We all like to get away once in awhile and touch base with the great outdoors. National and state parks are a great way to unplug and let loose without breaking the bank. Unfortunately for auto enthusiasts, off-roading is not allowed or extremely limited in most of these locations. There are many special off-road parks and recreation areas owned by private citizens in this country. However, they often don’t offer the same kind of natural grandeur one finds in a federally-maintained and protected park. Luckily, there are still a few gems across the United States, at both the state and national level, that allow four wheeling in addition to their other spectacular outdoor adventures. Here are some that should be on your radar.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Rocking the tallest sand dunes in all of North America, this national park offers lots of four wheeling opportunities. Great Sand is open year-round, and a real change of seasons allows off-roaders to experience driving in a variety of challenges. Both primitive camping and more modern comforts are available in a diverse environment that includes snowy mountain peaks, alpine lakes, forests, meadows, woodlands, and dune fields.
Jericho Mountain State Park, New Hampshire
Located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Jericho Mountain offers the first network of state-owned trails for off-road use in the whole state. There are ample opportunities for ATV and UTV riding, as well as a newly added 4×4 Jeep/truck trail. There is a public campground as well as hiking, boating, fishing, biking, horseback riding, skiing, and snowmobiling.
St. Joe State Park & Finger Lakes State Park, Missouri
Located roughly three hours from each other, both St. Joe and Finger Lakes parks have coal mining roots. St. Joe offers a 2,000 mile riding area with wooded trails and sand flats that are open to ATVs, UTVs, and in certain areas, Jeeps and SUVs. The campground fills up fast, so make those reservations in advance! Finger Lakes State Park doesn’t allow larger vehicles but still offers 70 miles of ATV and small 4×4 trails. Both parks provide many opportunities for fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, and biking.
Silver Lake State Park, Michigan
This park offers over 400 acres of sand dunes and stunning lake vistas. In fact, it’s the only place east of Utah where you can cruise over dunes in your private vehicle. ATVs, motorcycles, side by sides, SUVs and Jeeps are all welcome. Silver Lake also offers hiking, camping, water activities, hunting, and metal detecting. And south of the park is the Little Sable Point Light, a historic lighthouse dating back to 1874.
Chugach State Park, Alaska
The third largest state park in America, Chugach offers breathtaking views of its stunning terrain and impressive wildlife. Off-road vehicles are allowed at certain access points throughout the park as well as on six miles of designated ATV forest trails. No motorcycles, and vehicles must be less than 64 inches wide. Grizzly bears, timber wolves, moose, and caribou can all be spotted at Chugach. And with legal year-round gold panning, you can truly feel a part of the history of the rugged American wilderness.
Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada
Despite the gloomy name, Death Valley National Park provides an incredible array of wildlife, plants, and awe-inspiring topography. Death Valley offers more miles of four wheeling potential than any other national park with almost 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads. It’s a fantastic choice for hardcore off-roaders and overlanding adventurists alike, but it’s not for the faint of heart. This park has a varied terrain that includes sand dunes, snow peaks, badlands, and canyons. It also has a climate that manages to be the driest and hottest in North America. These conditions mean drivers need to be extremely well prepared for a day in Death Valley. ATVs and motorbikes are prohibited, but properly outfitted Jeeps and SUVs are welcome.
Mount Blue State Park, Maine
This is Maine’s largest state park, offering 25 miles of ATV forest trails in addition to hiking, boating, horseback riding, and fishing. Four wheeling vehicles must be smaller than 60 inches in width to enjoy the forested trails. Geological tours are offered of nearby Tumbledown Mountain that explain the layers of metamorphic rocks that make up the area. And the best part is it’s open year-round!
Sand Hollow State Park, Utah
Sand Hollow is Utah’s newest state park. It provides camping, fishing, and boating and an impressive recreational area of sand dunes for four-wheeling vehicles. All sizes of off-roaders are permitted to explore the combination of rocky, gravelly, and sandy terrain. Even better, all that dirt is set against a seemingly-painted backdrop of bright blue skies and red sandstone.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
With over 100 miles of both paved and dirt roads, this stunning Texas state park offers more “soft-roading” than off-roading opportunties. However, it still has plenty of four wheeling-capable primitive dirt roads to explore. And Big Bend is rich in both history and culture. It has beautiful mountain and desert vistas along the Rio Grande, impressive rock formations, and over 450 bird species to admire.
Little Sahara State Park, Oklahoma
Named for its resemblance to the Sahara Desert, this park offers over 1,600 acres of sand dunes for off-road adventure. All sizes of 4x4s are allowed to take advantage of the steep hills and small jumps. Camping amenities and picnic areas are available inside the park, and pets are welcome.
The Path to Four Wheeling Adventure
Regardless of the adventure, it’s important to always go prepared. That includes proper off-road and overlanding equipment by name brands like ARB, Smittybilt, WARN, Westin, Rugged Ridge, Warrior Products, Hellwig, Factor 55, and Hi Lift. And remember, while many excellent state and national parks don’t allow off-roading, most have areas just outside of park boundaries that still offer some great trails. Let us know in the comments section any parks you’d recommend for gettin’ some mud on the tires.