I hear the question; “Where should I go overlanding?” a lot.
As you might expect, it is always a difficult one to answer. I don’t often know what vehicle the person drives, how comfortable they are with being uncomfortable, whether they know how to drive responsibly in the backcountry, and how much experience (or lack of) they have.
My go to reply is the Baja Peninsula – I truly love exploring Baja and I think everyone should immerse themselves at some point – but that answer inevitably leads to more questions about angry drug cartels, kidnapping, crooked cops, and bribery. Every. Single. Time.
So here goes my attempt to let you know my top places to go overlanding …
You could explore Utah for your entire life and only see a portion of it. From vast multicolored desert landscapes to alpine forests to indigenous ruins, Utah has something for everyone. Get your feet wet with a visit to Valley of the Gods, a 17-mile loop with lots of opportunity for exploration on foot or in-vehicle. Or check out Boulder City, which borders Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park. The drive from Boulder City to Capitol Reef on the Burr Trail is hair-raising and fun. For those that are a bit more adventurous, you might consider Hole in the Rock Road near Escalante – a trail that will leave you speechless or frustrated … or both.
Arizona is bound to leave you picking your jaw up off the floor. National Parks and Monuments like Grand Canyon, Saguaro, and Monument Valley will feed your sense of adventure and awe. These sites have so much to offer including dispersed or organized camping, active adventures like hiking or trail running, and raw beauty unmatched anywhere else. You can explore hundred of miles of roads in search of early history like the Santa Rita Mountains. For ADV riders the Arizona Backcountry Discover Route which stretches from the saguaro-dotted deserts in the south to the mountains of Coconino County to the red rock landscapes in the north is a huge draw. But seriously, just pull up onX Offroad and check out the map, there really is something for everyone.
Most people don’t realize how vast the state of California really is until they start to explore it. Name your favorite type of terrain (or multiple types) and there is a spot in California where you can see it – often in the same day. On every overlander’s bucket list is The Mojave Road, a 140-mile former Pony Express trail that stretches from Barstow, CA in the west to the Colorado River at the east terminus. Along the way, you’ll see salt flats, lava tubes, cinder cones, and more history than you would expect. Looking for a summer trip that’s a bit cooler? Try your hand at The Lost Coast starting near the Northern California town of Westport and ending in the Victorian town of Ferndale. This is an incredible (and easy) drive that has lots of opportunity for adventure. For an exciting winter adventure, check out Death Valley National Park and Titus Canyon in particular, a perfect introduction to the allure of Death Valley.
When you think of Colorado you probably immediately think of the Rocky Mountains, but you’ll find tons of opportunity for adventure from the high deserts near Fruita and Grand Junction, the massive sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park to the alpine lakes and 4×4 tracks of the mountain towns in the Rockies. Get started with the Alpine Loop, a 68-mile track that allows you to explore Colorado history and the three mountain towns of Lake City, Ouray, and Silverton. Conquer the Colorado portion of The Great Divide (or the whole thing – why not?) The Great Divide is punishing, remote, and inspiring too. Make it one of this bucket-list tracks once you’re comfortable with long journeys.
ALASKA / CANADA
Remote backcountry travel. It is something we all dream about and Alaska and Canada provides it in droves. Get out and explore beautiful British Columbia and The Whipsaw Trail, a 68-mile track that provides the explorer with amazing scenery and varied terrain. Are you looking to accomplish a bucket list item? Tackle the Dalton Highway, a 414-mile-long muddy, rocky road that runs between Livengood and Deadhorse at Prudhoe Bay and through some of the most remote terrain in the world. Anyone could get swept away by the beauty of Alberta and British Columbia’s National Parks including; Yoho, Jasper, and Banff, just make time to get out and enjoy the less-traveled backcountry around those sights too.
MEXICO / BAJA
Navigating entry into Mexico for the first time is overwhelming and there is a laundry list of things you need to have ready before you go. Zach Elseman on the Overland Expo team has a great primer here on The Compass; A First-Timer’s Border Crossing Into Baja, Mexico that you should check out while planning your trip. Immerse yourself in Baja first, from the lush vineyards of Baja’s wine region (yes, Baja has a wine region with some of the finest vinos in the world) to the vast deserts near Cataviña to the warm waters and beach camping on the Sea of Cortez, you seriously can’t go wrong in any direction. Try it. You’ll end up loving it. Once you’re more comfortable, try out mainland Mexico – an absolute paradise of whatever type of terrain you can think of. I recommend Guanajuato, Oaxaca, and the Yucatan Peninsula near the Belize border.
Wherever you decide to journey, do so responsibly. Get some training in vehicle recovery and learn some solid driving skills at Overland Expo. A successful trip is all about knowing your limits and knowing how to safely get yourself out of situations.
AUTHOR: ANTHONY SICOLA
Anthony is the Director of Sales for Overland Expo and travels extensively with his wife Astrid and his dog Sir Digby in his 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser, nicknamed Hank the Tank. Follow his adventures on Instagram @overlandnomads
Header Image: Baja California – @overlandnomads