Off-Roading in National Parks

Although many National Parks in the United States are not accessible to 4×4 Overlanders, off-roading is possible in some areas by doing a little homework in advance. You’ll want to be sure to secure required permits, tread lightly, stay on designated trails, and follow each park’s rules and regulations. The extra pre-planning is worth it because you’ll experience the National Park System like never before from your off-road vehicle.

As a bureau of the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service has managed the National Park System in the United States since 1916. Comprising over 400 areas and more than 85 million acres, the National Park Service determines which parks allow off-roading based on factors like plant and wildlife habitats and an area’s susceptibility to erosion or other damage. Where off-roading is permitted, the National Park Service sets rules and regulations individually for each park, so it’s best to review these details for any park you plan to visit.

Along with specific rules and regulations, National Parks that allow off-roading may also require permits that need to be secured in advance. When planning, start with the National Park Service website and expand your research from there. To help with the process, we’ve done some of the legwork by providing a handful of National Parks with specific trails that allow off-roading.

Off Roading in National Parks
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National Parks That Allow Off-Roading

According to the National Park Service, the following trails within the National Park System allow off-roading on a limited basis in accordance with the rules and regulations for each route.

Canyonlands National Park – White Rim Road

To enjoy Canyonlands National Park’s off-road trails, you’ll need to obtain a free day-use permit for access. The permit limit is 50 per day. If you want to camp, you’ll need to pay for an additional permit. Due to this destination’s popularity, permits for the White Crack and Murphy Hogback Campgrounds sell out quickly. There are no services available, so be sure to bring water and fuel. Plated dirt bikes are allowed, but ATVs and UTVs are not. No pets or fires.

Managed By: Canyonlands National Park
Accessible By: High Clearance 4×4, Dirt Bike
Trail Length (mi): 69.6
Width Allowance: Full Width
Open Dates: 01/01-12/31
Surface Type: Sand
Difficulty (1-10): 3
Fee Required: Yes
Permit Required: Yes
License Plate Required: Yes

Great Sand Dunes National Park – Medano Pass Road

Great Sand Dunes National Park offers many great campsites along this beautiful trail and at the Piñon Flats Campground. Distinctive seasonal colors greet users of this trail, especially in the fall. A fee is required when entering or leaving the park at the main southside gate.

Managed By: Great Sand Dunes National Park
Accessible By: High Clearance 4×4, Dirt Bike
Trail Length (mi): 20.0
Width Allowance: Full Width
Open Dates: 01/01-12/31 (Note: road closes when creek crossings are high or frozen, when snow is deep, or when the road may cause vehicle damage.)
Surface Type: Sand
Difficulty (1-10): 4
Fee Required: Yes
Permit Required: Yes
License Plate Required: Yes

Joshua Tree National Park – Geology OHV Tour Road

The 18-mile Geology Tour Road leads through Pleasant Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a dirt and sand road that traverses through different geological features and offers various points of interest along the way. A round trip takes around two hours and provides access to scenic pullouts, hiking trails, and climbing routes.

Managed By: Joshua Tree National Park
Accessible By: Overland, High Clearance 4×4, SxS, ATV, Dirt Bike
Trail Length (mi): 18.0
Width Allowance: Full Width
Open Dates: 01/01-12/31
Surface Type: Sand, dirt, and deep ruts
Difficulty (1-10): 1
Fee Required: Yes
Permit Required: Yes
License Plate Required: Yes

Death Valley National Park – Inyo Mine/Echo Pass

Death Valley National Park off-roading includes the popular Inyo Gold Mine/Echo Pass trail. The route to Inyo Mine is easy. It is a bit rocky in spots, but stock 4×4 SUVs will have no problem getting to this point. The second part is rated easy to moderate due to more rocks, steep ledges, and one tight passage. An experienced driver in a stock vehicle with lockers and high clearance should be able to get through.

Managed By: Death Valley National Park
Accessible By: Overland, High Clearance 4×4
Trail Length (mi): 14.7
Width Allowance: Full Width
Open Dates: 01/01-12/31
Surface Type: Uneven, rutted dirt trail with loose rocks, sand, erosion, and washes
Difficulty (1-10): 5
Fee Required: Yes
Permit Required: Yes
License Plate Required: Yes

Interested in more trails in Death Valley? Check out our Trail Guide Trip Report from Death Valley

Big Bend National Park – Black Gap 4×4 Trail

Located within the remote Big Bend National Park, the Black Gap 4×4 Trail provides wide-open views of Texas and Mexico. The route is accessible by most 4×4 vehicles but beware of spots where larger rocks may limit access for smaller, lower AWD vehicles. This trail is highly remote, so prepare to be self-sufficient with extra food, water, and rescue items.

Managed By: Big Bend National Park
Accessible By: Overland, High Clearance 4×4
Trail Length (mi): 8.5
Width Allowance: Full Width
Open Dates: 01/01-12/31
Surface Type: Uneven, rutted dirt trail with potential for loose rocks and sandy washes.
Difficulty (1-10): 3
Fee Required: Yes
Permit Required: Yes
License Plate Required: Yes

Enjoy Our National Park System!

As always, we’re advocates for responsible off-roading here at onX Offroad. To keep our trail systems open and able to be enjoyed by off-roaders, we must continue to do our part by being good trail stewards and leaving the lightest footprint possible. Remember to double-check the National Park Service website to ensure each trail within the National Park System you intend to visit is open, operating, and ready to enjoy!

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Dale Spangler

Dale Spangler is a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast introduced to two wheels at the age of eight and began racing motocross at 12. After chasing his dream of being a professional motocross racer through the mid-90s, he moved on to a career in the powersports industry, where he’s spent the last 28+ years as a marketing specialist, writer, and content creator.