Sure you may have a Jeep or another SUV with knobby tires and a bit of ground clearance. But before you drive off-road, it’s good to know what kind of trail you’ll be driving. Just because your vehicle has four-wheel drive doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do with it. You don’t want to scrape dents into the doors or break an axle.
Unfortunately, there’s no national trail rating system. But like ski trails that rate difficulty from bunny hops to black diamond, many trail systems in local, state, and national parks have been rated. To find out more go online to off-road groups for your vehicle or your region.
Some trail rating systems have only three levels: easy, medium and difficult. Others are rated on a scale of 1-10. Some trail ratings are based on the toughest section of the trail, but there may be bypass if you don’t want to tackle the biggest rocks or the steepest hill.
Also, trails may be rated differently by those who drive for sightseeing and travel purposes compared to those who love to tackle obstacles and don’t care as much about the journey. The obstacle crawlers love to be stymied by big rocks and deep crevices and aren’t as worried about vehicle damage.
In the absence of a national system, the folks at Jeep have developed a rating system for their annual Jamboree events. It’s a good rule of thumb to see what you can expect.
Jeep Jamboree Trail Ratings
At this level, obstacles and terrain are relatively easy to navigate for just about any stock vehicle. In good weather conditions some trails may not require continual use of four-wheel drive (4WD).
Moderately demanding and a challenge for novice drivers. Obstacles may include mud holes, boulders, and streams. Requires 4WD with low-range gearing.
Demanding. Challenge for most skill levels. Mud holes get deeper, boulders get larger and climbs get steeper. This level requires 4WD with low range gear capability.
Very demanding. The likelihood of getting stuck is high. Mud holes may be deep and rock climbing is more arduous. Lifts and lockers are helpful. Requires 4WD with low-range gearing.
Extremely demanding. Reserved for the toughest off-road trip in the U.S.A. — the Rubicon Trail. Requires 4WD with low range gearing. (Not recommended for Jeep Patriot, Compass, Liberty, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Commander or similar vehicles.)
If you want to travel tougher trails, the first place to upgrade is your tires. Get some all-terrain tires or mud terrain tires. Look for tires with deep treads and tough sidewalls. Check with a knowledgeable tire shop about the largest diameter tire your vehicle can accommodate. Bigger tires are better for tackling those tasty trails. Most serious off-roaders upgrade to 33-inch or even 35-inch options.
Don’t take a trail blindly. Ideally, you’ll tackle a trail with at least one other vehicle. Find someone who’s done the path before and can give you some guidance on what to expect. At least use your pal Google to find some credible information on the trail before you go.
Jeep Jamboree Trail Ratings: https://jeepjamboreeusa.com/trail-ratings
Trail Rating info: https://forums.off-road.com/jeep-short-wheelbase/3755-please-explain-trail-ratings.html
Vehicle upgrade info: https://jalopnik.com/this-is-what-makes-a-vehicle-unstoppable-off-road-512501606