Going Off Road: Five Epic Escapes into the Great Outdoors

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 24, 2013 · 29 comments

in Travel & Leisure

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Scott Shaffstall.

Nothing is as idyllic for the man sitting behind a desk as dreaming of exploring the great outdoors. Marco Polo ventured through Asia to the Far East. Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in the opposite direction. Lewis and Clark’s team, with the help of Sacagawea, pursued the Northwest Passage and discovered a few things along the way. As has been previously discussed in the Art of Manliness community, men are wired to explore new surroundings. But amidst our fast-paced modernity, year-long, month-long, or even week-long trips are hard to come by. By using modern recreational off-highway vehicles, in my case a Kawasaki Teryx4, you can escape deep into the heart of the great outdoors in only a fraction of the time needed in the past, while having a hell of a fun time getting there. If you happen to have lady friends or a few best buddies to play navigator, tail gunner, and designated comic relief, it conveniently offers seating for four.

Below are five of the top places to escape in your off-road vehicle, whether it has two, three, or four wheels. And when you cut the engine in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be able to appreciate the beauty that can only be found when a man gets off the beaten track and into nature.

1) Moab and Paiute ATV Trail, Utah

Two of the best places to ride in the country can be found upon the red rocks of Moab, in Southeast Utah, and via the high-altitude Paiute ATV Trail in the southern central portion of the state. Although it may be a bit of a drive for those on the West Coast, and a major trek for anyone back East, this area boasts without a doubt some of the best riding in the world. Moab has a little bit of everything: sand, water, cliffs, slickrock, giant human-crushing boulders, and epic scenery. It is remote – extremely so – and has been labeled by many riders as the ultimate adventure destination. Demanding both intense physical and mechanical skill, the terrain can be unforgiving. But what is exploration without a little risk? Many of the trails in this area were created by prospectors of by-gone eras, traversing two mountain ranges and miles of red rock cliffs. Without a doubt, you will daydream of the bright blue skies overhead once you are back in your office at work.

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Scott in Moab

The other major riding location is known as the Paiute ATV Trail, a 275-mile journey traversing dense forests. This ride takes over 25 hours to complete. Add over 1,500 miles of side forest roads and trails, and the possibilities here are pretty much limitless. Fishing and camping sites are in abundance for the men who shun hotels. Herds of deer, elk, and even moose are present. At its highest point, the Paiute Trail climbs to over 11,500 feet above sea level, offering incredible views. (Be sure to bring your camera.) It is important to note that while Moab can be extremely challenging, the Paiute is less strenuous, allowing you dads out there to bring your miniature men along for the ride.

2) Calico Ghost Town, California

This silver-mine mecca went boom-to-bust in the 1880s after hundreds of miles of tunnels were carved into its mountainsides by grizzled fortune seekers. From dozens of saloons, to houses hosting scantily-clad females, this town epitomized everything wonderful about the Old West. The town has since been recreated to resemble its heyday, complete with the historic ‘Glory Hole’ from which sprang over $20 million in silver ore and even a ride-on train for you Lionel buffs out there.

The real adventure, however, begins just outside of town, as the lands surrounding Calico are open to off-road vehicles. Abandoned placer claims, tailing piles, and vertical and horizontal shafts dot the surroundings and give you a feeling of what it must have been like to trek through such country with nothing but a pack mule, a sack of provisions, and a prayer of striking it rich. Today’s canned bean rations are non-existent, as we can carry coolers in the beds of our vehicles. If a mining town isn’t enough history for you, the Calico Early Man Site is located just a few miles away. This archaeological excavation site has uncovered a possible stone workshop, quarry, and campsite of nomadic hunters and gatherers hailing from the Pleistocene Era, a mere 200,000 years ago.

3) Hatfield-McCoy Trails, West Virginia

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The legendary land of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, in which the men murdered the XY chromosome-carriers of the rival family, is also the home of some of the finest riding trails in the country, with over 500 miles to ride in West Virginia. Spanning over five counties, with four more planning to open soon, the area (referred to as Trail Heaven) offers six different trailheads ranging in difficulty from easy to downright masculinity-testing. If the routes alone aren’t enough to get your blood flowing, perhaps the realization that you are riding over some former Civil War battlefields will give you a sense of the era when dudes sported mustaches on a much more regular basis.

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Scott in WV

As the most popular trail system on the East Coast, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails are not nearly finished. Plans to incorporate the network into multiple states may eventually include up to 2,000 miles of open trails. Luckily, my Teryx4 has comfortable bucket seats, so the pain in my rear that would usually be the consequence of such long distances is non-existent.

