7 Difficulty off road Trails in California That Will Test Your Limits!

difficulty off road trails

If you’re looking to put your off-road driving skills to the test, explore epic adventures, and push your vehicle to its limits, California offers some of the best off-road trails around. I have compiled a list of 7 trails that you must check out.

For tails like these, you must take an off road air compressor with you, as you really need one of those to air down the tire for some rocky valleys.

Holcomb Creek & John Bull in Big Bear

The difficult route in Big Bear is not for the faint-hearted. It requires skill, patience, and a sense of adventure to conquer. This route is known for its rugged terrain, steep inclines, and numerous obstacles that challenge even the most experienced off-road drivers. However, the reward for completing this route is worth the effort. The breathtaking scenery of Big Bear provides a unique and unforgettable experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Overview of Big Bear

Time on trail: 2-3 days

Location: San Bernardino Mtns

Terrain: Mountain Forest

Best time of year: year around

extra fuel: Not needed

One of the most significant differences between the difficult route and the easy intermediate route is the level of difficulty. The difficult route includes additional trails that require careful navigation and a keen eye. Drivers will encounter rock crawling, tight turns, and challenging climbs that will test their skills and perseverance. However, it is important to note that safety should always be a top priority. Before attempting this route, drivers should ensure that their vehicles are in good condition and that they have the necessary equipment and supplies.

Here is the list of overland path in Lake Bear. Among these, Holcomb Creek definitely should be on your bucket list.

1N09 – City Creek

2N13B – Butler Peak

3N14 – Coxey Road

3N93 – Holcomb Creek

3N14 – Coxy Road

4N16 – grapevine road

3N17 – White Mtn

3N16- Holcomb Valley Road

3N10 – John Bull

3N07A – The Sequeeze

2N02 – Burns Canyon

2N01 – Bloom Flat

2N61Y – Heartbreak Ridge

RC3331 – Rattlesnake Canyon

2N02 – Burns Canyon

Holcomb Creek Path

Located in the San Bernardino national forest just north of Big Bear Lake, Holcomb Creek trail is a challenging Jeep badge of honor trail that spans slightly over five and a half miles. The trail typically takes about three to four hours to complete due to the various obstacles you will encounter along the way. However, the trail’s diverse features make it worthwhile, with technical sections that will test your driving skills, beautiful scenery, small water crossings, and fresh pine-scented mountain air. The gatekeeper on the west side of the trail serves as an initial test for your vehicle and driving skills before progressing further down the trail. As someone who has run the trail multiple times, I find it endlessly engaging, and it’s a trail I eagerly anticipate visiting again. Be sure to explore Holcomb Creek trail when you have the chance. Moving on, the Defense Mine trail is an up-and-back trail on the western slope, which is incredibly popular among rock crawlers looking to venture into Death Valley.

difficulty off road trails

John Bull Path:

The three-mile trail in the San Bernardino National Forest is widely debated as the most challenging. To reach the trailhead, you will need to travel several miles on connecting trails. Once you arrive, John Bowl awaits, which typically takes about four hours to run due to the slow climb up the mountain and navigating through some exciting technical sections. You’ll encounter various areas that will test your suspension, making you grateful for having rock sliders and under armor, which are essential for this trail. The trail is popular on weekends, and the terrain changes from year to year, especially during winter weather conditions. I ran this trail several years ago as a shakedown run for my jeep before tackling the Rubicon trail for the first time. If you’re searching for an engaging mountain driving experience, consider exploring John Bull on your next adventure.

Difficulty off road Trails

Obstacles in Big Bear? Check these but note that some are just optional.

Rock Garden on Holcomb – required

Suicide Hill – optional

Hard Climb to North White Mth Peak – optional

Rock Gardens on John Bull – required

John Bull Gate Keeper – required

The Squeeze – required

Heartbreak Ridge East Rock Garden – required

Rock Gardens on Montio – required

Waterfall on Montino – optional

There are tons of beautiful Scenic WayPoints listed below:

Bear Creek & Water Control

Keller Cliffs

Plunge Creek Crossing

Butler Peak Fire Tower

Chair of off-road gods

White Mtn North Peak

Views on White Mtn Trail

John Bull Overlook

Coyote Crag

The Squeeze

Miners Cabin

Lucky Baldwin Mine

Arsenic Piles



Top of Hearbreak Ridge

Joshua Tree Forest

Viscera Spings


There are quite a lot of Camping Spots in this area, some are dispersed.

Bear Creek Crossing on 1N09

Big Pine Flats on 3N16

White Mth Trail

Western Part of 3N07A

Coyote Crag on 3N07A

Holcomb Valley Campground on 3N16

Top of Heartbreak Ridge

Despite the challenges that the difficult route presents, it is an experience that many off-road enthusiasts relish. The sense of accomplishment that comes with completing this route is a feeling like no other. Moreover, the natural beauty of Big Bear is something that is hard to match. From the towering mountains to the crystal-clear lakes, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring vistas along the way.

