The Best Road (and Off-Road!) Trips East of the Rockies
While the West is known for vast open lands which lend themselves to off-road adventures, the East is a bit of a different animal. With a couple extra centuries of development there just aren’t as many iconic overland routes to be found. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some amazing overland trips and road trip options to be had!
So without further adieu, here is our list of five of the best off-road trails and five of the most scenic paved drives east of the Rockies.
Best East Coast Off-Road Trails
Cape Lookout National Seashore – North Carolina
Cape Lookout offers a truly unique driving experience – instead of typical pavement or boulder-strewn off-road paths, this is 20+ miles of drivable beaches. The area is only accessible via ferry and all vehicles will require a ORV Beach Driving Permit. While not a demanding off-road route, it’s recommended that visitors have 4-wheel drive and that you air down your tires before departing.
The island is incredibly remote – which means you’ll enjoy pristine sandy beaches and dark-sky certified nights perfect for stargazing. This also means you must bring everything you’ll need to be self-reliant, including water, food, and follow leave-no-trace practices, as there are no areas to obtain provisions on the island. The Timberleaf Classic’s optional 17.5 gallons of onboard water storage will be plenty for two or more people for a few days, but should you stay longer you’ll want to bring some jerry cans along! https://www.nps.gov/calo/planyourvisit/orv.htm
The Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trails – Wisconsin
Starting at the border of Illinois and Wisconsin, the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure trail travels north for 600 miles, crossing most of the Badger State. The trail is mostly used by dual sport motorcyclists, but the unpaved roads (which make up about half of the distance) are suitable for cars too.
The trail winds through rural Wisconsin countryside and passes near a few different state parks, offering available campsites to spend the night.
Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route – New Hampshire
The Trans-New Hampshire Overland Adventure Route is probably the most challenging on this list, although people used to overlanding out west won’t be intimidated. It’s recommended that your overland vehicle be as capable as a stock Toyota Tacoma on street tires, four-wheel-drive and a bit of ground clearance can go a long way. However, some overland travelers have reported that conditions can vary depending on recent weather and the trail may be considerably more difficult at times, we recommend sturdier all-terrain tires for off-pavement travel.
This path meanders through the New Hampshire back-country and spans nearly 500 miles of dirt logging roads and unmaintained public roads. This is a great experience for people used to overland travel out west as you’ll get the difficulty you may have come to expect from past overlanding experiences as well as the serenity of traveling through remote areas.
High Water Mark Trail – Arkansas
This is another proper overland journey – and there are even dispersed camping options available in the nearby Ozark National Forest! The High Water Mark Trail is aptly named and includes 10+ water crossings over its 140-mile span and includes some narrow and rutted dirt roads. Avoid traveling in the wet season (March-June) as some of the water crossings will be impassable at times. The fall offers cooler weather, dryer conditions, and picturesque foliage.
Expect to be treated by views of stunning waterfalls, pristine creeks, rock ledges, caves, and untouched backcountry wilderness. With the numerous water crossings and occasional patches of deep mud it is recommended that you bring recovery gear.
The Trans-America Trail – Multi-State
The Trans-America Trail (TAT) strings together 5,000 miles of roads – most of which are unpaved – to create an overland route that crosses the lower 48 states. On the Atlantic side of the rockies there are a few sections and connecting spur trails available for overlanders:
- Nags Head, NC to Burnsville, VA (469 miles)
- Fayetteville, TN to Corinth, MS (~400 miles)
- Corinth, MS to Batesville, MS (~400 miles)
- Gluckstadt, MS to Batesville, MS (245 miles)
Overland maps are available for each section as well as for each state that the TAT crosses. This is a great resource for people looking for either adventure travel close to home or long distance overland routes.
Best East Coast Scenic Drives
Blue Ridge Parkway – North Carolina / Virginia
Stretching nearly 500 miles from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, this stunning mountain road offers amazing views. Unlike other roads, this road was built with sight seeing in mind, and includes regular pull-offs and scenic overlooks.
Come prepared to take it slow – the speed limit never climbs above 45 and weekend traffic can be heavy. For some this may be a knock against the BRP, but for others it’s just more time spent enjoying the view. While the route is amazing year-round, the fall is when it truly shines as the leaves begin to explode into hues of yellows, oranges, and reds.
Tail of the Dragon – North Carolina / Tennessee
The Tail of the Dragon is a unique one on this list – more known for the joy of driving it than for the views. Its 11 mile span includes 318 curves and zero crossroads, making it a favorite for motorcyclists and sports-car enthusiasts alike.
The roads into and out of the area offer dramatic views and scenic pull-offs from which to enjoy them. On the weekend this road gets significant traffic and may lose some of its charm.
The Overseas Highway – Florida
Connecting Miami to Key West, the Overseas Highway includes 42 bridges, the longest of which spans nearly 7 miles of blue coastal waters. Along the way there are several public beach accesses and nature preserves.
For someone looking to start (or end) an epic adventure, the Overseas Highway is part of US Route 1, a 2,370 mile long road which follows the coast from Florida to Maine.
US 1, Boston to Acadia National Park – Massachusetts / New Hampshire / Maine
On the opposite end of US 1 is a fabulous stretch of road that connects Boston to Acadia National Park in Maine. The journey starts out winding along the Atlantic coast, and as the miles tick upwards you’ll find yourself passing through the historic towns of Portsmouth (NH), Portland (ME), Rockport (ME), and Camden (ME).
The weather conditions in this part of the country are variable at all times of the year – but the roads are good and are passable year-round. In the fall you’ll be able to enjoy the changing leaves, but summer in Maine is spectacular as well. There are several state and national parks on the way, with hiking, beach access, and camping options available.
Cabot Trail – Nova Scotia, Canada
This stretch of road lies outside of the United States, but is still on the east coast! Canada’s Cabot Trail is a 185 mile (289 kilometer when you’re there!) loop which traverses beautiful canyons and craggy coastlines of the Cabot-Breton Island.
While you’re there take some time to explore their hiking trails and sample the locally harvested shellfish. This trip is worth the border crossing!
A Teardrop Camper is the Perfect Road Trip Companion
While the east coast may not have the wealth of BLM lands and remote wilderness of the west, it still has some spectacular stretches of countryside to explore. Your Timberleaf teardrop trailer is the perfect companion for these journeys, making multi-day trips across the nation a breeze.
State parks and private campgrounds alike offer camping, with and without hookups, and your camper can be fully set up for an evening around a campfire in minutes. Just be aware that some state parks are known to be fully booked well in advance, so make reservations ahead of time.