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7 Bucket List Overland Trails in the U.S.

Find a hardy vehicle and hit the (off-) road

Find a hardy vehicle and hit the (off-) road

Think of overlanding, the latest craze in the adventure vehicle world, as backpacking, but with your car. Overland Journal (the go-to source on the subject) defines the sport as “self-reliant adventure travel to remote destinations where the journey is the primary goal.” It comes down to traveling long distances on rough roads to a remote destination in an off-highway-capable vehicle (bikes included). 

While a tricked out adventure vehicle like a 70 Series Land Cruiser or a Land Rover Defender is highly encouraged, your Subaru can probably get you farther than you think (provided you pack accordingly). The big draw is covering lots of distance off the beaten path with everything you need to survive. So, once you find that Syncro or CJ5 you’ve been scouring Craigslist for, here’s a list of trails that should be on your overland bucket list:

The Trans-America Trail

(Land Rover MENA/Flickr)

Tennessee to Oregon
Motorcycle enthusiast Sam Correro developed the Trans-America Trail (TAT) in an attempt to create a coast-to-coast off-pavement motorcycle route. The TAT winds nearly 5,000 miles on a connection of dirt, forest service, gravel, and jeep roads from Southeastern Tennessee to Southwestern Oregon. On his website, Correro says the TAT is not for everyone and requires a “special ‘love’ for a motorcycle.” In 2013 a group of Land Rover LR4’s completed the route, proving that it can be done in a larger vehicle. 

The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway


Silverton, Colorado
The Alpine Loop starts in Silverton, Colorado, and winds 63 miles through the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Nestled between highways 550 and State Road 149, the route is closed during the winter, and the high alpine environments of Engineer and Cinnamon Passes (both over 12,000 feet) require a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. The entire loop takes around four to six hours, and you’ll pass seven abandoned mining towns along the way, along with plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping. There are more challenging routes in the area, like the Black Bear Pass Road route, but if you’re looking for a mid-length overland route with spectacular mountain views in the Rockies, this is your trail. 

The Rubicon Trail

(Tim Berger/Flickr)

Georgetown, California  
There’s a reason Jeep named their most off-road worthy model of the Wrangler the Rubicon. The Rubicon Trail runs 22 miles from Georgetown to Tahoma, just west of Lake Tahoe, over slick granite and through classic Sierra Nevada scenery. This isn’t a trip for those worried about scratching their vehicle, and the Rubicon Trail Foundation recommends several vehicle modifications like larger tires and a lift kit to prevent damage. The reward for all that preparation is a few days of camping along one of the most famous overland routes in the world. 

Cape Lookout National Seashore


North Carolina’s Outer Banks
North Carolina’s barrier islands provide an incredible outdoor playground, including some fantastic overland routes if you know where to go. Our favorite: the islands that make up the 56 mile long Cape Lookout National Seashore—North Core and South Core Banks. South Core is the more remote of the two—you'll have to ferry your vehicle from the mainland. There are no paved roads, and you can camp anywhere you’d like along the beach so long as you don’t drive through the sand dunes.

The Dalton Highway 

(Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already heard of the Dalton Highway. The mostly gravel road in Northern Alaska stretches 414 miles from Livengood to Deadhorse. It was originally built as a service road for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and is still considered one of the most dangerous roads in the U.S., mainly because of the lack of services and cell phone reception along the entire route. The payoff for braving the Dalton? You get to see some of the most spectacular wilderness in the country, traversing the Brooks Range and crossing the Yukon River en route to the Arctic Ocean. 

The Mojave Road 

(The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company/Flickr)

Mojave National Preserve, California
The 140-mile Mojave Road is a classic U.S. desert route that usually takes two to four days to traverse and requires four-wheel drive. Originally a Native American trade route and later a wagon trail, the rough and sandy track runs east to west through the Mojave National Preserve in California, crossing several mountain ranges before terminating near Barstow, California. 

Filed To: Autos / Silverton / California / North Carolina / Alaska / Tennessee / Oregon
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.