Overlanding is a way to see less-explored areas of the world. People who overland equip their vehicles with all-terrain tires and off-grid features, allowing them to venture to and stay in remote places for longer periods.
Overlanding combines travel, camping, and off-roading, taking the quintessential road trip to the next level.
An Introduction to Overlanding
When you set out to overland, you most likely want to see and explore isolated landscapes. This means you need a vehicle that can accommodate self-sustained living and navigate forest service roads, unmaintained stretches, tight switchbacks, and rugged terrain.
To achieve this you can essentially modify any vehicle, but here is a list of SUVs, trucks, crossovers, and vans that are ideal overland vehicles:
- Toyota 4Runner and Tacoma
- Jeep Wrangler
- Ford F-150
- Winnebago Revel
- Airstream Interstate 24X
- Subaru Forester
Although the entry cost to overlanding seems steep, you can modify a vehicle you already own, search for older models on used lots and online marketplaces or adjust your route to accommodate the clearance and terrain your current vehicle can handle.
- Before you embark on any trip, make sure to plan, organize, and test your gear ahead of time.
- Make the effort to learn how to perform basic repairs on your vehicle.
- Purchase a Garmin inReach or a similar device for off-the-grid contact capabilities.
- Utilize the United States Forest Service website for maps.
- Embrace the journey. Overlanding is not about the destination, but the travel, tribulations, and fun along the way.
Best Places for Overlanding
1. Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route
The Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route courses through the Granite State for 500 miles. The route begins along the Canadian Border in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, and finishes along the coast in Rye, New Hampshire.
You can expect paved, forest, dirt, and logging roads throughout this trek. The drive winds through White Mountain National Forest, quaint New England towns, and waterfalls. You’ll also traverse the idyllic paved Kancamagus Highway. This is a quintessential Northeast overlanding route, especially during peak fall foliage season.
The best time to travel this route is during the summer and fall.
Where to camp:
2. Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail
The Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail covers Wisconsin from north to south. The trail takes you from Hazel Green, Wisconsin, to Point Detour. At about 600 miles, this is one of the longer overlanding treks in the Midwest.
This route is geared toward motorcycles, but high-clearance vehicles can also navigate the deep sand and ATV trails that you come across, especially through the Black River Falls section. Also, be prepared for a few wood bridges along the way.
When you adventure along the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail, you’ll encounter the Mississippi River, drive deep into the forest of Good Nuf Hollow and the Driftless Area, and arrive exhilarated at the shore of the world’s largest freshwater lake.
The best time to travel the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Travel is spring, summer, or fall.
Where to camp:
3. Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway
The Alpine Loop in Colorado runs from Ouray to Silverton via Highway 550. It’s a short 63-mile overland adventure that traverses through Engineer and Cinnamon mountain passes. These passes sit just under 13,000 feet in elevation.
When driving the area, you’ll experience loose rock, four-wheel drive terrain, high elevation, and stunning landscapes. Nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, the Alpine Loop features Native history, ghost towns, mining relics, fields of wildflowers, and looming mountains. Highlights are Animas Fork ghost town, Oh Point, and both Silverton and Ouray.
The best time to visit Alpine Loop is late June to September. This time of year it’s abundant with aspens and wildflowers.
Where to camp:
4. Valley of the Gods Road
While the Valley of the Gods Road is only 17 miles long, it’s worth the detour. The route begins north of Mexican Hat, Utah. You can enter the route from either the east or the west.
The Valley of the Gods Road is the perfect way to get your overlanding wheels wet. It’s a classic, but easy, dirt and gravel route through the unspoiled terrain of the desert. You’ll pass red rock pinnacles and experience the vastness of the desert.
This area is also an entry point to Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, especially areas like Moab, known for off-roading and outdoor adventure.
Beat the heat and visit the Valley of the Gods Road during the spring and fall.
Where to Camp:
5. California Crest Trail
Do you want to see all that the Golden State has to offer? Then overland the California Crest Trail (CCT) that stretches from the border of Mexico through Mendocino. It’s 2,150 miles through stifling desert, remote wilderness, forest service land, rolling farms, and surf towns.
This is a long, challenging route that should be planned and prepared for. The route goes through vastly different climates, terrains, and cultures. This trek is often split into segments, which would all be suitable as their own overland trip. The four segments are:
- Basin Ranges: 660 miles
- Sierra: 576 miles
- Southern Cascades and Klamath Mountains: 609 miles
- Coastal Ranges: 492 miles
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can extend your trip to Oregon and Washington, which is known as the Pacific Crest Overland Route (PCOR). This route follows the footprint of the Pacific Crest Trail, known for through-hiking.
The best time to do this varies depending on when and where you start, and how much or little you plan to explore.
Where to camp:
6. Baja Peninsula
If you have your passport, then head south and overland the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. For 775 miles, the peninsula stretches from Mexicali to Cabo San Lucas.
The Pacific Ocean will always be to the west as you explore vast beaches, towering green mountains, and desert two-track roads. The beauty of the Baja Peninsula is the camping. You will fall asleep to never-ending stars and wake to the lull of crashing waves or quiet, isolated canyons.
While you’ll also travel through vibrant cities, be prepared for backcountry roads with deep ruts and sand. If your vehicle can’t handle it, then opt for Highway 1, the Trans-Peninsula Highway.
Before embarking on your Baja Peninsula adventure, be prepared with a passport, a tourist card, and Mexican vehicle insurance.
The best time to visit the Baja Peninsula is from January to March. You can even tack this onto a California Crest Trail excursion.
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7. Dalton Highway
There’s no better place to get away from it all than Alaska. The Dalton Highway runs 414 miles from Livengood to Deadhorse. It’s the final stretch of the Pan-American Highway, the ultimate overland trek in the Americas.
Traveling the Dalton Highway is the destination. It twists and turns through Alaska’s remote wilderness. You’ll drive through areas like the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Wildlife Preserve.
While this is a worthwhile overland trail, it’s also for the more experienced. The highway is generally in good condition, but the steep, muddy grades; poor visibility; changing weather; wildlife; and remoteness make this a challenging route. There are very few small towns to fuel up along the way, so prepare with fuel and your own roadside assistance.
If you’re up for the challenge, the best time to drive the Dalton Highway is from June to July.
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