Defense Mine in Death Valley

The trail that I enjoy is the path connecting Pet Valley and Death Valley. The color of Death Valley appeals to me because it lies mostly within Death Valley Park. While it may seem like a single trail, it consists of four different paths. It takes about two to four days to complete, and gas is required as there is no self-service available. Therefore, it is essential to bring equipment that works off satellites and be prepared for one of the most remote locations in the country.

Overview of this trail

Time on trail: 2-4 days

Location: CA east border

Best time of year: late fall to early spring

extra fuel: needed


There are a few of overland paths here, but I would like to talk more about Defense Mine.

Goler Canyon/Wash

Mengel Pass

Butte Valley

Redlands Canyon

Woods Canyon

Warm springs road

Defense Mine

The trail in the Panama Valley spans only a few miles, but it is fraught with rocks, ruts, and waterfalls that demand your undivided attention as you navigate the rugged terrain. As you ascend, it is imperative to stay focused on placing your tires carefully, as the rocks may shift beneath you, and gravity will work against you. Despite these challenges, the climb is an enjoyable one, culminating in a breathtaking view of the valley below and the opportunity to explore an 1885 gold mine. It is best to avoid the Defense Mine Trail in the summer due to scorching temperatures exceeding 120 degrees, but visiting during spring or fall promises an unforgettable adventure. The Pinion Mountain Trail, located in the Anza Borrego Desert, is another renowned off-road trail that has earned the coveted Jeep Badge of Honor. Its most famous section is well-known.

Difficulty off road Trails


small ledge in goler canyon- easy – required

Mengel pass- intermediate – required

Many exciting sites, such as cabins and mines, can be found along the way, including the Parker and Madison Ranch.

Must-See Scenic WayPoints

Newman cabin –goler canyong

keystone mine camp –goler canyong

barker ranch aka menson ranch –goler canyong

Carl Mengel Grave — Mengel Pass

Russel Cabin — Butte Valley

Mengel Cabin —Butte Valley

Geologist cabin — Butte Valley

Stripped Butte – Butte Valley

Woods Camp – Woods Canyon

Stamp Mill — Warm Springs

Warm Springs Camp — Warm Springs

My preferred camping spot is Butte Valley, which boasts breathtaking scenery. Although it is approximately 60 miles away from civilization, making it a remote location, it is still an ideal place to unwind and relax.


Camping spots:

Keystone camp in goler canyon

Russell Cabin in Butt Valley

Mengel Cabin in Butte Valley

Geologist Cabin in Butee Valley

Warm Springs Camp


Pinyon Mountain in Anza Borrego

Anza-Borrego, situated near the Salton Sea in Southern California, is a mostly desert area that requires adequate preparation. However, it is a place worth exploring for two to four days, if not longer, as there are numerous trails and scenic waypoints to visit.

Overview of the trail:

Time on trail: 2-4 days

Location: Near Slaton Sea

Terrain: Desert and Canyons

Best time of year: late fall to early spring

extra fuel: maybe

While there are a lot of trails, this route is fairly easy with only a few optional obstacles in Sandstone Canyon.

There is a trail called Pinyon Mountain. It is a brief section of trail where your vehicle is surrounded by large rock walls, while you navigate through rocky obstacles on the descent. It is important to take your time here, as you could damage your vehicle if you are not careful.

Pinyon Mountain is an eight-mile trail that gradually descends into Borrego State Park, featuring various obstacles that require careful navigation. One particularly challenging section is the steep and loose descent down Heart Attack Hill.

Completing this trail is a significant accomplishment, and it allows you to explore the scenic trails of Anza Borrego Desert. Bronco Peak, located in Corral Canyon OHV area in Campo, California, it’s also a difficult trail in California. While it is only two miles long, you must drive a few miles into the wilderness to reach it.Difficulty off road Trails

Overland Path:

Lower Coyote Canyon

Metal Sculptures

Blair Valley

Pinyon Mountain

Indian Canyon

Mortero Palms – Hiking to Goat Bridge

Canyon Sin Nombre

Vallecito Wash

Arroyo Tapiado

Arroyo Seco Del Diablo

Diablos Drop

Fish Creek

Sandstone Canyon

Split Mountain

The Slot

Must see Scenic WayPoints

Water Crossing – Lower Coyote Canyon

Oaisis – Lower Coyote

Metal Sculptures – Metal Sculptures

Indian Habitat Blair Valley

Goat Train Bridge – Hiking – Motero Palms

Mud Caves – Arroyo Tapiado

Diablos Tail – ArroyoSeco Del Diablo

Sandstone Cliffs – Sandstone Canyon

Wind Caves – Fish Creek

Split Mountain – Fish Creek

Camping in Anza-Borrego is straightforward as there are dispersed camping spots available, including Sheep Canyon, Indian Canyon, Canyon to Nombres, Sandstone Canyon, Bear Valley, and other areas with breathtaking views.


