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Ever wanted to enjoy the majesty of the Centennial State’s wilderness vistas without having to use your legs? You’re not alone: Overlanding, the Instagram-era name for exploring the backcountry as far as any road—and street-legal vehicle—will take you, is one of the fastest-growing automotive trends, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association. That growth will be on full display in Loveland this month at the annual Overland Expo Mountain West (August 26 through 28; day passes start at $25). The event includes seminars and classes, but the main attraction is ogling the latest gear and tricked-out adventure rigs, some of which can run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “That’s the great thing about overlanding,” says Bryan Rogala, host of Outside magazine’s beginner overlanding video series, The 101. “You can travel deep into the wilderness and make your camp as luxurious and comfortable as you can imagine.” But don’t be fooled into thinking you need to spend big to enjoy the outdoors on four wheels. These Colorado starter routes should be a regular Sunday cruise in just about any four-wheel-drive SUV.
Where: White River National Forest
Vehicle: Two-wheel drive
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In dry weather, even your Toyota Camry can tackle this former railway, which winds from U.S. 285 over its namesake 11,492-foot mountain pass to Breckenridge. Although the track was converted into a gravel road in the 1950s, the route is still home to plenty of historical sites—including the 140-year-old Section House, where railroad maintenance workers once lived with their families; a water tank used to refill the thirsty steam engines of passing trains; and the tiny town of Como, where you’ll find a Victorian-era train station and hotel.
Where: Alpine Triangle Recreation Area
Vehicle: Four-wheel drive
Sure, it’s part of the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway Program, but this unpaved circuit, connecting Ouray, Lake City, and Silverton, circles the Bureau of Land Management’s Red Cloud Peak Wilderness Study Area, a protected backcountry zone that’s home to 30 mountains over 13,000 feet. Translation: It’s a demanding drive. Plan a trip for this month to catch the end of the region’s famous wildflower displays—especially in American Basin, a high-alpine valley 18 miles from Lake City—and avoid the snows that typically close the route in September.
Backcountry Discovery Route Segment 4
Where: Buena Vista to Gypsum
Vehicle: Four-wheel drive
The 682-mile Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route, a collection of (mostly) dirt roads from the Four Corners region to the Wyoming border, comprises six sections and requires a week or more to complete. If that’s too much of a commitment, Segment 4 snakes 143 miles from Buena Vista to Gypsum and is a good trial run for a multiday outing. Spend your first night at Weston Pass Hut ($378 per night), the state’s highest backcountry hut, and the next in one of Lake Sylvan State Park’s yurts ($90 per night). For route descriptions, visit ridebdr.com/cobdr.