The midwest is a treasure trove of exciting landscapes. From North Dakota to Ohio, the Midwestern United States is a collage of lakes, mesa uplands, plains, and alpine mountains. Without a doubt, America’s Heartland is any overlander’s dream.

Overlanding has grown increasingly popular, and there is no better way to enjoy an adventure on wheels than right now. To help you enjoy an adventure of a lifetime, we have compiled a list of the best overland trails and routes you can find in the Midwest.

Get your overland vehicle ready and fasten your seatbelts! You are in for the time of your lives.

Overlanding in the Midwest.

Wheeling In The Midwest: The Best Overland Routes And Trails

The Midwestern United States occupies the northern central part of the United States. Also known as the Midwest or the American Midwest, the Midwest Region comprises 12 states which include and is not limited to Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Nebraska. 

The Midwest is an exciting blend of different geographical landscapes, natural wonders, and cultures. It is home to small lake towns like Saugatuck and the third-biggest city in the US, Chicago. It harbors the most cheese plants (Wisconsin has 128 cheese plants) and is home to rich mining history.

However, most importantly, it is home to interesting landforms waiting to be explored by adventurous overlanders. Because many people generally do not equate the Midwest to an enjoyable overlanding experience, not everyone knows the trails or routes open to adventurous campers.

Each state in the Midwest has a series of routes and trails dedicated to off-roaders and overlanders. These trails vary in landscapes and series, each offering unique experiences that can be compared to no other states.

If you plan to go overlanding in the Midwest, knowing which trails to explore will make your adventure more hassle-free and keep you out of sticky situations like being stuck on a lonely backcountry road. To help, we have provided ten of the best overland routes and trails in the Midwest.


1. Ozark Overland Adventure Trail

The Ozark Overland Adventure Trail passes through the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. This trail is a hidden gem in a disregarded area of the Midwestern U.S.A. This is a shame because although it is widely overlooked by adventurous campers looking for some Midwestern fun, Ozark Overland Adventure Trail offers a gorgeous scenery of raw, untouched natural beauty on trails that provide unique experiences.

The first thing to note about the Ozark Overland Adventure Trail is that it is a 5-day route. Ozark Overland Adventures created the trail to encourage people to explore the Ozark Trails.

The Ozark Overland Adventure Trail boasts a mixture of different terrains and obstacles that will keep any overlander on their toes. From steep hills to rocky ledges and muddy forest roads, the Ozark trail has it all.

If you choose to go overlanding in the Ozark Overland Adventure Trail, remember that the routes are primitive. Although the area's geography varies, we recommend using a 4x4 vehicle with high clearance.

At the Ozark Overland Adventure Trail, you can explore wildlife in an area flagged by the gorgeous National Forest.


2. Souther Missouri Off-Road Ranch

If you crave the more challenging side of overlanding life, Southern Missouri Off-Road Ranch (or SMORR) is the best bet for you. Although off-road adventurers mostly visit this route, it is an excellent spot to go overlanding.

Don’t be deceived by its off-road features, the Southern Missouri Off-Road Ranch has trails that range from easy to difficult. If you find a route too taxing, choose another path that will be easier to drive through.

The Southern Missouri Off-Road Ranch is a 950-acre off-road park open from Friday to Sunday. The ranch includes a playground for your kids to keep busy, along with restroom and bathroom facilities.

The Southern Missouri Off-Road Ranch prohibits motorcycles and dirt bikes but permits vehicles of any size within the property. This means you are allowed to bring your SUVs, Jeeps, or even ATVs.

It is essential to know that visiting the ranch, you must pay an entry fee. Regardless, SMORR is considered one of the best overlanding locations in the Midwest.


3. Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail

Wisconsin is home to several overland routes that are the basis of any overland adventure. This 600+ mile of overland adventure offers many opportunities for campers to have fun and create an overland adventure to last a lifetime.

The Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail starts at the Wisconsin-Illinois border. From the border, the road passes through to Lake Superior’s shore and finishes northeast of Cornucopia.

The Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail caters to all types of capable vehicles. It doesn’t matter if you own a dirt bike or Jeep, you can enjoy exploring the 600+ miles of adventure the beautiful trail offers.

Going from south to north, a direction naturally mapped by the trail, overlanders enjoy the remote scenic area created from vistas and great dirt roads. From deep ruts to sandy roads and muddy ones, prepare to face them all on the Trans-Wisconsin Adventure Trail.

The Trans-Wisconsin Trail was initially built for dual-sport motorcycles. Although we recommend traveling with a high-clearance vehicle, the drive is only moderately challenging. Most trails are paved (about 50 percent of the route is pavement) or gravel roads (about 40 percent) that can be easily maneuvered. 


4. Kansas Rock Recreational Park

Kansas Rock Recreational Park truly has it all. From densely-wooded trails to muddy roads, gravel routes, and rocky obstacles, this park might be popular among off-raiders. Still, it is also undoubtedly one of the best places to go overlanding in the Sunflower State.

Admittedly, the Kansas Rock Recreational Park is not accessible to all. However, the payment of a few dollars is only a small sacrifice to make for the loads of primitive adventure that the area offers.

