Overlanding in the US is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s no wonder! With all the vast public land and amazing overland routes around, there’s a reason why locals and visitors alike are flocking to these beautiful rural areas. But what if you’re new to overlanding and don’t want to risk getting in over your head?

Well, look no further. Below, we take a deep dive into overlanding for beginners, including which state is best for overlanding, how to get started, and the five best overland routes in the US. Let’s begin. 

What Is Overlanding? 

Overlanding is the practice of exploring remote areas by vehicle or bicycle while also carrying everything you need to be as self-reliant as possible. Unlike off-roading, Overlanding isn’t about conquering obstacles or climbing the biggest boulder you can find. Instead, it’s about experiencing the journey to its fullest. Most Overlanders embark on a multi-day journey over rugged terrain with a vehicle that houses everything they’ll need, including sleeping space, water, food, and supplies. 

We're The Russos overlanding in Baja, Mexico
We’re The Russos overlanding in Baja, Mexico

What Is the Best State for Overlanding? 

While this might be controversial, we think Utah is the best state for Overlanding. For one, Utah is home to five national parks: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park.

Not only that, but it has nearly 22.8 million acres of public land. This gives way to miles and miles of Overlanding routes, stunning landscapes, and ample boondocking opportunities. In other words, once you set foot in the Beehive State, you can just pick your route and go. 

How Do I Get Started in Overlanding? 

The first thing you’ll need to consider when beginning your Overlanding journey is the vehicle you’ll need. The right vehicle for you will depend on various factors. These include your family size, how long you’ll be away, and the places you want to go. 

Regardless, there are certain attributes that every Overlanding vehicle should have. For example, it should be able to handle rough terrain and have enough payload capacity for water, supplies, and anything else you might need to bring. It should also have a comfortable sleeping area. Sometimes this looks like a Jeep with a rooftop tent, a 4×4 Sprinter van, or a motorcycle with a trailer. 

→ Check out these 5 Awesome Overland Vehicles for ideas!

Whatever Overlanding setup you choose, you’ll also need some kind of mobile power source. This is essential because you’ll be able to use it to charge your communication devices, power your lights and important electronics, and have reliable backup power in case your engine battery fails.

Most overland vehicles employ a dual battery setup, with a house battery system separate from the vehicle chassis batteries. The best overland battery setup will last long, be lightweight, and recharge quickly. This is why we recommend investing in deep-cycle lithium-ion batteries. They recharge in as little as three hours. Plus, they’re the most energy-dense batteries on the market right now. 

5 Best Overland Routes in the US for Beginners

Where should you go on your first Overlanding excursion? Let’s take a look at the five best Overlanding routes for beginners. 

1. The Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail

Route Length: 600-630 miles 

About: The Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail spans over 600 miles through both Wisconsin and Illinois. It begins just north of Galena, Ill. It ends at Lake Superior in the town of Cornucopia, Wis. Throughout this trek, you’ll see beautiful forest-lined roads, historic old bridges, railroads, and plenty of small, old towns to explore. If you’re interested in exploring more of the midwest, the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail is for you. 

What Makes It Good for Beginners: The Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail is 50% pavement, making it perfect for adventurers with limited off-roading capability. That said, about 40% of the trail is gravel, and about 10% is dirt/sand/forest roads. You’ll need a vehicle with decent clearance and tires. You’ll also be driving through civilization occasionally, so if anything ever goes wrong, you know that help isn’t too far away. 

adv driven overland
Adventure Driven overlanding in the mountains.

2. The Dalton Highway in Alaska

Route Length: 414 miles

About: If you want to explore the beauty of Alaska, you can’t miss the Overlanding route on the Dalton Highway. It runs from Livengood to Deadhorse on the Prudhoe Bay (i.e., the Arctic Ocean). The terrain consists of gravel, which is sometimes steep and muddy in places.

You’ll definitely want a reliable, rugged, all-terrain vehicle. In fact, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommends you bring two mounted spare tires with you because flats are common, and there won’t be anyone around to help you. 

What Makes It Good for Beginners: While the Dalton Highway requires planning and a reliable vehicle, it’s not easy to get lost. It’s a clearly marked highway with few turns or intersecting roads to lead you astray. As long as you prepare adequately (and go in the warmer months), we think this is a great adventure for Overlanding beginners. 

3. Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway in Colorado

Route Length: 73.2 miles

About: If you’re looking for a loop trail through the beautiful Colorado backcountry, look no further. The Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway is the perfect trek if you want a challenge with plenty of scenic views and wildlife. Starting and ending in Silverton, Co., this route is fairly popular. It takes about 35.5 hours to complete, but at least you’ll end up in the same spot you started. 

What Makes It Good for Beginners: The Alpine Loop Byway is rated as moderately difficult, but remember that you’ll experience some off-roading on this trek. Thus, a vehicle with off-roading capabilities and high ground clearance is necessary. Not only that, but it’s a relatively short trail compared to many of the Overlanding routes. This would be a great adventure for a long weekend away. 

4. Valley of the Gods Loop in Utah

Route Length: 17 miles

About: Remember how we mentioned Utah? Well, here it is: One of the best Overlanding routes in the Beehive State. The Valley of the Gods Loop is one of the most awe-inspiring treks you’ll probably ever do. Don’t let the length fool you. You’ll want to set up camp among these landscapes for much longer than the one to three hours it takes to finish the route.=

This Overland route begins in Mexican Hat, Utah, and is part of the Navajo Nation. Be respectful while in this area (leave artifacts where they are, please!). You’ll discover stunning red rock formations, captivating sunsets, and interesting cryptobiotic soil, which is quite literally a living soil. 

What Makes It Good for Beginners: The Valley of the Gods Road is only 17 miles long and located just nine miles from Mexican Hat. You won’t be far from supplies should you need something out in the backcountry. It’s also incredibly beautiful and will be a perfect segway into more Overlanding excursions around Utah. 

5. Magruder Road Corridor in Idaho and Montana

Route Length: 101 miles

About: The Magruder Road Corridor is a primitive road that follows the Idaho/Montana border through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the River of No Return Wilderness. It goes through vast woodlands and beautiful mountain peaks and is a wonderful way to see the Mountain West. Like the other routes, you’ll also need an all-terrain vehicle for this route, as it’s mostly gravel, forest lands, and unmaintained roads.  

What Makes It Good for Beginners: If you have a 4×4 vehicle, you should be able to handle the terrain along this route easily. Not only that, but it’s relatively well-marked and popular. So although you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be relatively close to civilization and help if needed.

Which Will Be Your First Overland Routes? 

Overlanding isn’t just for experienced adventurers. After all, everyone has to start somewhere, right? Thankfully there are plenty of fantastic Overlanding routes around the US that are perfect for beginners. Just get your vehicle ready, grab some supplies, and start planning! 

Which route would you do first? Let us know in the comments below!

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