Finding a gnarly off-road trail can be difficult, primarily because these trails are rarely marked and access usually means mapping a course into small, out-of-the-way towns that hardly anyone has heard of, let alone could direct others how to get there. Additionally, off-road trails often change their course due to natural elements such as wash-outs and landslides. Still, the rock crawlers must have their challenges and the rugged life enthusiasts their day in the sun, so there are a few trails that remain heralded as champions for being the most difficult pathways into wild country that you could take.
None of these trails can truly be rated as being any harder to take on than another. Again, this is due to the courtesies of nature. A trail that has been dry for a very long time might be easy enough for any skilled Jeep lover to navigate with stock equipment. However, a few days of rain could turn a mildly rugged trail into a winch job every few hundred yards and an axle buster in the first half mile. All those mean trails seem to point in one general direction–northwest–where the Rockies bite into the sky, canyons burrow deep into the earth and where primitive conditions result in a land in constant upheaval.
Moab on the Go
Moab, Utah, offers a wide variety of trail systems, each exciting in its own way, with stunning views of natural rock arches, mesas, canyons, and the Colorado River plunging below dizzying heights. But for a challenge, nothing quite beats the Moab Rim Trail. The nearly eight miles of trail is recommended for hikers, bicyclists and four-wheel drive vehicles only. The first mile has a higher density of obstacles than any of the area’s other off-road trails. It’s a viciously long climb over bedrock that erosion has broken into uneven steps and ledges. As you near the top, you are met by slickrock, blown sand and areas thick with broken rocks and sandy dirt. The top has a slickrock dome with an 85% grade, offering an optional climb for the rock crawlers. You need excellent ground clearance, large diameter all terrain tires, and a locking or limited slip differential if you’re really thinking of tackling this vicious obstacle course. It is recommended that you do not tackle the trail except with a group and to use a spotter for the more challenging climbs.
The Granddaddy of Trails
Rumor has it there isn’t a trail anywhere in the world tougher on your Jeep than the Rubicon Trail. Located in the High Sierras near Tahoe Lake, the relentless journey is a non-stop adventure over man-sized boulders, heaving granite slabs, perilous ledges, and deep mud-water crossings. The rewards are sparkling fresh air, incredible views and the satisfaction of conquering the almost insurmountable obstacles.
There are cautions concerning camping along the trail. You can camp anywhere, but it’s illegal to take your vehicle more than 25 feet from the easement. There has been an ongoing battle to close the historic trail to motorized use, so if you’d like to see it kept open, be sure to sign up with Rubicon Trail and Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR).
Fordyce Creek Trail
Overlooked and all but forgotten, the Fordyce Creek Trail is situated not far from the world famous Rubicon. Experienced users insist it’s actually a more difficult and technical trail, with six river crossings that will drown out anything less than 35 inch tires; that’s when the water is at a low ebb! When the water is high, 44 inch tires won’t even get you across.
You’re still in boulder country when on the Fordyce. You need a lifted, locked short wheel base vehicle, with rocker guards and skid plates. Don’t even think about handling the vicious ten mile trail without tow hooks and straps, and someone in the team with a winch. There are at least five areas that will challenge the best climbers. The Sierra Trek labels them as Winch hills, one through five.
From Easy to Challenging
Depending on your point of view, the Lake Como trail could be considered the worst road in Colorado, or the happy trail for a Jeep enthusiast. In the first mile and a half the dirt road can be driven with just about any vehicle, as long as it has a little clearance. You’re in Rocky Mountain territory now, so that means the road climbs! At 9,000 feet, even the average 4 wheel drive vehicle has decided enough is enough. At 11,400 feet, the road turns into a rocky slope with loose rocks and sharply angled slabs. A heavily modified, short wheel base 4 wheel drive is the only vehicle that can make it successfully all the way to the lake.
Touching upon a bit of history, the road was in danger of being closed down in 1997, but after an investigation it was determined that the four wheelers and Jeep enthusiasts had a great deal of respect for the environment and the shutdown was avoided. People are expected to work hard to stay in the tracks and stay out of the fragile terrain of the nearby tundra.
Wood Pecker Mine
Arizona has its share of challenging trails. Near Florence Junction, Phoenix, is the 5.8 mile obstacle course to Wood Pecker Mine. The trail follows a creek bed littered with boulders. Two miles out, the rock crawling paradise hits a V-notch. The pass through the notch is very narrow, but a short wheel based vehicle should be able to squeeze through without scraping off the sides. After the notch, you need to turn right, up a very steep bank to get out of the wash. If you continue going straight up, you are on what the locals term “the highway to hell.” The trail does not go into very high elevations, but is frequented with sharp climbs and descents. It ends at Woodpecker mine, with plenty of side roads, all leading uphill.
So, What’s the toughest trail you’ve taken your Jeep on lately?