For men and women new to Arizona, new to off-roading (or both), here are some great 4WD trails to get you started. These should be considered introductory trails. All are easy to manage and all can be done solo, but it is always recommended to have at least one other vehicle with you. None are considered “Rock Crawling” trails, although the Backway to Crown King has optional obstacles which should not be attempted alone. These 4WD trails surround the Phoenix area but there are many other offerings throughout the state. Like golf courses, in Arizona, we have so many opportunities to explore! Let these introductory 4WD trails get you started.
Montana Mountain is one of the best 4×4 trails within a close distance to the east valley. While the southwestern part of Montana Mountain is busy on the weekends, you will quickly escape to higher elevations and less traffic. Beautiful views can be had on the ascents and descents of this popular 4WD trail. During the early spring, wildflower season is an excellent time to visit Montana Mountain. When things heat up in Phoenix, it is also nice to escape the valley and gain some elevation for cooler temperatures. On a recent visit with a new Jeep owner, they couldn’t believe that such an amazingly scenic and easy trail was so close to the city. Montana Mountain is what it is all about! There are several offshoots/spur trails which can test your technical driving skills, if you choose to do so.
While this can be done in a car at a slow pace, the Apache Trail has a lot of historical significance to the area and passes by three of the largest lakes in Arizona which support recreation and water for the Phoenix area. You can do an out and back trip or create a loop by returning via highway 87 to Fountain Hills, or via Globe and US-60. Consider this an all-day trip. Great views can be seen along the Apache Trail, as well as the steep descent/ascent on the switchbacks near Fish Creek.
Box Canyon, just southwest of Gold Canyon on the way to Florence, is a great introduction to a wide trail system which is available in the far southeast valley. A great many trails are present here, and vary from beginner to more technical “rock crawling” adventures. The actual Box Canyon is fairly short but many of these trails can be linked to create an all-day adventure. Box Canyon is best accessed from the east to then work your way towards the northwest. There are beautiful views within the canyon and then a slightly challenging climb up the waterfall ladder to exit the trail. If you don’t feel up to this, there is a bypass which provides nice elevations and scenic views. Never enter this area when it is actively raining because you cannot predict when flash-flooding may occur.
Backway to Crown King
The Backway to Crown King is very busy on the weekends. Why? Because it is considered one of the classic off-road trails in the Phoenix area. If you want to challenge yourself with some technical sections, they can be had throughout the Backway to Crown King. Don’t feel like doing that? No problem—it is easy to bypass the technical sections. Once you make it to the top, you are rewarded with a visit to historic Crown King, Arizona. Stop in for a beverage or a meal before heading back down the mountain via the traditional road to I-17. If you are headed back to Phoenix, a stop in Black Canyon City for pie at the Rock Springs Cafe is a worthwhile stop. The Backway to Crown King is an all-day trail.
Permit Required! Bulldog Canyon is a great, short and scenic trail near Mesa, Arizona. You can obtain your permit for free online. There are a few different exit and entry points depending on where you want to start, in addition to some adjoining trails with higher technical ratings. Bulldog Canyon is a short trail and perfect for a quick half-day getaway. If you are lucky, you might even see some wild horses along the trail. Bulldog Canyon is near Saguaro Lake and Apache Junction.