A funny thing about living on the Colorado Plateau, and Utah in particular: Many of the most interesting hikes, backpacks, and dispersed camps, are very much off the beaten path.
Accessing these hikes means going up a road that shows up as a 4WD track or an improved dirt road on your Benchmark Atlas or hiking map of choice.
The thing is, the maps don’t show the details of these roads overall. Oh, you can Google information about trailhead access sometimes. Perhaps you have a friend who drove up the road previously. And Google satellite views are often helpful.
But it is often sifting through an online haystack to find that specific needle. And if you don’t see that needle? If you are a conservative driver, you cautiously drive up the road, park when the way seems sketchy, and then walk.
And while walking a road is always a safe choice, sometimes you regret it as the way ends up seeming perfectly fine for your vehicle. And the road is a bit of a slog. Primarily as a two-wheel drive Honda drives by at a good clip! Among many other cars. A ten-mile road walk is not fun esp. when you realize you could have driven it instead. 🙂 And sometimes? The drive in is often more difficult than the hiking itself!
But if you are fortunate, you stumble upon a somewhat older, out-of-print book that covers many of the popular and a good chunk of the obscure 4WD roads in Utah. This book? 4WD Adventures Utah: The Ultimate Guide to the Utah Backcountry for Anyone with a Sport Utility Vehicle by Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson.
Published in 2000 and updated in 2006, 4WD Adventures reminds me of the “Pink Book” for Colorado Front Range ski tours. Both in the positive ways (not many resources cover this type of information as extensively in one accessible place) and in the negative ways (access issues may have changed).
The book itself is logically laid out by regions in Utah with overview maps to find a specific trailhead, directions to the trailhead, GPS coordinates, odometer reading, route overview, some reasonable amount of information for interesting sites along the way, elevations of the route, how remote of a route it might be overall, and other info. But what I like best about the book and find most useful? The 4WD road rating system listed for each route!
This rating system for 4WD is the 4WD equivalent of the YDS climbing rating. Established by the Colorado Association of 4wd Clubs, Inc, this rating system is relatively standard among 4WD route signs, guidebooks, and websites.
Typically, a rating of “1” means a graded dirt road and fine for any passenger vehicle. A rating of “7”? Far pass what I’d feel comfortable with my stock 4WD vehicle and current skill set. And 8 through 10? No routes are covered in the 4WD Adventures with those ratings.
For my current driving skills and stock 4WD vehicle with 8.25″clearance, a rating of a “4” or a non-steep “5” is about my comfort zone. Otherwise, I’d instead walk. I think I’d find it quicker!
As with the Pink Book, you sometimes need to do further research to see if anything has changed since the publishing of the 4WD Adventures book. Still, the book is valuable in trip planning. I use it to see if we feel comfortable driving the road and accessing the trailhead, or if we are better off walking. I do not want off-road per se, now that I live full time in Utah, accessing many of the places we want to see often involves planning not only using the usual methods, but also keeping in mind road conditions. 4WD Adventures Utah is a valuable tool in the planning kit.
And though there are websites and even other updated books for specific regions, no other book seems to be as comprehensive. And the demand for this book seems to prove this statement. The price for the “new” 2006 version is hovering around $80 used from Amazon, eBay, or Abe Books! The earlier version of 4WD Adventures Utah is still available on Amazon for a much more reasonable $15 and does not differ in any significant way from the 2006 edition from what I can tell.
If you are exploring Utah by foot, bike, raft or dispersed camping, consider purchasing this book. Even if you are not into 4WD jaunts, you will end up on a dirt road of one sort or another when exploring on The Colorado Plateau. And 4WD Adventures Utah will assist in planning those routes a bit. And ultimately be more effective than crossing your fingers and hoping the road ahead is fine.
Disclosure: I purchased the 2000 edition of 4WD Adventures Utah with my funds.