iconic overlanding routes in the U.S, exploring their terrain and notable features, as well as delving into their difficulty levels. Below are five US overlanding routes with difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Expert.
Developed to be scenic and not "off-roading" specific, the Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route is a mixture of both forest and logging roads that cover some of the most scenic landscapes in New Hampshire. Starting at the border of Canada – this route takes you through a national forest, a variety of small idyllic towns, and ends on the coast of New York.
Why is it suitable for beginners? The route was intended to be compatible with any high clearance 4WD vehicle. However, when you consider the unpredictable east coast weather and travel on remote and unmaintained roads, it's advised to tour with 2+ vehicles.
Location: Canadian Border (Pittsburg, NH) to the Coast (Rye, NY)
Time: 3 days (or more)
Distance: 500 miles (roughly)
2. South Core Banks: EASY
If you're a big fan of sand, salt, and sea, this is the overland route for you. South Core Banks is the middle of three islands that make up the Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina. A short ferry ride from the mainland, this route boasts over 20 miles of undeveloped beach. When the sun is up, you can explore by vehicle, take a swim, or cast a line, and when it sets, you can pitch a tent and enjoy a glorious campfire under a canopy of stars.
Why is this a great beginner route? Not only are there next to no technical challenges, but any stock 4WD will suffice. But, like any off-road venture, before you head out, check the weather — particularly during hurricane season.
Location: Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Time: 1-2 days
Distance: 20 miles (roughly)
3. Mojave Road: INTERMEDIATE
A route renowned throughout the overlanding community, the Mojave Road is popular, and for a good reason. Traveling across the Mojave National Preserve offers jaw-dropping desert landscapes peppered with iconic Joshua Trees. In addition, there are endless opportunities for undeveloped camping along the route so you can be sure you’ll find the perfect spot to get some rest after a solid day of adventure.
Why is this route good for intermediate overlanders? Though most of the route is non-technical, there are a few spots that having some experience will come in handy. More technical spots like Watson Wash would be better accomplished with a spotter. And of course, due to the remote location and the often unpredictable weather on the route, it is advised that you tour in a caravan of 2-4 vehicles, or more.
Location: Mojave National Preserve, California
Time: 2-5 days
Distance: 138 miles (roughly)
4. Black Bear Pass: EXPERT
Why is this route best for experienced overlanders? It’s very technical. Located on one of the state's highest peaks, the route descends "steps" comprised of a series of steep, technical rocks. In addition, it features incredibly tight, narrow switchbacks at stomach-churning heights. Secondly, much of the route requires a high clearance, short wheelbase, four-wheel-drive vehicle to complete. So proceed with caution!
Location: Near Telluride, Colorado
Time: Less than 1 day
Distance: 10 miles (roughly)
5. Rubicon Trail: EXPERT
And last but not least, a trail so famous they named a Jeep after it: The Rubicon Trail. This historical route has seen many a traveler over the last 100 years. Today those travelers are typically going via truck and UTV.
Why is The Rubicon Trail best left for the experienced overlander? While this route through the Sierra Nevada may look like an easy one from the pictures, it's actually one of the country's most difficult and demanding overlanding routes. Due to its narrow passages, rocky climbs, and occasional mud holes, the trail is recommended for short wheelbase vehicles with all skid plates in place. The main stretch is roughly 22 miles, however it can take the better part of two or three days to finish — and that's with a seriously-modified rig and a skilled driver at the wheel.
Location: California High Sierra
Time: 1.5-2.5 days
Distance: 110 Miles (roughly)
Go With Confidence
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There you have it, five of North America’s most iconic overland route suggestions, for every skill level. Set your sights on one that’s right for you and keep moving off-road through 2022.
Already assembling your ultimate overlanding gear kit? Read our guide Overlanding? Keep These 5 Essential Items In Your Emergency Kit
What other overlanding trails and routes do you recommend? Share them with us on social media @aclim8_gear!
Did you like this article? Check out How To Be Prepared For An Epic Suv Off-Road Adventure
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