(credit: FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
If you own a four-wheel drive vehicle, you might be one of thousands of Bay Area drivers who have never taken their vehicle off-roading. Yet, while this popular form of outdoor recreation obviously isn’t for everyone, you might be surprised just how many amazing off-road destinations there are within a three-hour drive from home. What’s more, many of the best off-road locations nearby offer free or low cost camping to rest and re-energize for another amazing adventure the following day. Whether you decide to leave your shiny SUV at home and rent an all terrain vehicle or have a friend with a Jeep or an ATV, here are five of the best places to go off-roading near the Bay Area, one of which may be the best spot in the world.
18600 W. Corral Hollow Road
Tracy, CA 95376
This East Bay state recreational area features more than 1,300 acres of a variety of terrain and is very popular for motorcycle and ATV enthusiasts. Open year round, Carnegie SVRA is available for day use and overnight camping available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Located about 12 miles from Tracy off Highway 580, Carnegie is an ideal spot for both beginners and experienced ATV drivers and motorcyclists. Day use parking is $5 and camping with fire rings, restrooms, water faucets and coin-operated showers is just $10 per night. Summer temperatures can reach over 100 degrees, so visitors must bring plenty of water for the entire trip.
Mill Creek Road
Ukiah, CA 95482
South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area features more than 120 miles of vehicle trails within 23,000 sprawling acres. Open to motorcycles, ATVs and four-wheel drive vehicles, there are two developed campgrounds, including the recommended Red Mountain Campground and two OHV staging areas. Terrain is a mixture of loose dirt, hard pack and rocks and elevations range between 800 and 4,000 feet. There is no entry, parking or camping fee but permits are required for most vehicles and camping is limited to 14 days per year. The access road to South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area is not recommended for RVs and trailers.
7800 Cienega Road
Hollister, CA 95023
Located in the Gabilan Mountains just south of Hollister off Highway 25, this state managed recreational area features off road trails for trucks, motorcycles and ATVs. Hollister Hills is split into the 800-acre Upper Ranch for four-wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles and the larger, 3,300-acre Lower Ranch for only motorcycles and ATVs. Elevations within the vehicular recreation area range from 660 feet to 2,425 feet. Both sections have campgrounds available on a first-come, first-serve basis for $10 per night. Day use parking is $5 per day and an OHV permit form is available online.
Knoxville Devilhead Road
Napa, CA 94558
Extending into two counties within the California Wine Country, Knoxville is managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Ukiah. The recreational area lies on nearly 18,000 acres of varying terrain and is a popular spot for campers and OHVs. All drivers of OHVs must be street license or possess an OHN vehicle registration. Because Knoxville is on public lands, ATV operators must wear an approved safety helmet depending upon the circumstance, may or may not carry a passenger. Camping at Hunting Creek is further south from the north staging area and is available on a first-come, first-serve basis with no fee required. Visitors operating OHVs must be mindful that game hunting is open year round in the recreation area, particularly during the peak hunting seasons.
McKinney Rubicon Springs Road
The legendary Rubicon Trail is just over three hours driving from the East Bay and a bit longer with heavy traffic. But it’s well worth a visit since it’s arguably the best and most famous off-road trek on the planet. Located about nine miles south of Tahoe City, this renowned four-wheel route extends 22 miles between Lake Tahoe and Georgetown outside of Auburn, and often considered the ultimate challenge for four-wheelers. The trail extends beyond an elevation of 7,000 feet and is considered so challenging to maneuver, it may take two or more days to complete, although, some camping may be available. Each year, several Jeep owners take part in the Rubicon Trail event, scheduled for four days in August. In addition to the Rubicon Trail, the Tahoe National Forest has more than 50 other OHV trail riding areas.