Growing up I remember vividly watching Mad Max and seeing these giant hulking trucks and cars driving over sand, rocks, and boulders without an issue. The concept of a vehicle driving off the road into the wilderness was such a foreign concept when surrounded by an urban jungle. Years later, I was given the opportunity to drive up into the mountains on a ‘county’ road that was unpaved. It was an adrenaline pumping thrill! It then made me ask the question, ‘What are the most amazing off road destinations in ski towns around North America?’ So I did some research and here are four places to pack your Jeep or Toyota 4Runner and test your vehicle’s mettle.
Rubicon Trail – California
How it Began
Even before the Europeans showed up, the Rubicon Valley was the dividing line between two of the Indian tribes of the region:
- The Maidu-Nisenan Tribe to the west
- The Washoe Tribe of western Nevada
In 1848 gold was discovered in the area and a mass migration began. Structures such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin were built in the coming years. By the 1880’s, the Rubicon Springs (now known as the Hunsucker Springs) began selling as healing waters leading to it becoming a resort destination. It was at this time that the El Dorado county developed the Rubicon Trail to move cattle, sheep, and turkeys from the western slopes of the Sierras to the Meeks Bay area for summer grazing. In the 1920’s cars traveled the route by using ropes and planks to cross the rougher spots. In 1952, several residents of Georgetown met to discuss the possibility of hosting an organized Jeep tour from Georgetown to Lake Tahoe via the Rubicon Trail. It wasn’t until August 29, 1953, that 55 Jeeps with 155 participants left Georgetown on a two-day trip that is now known as ‘Jeepers Jamboree 1.’ Every year during the last weekend of July, 4-wheelers follow the tradition of these ‘pioneers.’
Being located next to Lake Tahoe, there is a plethora of options from restaurants and breweries you can check out before you even start your adventure. As the godfather of off-roading trails, this should be on everyone’s 4-wheeling bucket list. It’s a 22-mile long, part road – part 4×4 trail that is shockingly a county road. It’s unmaintained status makes it exciting for sure. The journey is so long and arduous it will take multiple days to cross it meaning you will need to camp along the way. Be forewarned that this is a technical path so make sure to go with a partner and have some experience before attempting it.
Engineer Pass – Colorado
Located just down the road from the famed Silverton Ski Resort, Ouray, Colorado is home to an amazing network of off-roading challenges. But before you even get to 4-wheeling, you must take the famed Million Dollar Highway. This road is considered to be one of the most dangerous roads in America. With multiple switchbacks and huge drop-offs, this road is not for the faint of heart.
Once you get to town though, you have so many options you won’t know where to start:
- The Alpine Loop
- Yankee Boy Basin
- Imogene Pass
- Corkscrew Gulch
- Engineer Pass
- Brooklyn Road
- Black Bear Pass
- Last Dollar Road
- Ophir Pass
All of them seem amazing, but Engineer Pass is a solid option for beginners and experienced drivers alike. Built by the same engineer who built the Million Dollar Highway, you know it will be exciting.
Summit of 12,850 feet leads to amazing views
The Pass comes with amazing views of the San Juan Mountains along with multiple points of historical interest. Not the toughest route but being one of the highest passes with a summit of 12,850 feet and some narrow steep sections, it will definitely get your attention.
Whipsaw Trail – British Columbia
Just to the west of the famed Powder Highway is the Whipsaw Trail. Being one of the most historic routes in Western Canada, it’s a sweet option for anyone that wants to enjoy the wilderness and follow the footsteps of gold miners. The trail leads you through and around many ponds, cabins, mine sites and side trails to explore. It’s also the first Canadian trail to be added to the BFG Outstanding Trails program. It has everything from bottomless mud pits, tight technical sections and gnarly hill climbs.
Most of the trail isn’t difficult and all of the tougher obstacles can be circumvented if need be. One of the more interesting points on the trail is Falcon Hill. Receiving its name by a person driving his 1966 Ford Falcon up it in 1979, this is one of the tougher sections and is kind of shocking that the 2WD car made it when a 4×4 could require hours of winching to get up it depending on the weather. On a normal day though, any good truck can make it up there.
Crystal Ridge Trail – Washington
Washington is home to the Cascade Mountain Range so it makes sense that one of the best trails in North America would exist there. Near Crystal Mountain Ski Resort lays the Crystal Ridge Trail. At around nine miles long, this can be accomplished in one day albeit a REALLY long one. Great views, hill climbs, off-camber, tight spots – you name it, it has it. In fact, this route isn’t for the newbies. Rollovers are a common occurrence and the cliff on the trail has had fatal consequences.
If it does get a bit too hairy, you can opt to exit early on the eastern half of the trail to make the trek a bit shorter. It’s not all gloom & doom though. The views of the Cascade Mountains and the Crystal Mountain ski resort make it well worth the challenge. There is even a place to park your RV near the entrance if you want to make it a multiple day journey. This whole voyage is well worth the heart ache.
From Crystal Ridge Trail in Washington to the infamous Rubicon there is most likely an off road trail by your favorite ski resort. Is there one that you enjoy that should be on this list?