If you've just bought your first off-roader, you're likely envisioning ripping across loose gravel, fording rivers, and crawling over large boulders. But first, you've got to figure out where to go off-roading.
For many beginner off-roaders, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources to find trails and parks. Here's how to find the resources you'll need to locate and navigate trails and parks that are perfect for you and the type of off-roading you're imagining.
Search for Off-Roading
Google is a typical starting point when looking for places to go off-roading. Typing in search terms like "off road trails near me” or “off road parks near me” is a great way to start.
Another great way to find specific off-road activities is to narrow down your search terms. If you want to go spin your wheels in some mud, search “mudding near me.” If you want to climb over rocks, search “rock crawling near me.” If you're looking for a longer expedition that's more focused on camping and being out in the wilderness, “overlanding near me” is a good place to start. This method of searching what you want to do, then adding “near me” at the end is an easy way to find what you're looking for nearby. If you're not familiar with off-roading terminology and don't know where to start, our beginner's guide to off-roading has a helpful glossary with the definitions of common words and phrases.
Another way to use Google when you're just starting out is to take advantage of Google Maps. Most beginner off-roading doesn't happen on official trails or in off-road parks, it happens anywhere there's mud or rocks. Looking at Google Maps for nearby open terrain is an excellent place to start.
While Google does a good job of giving you some basic suggestions, the information tends to be pretty limited outside of a name and address. If you're looking for other things like vehicle requirements or difficulty, Google isn't able to give you those answers. Google also isn't going to give you the detailed maps and trail guides you'll want before venturing into the wilderness. However, Google is a great place to find other websites that are going to give you more in-depth information.
Websites are great places to find information about where to go off-roading and the natural next step after doing a Google search. Websites offer detailed information like first-hand reviews, difficulty ratings, pictures, and even the 7-day weather forecast. They're also a great place to find the detailed maps necessary, so you don't get lost while off-roading.
Most websites are free to access and use, but some have important features locked behind a paywall. Each website will also have a different set of features, so make sure you pick the one that works best for you.
TrailsOffroad is a great place to find where to go off-roading. With the ability to sort by state for free, you can easily find local trails. Even though there's a premium $25 paywall, many features are available for free. With the free site features, you'll be able to upload maps to Gaia GPS, read trail reviews, see pictures of obstacles along the trail, and find directions to the trailhead. Other important information like difficulty, trail length, duration, and elevation are also available for free.
Premium TrailsOffroad gives you desirable features, like being able to download .gpx files for use when out on the trail. These files can be uploaded to a GPS device for ease of use. GPS devices don't need an internet connection to function, so you won't have to worry about being without a map if you run out of service.
Other important features you get with premium include printable trail guides, camping information, in-depth technical ratings with explanations, advanced search features, and more. While you don't have to get premium, it's a smart investment for any off-roader.
If you're looking for in-depth information and guides in the Southwest US, this is the place to go. FunTreks has been around for years and is a staple in the off-road community. Before they expanded to the internet, their guidebooks were the go-to source of information on trails in the Southwest.
Their website includes information on vehicle requirements, difficulty ratings, weather, altitude, trail length, time for completion, as well as other important information.
With an easy-to-use map that features trails in Arizona, Southern California, Colorado, and Utah, you're sure to find accurate information that you can rely on.
Official Government Sites
Government websites are also great resources to find public land that you can rip across to your heart's content. National Park websites and the Bureau of Land Management make great places to continue your search.
However, you can't just show up in your rig and get after it. Many of these areas require permits to drive in. Without those permits, you'll be driving illegally. Also, because these are government-owned lands with protected wildlife, not having a permit can lead to heavy punishments.
