I might be biased since I live here, but there are a lot of awesome places to overland in California. The varied terrain, climates, and elevations allow you to have wildly different experiences depending on which part of California you decide to visit. From soaring mountains to deserts, beaches to thick forests, you can have the time of your life in your overlanding rig without ever leaving the Golden State. Below is a list of eight places to overland in California. This is by no means an exhaustive list – it’s just a collection of some spots that you might want to check out!
Places to Overland in California: Glamis Sand Dunes
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If you want sun and sand as part of your overlanding adventure, Glamis Sand Dunes is a fantastic option. Also known as Imperial Sand Dunes, this area is home to the largest mass of sand dunes in California. And some of those dunes reach upwards of 300 feet high. The open areas of the dunes give you opportunities for all kinds of vehicle recreation, from four-wheelers to side-by-sides to your truck or SUV. If you want a more tranquil area, hit up the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness. There, you’ll find over 26,000 acres where you can walk or ride horses – no vehicles are allowed.
Where to Overland in California: Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is one of my favorite areas for overlanding. There are miles and miles of trails to explore and well-established campgrounds where you can make a nice day camp for your daily explorations. And as I explain in this article, the photo opportunities aren’t bad either! I’ve never been to Joshua Tree in the dead of summer – it’s way too hot – but fall, winter, and spring are wonderful times to visit. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and depending on the scenery, you might feel like you’re visiting another planet. Heck, it’s even an International Dark Sky Park!
Word to the wise, though… As I explain in the video above, if you roll into Joshua Tree late at night, be sure you scope out where the campground’s outhouse is so you can get a spot as far away from it as possible!
Alabama Hills Overlanding
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Alabama Hills is an interesting geological area. There are beautiful, rounded rock formations and eroded hills snuggled up between the soaring mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo Mountains. This area isn’t just great for overlanding, though. There are ample opportunities for rock climbing, exploring natural arches, taking photos of wildflowers in the spring, and riding bikes and horses as well. It’s even a popular area for filming movies, and you can tour film sites while you’re there.
Overlanding in Big Bear
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You might think that Big Bear is completely packed with people, and it is. However, tourists stick to certain areas, which doesn’t typically include the hundreds of miles of off-the-beaten-path roads you can explore. Big Bear is in the San Bernardino National Forest, and offers both well-maintained and rugged roads for exploration. A well-maintained option is the Burns Canyon Trail, which gives you incredible views of the forest and Yucca Valley, and takes you from Big Bear to Pioneertown, which is adjacent to Joshua Tree.
Overlanding in Eastern California: Owens River
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The Owens River area offers beautiful vistas, crystal clear water, and great fishing on the Eastern side of the state. You can visit the Long Valley Caldera, multiple natural hot springs, and enjoy primitive campsites throughout the area where you can get away from the crowds and enjoy the beauty around you. If you want to stay closer to civilization, you might try Brown’s Owens River Campground (which has tent sites and RV sites). There are also lots of places to camp in the Mammoth Lakes area. Speaking of Mammoth Lakes…
Overlanding Trails in Mammoth Lakes, California
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The Mammoth Lakes area has an extensive trail system where you can explore for days on end. Most trails are native dirt and take you from gorgeous valleys to alpine lakes to vistas of mountain peaks and pine forests. There are plenty of staging areas along the Scenic Loop, the north side of Highway 203, and Sherwin Creek Road for those of you that want to park your rig and explore on dirt bikes, four-wheelers, or a side-by-side. Just be aware that OHVs are only permitted on roads and motorized trails. Be sure to grab yourself a copy of the Inyo National Forest Motorized Vehicle Use Map so you know where you can and cannot take a vehicle.
Monache Meadows Jeep Road
Monache Meadows is a gorgeous area in the Inyo National Forest. Surrounded by the Golden Trout Wilderness, it is highly remote and offers you the chance to explore the Kern Plateau via some rocky roads – but fun ones at that! The Forest Service recommends that you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate this trail. High clearance is an absolute must. There is all sorts of fishing and hiking in this area, so when you get tired of bouncing along the trail, you should have plenty of opportunities to get out and explore. Dispersed camping is plentiful as well. Whether it’s overlanding or off-roading on your schedule, this area has it!
Overlanding in Death Valley – Just Don’t Do It in the Summer!
Photo by Art Wager via iStock
Death Valley is a crazy beautiful place. The geology here is astounding, and you can go from well below sea level to more than 6,000 feet above sea level to scope out some incredible views of the desert floor below. One of the best scenic spots is Aguereberry Point (named after Pete Aguereberry). You can see mountains, the salt flats, and the desert floor from this one spot. If you’re a Star Trek fan, head over to Trona Pinnacles to see otherworldly geologic formations. Likewise, if you want a long, easy trail to follow, don’t miss out on Racetrack Valley Road. You’ll explore desert valleys, mountain passes, and see some Joshua Trees along the way as well. Where would you recommend going overlanding in California?