So you’ve modded your JK. You’ve even been to a Jamboree. But Jamborees don’t happen in your area every day. You can’t exactly lumber onto private property and go Jeeping wherever you want, but you need more rocks, more mud, more of that wide open wilderness. You need to keep conquering, keep pushing the planet under your tires. You know from experience that local jungle gyms and those fake rocks outside the Rainforest Cafe are off limits. Where can you go to test your off-road mettle? Thankfully, America is peppered with off-road parks, plots of nowhere that are designed to do one thing: challenge your wheeling skills with everything from mud to rocks.
You can find offroad parks in every state. We even have one here in Kansas. Also known as OHV parks (Off Highway Vehicle) or ORV parks (Off Road Vehicle), these parks are popular destinations for Jeep and other off-road clubs, but you don’t have to join a club to drive them. Some parks, however, do requite you to travel in a party of two or more vehicles so you can pull each other out of sticky situations. To keep overhead costs low, many Jeep off road parks are sparsely staffed, so park officers can’t run out fifteen miles to yank you out of the mud every time you get stuck. But if your local park does have this restriction, check out their website. Often they use forums to connect individual Jeeps with parties, and before you know it, you’re making new friends.
Not that off-road parks are just for Jeeps. As long as your vehicle has 4WD, it’s generally welcome. If it’s road-legal, it will need to be insured, but most parks are also happy to host full competition rigs. Toyotas, Hummers, Land Rovers- all 4WD machines are welcome to try their luck, even sidexside UTVs. It depends on the park, but ATVs and motorcycles aren’t often permitted on the trails. Watch out for mountain bikers, though, because many parks do welcome them with special bike trails.
Speaking of trails, you don’t have to have a doctorate in Jeeping to survive an experience at an off-road park. There are different levels of trail difficulty at every off road park, and if you’ve ever been skiing, you’ll recognize the rating system.
Green circle trails are for beginners. 4WD is required, but no other vehicle mods, other than the ones required by the park in general, are necessary. Green trails are a great way for you to learn your vehicle, face some light obstacles, and gain some confidence.
Blue square trails have an intermediate difficulty. For most blue square trails, it is recommended that you have at least a rear locker, 32″ tires, and a winch. Blue trails are perfect for testing out your mods and your skill once the green trails have become a bit too easy.
Black Diamond trails are the toughest of the bunch. They require experience, careful patience, and more extensive modification. 35″ tires are often required, and lockers for both axles, winches, and a crate of commonly-broken spare parts are recommended, as well.
Some parks also have Red trails, which are designed exclusively for specialized, purpose-built rock crawling rigs. Red trails are where you’ll often find competition rock crawling, and spectating is encouraged.
No matter what color or shape your trail, if you think you’ll need to do any winching, a tree strap is required. Stripping the bark from a tree trunk with a winch cable can kill it, and that means no more winching for anyone, so 4×4 off road parks unanimously require tree straps. You’re also required to have properly rated tow points, which include bumper-mounted D-shackles.
Fees are kept as small as possible. Organizers know that you’d rather spend your money on your vehicle, and you shouldn’t have to pay a fortune every time you go wheeling. You might spend about $40 per Jeep, if you have a single passenger, and that’s a pretty great deal for a whole day of wheeling in pristine wilderness. Or you could just stay for the weekend. Most parks offer primitive camping on-site, so feel free to bring your rooftop tent and set up in a campsite. You can even have a beer once you’re parked for the night, but if you’re found with an open alcohol container in your vehicle, even in your passenger’s hand, you’ll likely be banned for life. Drunk wheeling is every bit as dangerous and stupid as drunk driving, so don’t do it.
Since the staff is minimal, most parks require reservations ahead of time. Some parks are open all week, others just on the weekends. So make sure you secure a spot before you drive an hour out to the park. Additionally, some parks are on private land, and some on public, so be sure to clean up after yourself and don’t tear down the foliage.
Off-roading doesn’t have to be a rare experience, and it doesn’t have to be illegal. You can get your Jeep out into the mud and onto the rocks as often as you like. Enjoy nature. Enjoy the challenge. Have fun with your friends. It all goes down at your nearest off-road park.
Fourwheeler.com put together a great list of off-road parks by state, and it’s a great place to start. Check it out!
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.