7 Great 4x4 Areas in and Around National Parks

Explore the scenic vistas of America's national parks from your 4x4 vehicle. 

7 Great 4x4 Areas in and Around National Parks
Image Courtesy of Nicolas Cool

The United States’ National Parks preserve some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation. Fortunately for off-roading enthusiasts, many of these same sights and vistas can be enjoyed from the seat of your four-wheel drive vehicle. Although many parks do not permit off-roading, a handful do. In other cases, public lands immediately adjacent to the parks offer the same terrain and plants, and wildlife as the parks themselves. Here are several great 4x4 areas in and around national parks.

Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is just southwest of Moab, Utah, and boasts some of the most exciting and technical four-wheel-drive roads around. More than 50 miles of 4x4 roads lie within the park’s boundaries and all require a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle that is less than 22 feet in length. There are several backcountry vehicle campsites in the park that can accommodate up to 10 people and three vehicles. Permits are required before heading out onto the park’s roads in a vehicle. If you need a place to stay outside the park, Canyonlands Lodging in Monticello is a little closer to the Needles District than Moab is. 

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Death Valley National Park, CA/NV

Straddling the border between California and Nevada, Death Valley is the largest national park in the 48 contiguous United States. It also boasts hundreds of miles of roads that are accessible only to high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles, including many that require experience and a high level of technical driving skills. Vehicle camping is permitted in many areas throughout the park, but before doing so, make sure that you’re not in an area where camping or vehicle camping is prohibited. If you’re not feeling like camping, you can stay inside the park at Stovepipe Wells

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Big Cypress National Preserve, Ochopee, FL

Although Everglades National Park does not permit off-roading within the park, the adjacent Big Cypress National Preserve, which shares the same ecosystem, does permit off-road vehicles on its extensive system of roads and trails. Permits are required and be sure to check road conditions before you head out, as high water levels may make some roads and trails impassable. Camping is available in and around the preserve. Everglades Chickee Cabins are also an option if you’d like to sleep off the ground and protected from bugs. 

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Big Bend National Park, TX

You can explore the rugged desert environment of Big Bend National park on its dozens of miles of primitive dirt roads. All the roads require high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. Some, however, like Black Gap Road, require extremely technical driving and vehicles that are designed to traverse rocky, rutted, washed-out terrain. The park features several primitive campsites along the backcountry roads, which can be reserved through recreation.gov. 

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South Unit, Badlands National Park, Interior, SD

Although it is not a particularly long, Sheep Mountain Table Road, in the South Unit of Badlands National Park, affords 4x4 drivers the opportunity to get deep into the park’s backcountry—without having to hike in. The views of the badlands from the top of Sheep Mountain is the payoff for your efforts. Camping is not allowed along the road, but there are campgrounds in the park. Frontier Cabins Motel, in Wall, South Dakota, is another nearby option.

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Medano Pass, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Mosca, CO

Medano Pass Primitive Road requires high clearance and four-wheel-drive as it traverses 10,000-foot Medano Pass and crosses from Great Sand Dunes National Park into the National Preserve of the same name. The road passes through Medano Creek nine times on its way to a spectacular vista over Medano Lake. Once the road leaves the park and enters the preserve, several primitive campsites are available along the road for those making the traverse. Alternative lodging is available at Great Sand Dunes Oasis

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Kern River Ranger District, Sequoia National Forest, Porterville, CA

You won’t find any 4x4 roads or trails in Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks, but you’ll find plenty in the Kern River Ranger District of Sequoia National Forest. There are no giant sequoia groves in the Kern District, but if you leave the 4x4 trails long enough to head into the nearby Western Divide Ranger District, you’ll find the Trail of 100 Giants, which passes through a grove of 125 trees with diameters of more than 10 feet—the largest of which is 220 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter.

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