10 Best Beginner Off-Road Trails In Southern California

Let’s face it, sometimes, it can get boring driving your car on the tarmac. Sometimes, you’d like to put your vehicle to its limits and have an adventurous off-roading experience.

Off-Road Trails In Southern California

Off-roading is an exhilarating yet equally risky activity. However, you can’t just start off-roading whenever you want to, with no prior know-how.

Off-roading requires driving skills that you might not have, even if you consider yourself a seasoned driver.

It’s smart to find a trail fit for beginners just to avoid the possibility of you getting into an accident. If you live in Southern California and are looking to find places to try off-roading, keep reading because we’ve compiled a list of the best trails from which you should start your off-roading journey.

What Features Should an Off-Roading Vehicle Have?

Off-roading is an umbrella term and includes a variety of terrains. It can mean anything from exploring a dirt road to rock climbing.

That said, regardless of the terrain you plan on braving, it’s wise to know your vehicle’s capabilities. Every decent off-roading vehicle should have the following features.

  1. 4-wheel drive: A 4-wheel drive will allow your vehicle more traction and stability in rough terrain.
  2. Off-road tires: Vehicles meant for off-roading tend to have larger tires designed to handle rough terrains and add friction on slippery surfaces. 
  3. Solid-axle suspension: Regular vehicles have soft suspension that allows for a comfortable on-road experience. However, this suspension can cause your vehicle to lose traction and lift off the ground when off-roading. 
  4. Locking differentials: This feature makes the wheels of your vehicle all spin at the same speed. This is especially helpful when you encounter hard terrain, which makes one or two wheels lift off the ground. 

Best Off-Roading Trails in Southern California

1. Bradshaw Trail

This dirt road in Southern California is ideal for off-roading newbies. The Bradshaw trail is mostly flat and has easy terrain, which gives you a taste of the off-roading experience while still being safe. Plus, you’ll have interesting sights like the eagle mountain railroad bridge to see along the way!

3. Rainbow Basin

The Rainbow Basin is an off-roading trail in Southern California, which owes its name to the colorful rock formations you’ll see along the way on this track. The terrain is relatively flat and easy, making it perfect for those just starting off-roading. You can even get away with using a 2-Wheel Drive vehicle on this trail. 

If you’re a fan of bare desert views, we think you’ll love the Rainbow Basin!

3. Indian Truck Trail

The Indian Truck Trail in the Saddleback Mountains is ideal for a beginner off-roader. The great thing about this trail is the picturesque views and accessibility. You can get to the Indian Truck Trail from any part of Southern California in an hour or less.

4. Red Canyon Jeep Trail

This scenic trail offers views straight out of a Wild West movie while being easy enough for a newbie to get through without much struggle. The Red Canyon Jeep trail starts from Interstate 10 and runs to the Salton Sea. This terrain is mostly flat, but some sharp inclines need a 4-Wheel drive.

5. Burns Canyon Road

If you’re willing to venture out of your comfort zone just a tiny bit while still staying safe, Burns Canyon Road is what you’re looking for. This trail has a slightly higher difficulty level than other trails on this list, but nothing a newbie can’t handle. 

Make sure you have a 4-Wheel drive, as this trail has some challenging inclines. Beautiful views of the San Juan Mountains await you at Burns Canyon Road!

6. Lytle Creek Ridge

This trail offers beautiful views of the Cajon Pass as it crosses the San Bernardino National Forest. This trail is relatively secluded, and there are no gas stations nearby, so it’s smart to fill up your tank before you go!

You may use a 2-Wheel Drive to get through this trail, as the terrain is very easy.

7. Oceano Dunes

If you’re looking to go off-roading through actual dunes, look no further than Oceano Dunes, located at Pismo Beach. You’ll get to enjoy the California coastline while braving through beautiful dunes. I’d strongly recommend a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this track.

8. Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area

This track offers everything from rolling hills, valleys, and dry lake beds to rocky mountains. You’ll find that this track has a somewhat moderate difficulty level, but don’t let that put you off. A decent 4-Wheel Drive vehicle will have no trouble getting through.

This track is right off Highway 247 and Camp Rock Road.

9. Philips Loop Calico

Philips Loop Calico is another excellent spot for beginner off-roaders in Southern California. You’ll get to experience views of the rugged Calico Mountains and Kramer’s Arch.

You’ll need a 4-Wheel drive for this journey as the track is a bit rough.

10. Old Dale Road

This track is located in Joshua Tree National Park. The Old Dale Road starts in the Sonoran Desert, but you’ll find plenty of vegetation as you progress through the 3-hour drive. Since most of the drive is flatland, it is easy for those just starting off-roading. You’ll have many sights along the way, such as the Old Dale Mining District.

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What Else to Keep in Mind Before You Start Off-Roading?

While off-roading is a fun activity, safety should always be your priority. It’s best to exercise restraint on the terrain you think you won’t be able to handle.

Also, ensure your vehicle is in good shape before starting off-roading. Keep an eye on your tires, and inflate them if you feel it is necessary. Also, check your vehicle’s shocks to see any leakages. 

Checking the weather will also be helpful if you plan to go off-roading. You can then make arrangements for clothing and protective equipment accordingly.

Make sure to let loved ones know before going off-roading. This way, even if you find yourself in an accident, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing emergency services can find you.


Off-roading can be a fun way to kill time and explore a landscape immersively, but it doesn’t come without its dangers. Having a solid vehicle, as well as the required driving skills, will minimize the risk of accidents happening.

Make sure your vehicle is in good shape before you start off-roading, and please don’t try your luck with terrain you think you won’t be able to handle. If you take the necessary precautions, you’ll be good to go!


Can you tow while off-roading?

It is not advisable to tow while off-roading as this may put even more pressure on your vehicle. Plus, you risk whatever it is you’re towing coming undone and getting damaged. This is a no-go.

Does off-roading damage your vehicle?

Off-roading vehicles have features that prevent damage from occurring, so you do not have to worry about your vehicle getting harmed. However, regular vehicles that are used for off-roading can sustain damage!

Can you use a 2-wheel drive in rough terrain?

It is not advisable to use a vehicle with a 2-wheel drive for off-roading, as difficult terrains demand that tires push forward with full power. You might find yourself stuck and needing a tow if you use a 2-wheel drive. If the terrain is flat but rugged, you can get away with using a 2-wheel drive.

Do off-roading vehicles use more fuel?

4-wheel drive vehicles tend to consume more fuel. These vehicles are generally heavier due to all the added equipment needed. The difference in fuel consumption is not particularly huge, though.

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