Prarie City SVRA
13300 White Rock Road
Rancho Cordova, CA 95742
In the Sacramento Valley, this is the best known and most widely used off-highway park. There are 836 acres of dirt that will test your skills here. The Prairie City venue hosts several events each year to showcase not only the park but the vehicles and operators who use it. It is run by the Off-Highway Vehicle Division of the Department of Parks and Recreation. In addition to the thrill of simply mounting up and riding or driving away, the area is home to a wide variety of wildlife and valley flora and fauna. Rocks, ruts, trails and hills will keep you busy for multiple days of off-road high jinks.
The Rubicon Trail
El Dorado National Forest
Pacific and Georgetown Ranger Districts
This historic trail was once a Native American trail through the high country. Today it is rated a 10 on the difficulty scale of off-road trails. World famous, this is a 22-mile axle bender that runs from 5,400 feet to 7,000 feet in elevation, from around Georgetown to the other end, close to Tahoma in Lake Tahoe. For true off-roaders, this is a must-do experience and is simply legendary. Make no mistake about it though, it is very challenging and should only be tackled in the company of a kindred spirit who has successfully completed the two- to three-day trek. There are no services out here and if you need it, you had better bring it with you. From boulder gardens to extreme uphill and downhill sections, it’s all about finesse. A brute power run will simply bust your ride to pieces. It’s a long walk out and very expensive to retrieve your broken ride.
Blackwood Canyon And Ellis Peak
Blackwood Canyon Staging Area
Tahoma, CA 96142
Off-roading doesn’t always mean extreme hair-raising adrenaline rushes. There are some very nice off-road experiences that you may be able to take your standard SUV or 4×4 on. You will need very good tires and the usual complement of gear and food for the day. The 4×4 road that leads past Ellis Peak, and with a short walk to Ellis Lake, is one of those trails. Launching out on this forest service road is bumpy and a bit of a challenge, but it is something most competent drivers will be able to do. To get to the staging area, take Barker Pass Road off of SR 89. Go straight, past the turn for Barker Pass. You’ll soon come to the spot where you decide if you really want to take your SUV on this USFS dirt and rocky road. Honestly, it’s not that strange, but it’s not your neighborhood drive either.
Related: A Sacramento Rock Climbers Guide
Leviathan Recreation Area
Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest, Monitor Pass
Markleeville, CA 96120
The road leading up to Monitor Pass from Markleeville is a twisty ribbon with great views after you get through the rock canyons. When it starts to flatten out at the top, you’ll find yourself in a wide-open high-mountain area. Turn left on Leviathan Mine Road, then after about .6 of a mile, veer right. A short while later, you’ll find what passes for a staging area. The trails spread out from here. There are, to put it mildly, multiple trails. Quite a lot of the territory up here can be driven in an all-wheel or four-wheel drive unit. All of them can be ridden on an ATV or motorcycle. The views and varied terrain are astounding. You might be amazed when you figure out how far you are from any kind of help too. It’s worth the effort though. The entire Monitor Pass area can take up quite a lot of your off-road exploration time, gleefully. Just remember that there are no services out there. If you need it, take it with you.
Mammoth Bar OHV Area
Old Forresthill Road (off of 1-80)
Auburn, CA 95603
A short drive from Sacramento to Auburn will put you into the Auburn State Recreation Area. Bring your motorcycle or ATV and enjoy a day, or a few days, exploring this fantastic area. For the last 25 years, riders have built memories here. The terrain ranges from subtle and laid-back to teeth-clenching bone crashers. The location is gorgeous. It sits next to the Middle Fork of the American River. The riparian habitat here is rich with woodland critters and a wide variety of plant life. There are plenty of opportunities for taking a break in the shade or just meandering along and enjoying the scenery. The trails are a mix of two-way and one-way traffic, and everyone is restricted to the OHV trails. No big deal, as there’s more than enough trail to make your day a pleasure. The area has picnic tables, barbecues and chemical toilets. You’ll have to bring your own water and goodies though. Approved spark arresters are a big requirement here.
Related: Guide to American River White Water Rafting
Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. In 2010 he retired from teaching after 36 years . He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at Examiner.com.