There are many different apps that make finding a trail and planning your route a breeze. But, there are a few that stand above the rest because of large map databases, helpful features, and low subscription prices. All of these apps tend to be great for finding trails and preparing your route, but here's how they differ. Be aware that some features are only available with the app's premium subscription.
||Jeep Badge of Honor
||Free or $40/year
||Free or $30/year
|Offline Map Availability
||Downloadable maps (premium)
Print-out maps (premium)
|Savable, offline maps: 1 (free), Unlimited (premium)
||Over 250 maps and overlays with in-depth information (premium)
||Trail status (premium)
Photo waypoints (premium)
|“Trail Points” system
Badges available for Jeep owners
|.GPX File Downloads
|Off-Road Info Provided
Trail length (free)
World-wide topographic information (premium)
|Information regarding campsites, gas stations, private and public land, trailheads, etc. (premium)
Remaining daylight hours
|Connecting with Other Users
||Trail ratings and reviews (free)
||Share photos to trail page (free)
||Upload and share photos to your profile
Gaia GPS is a stand-out app for both beginner and experienced off-roaders alike. With the ability to search for trails in your area, finding a route you'll love is easy. It also allows you to plan your route ahead of time and provides important data such as forecasts and potential wildfire activity.
Our personal favorite feature is its ability to download maps for use offline. When you're out on the trail, you may not have cellphone service. By downloading maps on wifi before hitting the trail, you also save money on your data plan.
onX OffRoad is another app that's great for finding trails and preparing a route. Compared to Gaia GPS, onX is a bit cheaper and comes in at $30 dollars a year. With that premium membership, you gain access to unlimited offline map downloads, featured trails, photo waypoints, and 3D maps. While the free version has nice features, we recommend upgrading to the premium version if you're off-roading frequently.
Jeep Badge of Honor
Finally, we have the Jeep Badge of Honor program. While more of an off-roading social media platform than strictly a trail-hunting app, it still does a good job of giving its users plenty of great trails in all 50 states. Some of its features include trail maps, difficulty ratings, trail information and location, and directions to get to the trail from your current location.
While it was created by Jeep, you don't have to own a Jeep to use the app. To learn more about the app and some of the trails it covers, check out our Jeep Badge of Honor guide.
You can also find many first-hand experience guides to off-roading online. Forums are a great place to visit to find info on routes, camping locations, look-out spots, and many other important aspects of off-roading that might not be found in a brochure or brief summary. Here are a few places to start.
These forums can help you find lesser-known trails that can't be found through other channels. By interacting and asking other members your questions, you can get expert information from real people familiar with the location without leaving your house. While the information found on forums can't replace a trail map or guide, they're great to supplement what you already know about a certain trail/park.
Facebook groups are very similar to forums in that they're an easy way to talk to people who are familiar with a certain trail or area and get personalized information or advice. A quick search for “off-road group” can lead to some pretty good results. Most of these groups have certain rules about posting, but as long as you're not disrespectful or spammy, you should be able to find the information you're looking for.
The off-roading community is all about making new friends with people you share passions and interests with. Joining your local off-road club is another noteworthy way to find new trails while meeting new people along the way.
It can be a little hard to find a club if you don't know where to look. You can start with this directory of off-road clubs divided by region. If you don't have a local club near you, try posting on local meet-up sites and Facebook groups to find a group.
Another great place to meet people and find local clubs or groups is Meetup.com. Meetup.com is a group-minded website that can help you find a general off-roading group in your area. You may even find a group that's focused on one specific activity like mudding.
Going off-roading alone can be extremely dangerous. Getting stuck on a trail with no way out can be a potentially life-threatening situation. To prevent that, going off-roading with others is essential.
Part of the beauty of off-roading, and the car community as a whole, is finding like-minded people who share the same passion that you do. Off-roading is a great way to make life-long friends to share your adventures with. When you're on the trail, everyone is in it together.
A lot of off-road clubs will put on events and group expeditions. These are a great way to discover new trails. They also give you a chance to learn from more experienced off-roaders and get tips to improve your driving. Driver skill is an essential and often overlooked aspect of off-roading that's instrumental in tackling harder trails.
Know Your Limitations
We want to end this guide by saying that it's important for you to fully understand what your vehicle is capable of. Things like approach/departure/rollover angle and your vehicle's wheelbase can limit what you're able to do. For example, a bone-stock 2022 Jeep Wrangler might be unable to make it across deep rivers or climb large rocks without some supportive mods. But, off-roading is all about getting out there and having fun. Find the right trail for you and then get out there and get dirty.
Sources: Top 6 Resources For Finding Off-Road And Overland Trails, TrailTacoma | Pricing and Options, onX OffRoad | Gaia GPS Premium Membership, Gaia GPS
This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.