Some of America’s greatest bucket list-worthy campsites are so remote that you can only access them with a sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle. Also known as overlanding, drive-in camping, or backcountry camping, 4×4 camping provides access to some of the country’s most pristine, undisturbed natural landscapes. Load up your truck and head out to one of these amazing destinations for the most adventurous road trip of your life.
1. Death Valley National Park, CA
Death Valley National Park in California has some of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country, but the best ones are hidden far away from tourists. While all of Death Valley’s roads are established (and off-roading is prohibited), it takes a 4×4 to access more remote areas. You’ll find ghost towns, abandoned gold mines, and old trains as you journey through Death Valley’s challenging terrain.
Backcountry camping is permitted, as long as you park along the road and do not disturb the natural environment. Dry camping here is not for the faint of heart, as Death Valley is known for its extreme temperatures, especially in the summer. Despite the harsh desert environment, Death Valley boasts a majestic landscape and robust trail system with endless places to explore.
2. Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO
The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is open day and night to adventure travelers. There’s so much to do in the park, from fishing and hiking, to stargazing and swimming. Summer is peak season, but you can still enjoy the shoulder and winter months if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Most off-road enthusiasts come to the park to drive the famous Medano Pass Primitive Road. You have to traverse deep sand and cross Medano Creek nine times to be rewarded with access to one of the 21 campsites along the road. Campsite availability is first-come, first-served, spring through fall, and subject to road conditions.
3. Canyonlands National Park, UT (White Rim Trail)
For avid off-roaders and overlanders, there is no greater accomplishment than conquering the 4×4 trails at Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Canyonlands offers hundreds of miles of unpaved roads, three of which are known for their highly technical difficulty.
White Rim Road, The Needles, and The Maze are some of the most notable and most challenging 4×4 trails alongside several campsites. The reward for making it to these campsites is total solitude, crystal clear skies, and pristine, magnificent views of the surrounding canyons.
Make sure you review the park’s strict rules and regulations before embarking on an off-road camping adventure. Permits are required for day use, and fires and pets are prohibited.
4. Zion National Park, UT
Also in Utah, Zion National Park is known for its challenging miles of trails in canyon country. Driving is only allowed on established roads, but these roads are filled with rocks, sand, and crossings that will test even the best off-roader’s skills.
The Elephant Butte and Barracks trails are popular with both tourists and off-roaders. However, the West Rim Trail offers access to some of the most secluded campsites in the park. After a challenging and rewarding 4×4 descent to the trailhead, you have to hike in to the campsites, where you can enjoy star gazing and solitude.
5. Inyo National Forest, CA
For an epic 4×4 camping adventure on the west coast, look no further than the Coyote Flat trail, part of the Inyo National Forest in California. Most of this 9-mile trail sits at over 10,000 feet, amidst challenging and rugged mountain terrain.
The great thing about off-roading on this trail is that you can camp wherever you please. Since this is part of a national forest, there are no restrictions on dispersed camping, and you can set up an isolated campsite wherever your vehicle can take you. You need a permit to have a campfire, and should always be mindful of the weather, especially in the mountains, where it can change quickly.
6. Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, GA
Amazing 4×4 camping isn’t only for off-road enthusiasts on the west coast. The Chatahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia is filled with miles of challenging, technical unpaved mountain trails that lead to dispersed campsites situated under a lush green tree canopy.
The Beasley Knob, Rocky Flats, and Tatum Lead trails are known for their rocky terrain, hill climbs, and steep inclines. The trails may be impassable when it’s raining, and day permits are required. When the trails are open, find your way to gorgeous campsites near secluded lakes and flowing waterfalls.
7. Alpine Loop Trail, CO
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the Alpine Loop Trail and Scenic Byway is a 65-mile unpaved road that weaves through mountain tundra at elevations of over 12,000 feet. You’ll pass through ghost towns, evergreen forests, and have the chance to spot plenty of wildlife.
There are many dispersed camping options along the trail, and more established campgrounds near the neighboring towns of Silverton and Lake City. The loop is passable June through October with a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle.
8. Magruder Road Corridor, ID/MT
Idaho and Montana are not the first places that come to mind when you think of 4×4 destinations. Perhaps that’s what makes the Magruder Road Corridor one of the most secluded and undisturbed roadways in the country, coursing through an area known for its fishing, nature viewing, and backpacking opportunities.
Located in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, the corridor is a historic 101-mile stretch of undeveloped road that connects Idaho and Montana. There are several established campgrounds and dispersed camping areas along the road, offering visitors a place to camp alongside their vehicles and use the facilities.
9. Black Bear Pass, CO
Black Bear Pass Road is a very technical trail located in Lincoln National Forest in Colorado. The narrow switchbacks and steep rock steps make the trail a formidable opponent for even the most experienced off-roaders.
The abundance of beautiful dispersed camping areas offers a great payoff to those who are willing to tackle Black Bear Pass. Experience the magnificent views overlooking basins, lakes, waterfalls, valleys, and old mines. At over 11,000 feet, this is one of the highest mountain roads in Colorado.
10. Pismo State Beach/Oceano Dunes SVRA, CA
No list of off-road campsites would be complete without a beach camping destination. Pismo State Beach and the Oceano Dunes recreation are among the few places in California where you can drive on the beach, and they offer a camping area where you can pitch a tent right in the sand.
There are no trees on the beach, and therefore no shade, so you’ll want to bring an awning or canopy and plenty of drinking water. You should also be mindful of the tide when driving on the beach, since saltwater can do serious damage to your 4×4. However, the risks are totally worth it when waking up to ocean at your doorstep.
Have you ever taken a camping trip via 4×4? Where are some of your favorite off-road camping spots?