The Best Beginner to Intermediate Overland Trips, Routes, and Trails in the USA
The new year is here and with it comes a whole new decade to explore overland routes and trails throughout the United States and beyond. To kick off your adventures, Overland Discovery has put together a full year of overland trips, routes, and trails perfect for your overland rig, whether it be a Jeep Wrangler, campervan, or other adventure-suitable vehicles.
For the list below, we’ve focused on beginner to intermediate level overland routes and trails in the United States (mostly). While there are certainly many amazing, well known, and challenging expert trails throughout the United States, many of these require very specialized build-outs and equipment, as well as expert knowledge and skills. For the most part, for this list, we have stuck to overland routes and trails that can often be accomplished with a stock high-clearance 4WD vehicle, with a minimum of extra build requirements or fancy gadgets needed. We’ve also kept much of the list beginner-friendly and included routes from around the country. While everyone knows there are hundreds of overland routes and trails throughout the western United States, we’ve included some suggestions throughout the central and eastern United States, as well.
We’ve organized the overland routes below to include every calendar month, so you can keep adventuring throughout the year. This said, many of these routes are navigable throughout many months of the year, and some can even be tackled year-round. Always check the best times of the year for each route. High water or snow may make some routes difficult or impossible in certain seasons. Due to the nature of overlanding, permanent or seasonal road closures may also occur, so be sure to do your research before setting out.
If your new year’s resolution involves more overland trips — or just getting into overlanding — this list will be the perfect start. Some of the overland routes and trails included here are also overland rental-vehicle friendly (always check your rental agreement), so even if you’d just love to try the overlanding experience, there’s no better time than 2021!
Without further ado, our picks for overland routes and trips in 2021.
Best Overland Routes For January
Route: Mojave Road
Location: Mojave Road, Mojave National Preserve, California
Distance: 138 miles
Recommended Time: 2-5 days
When to Go: Spring and Fall
We begin our list with an overland trip that will no doubt grace most lists of top overland routes in the United States, and for good reason. Cutting across the Mojave National Preserve, the Mojave Road pairs a stunning desert landscape with the rich history of the region, the road itself a former Native American trade route and wagon trail for western settlers.
Wandering its way between desert springs, the route amidst the unique Joshua trees is mostly non-technical, though there a few spots that can be more challenging, such as the hill into Watson Wash, which is best navigated with the use of a spotter. Due to the remote location of the route, it is best traveled in a convoy of 2-4+ vehicles.
The best times of the year to travel the route are spring and summer, though winter months can also be possible, depending on the current road conditions. Always consult the National Park Service for road closures and current conditions. Remember that the desert is quite cold at night, even in the summer, so check temperatures when planning your sleep gear.
Looking for More? Death Valley National Park is a veritable playground of 4WD and off-highway roads and trails. Known for its desolation and extremes, Death Valley hosts the hottest, driest, and lowest environment in North America, with an elevation low of 282 feet below sea level. Despite being home to the lowest elevation in North America, Death Valley is surrounded by stunning mountain landscapes and off-road routes and trails to keep you busy for weeks.
Best Overland Route for February
Route: The Baja
Location: Baja Peninsula, Mexico
Recommended Time: 2 weeks – 1+ month
When to Go: Winter (January-March)
While not technically in the United States, you won’t find a better winter overlanding escape this close to the U.S than the Baja. With many overland routes in the U.S., even throughout the southwest U.S., closed or unnavigable during the winter months, what better destination than an escape south of the border for some beach time, margaritas, and beautiful Baja landscapes?
In addition to exciting 4WD routes through the desert and to isolated beaches, January through March is the prime season to spot grey whales, which make their way to the warm lagoons of the Baja to give birth in the winter. Water sports such as kayaking, kite-boarding, snorkeling, and scuba diving are all popular activities in different areas of the Baja, and in most areas it’s legal to drive and camp right on the beach, making finding a spot to post up for the night a breeze.
With so much to explore depending upon your interests and the amount of time you have, rather than suggesting a specific route, we highly recommend researching what the Baja has to offer and planning your overland trip from there. The Baja is well-traveled by the overland crowd, so information and route suggestions are not hard to find.