4) Upper Peninsula, Michigan

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While Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is already a popular destination for many, with easy access to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes beginning right at the edge of civilization, those looking to really get away from it all should head north of the Mackinaw Bridge to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you’re looking to lose yourself in a forest canopy of cedars and pines the likes of which Robin Hood would be proud of, this is the place. In nearly any direction there are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of trails that bring you to deserted beaches on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, over abandoned railroad tracks, and across river-spanning trestles over 100 feet high.

If your mother told you that you were a water baby, look no further. The UP features dozens of pristine lakes and rivers, as well as the Tahquamenon Falls, the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi. For those of you who enjoy tracking game, the region is a hunter’s paradise. While vast stands of woodlands make it necessary for hunters to travel to their deer camp or blind via a four wheeler, my Kawasaki is again a perfect fit, with optional rifle case mounts available to secure our weapons of choice behind the rear seats.

5) Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis, California)

Have you ever seen a movie (think Lawrence of Arabia) that was shot with the hero stranded in the middle of the desert, trekking across a sea of sand in order to get to relative safety on the other side? Chances are that movie was not shot in the Sahara, but in the Imperial Sand Dunes. With summer temperatures approaching 120 degrees, this is the home of some of the most brutal desert conditions in the United States. Over 40 miles in length from North to South, you can easily lose yourself in these dunes and wind up across the Mexican border. (Hint: When you start to see farmland appear out of the sand, chances are you’re in another country).

With razorback peaks rising hundreds of feet from the desert floor, dune bowls almost a mile in diameter, and the best sunsets I’ve ever seen, this is easily my favorite place to escape to. And like a flowing river, no dune in Glamis is ever the same – the winds are constantly refining their art. To quote the 1962 classic mentioned above, Jackson Bentley asks T.E. Lawrence, “What attracts you personally to the desert?” Lawrence’s response: “It’s clean.”

What are your favorite off-roading destinations? Share with us in the comments!

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jkk January 25, 2013 at 2:41 am

Africa! Go to Botswana, to the Okavango Delta and to Chobe: Deep mud, rivercrossings, miles and miles of rutted tracks trough deep sand, and if you get stuck you’ll have to fend of elephants, lions, or worse, hippo’s! My personal record: 15hrs to a 5 mile stretch.
For rock crawling or dune jumping, go to Namibia!

2 Bob Downs January 25, 2013 at 5:34 am

Great article, thank you. Another great off-road adventure can be had from Pink Jeep Tours in Sedona, Arizona. My son and I enjoyed a long, bumpy, BEAUTIFUL tour with one of their excellent drivers.

3 james January 25, 2013 at 6:31 am

I enjoy this site, but you cant start an article mentioning two great worldwide explorers and then keep the topic stateside! unless you rename the site artofUSmanliness!

4 Justin January 25, 2013 at 6:54 am

While you’re in the U.P. be sure to grab a pasty and your Stormy Kromer. There’s few things better than a fresh pasty and coffee while enjoying the great U.P.

5 John Bayer January 25, 2013 at 7:09 am

Great post!

A side couple of notes on T. E. Lawrence – actually was filmed on location in many of the sites he walked in his lifetime…in Syria, Jordan, etc.; see:

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/26959%7C26962/Behind-the-Camera-Lawrence-of-Arabia.html

and

http://www.pbs.org/lawrenceofarabia/show/scenes.html

…saw the anniversary re-release in theater last year – fantastic!

6 P. Lopresto January 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

Evarts, KY has a great trail system for 4-wheeling of every kind (ATV, bike, trucks, and rock crawlers). There’s trails for everyone: novice, expert, and super manly. I went this past October right as the leaves were turning and it was a beautiful ride. We rode for 2 days and covered 100 miles, but probably only covered 1/3 of the trails. I recommend staying in the Black Bear Cabins. They’re tiny little bunk cabins with a bathroom and a kichenette, but they’re perfect for evenings around the campfire with your buds!

7 Earl G January 25, 2013 at 8:23 am

Yes, motorcycles and four-wheeler’s are a lot of fun. I have a Honda dirt bike. There are plenty of proper places to enjoy these. I prefer to take in the majesty of these sites without destroying the innate solitude of such areas with noise pollution, soil pollution, and accelerated erosion that motorized vehicles so readily provide. Get off your ass and get on foot if you are looking for a real adventure.

8 Jason January 25, 2013 at 10:04 am

You should put a link to http://www.expeditionportal.com/ There Forum is awesome covering everything from trips, to rigs to trailers…even mountain biking! Also check out http://www.overlandjournal.com/ One of my favorite magazines besides my wood working ones!

9 Brett W January 25, 2013 at 10:39 am

Thank you Earl G! “And when you cut the engine in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be able to appreciate the beauty that can only be found when a man gets off the beaten track and into nature.” Meanwhile, ANYONE ELSE trying to enjoy the area has to listen to your noisy thrillcraft. Ugh!

