Off the Road Again: America's Top 4x4 Destinations

Arizona and Utah: Canyon County and Capitol Reef

Canyon Country
For colorful rock formations and sheer rugged beauty, we can't think of a better destination than the canyonlands region. One of North America's premier 4WD routes is the 100-mile White Rim Trail, located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. The two-day route winds through red-rock canyons, buttes, mesas, and plateaus with 1,000-foot overlooks above the Colorado and Green Rivers. Camping is authorized, but you should apply months in advance for a camping permit.

In the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park lie Salt Creek Canyon and Horse Canyon, two routes offering vistas of magnificent arches, sandstone canyons, ancient Anasazi ruins, and petroglyph sites. Don't miss nearby Arches National Park, located just outside Moab, Utah. With hundreds of richly colored sandstone spires and arches carved by eons of wind erosion, the park is a high desert wonderland that no nature-loving visitor should miss. The main route through the state park is paved and therefore suitable for civilian vehicles. However, off-roaders can enjoy the Salt Valley and Klondike Bluffs routes—sandy, wilderness-style tracks specially designated for 4x4s. On any venture into canyon country, bring plenty of water and essential spare parts; you'll be quite isolated on many of your excursions. Good maps and regional guidebooks are available through the Grand Canyon Travel Council (Moab, UT. 800.635.6622.
Capitol Reef
In Capitol Reef National Park, you'll find stunning red-rock canyons, huge sandstone rock formations, one of the world's largest arches, and many other geological oddities. There are many good off-highway routes. One of the best is Notom-Bullfrog Road, an easy-driving dirt road through red-rock country. The road runs north-south along a geological formation called the Waterpocket Fold, which looks like giant plates that erupted from the earth. The Waterpocket Fold is best appreciated from a high elevation such as the Strike Valley Overlook, which can be reached by turning of Notom-Bullfrog Road. Take Burr Trail for 2 miles, then follow a signed road for 3 miles to the overlook trailhead. The overlook is about 20 minutes away by foot. For four-wheeling, the Bull Creek Pass National Backcountry Byway is spectacular. Some 60 miles long, the byway climbs to 10,485 feet as it crests the Henry Mountains overlooking Capitol Reef. For information, contact the Henry Mountains Field Station of the Bureau of Land Management in Hanksville (435.542.3461).

The park boasts a network of hiking trails, as well as dirt and gravel roads laid out expressly for 4WD touring. You can easily spend a week exploring these roads. There's also plenty of open country to run, but check with the Park Service before venturing off any designated route. One of Utah's best campgrounds is in the middle of Capitol Reef National Park. If you plan to camp, reserve early. The nearest motels are 13 miles away and often fully booked.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 27 Aug 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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