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

California: Rubicon Trail and Death Valley National Park

The Rubicon Trail
The Rubicon Trail runs for 65 miles over the crest of the Sierra Nevada from Georgetown in the west to Lake Tahoe in the east. This challenging and historic route, an old wagon road, will test your patience—and your machine's low-speed agility—through lengthy sections of steep boulders. The rocks can be so tough in places that we've actually seen dirt-bikers get fed up and turn around. Once you've passed the rocky sections, however, the rest of the run is relatively easy, and it offers great views and excellent campsites in the Eldorado National Forest.

If you'd like some company on the Rubicon Trail, you may want to join the annual Jeepers Jamboree (530.333.4771 in July.This has been one of the premier 4WD events in California for more than 40 years.. If you miss the July Jamboree there is also another major Rubicon 4WD group run each August.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park, as its ominous name suggests, can be an unforgiving, punishing place where survival is never certain. But Death Valley is also a land of stark and primeval beauty—particularly in the winter and spring, when temperatures moderate and the desert blooms. With few places like it on earth, a visit to America's newest National Park should be near the top of any serious off-roader's wish list.

First-time visitors may want to start at Ubehebe Crater and proceed south on Racetrack Road which climbs 4,000 feet to the open playa called The Racetrack. There large rocks—loosened by rain, of all things—fall from surrounding cliffs and tumble into the playa's bed. Intense late-afternoon winds push the rocks, which roll in mysterious trajectories like dice tossed by invisible giants. Racetrack Road is a fairly easy 55-mile round trip, but there are long rocky stretches that will test your rig's suspension. The road also passes by a Joshua Tree forest at Tin Pass in the Panamint Range, and offers access to another Joshua Tree forest in beautiful Hidden Valley (turn off at Teakettle Junction). .

Another popular route through Death Valley is the 100-mile Saline Valley Road, a National Backcountry Byway that runs from State Highway 168 east of Big Pine in Owens Valley through Death Valley National Park. The road rises and falls along the way, affording rare views of spectacular desert valleys and nearby mountain ranges.

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

Published: 27 Aug 2001 | Last Updated: 7 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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