Looking for More? While many are looking to escape the snow in the winter, still others want to navigate to the best ski slopes and backcountry winter wonderlands, and there is no better vehicle to handle winter conditions than a 4WD Jeep, truck, or campervan. Head to Colorado to check out the magic of winter in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Best Overland RouteS for March
Route: South Core Banks
Location: Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
Distance: 20+ miles
Recommended Time: 1-2 days
When to Go: Spring, Summer, Fall
If photos of 4WD vehicles ripping down wide-open beaches or seaside campfires get you stoked, look no further than an overland adventure in the South Core Banks, the middle of three islands that comprise Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina.
To access South Core Banks, hop a ferry from the mainland in Davis, North Carolina. From here, there are over 20 miles of undeveloped beach perfect for driving. By day, this overland route is perfect for exploring, fishing, swimming, and surfing, and by night, camp out beneath the Milky Way anywhere between the high tide line and the dunes.
This is a great beginner route that offers no technical challenges; any stock 4WD with lowered tire pressure will be up to the task. Be sure to pick up your ORV Education Certificate before you head for the beach and always check the weather before your trip, particularly if you plan to travel during hurricane season.
Looking for More? Head north to explore the Outer Banks, barrier islands that stretch from Corolla to Ocracoke, NC. Be sure to explore the history, lighthouses, and sea life of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, check out the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kitty Hawk, indulge in the famous Duck Donuts in Duck, and find the wild horses of Corolla. Don’t forget to pick up the cult-level “OBX” sticker for your rig!
Best Overland RouteS for April
Route: Valley of the Gods Road
Location: north of Mexican Hat, Utah
Distance: 17-mile loop
Recommended Time: 1-2 days
When to Go: Spring (March-early June) and Fall (September-October)
Another great beginner route, the Valley of the Gods Road is a classic route through the towering red rock landscape of southeastern Utah. Located just north of Mexican Hat, UT, the route offers two starting points, one from the east and the other from the west, each of which traverses the 17-mile loop route through stunning red rock pinnacles, isolated buttes, and wide-open desert terrain. While the route is short, it’s worth it to take your time and enjoy a night (or more) at one of the amazing wild and dispersed campsites.
When dry, the route can typically be covered in even a two-wheel-drive vehicle; however, an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle is more suitable for the rough road and any potential wet road conditions.
Looking for More? Looking for something a bit longer? Try the Smoky Mountain Highway, a 78-mile point-to-point 4×4 overland route that runs from Page, AZ to Escalante, UT, passing through the jaw-dropping terrain of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Its remote setting, enchanting landscape, and abundant dispersed camping options make for another great overlanding trip through the southwest.
Best Overland RouteS for May
Route: Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail
Location: Southern Wisconsin to Lake Superior
Distance: 600+ miles
Recommended Time: 3-5+ days
When to Go: Spring, Summer, Fall
While originally designed for dual-sport and adventure-style motorcycles, the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail, which winds its way from southern Wisconsin (Winter, WI) to the shores of Lake Superior (Cornucopia, WI), is also suitable for high-clearance vehicles with a few slight route changes. Snaking its way through the gorgeous remote wilderness of Wisconsin, including the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest, the route is comprised of mostly easy paved and gravel roads, some dirt/sand forest roads, and plenty of options to explore further off-route roads and ATV trails.
Camping options are plentiful, with abundant opportunity to fish, swim, and enjoy the outdoors, though because the route never escapes too far from civilization, resupply is easy and it’s also possible to stay in hotels just off the route if the weather turns foul or if camping is not your cup of tea. The ability to easily pop into and out of towns also makes the route easily customizable if you aren’t able to tackle the whole thing in one go.
Hot Tip: Don’t miss the famous Dell’s Diner in Delta Wisconsin, a MUST visit pit stop for anyone passing through the area.
Looking for More? Check out the Trans-South Dakota Adventure Trail, which will take you through the rolling prairie, ranches, and Badlands of South Dakota before ending in the beautiful Black Hills.
