Here are five great off-road locations to hit when the COVID-19 lockdown is over and you’re free to travel again. Begin planning now for that escape to the dirt at one or all of these hot off-road action locations (some you may not be familiar with) across the good ol’ USA. When you’re ready, all you and your friends have to do is start your engines and go!
Uwharrie National Forest, North Carolina
The Uwharrie National Forest has long been a major off-road vehicle playground for those living in the Eastern and Appalachian states, with hundreds of miles of trails to provide motorized recreational enthusiasts something for everyone within its 51,000 acres. It has trails open to 4x4s, motorcycles, and more. The southern section offers a number of rocky and steep trails, and is considered the most challenging area of the national forest. Primitive dispersed camping is allowed, except for those areas marked “No Camping.” There are a few RV campgrounds, six improved campgrounds, and one group campground.
The closest large city is Charlotte, but dozens of small towns are within convenient driving distance – gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, hotel and RV park accommodations, etc. Nearby off-road shops include Galloway’s 4 Wheel Drive Center in Richfield, and there is a 4 Wheel Parts in Charlotte. For information, contact the Uwharrie Ranger District at 910-576-6391 or visit fs.usda.gov. Downloadable Uwharrie National Forest trail maps for mobile devices can be found at cartotracks.com.
Hawk Pride Mountain Off Road Park, Alabama
Hawk Pride Mountain Off Road Park is located near Tuscumbia, Alabama, and is one of the premier off-road parks in the South. The private off-road park is best known for hosting rock-bouncing competitions, but is also great for recreational four-wheelers. Hawk Pride features 1,500 acres with more than 90 trails capable of pleasing any off-road enthusiast. A wicked mud bog area is for those who love to play in the sticky stuff. Be sure to check their calendar for special events, including competitions and organized trail rides. For example, the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association holds a big event there every year.
Hawk Pride offers full RV hookups, cabins, and tent camping sites. There are also a bathhouse, lodge, and concessions on the property. Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Florence (referred to by locals as the Quad Cities area) are the largest towns nearby and have auto parts stores, tire shops, groceries, fuel, hotels, RV parks, and other supplies. For more information, contact Hawk Pride Mountain Off Road Park at 256-577-10134 or visit hawkpridemountainoffroad.com. Downloadable Hawk Pride Mountain Off Road trail maps for mobile devices can be found at cartotracks.com.
Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch (SMORR), Missouri
Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch (SMORR) is located about five miles south of Seymour, Missouri, along Highway K. Its nearly 1,000 acres encompass a wide variety of terrain and gnarly trails ranging from Level 1 (easy) to Level 6 (described as “insane”). It’s open Friday to Sunday most weekends, and entry is usually halted at 2pm on Sunday. Special events (one of which is the Top of the Ozarks Jeep Jamboree USA) are held on occasion, and during those events the Ranch is closed to the general public. Check their calendar for special schedules and open days.
A campground is onsite, and the eight rental cabins available are referred to as “authentic rustic,” but are, in fact, pretty darn nice. 45 RV sites with electric hookups are also onsite. Showers, a café, pavilion, and sizable parking lot make this a great choice. The nearest towns of Seymour and Ava have hotels, grocery stores, fuel stations, restaurants, and auto parts stores, and there is a Walmart in Ava. Springfield (about 150,000 residents) is nearly 40 miles from Seymour and has just about anything you could need. For more information on Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch, call 417-773-4084, or visit smorr.net. Downloadable SMORR trail maps for mobile devices are available at cartotracks.com.
Sand Mountain, Utah
We love Moab, but it’s so crowded during most of the year (and especially so at Easter Jeep Safari) that we have learned to love Sand Mountain Open OHV Area even more. It has the same colorful scenery, four-wheeling that’s just as challenging, and about 10 percent of the crowds. We think you’ll love it too. Sand Mountain Open OHV Area offers 6,000 acres of sandstone canyons, precarious climbs, and the skyline-dominating peak of Sand Mountain, all surrounded by acres of sand dunes to delight the most finicky four wheeler.
Nearby, Sand Hollow State Park offers RV and tent camping in an improved campground with restrooms, clean campsites, and generous parking. The towns of Hurricane and St. George are about 7 and 15 miles away, respectively, and offer hotels, grocery stores, fuel stations, tire shops, and more. Also, off-road shops (Dixie 4 Wheel Drive and Red Desert Off Road) are in St. George. For more information about Sand Hollow/Sand Mountain, call 435-680-0715, or visit the official website. Downloadable trail maps for your mobile device are available from cartotracks.com.
Johnson Valley (Hammer Trails), California
If you haven’t heard of Johnson Valley and the Hammer Trails, you might have been spending too much time with your head under the hood of your 4×4. It’s the location of the famous King of the Hammers Ultra4 desert race. Southern California off-roaders were tackling the mega-rock trails of Johnson Valley long before there was a King of the Hammers. Chocolate Thunder, Sledgehammer, Jackhammer, Outer Limits, and Wrecking Ball are some of the more famous and challenging of the Hammer Trails. If you’ve never been to Johnson Valley and the Hammer Trails, be prepared; we can’t stress enough the severity of some of the trails.
This is a BLM-administered area, and all camping is primitive, as in nothing. Most camp down on the “dry” Lake Means, which is flat as a pool table, but can be a mud trap when wet and a dust bowl when dry. The nearest note of any real civilization is Yucca Valley, about 30 miles to the south, and Victorville, about 40 miles to northwest. Either direction will get you to fuel stations, auto parts stores, fuel stations, hotels, and restaurants. The region has plenty of off-road shops too, including Johnny’s Garage in Lucerne Valley (about halfway between Johnson Valley and Victorville). For more information on the BLM-administered Johnson Valley OHV Area, call 760-252-6000, or visit www.blm.gov/visit/johnson-valley-ohv-area. Downloadable trail maps for your mobile device are available from cartotracks.com.