Into the Wild: Why the Best Roads Are the Ones Without Pavement
Taking the road less traveled is part of the fun that is off-roading. One thing that may surprise many new to the off-road hobby is how many potentially amazing off-road adventures can be had on named roads in North America. While it’s generally not as dramatic as turning off Main Street onto the Rubicon Trail (an extreme example of an unmaintained county road), it’s absolutely possible to find adventure by simply plugging in a road name in your GPS.
One road that still sticks out in our mind as one of the most incredible was the Stampede Trail outside of Healy, Alaska. If that road name sounds familiar, it’s likely due to the fact that you either read the book or watched the movie "Into the Wild." The road as we know it today was originally built during the 1960s so trucks could haul ore from the mines year-round. This was short-lived as the path became impassible for the mining vehicles using the road.
The road’s biggest obstacle is the Teklanika River. Depending on the time of the year, the river can become impassible. We visited during the summer and found it too swollen and swift moving to try and get our group across. The big draw on the other side is the famed Bus 142 or Magic Bus as it’s often known. It’s an abandoned transport bus originally used by the Yutan Construction Company. It now serves as a camping and sightseeing destination.
Most of the path is a pretty easy drive or hike, but you will likely find a fair amount of standing water. We’d recommend a high-clearance 4x4 and a good set of mud-terrain tires at the very least.
While the river may be your biggest obstacle to cross, just getting to it can be extremely difficult on a given section of trail. The water-logged muskeg can easily swallow your rig if you manage to break through the crust. Our group spent a fair amount of time winching just to get through some of the deeper sections.
We visited the Stampeded Trail during the 2016 JK Experience Alaska trip with Mel Wade leading the pack in his EVOlander Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. His JK was fit with the then newly released 37x12.50R17 Nitto Ridge Grapplers. We were extremely impressed at how effortlessly the hybrid all-terrain tire cleaned out mud. In fact, ground clearance would prove to be the Jeep’s limiting factor most of the day, not the tires.
It’s easy to focus on the road ahead when you are doing your best to make it through. However, sometimes it’s important to look around and realize just how remote you are.
Stampede Trail is just one of many accessible roads that have plenty of excitement to captivate beginner and expert ‘wheelers alike. While everyone left with a good bit of mud-soaked sheetmetal, it was well worth it.