Best Overland Routes for June
Route: Dalton Highway
Location: Livengood to Deadhorse, Alaska
Distance: 414 miles
Recommended Time: 3-5+ days
When to Go: June to mid-July
Popularized by the show Ice Road Truckers, the Dalton Highway was created in 1974 as a service and supply road for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and is mainly plied by 18-wheelers delivering supplies to the end of the road at Prudhoe Bay.
The unofficial end of the Pan-American highway, the Dalton Highway traverses through forests, barren tundra, and wild Alaskan bush, passing through the stunning landscapes of the Yukon River, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Brooks Range, crossing the Arctic Circle and traveling over the high Atigun Pass, all to end at the Arctic Ocean.
While stunning scenery abounds, a trip on this mostly narrow gravel road is not to be taken lightly. While open year-round, the best time of the year to travel the Dalton Highway is from June to mid-July. Steep roads and wet conditions can make travel dangerous and, among other notables, the Dalton Highway has one of the longest stretches of roadway without services in the country, a 240-mile jaunt from Coldfoot to Deadhorse where you are completely on your own. Services along the route, in general, are scarce, and cell phone coverage is mostly non-existent. Careful preparation and planning is a must.
Looking for More? Looking for something a little further south? Possibly a bit warmer? Check out the Northern Arizona Traverse, which is best traveled in summer and fall.
Best Overland RouteS for July
Route: Engineer Pass Road
Location: Ouray, Colorado
Distance: 28-31 miles
Recommended Time: 5 hr – 2+ days
When to Go: June to September (snow dependent)
July is the perfect month to explore the many overlanding routes, trails, and roads that Colorado has to offer. Beginning three miles south of Ouray, the iconic Engineer Pass Road traverses a route through the stunning San Juan Mountains, a must-do for all overlanders.
In addition to breath-taking scenery, the route traverses through several ghost towns and historic sites including the abandoned Mickey Breen Mine, the Mineral Point ghost town – including the San Juan Chief Mill (a silver processing mill abandoned in 1893), and the Animas Fork ghost town.
The highlight of the route is “Oh Point”, offering a phenomenal nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains from 13,000 ft.
While not the most challenging off-road route, it is one of the most spectacular routes in terms of scenery. The first two miles of the route are the most difficult and beginners will need to exercise caution. After the initial miles, the route should not offer much in the way of difficulty. Dispersed camping is allowed along the route and there are many great places to camp.
Looking for More? Engineer Pass can be combined with the popular Alpine Loop Trail via the Alpine Loop Connecter. To do the full Alpine Loop/Engineer Pass route see the link above for directions.
Best Overland RouteS for August
Route: Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route
Location: Jarbidge, Nevada to the Canadian Border
Distance: 1,250 miles
Recommended Time: 8-10+ days
When to Go: July through October
The Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route will satisfy anyone looking to endlessly weave themselves through the mountains. Beginning in northern Nevada, the route traverses through range lands before entering the Boise National Forest and weaving into the mountains, passing by reservoirs, lakes, and hot springs.
While the Backcountry Discovery Routes are geared toward motorcycles, the routes are double-track, so also accessible for suitable high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles. While some routes are harder than others, each of the routes has some difficult sections.
Looking for More? Check out the other Backcountry Discovery Routes in CA, AZ, UT, CO, WA, NM, and beyond.
Best Overland Routes for September
Route: Enchanted Rockies Trail
Location: Queen, NM to Estes Park, CO
Distance: ~800 miles
Recommended Time: 1 week+
When to Go: late June to early September
The Enchanted Rockies Trail is an overland route that begins in southern New Mexico and ends in northern Colorado. While the entire route is around 800 miles, it is divided into nine segments, which could easily be completed as their own shorter overland adventures. Highlights of the route include nine national forests and two national parks – Great Sand Dunes National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park – with three additional national parks just off the route.
The trail was developed to be a mild, family-friendly route, is mostly non-technical in nature, and can be accomplished with any stock 4WD vehicle in dry weather. Because the route does cross over some high passes, it is important to pay attention to the weather.
