North, south, east, or west, we’ve identified some great off-roading destinations for winter warriors. An Alaskan bonus makes it five.
You enjoy kicking up mud most of the year, but what about powder – as in snow? You haven’t enjoyed the full experience of off-roading until you’ve taken your four-wheel drive truck or SUV to a place where winter reigns supreme. To that end, here’s our list of top regional places to go, along with helpful tips to keep you from getting stuck.
1.Go west: Rubicon Trail, California
The world-famous Rubicon Trail, located in the Sierra Nevada range due west of Lake Tahoe, is an off-roader’s dream. The Eldorado Forest Roads remain closed January through March, but the Rubicon Trail and Ellis Creek Trail are open, as they are El Dorado County roads not affected by Forest Service closures. The road across the two dams at Loon Lake is also open year round. Only the most prepared and durable vehicles should attempt winter travel here. This begins with the best rubber for off-roading, for example the Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tire, and extends to winches. It also doesn’t hurt to pack traction ramps…just in case. It’s best to explore this trail with a group, but if you choose to go it alone, let someone know when you plan to leave and when you expect to return and make sure you are fully equipped in case you run into trouble.
2. Head north: Upper Peninsula, Michigan
One of the most desolate places in the 48 contiguous states is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – known as the UP to locals. And Drummond Island is one of the largest islands in Lake Huron, enjoyed by off-roaders during the warmer months and snowmobilers in the winter. But winter off-roading comes naturally for Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner fans, with more than 40 miles of off-road vehicle (ORV) routes to explore. Cross wide-open meadows, navigate magnificent hardwood forests, and drive along the icy shoreline of Lake Huron, enjoying distant views of the Canadian shoreline. You’ll reach Drummond Island via the Drummond Island Ferry, which operates all year.
3. Due east: Jericho Mountain State Park 4×4 Off-Road Trail, New Hampshire
If you’re a New Englander, you know that 4×4 trails on public lands are as scarce as hen’s teeth. In 2014, the first public trail opened at Jericho Mountain State Park near Berlin. Built by the North Woods Off Road Club (NWOR), the trail is just 2.5 miles long, but will take you up to five hours to complete. Pay the $20 fee at the Visitor’s Center on Jericho Lake Road. Only four-wheel drive vehicles outfitted with skid plates, a winch, and modified tires can use the trail.
4. Down south: Parsons Branch Primitive Road, North Carolina
To the surprise of some, the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee are frequently covered in snow throughout winter. January temperatures near Mt. Mitchell routinely fall below zero, with several nearby ski and snow tubing resorts supporting winter enthusiasts. Take your 4×4 on Parsons Branch Primitive Road, an eight-mile stretch of trail with 18 creek crossings. It’s a one-way road that starts at Cades Cove and ends on US 129, part of the famed Tail of the Dragon – famous for its 318 curves across its 11-mile span.
5. The last frontier: Kings River Trail, Alaska
No winter off-roading list would be complete without at least a mention of Alaska, a state where winter is the dominating season. The further north you travel, the more likely you are to encounter winter-like conditions, even at the height of summer. We pointed out the wonder of the Dalton Highway previously, but for our example, we like the 4.7-mile Kings River Trail northeast of Palmer, just off the Glenn Highway and before the Kings River Bridge. This out and back trail provides a spectacular view of majestic Ruby Lake. Although rated easy to moderate, the trail shouldn’t be regarded lightly or traveled at a fast clip. Successfully navigate this trail and you’ll be ready to take on even more challenging Alaskan terrain.
6. Advice for winter off-road warriors
Before heading to your favorite off-road destination, make sure your vehicle is ready. Snow-rated all-terrain tires with sufficient tread, properly inflated, will keep you going. Check your brakes and all fluids, and make sure your four-wheel drive system is in peak condition – you’ll be using 4-Lo more than usual. Finally, drive slowly and carefully when navigating curves and if you’re traveling in a pack, allow sufficient distance between vehicles.