Camping Spot:

Sheep Canyon in Coyote Canyon

Blair Valley or Little Blair Valley

End of Indian Canyon South

Waypoints 3 – Canyon Sin Nombre

Sandstone Canyon

Rubicon Trail

The Rubicon Trail, situated just west of Lake Tahoe, is a highly sought-after destination for serious rock crawlers. It’s widely regarded as one of the most difficult trails in the United States, not only because of the extremely challenging obstacles it presents, but also due to its length and the relentless obstacles that dot the way. The trail spans over 16 miles and provides few easy sections, requiring constant attention to tire placement, approach and departure angles. After several hours on the trail, it can become mentally exhausting. It’s recommended that the trail be completed over two or three days, allowing for breaks to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area. Camping is allowed on the trail and highly recommended. It’s not advised to embark on this trail alone, as a winch and recovery gear are essential.

Difficulty off road Trails

Overview of the Trail:

Time on trail: 2-3 days

Location: Near Tahoe

Terrain: Mountains(forest)

Best time of year: Spring to fall

extra fuel: Not needed



GateKeeper – Required

Granite Bowl – Required

The Steps – Optional

The Soup Bowl – Optional

Little Sluice – Optional

Old Sluice – Optional

Big Sluice – Required

Cadillac Hill – Required


Must see Scenic WayPoints

All the obstacles

Buck Island Lake

Rubicon Springs

Little Sluice

Camping Spots:

Buck Island Lake

Rubicon Springs

this is not a trail that you should do alone you absolutely want a winch some recovery gear a complete tool bag some spare parts that could come in  handy and having some good communication are all essential things just because breakdowns along the Rubicon are not uncommon while there are plenty of  trails that are harder than the rubicon none are as iconic and many consider this to be the super bowl of off-roading be sure to add the Rubicon trail to your list of difficult trails to run

Slick Rock Trail in Bear Valley

Slick Rock, located just outside of Bear Valley, California, offers everything I enjoy in a trail. The stunning scenery, fun and challenging obstacles, and ever-changing terrain along the way, make it a great place to camp. The obstacles present on this trail will test the capabilities of even the most highly-built vehicles and skilled off-road drivers. However, there are also some lovely stretches where one can relax and appreciate the surroundings. I feel that it’s time for me to revisit this trail and put it back on my bucket list. For a fantastic adventure, gather some friends and set out to explore Slick Rock – I assure you that it will not disappoint.

Overview of Bear Valley:

Time on trail: 2-3 days

Location: between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite

Best time of year: Summer to fall

extra fuel: no needed

Dusy- Ershim Trail

The Dusy-Ershim Trail is a remarkable trail that promises an unforgettable experience for those who dare to take on its challenges. Although it may be tempting to try and complete the trail as quickly as possible, it is recommended that you take your time and enjoy the journey. The trail is rated as severe and on average, takes three to five days to complete. Attempting to complete it any faster would not be enjoyable.

One of the unique features of the Duesey Trail is that fuel is required, meaning that you need to bring extra gas with you. The path is made up of just one trail, with no early exits or help available. Therefore, you need to plan for being on the trail by yourself. The trail comprises 33 miles of non-stop obstacles, making it different from other trails like the Rubicon.

Overview of this trail:

Time on trail: 3-5 days

Location: Near Shaver Lake

Terrain: Mountains(forest)

Best time of year: Aug -Sept

extra fuel: Required

overland Path

Voyager Rock

Dusy- Ershim Trail

White Bark Vista



Chicken Rock

Thompson Hill – Required

Tree Squeezes – Required

Dozens of Rock gardens – Required

Givens Hill – Required

White Bark Vista Turn – Required

The trail is breathtakingly beautiful, with scenic waypoints that include lakes, mountains, and trees. The camping experience on the Duesey Trail is also one of the best in the world. With all these highlights in mind, it’s easy to see why the trail is so loved by those who take on the challenge.


Must see Scenic WayPoints

Courtright Dam

Chicken Rock

Dog Tooth Mtn

Dusy Meadows

Log bridges

View from Thompson Hill

East Lake

Ershim Lake

Givens Hill

White Bark Vista Overlook


Camping Spots

Voager Rock campground

Thompson Lake

Ershim Lake

Mallard lake

Lake Camp Lake


Looking for easier trails in California? Click the link to see the Top 10 easy off-road trails.

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