10 Ryan Grimm January 25, 2013 at 11:17 am

I second the Moab area for off-roading, friends and I visited there three times, driving from Chicago.
Between Island In The Sky, Dead Horse Point, Arches (no off-roading there!), and the whole area, it’s a good two-week trip for those with the time and want to slow down.

I’d go back if I could, finances permitting.

11 Keith January 25, 2013 at 11:18 am

Real men explore the outdoors on their feet. But using the power of the wind is also allowed.

12 Duane January 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Keith – By foot, by wind or by combustible engine – the point is to get out there. The method is not as important as the destination.

13 Scott Sideleau January 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm

No mention of Rausch Creek Off Road Park, PA to represent the Northeast?

14 Jake January 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Nice article but I can’t shake the feeling I just read a really long advert for the Teryx4 ATV.

15 Brett McKay January 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

@Jake-

I can’t tell you if you’re joking or serious, but if it’s the latter, rest assured that the author just really loves his Teryx4. If a company paid for an advertisement they would certainly demand at least a link to their product and not to show their competitors!

16 Jmartens January 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Oregon sand dunes in Florence! Its a mix of forest and beach riding. So amazing!

17 Sam January 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm

As someone originally from Michigan, I heartily agree that you need to go to the UP. I spent countless summers up on Drummond Island, and even now I head back up there. I don’t bother with ATVs or dirt bikes. I have Mother Nature’s off-road vehicle in the form of a sturdy, sensible horse. Now that’s the way to enjoy the country.

18 Peter Klok January 25, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I find all those motors spoiling the great outdoors. I hate when the silence is broken by the sound of arseholes on motors. Walk of ride a mule or something manly like that.

19 Ethan January 25, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I was born and raised in the UP and let me tell you it does not get a single bit better.

Ride, walk, canoe, snowshoe, or ski for the day and head back to a microbrew, a pasty, and a blazing sauna for the real experience.

20 DK January 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I am personally a huge fan of mountain biking as my method of getting away – and I live in the PNW so there is incredible trail riding year round. And when summer rolls by, we have epic expedition routes through the Cascades. On bikes you can cover a great distance in a fairly short period of time, dont have to worry about breaking many parts, keep in shape, and most of all have fun on the decent! I know I can’t wait for the snow in the mountains to melt so I can hear out on another epic adventure with some of my best friends.

21 Sarah January 29, 2013 at 4:18 am

I want to go off road in the mud on the moors in the UK. One minute you’d be on a rocky plateau and the next you’d be sinking in a bog. Rock on!

22 Birch January 29, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Some of those ” pristine” UP lakes are seriously poisoned by mining chemicals. Just look into it before drinking or eating your catch.

Best place in the world otherwise.

23 joe b January 30, 2013 at 1:58 am

Glamis is amazingly beautiful! The sand feels like silk and the sunsets are inrcedible!

24 Zac January 31, 2013 at 7:52 am

Don’t you go off the grid or “escape” to get away from things like driving?r Walking trips are far more manly, less harmful to environment you seek to enjoy, and connect you better with the places you are visiting. How is it manly to sit on your @$$ and drive through something? The world is drowned out by the engine and you are closed off from the world.

What about The Appalachian Trail? Camino Santiago de Compostela? Tour du Mont Blanc? Pacific Crest Trail? Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Those are manly adventures.

25 Brian February 1, 2013 at 1:09 am

all i gotta say is PISMO BEACH is awesome. it isnt the biggest, but on holidays it can be a riot. especially on halloween. and might i say all these elitist anti off road vehicles people are just scared to break a bone or get a boo boo. oh and if you want a real adventure, try Clear Creek/New Idria California, probably one of the most remote places you can go in California.

26 Brandon R. February 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Northern Baja, from the border just outside of Tecate on down to Mike’s Sky Ranch just outside of Valle de Trinidad. A beautiful all-day ride on fast trails through pine forests, less-than-dry river beds, unique locals, and a good beer or two at the end. And depending on your route, you might even hit alonf the path of some of the famed Baja 500 & 1000 courses. The ultimate reward is that you get to wake up and do it all over again the next day…in reverse!

27 peter behringer February 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Great selection!…but i noticed you didnt include any offroad adventures outside the US….! there are some great offroad adventures for guys a few hours away in a flight south of the border….mind you its the dead of winter in the US and Canada and here its shorts and t-shirt weather.

28 Dillon February 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Kinda blows me away that the Ouray/Telluride areas aren’t mentioned. One of my favorite places in the world.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7229/7046150099_0b2cd9329c_o.jpg

29 Martin April 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Try the TransAmerican Trail (TaT), a set of offroad trails for motorcycles from Tennessee to Oregon. Can’t wait to hit them myself!

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