Tour the Terrain

By: Elena Acoba

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April 2, 2013

Ditch the main lane for some off-road adventures on Jeeps, ATVs and more.

About the author

Elena Acoba

Elena Acoba

Since moving to Tucson in 1988, freelance writer Elena Acoba has enjoyed traveling to the four corners of Arizona. Her favorites spots in her adopted state: the natural wonders and the rich historical sights.

Arizona’s backcountry is a spectacular sight to behold. Hop on an off-highway vehicle to enjoy terrain ranging from wild desert sand dunes to cool mountain forests.

Arizona has thousands of miles of trails, roads and open areas for OHVs, motorbikes and ATVs. Bring your own ride or, in some places of the Grand Canyon State, rent one for the day.

Something for Everyone

Riders of all skill levels can find an off-road route to enjoy.

The Hayfield Draw OHV Day Use Area near Camp Verde in the Prescott National Forest caters to all riders with 80 acres of designated roads.

Advanced riders can find challenges at the desert and woodland Redington Pass Backcountry Touring Area near Tucson.

Those still building their riding skills can gain confidence at the desert Mescal Mountains OHV Area near Kearny, 80 miles southeast of Phoenix.

Drive the Dunes

For the ultimate off-road thrill, roller coaster through Arizona’s sand dunes. After kicking up some dust in Safford’s Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area, enjoy a cleansing soak in the on-site natural hot springs.

Tackle the Ehrenberg Sandbowl — a 2,000-acre site between Yuma and Lake Havasu City along the Colorado River.

Rent ATVs in Yuma for riding the nearby massive Imperial Sand Dunes. The best part? City conveniences lie only 20 minutes away.

Rides with Diversions

Hop out of the seat to enjoy your surroundings and even take in some fascinating sights.

Camp along the trail in several areas around the state, from primitive sites along the Hieroglyphic Mountains Loop northwest of Phoenix to Prescott National Forest’s Alto Pit OHV Recreation Area, where sites have picnic tables and fire pits.

Enjoy a side of Arizona history with your ride. Travel along old mining routes at Hualapai Mountain Park near Kingman or visit the remains of the abandoned Swansea mining town east of Parker.

Some trails allow you to mix it up a little. For instance, you can combine riding at the Bulldog Canyon OHV Area near Apache Junction with water activities on nearby Saguaro Lake.

Bulldog Canyon is the southernmost point and the start of Arizona’s contribution to the grand OHV adventure known as the Great Western Trail. This 4,455-mile, backcountry route from Mexico to Canada runs through Montana, Idaho and Utah, too. Arizona has developed some 300 miles through the wooded Tonto and Kaibab national forests, which carry riders up to the Utah border east of Fredonia.

Ride with an Arizona Backcountry Guide

For less-experienced riders, or riders traveling without their equipment, outfits like Stellar Adventures in Phoenix and Arizona ATV Adventure Tours in Sedona, Phoenix and Tucson provide riders with an automatic ATV and a guide for exploring.

The guided tour options traverse the state. Navigate the slot and see historic sites in Box Canyon near Florence. Bump through creeks and washes in the rugged Tonto National Forest. Start in the lush Verde Valley and ride 800 miles above its floor for an expansive view atop Skeleton Bone Mountain. Get a sense of the historic Wild West and desert beauty among the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix.

Just along for the Ride

For a thrilling off-road adventure that won’t tax your off-roading skills, let someone else do the driving on a backcountry jeep or four-wheel-drive tour. Private companies offer nature and history programs along the rim – or even to the bottom – of the magnificent Grand Canyon; among the mighty saguaro cactus of Arizona’s largest desert, the Sonoran Desert; and amid the shadows of Sedona’s wind-shaped red rocks.

Discover Navajo history and culture on a ride along the silty bottom and past the Indian ruins of Canyon de Chelly or into less-accessible areas of Monument Valley’s otherworldly formations.

Gather ’Round

Convene with fellow riders at Arizona’s fun OHV events. Bring your own ATV to September’s Arizona ATV Outlaw Trail Jamboree for escorted rides through the White Mountains around Eagar.

Four-wheelers can join the challenging jeep trail rides in Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. They’re during October’s Trail Dust Days organized by the Tucson Rough Riders.

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