Looking for More? Why not cross the entire country. Check out the Trans-America Trail (TAT) for the behemoth of all U.S. overlanding routes.
Best Overland Routes for October
Route: Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route
Location: Canadian Border (Pittsburg, NH) to the Coast (Rye, NY)
Distance: ~500 miles
Recommended Time: 3+ days
When to Go: Summer (June 1) to First Snowfall
What better place to travel in October than through the stunning fall foliage of New England. The Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route is an overland route that was developed with a scenic journey in mind, rather than a specifically “off-roading” trip. With a combination of paved, dirt, forest, and logging roads and trails, the route includes some of the most scenic roads through New Hampshire, beginning at the Canadian border and passing by waterfalls, through forests – including the White Mountain National Forest, over historic covered-bridges, through small towns, and finally to the seacoast.
The route was designed to be stock friendly, with a stock Jeep JK (street tires) in mind, so any high clearance 4WD vehicle should suffice. Weather can cause road conditions to change quickly and, due to travel on remote and unmaintained roads, it’s recommended to travel in a convoy of 2+ vehicles.
Looking for More? Fall is a great time for leaf-peeping around the country. Other great regions to explore include chasing the bright reds of the sugar maples in the Great Smoky Mountains and the vivid yellows of the fall aspens in Colorado.
Best Overland Routes for November
UPDATE: It was brought to our attention that these trails in the Ozarks are no longer open. We will continue to research overlanding routes in the area and update the below information. In the meantime, please message us if you have insider knowledge about overlanding in the Ozarks!
Route: Ozark Overland Trail (aka High Water Mark Trail)
Location: St. Joes to Russellville, AR
Distance: 110-150+ miles, depending on route
Recommended Time: 3+ days
When to Go: Summer to Fall
How about a little Ozark action? The Ozark Overland Trail, also known as the High Water Mark Trail, is a popular overland route through the Ozarks, including a patchwork of roads and trails through Ozark National Forest. The roads and trails are mostly dirt forest service, power line, and county roads, with some rougher trails cutting through the forests. Short sections of paved highway connect the segments and make it easy to cut out segments to alter the length of the trip distance/time.
This overland route is for those that like water! Though the trail is not technically difficult, it does have some high water crossings, some of which can be very high depending on the time of year and require special vehicle modifications. Depending on the exact route taken and the season of travel, the route may have anywhere from 15-25+ river crossings. Due to the amount of water, mud-terrain tires are also a good idea.
Looking for More? Head east to explore the backroads of the Georgia Traverse, a 390-mile route through five states.
Best Overland Routes for December
Route: Texas Hill Country Route
Location: Horseshoe Bay to Fredericksburg, TX
Distance: 145 miles
Recommended Time: 2-4 days
When to Go: Year-Round
Located in the center of the state, just west of Austin, Texas Hill Country provides a fantastic overland route for both beginners and experienced overlanders. Traveling through a diverse landscape of rolling hills, natural springs, limestone bluffs, wide plains, strange gullies, and hidden sinkholes, Texas Hill Country offers intriguing terrain mixed with the unique blend of the cultural heritage of Spanish, German, and other early settlers.
The route can be started from the north (just west of Horseshoe Bay) or the south (Fredericksburg) and passes along the outskirts of Mason and Doss, small towns that are excellent places to resupply and grab a bite to eat. Keep your eyes peeled for Texas longhorns along the route.
The Texas Hill Country Route is a non-technical route that is great for beginners. While it can be traveled year-round, water crossings may become impassable during/after heavy rains. Because the route passes through large tracts of private land, it is best to camp at paid campsites unless you have prior camping permission from a landowner.
Looking for More? Traveling further south in Texas, Big Bend National Park has miles of trails to explore.
Go Forth and Enjoy! There you have it, overland trip, route, and trail suggestions for each month of the year to keep you busy through 2021 and beyond. Covering diverse environments spread around the country, there should be something to satisfy every adventure’s desires.
And if you’re still not sure if overlanding is right for you, check out our top 5 reasons to go overlanding in Colorado >