Four Must-Do Trail Runs in Northern California

From the jaw-dropping redwood forests to the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area, Northern California has an incredible amount of history, sight-seeing, entertainment, and outdoor recreation to offer. For our purposes—that is, providing you with epic off-road adventures—we’re sticking to the upper third of the state, saving the juicy center and bottom third for other articles all their own. And with ancient sequoias, a potentially active volcano, a good chunk of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and a host of other breathtaking landmarks, we promise: There is no shortage of adventure.

In a recent chat with the California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA), we learned that, according to Forest Service figures, approximately 11% of all the off-roaders in the United States either live or recreate in the state of California. And in a state notorious for its strict environmental policies, the people at CORVA work hard to promote, protect, and preserve sustainable off-road recreation opportunities for folks like you. Thanks to them, and other responsible enthusiast groups, you can check out any of these must-do trail runs in Northern California for yourself.

52nd Annual Sierra Trek

This event, hosted by Cal4Wheel—another respectable non-profit actively promoting 4×4 fun—explores the beautiful Tahoe National Forest with fun for the whole family. 2019 will be the run’s 52nd year, so you can be sure this event operates like a well-oiled machine. With rides designed for both stock and modified vehicles as well as all skill levels, participants can meet new challenges, new trails, and new friends.

The 52nd Annual Sierra Trek kicks off our list of must-do trail runs in Northern California.
Photos from Cal4Wheel

Running from August 8 – 11, there’s entertainment lined up for every day and night. From the trail runs themselves, to contests, live music, games for the kids, a bar for us grown-ups, a vendor show, and even a cornhole tournament, the Sierra Trek could easily be the ideal end-of-summer vacation for the family that wheels together. And if you live outside of California, why not make it a cross-country road trip to really enhance that bonding experience?

Travel the old mining routes and wagon roads that make up the rich history of the Sierra Nevada and see the picturesque mountains, lakes, and wildlife that make the Tahoe National Forest so special. With 50+ years of tradition, this is a Northern California trail run you don’t want to miss.

Winter Fun Festival

Another event hosted by Cal4Wheel, the Winter Fun Festival offers a variety of trail runs in Northern California, particularly throughout the high Sierra and the stunning gold rush area of Grass Valley. With three guided, historical SUV trips and 10 separate 4×4 runs, there’s something for all skill levels, vehicle types, and interests. Organizers expect over 600 participants this year, so early registration is encouraged. Hurry though, because the next festival is coming up soon, January 25 – 27!

For those who are eager to get some snow on the tires, there are a variety of runs planned, sporting such fun names as Blizzard Brigade, Frostbite Extreme, and Snowcat. Each offers varying depths of snow, allowing you to truly put those new winter tires to the test.

Bring the whole family, as camping facilities and indoor entertainment are available. And easily turn the weekend into an extended stay by visiting Grass Valley’s charming downtown, which boasts a vibrant arts and music scene, as well as rich mining history.

Hi-Landers 4 Wheel Drive Club 48th Poker Run

This fun 4×4 event, entering its 48th year, also explores the High Sierras and El Dorado National Forest with wheeling for the whole family. Using part of the historic Rubicon Trail, the Poker Run “enters at the Loon Lake Spillway, working its way through the Bowl, up the Slabs, down the Waterfalls, and heads out through Wentworth Springs Camp Ground,” according to the event’s official site.

The Hi-Landers annual Poker Run made The Engine Block‘s list of must-do trail runs in Northern California.
Photos from Hi-Landers 4 Wheel Drive Club

Founded in 1968, the Hi-Landers are one of the oldest 4WD clubs in the Sacramento area. The group is family-friendly and generally welcomes about 100 vehicles/250 participants for its annual Poker Run. 2019’s event will be the weekend of June 15 – 16. And with plenty of off-road fun, sights, prizes, awards, a community BBQ, and live music, it’s sure to be as successful as years past.

22nd Jeep Jamboree Rubicon Trail

And speaking of the Rubicon Trail… you didn’t think we’d forget our Jeep-lovers, did you?! Running August 8 – 11, the Jeep Jamboree Rubicon Trail ride promises two full days of family-oriented 4WD adventure and fun. While the Jamborees usually cater to a variety of skill levels, this particular run tackles 22 miles of some of the most grueling off-road driving in America. And that means there are a few non-negotiable requirements. (Aside from owning a Jeep, that is.)

The 22nd Annual Jeep Jamboree Rubicon Trail Ride makes our short list of must-do trail runs in Northern California.
Photo from Jeep Jamboree USA

Jeeps must be 1997 or newer, with a minimum of 35” tires (but no bigger than 40”), front and rear lockers, tow points, skid plates, rocker panel protection, CB radios, and an upgraded rear diff cover and/or rear guide plate. Double occupancy is also required, but we imagine you won’t have trouble finding a buddy to ride shotgun for this one.

Explore this historic Native American footpath, test your off-road prowess on legendary obstacles like “Big Sluice” and “Cadillac Hill,” learn some new skills, and make plenty of new friends.

What are you waiting for? We just gave you four awesome leads on notable trail runs in Northern California. Grab that 4×4 and hit the road!

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