Overlanding is one of the most challenging yet rewarding ways to enjoy the outdoors. Adding winter into the Overlanding mix can take things to a whole new level. While some may seek the snow to put the four-wheel-drive system of their rig to the test, many prefer to avoid traversing the wilderness in a wintery weather mix. If you’re looking for some beautifully rugged places to go Overlanding this winter without the bone-chilling cold, this list of 7 destinations for winter Overlanding is for you.
Undoubtedly, one of the top overland routes in the United States in the winter is Mojave Road. What was once a Native American trade route and wagon trail for western settlers now leads Overlanders across the Mojave National Preserve through a captivating landscape between desert springs.
The route is mostly non-technical, meandering gently amongst the Joshua trees. But don’t be mistaken—there are some challenging spots that are best navigated with a spotter, such as the hill into Watson Wash. Because of how remote the route is, it’s a good idea to travel in convoys of 2-4+ vehicles.
Travel in the winter months is possible, but there are times when the roads may be impassable. Be sure to first consult the National Park Service about any road closures and the current conditions of your route. And don’t forget, the desert is cold at night during the summer, so bring adequately warm sleeping gear.
El Camino del Diablo
Translating into “The Devil's Road,” El Camino del Diablo has been an iconic trail of the Sonoran desert for nearly 1,000 years. What was once a route for indigenous foot travelers is now a favorite route for modern-day desert adventurers.
Originally a footpath and trading route spanning southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, the route earned its name, as many who traveled the trail had their lives claimed by the unforgiving and harsh Sonoran Desert.
Today, the route is popular with off-roaders along with the US Border Patrol that maintains segments of the trail. The route is unidirectional, and the western segment begins at the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range near the Gila Mountains to the east. You can also spot numerous old mines, including the prominent Fortuna Mine.
When you want to escape the winter cold, there are few better places to Overland in warmth than Death Valley National Park. Of course, this makes it one of the most desolate and remote places in the country, so plan accordingly. While the name may sound unappealing, there are some breathtaking mountain views to enjoy as you roam the desert landscape. If you’re looking for a winter getaway, Death Valley has enough to keep you occupied for weeks on end.
If you’re itching to travel outside the United States this winter, you can score some epic Overlanding in Baja, not to mention beach time, margaritas, and beautiful scenery!
Beyond the killer offroading routes through the desert and across isolated beaches, you can also catch views of grey whales between the months of January and March. If you’re looking for a full-on warm winter escape, you can also get into water sports like kayaking, kite-boarding, snorkeling, and scuba diving. If that weren’t enough to convince you to visit, it’s legal to drive and camp right on the beach.
The Baja is a well-traveled area by the Overlanding community, so finding information and route suggestions should be no problem.
Anza-Borrego Discovery Trail
The Anza-Borrego Discovery trail boasts over 500 miles of roads and dirt trails, making it one of the leading Overlanding and off-roading destinations in Southern California.
Traversing 600,000 acres of desert wilderness, the Anza-Borrego serves up an endless supply of washes, badlands, slot canyons, mud palisades, and palm tree oases in the northern part of the Sonoran. Trails should be traveled in one direction due to some dangerous drop-offs, so start at the town of Ocotillo and travel north.
The Anza-Borrego Discovery Trail rests at the northern end of the Sonoran desert before it transitions into the Mojave desert and is made up of a series of badlands, slot canyons, desert washes, steep canyons, and rugged mountains.
Activities in camp can include stargazing, hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing. Right at the end of winter, from late February through March, you can see the wildflowers bloom in the desert. Exploring on foot can lead to some intriguing wind and mud caves, and you can even find longer hikes in Rockhouse Canyon and to Goat Canyon Train Trestle.
The trail has numerous sections that can be moderately technical, but if you have a 4x4 vehicle with at least a 2" lift and 32" tires, there shouldn’t be a problem making it through the entire route. That said, a spotter is recommended for novice drivers in Diablo drop-off and Piepkorn Wash.
Gold Butte National Monument
If you want to check out one of the newest national monuments this winter, head past Vegas and toward Saint George to the Gold Butte Adventure Route. Officially established by President Obama in 2016, Gold Butte National Monument offers visitors views of red rocks and numerous historical and archeological sites. It’s only a day trip from Las Vegas, but it also has enough space to roam for a multi-night excursion.
When first established as a National Monument, locals were concerned the designation would mean new limitations on off-road access and Overlanding fun. However, the BLM has continued ever since to make it clear they have no plans of changing the established road management policies and plans. For the foreseeable future, there will still be access to hundreds of miles of dirt roads to explore.