If you plan on going overlanding with your family, Kansas Rock Recreational Park is the perfect place to choose. It might be a primitive setting to ensure all campers have the best outdoorsy adventure of their life, but it is equally a relatively safe environment. The area is maintained, and there are lots of primitive camping facilities that you can reserve for your family’s short stay.

The Kansas Rock Recreational Park has an intricately linked map of trails that vary in difficulty. If you find a trail too challenging, you can easily check out other courses in the area. Kansas Rock Recreational Park offers a trail for every overlanding experience, from amateur to expert, and even offers separate trails for off-tossing enthusiasts.


5. Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway

The Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway is made up of improved and unimproved county and public roads that are open to campers, off-roaders, and overlanders. The route comprises more than 100 miles of high-clearance four-wheel-drive trails around the scenic Red River Gorge and Daniel Boone National Forest.

Located in Eastern Kentucky, the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway was created to offer an entry-level off-roading experience. However, this does not negate the fact that it is also one of the most exciting overlanding routes in Kentucky and the Midwestern states.

The Daniel Boone Backcountry Byways was designed to use the backcountry roads and improve the local business economy through tourism. This was a brilliant idea, especially since the route is within easy reach of the northeast megalopolis and other southern states.

If you plan to visit the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway, you should know that the route is only open to licensed vehicles. The route is moderately challenging but not unconquerable. 

Some parts of the backcountry byway are made of asphalt or gravel, some are off the pavement, and a smaller area is muddy and challenging. There is even a small and shallow creek and rocky areas on the route. However, the site is only moderately challenging. With a solid 4WD rig with high clearance, you should have no problem navigating the area.

The best part of visiting Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway is probably that you can research the area before your trip. To do that, simply visit the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway official website.

Overlanding in the Midwest.


6. Hoosier National Forest

Hoosier National Forest is located in the hills of south-central Indiana. It offers exciting trails for overlanders in the state to explore.

The United States Forest Service manages all 202,814 acres of the Hoosier National Forest. The National Forest comprises about half of the public forest land in the state. This means you can go overlanding using the trails in the forest without any problem. However, it is essential to note that not all forest parts are free or for public use.

Many parts of the forest are open for use, but some areas require a pass or purchase permit for entry. Details for these passes can be obtained on the recreation page of the Forest Service website.

Other than the many trails, the Hoosier National Forest also offers scenic byways for enjoyable drives through the area. 

There are lots of trails to use in the Hoosier National Forest. From the Pate Hollow Trail to Tank Spring Trail and Saddle Lake Loop, each trail offers a unique experience that will keep you excited until the end.


7. Seven-Hour Plane Crash Trail

The Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail might have a quirky name, but it surprisingly is not as popular as many other trails in the Midwest. However, if you plan to go overlanding in the Midwestern USA, this trail should be on your list.

The Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail starts in Wisconsin and leads up into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. More specifically, it originates from the south end just west of Crandon, Wisconsin. It leads up to the Michigan Upper Peninsula and cuts off close to Keweenaw Point.

The trail features primitive forest and rocky roads that can quickly become muddy when it rains. Although the roads are only mildly challenging, we recommend using a 4x4 high-clearance vehicle for your journey.

When you explore the Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail, you will meander through the Chequamegon-Nicolet and Ottawa National Forests. The Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail measures an estimated 300 miles that take about two to three days (or, as the name suggests, a seven-hour non-stop drive) to be completed depending on the state of the roads.

All in all, The Seven Hour Plane Crash Trail offers an exciting experience.


8. Pine Creek Trail Systems

The Pine Creek Trail Systems are located in the Wayne National Forest in Southern Ohio. Off-roaders widely use it, but it is also a hotspot for overlanders.

Pine Creek Trail Systems offers a wide range of trails for riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and off-highway motorcycles (OHMs). 

The distance of every trail varies, and so does their difficulty level. Although off-roaders mostly use Pine Creek Trail, you can always find it suitable overlanding for your trip.


9. Sugar Camp Scenic Byway

Sugar Camp Scenic Byway is one of the most accessible trails you will come across in Missouri. This well-maintained 28-mile trail in a B

National Forest is an excellent choice for beginner overlanders.

Sugar Camp Scenic Byway combines about 8 miles of paved highway road with 20 miles of gravel roads, all along wooded hills and valleys. The trail lives up to its name, as it is undoubtedly a scenic drive that gets even more colorful in Fall.

For a route so beautiful, Sugar Camp Scenic Byway does not get plenty of traffic. This is great as you enjoy the serenity of the area, even if the drive is not especially long.


10. Cheese County Recreational Trail

Cheese Country Recreation Trail is a 47-mile-long trail in Wisconsin. It cuts across Dodge, Green, Iowa, and Lafayette counties and is categorized as a relatively easy trail fit for beginners (as long as you have an off-road capable vehicle), even if some parts of the trail are deeply rutted.

Cheese Country Recreation Trail begins in Monroe and passes the Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area lakes, the old mining town of Gratiot, and miles of farmland ridges. 

Although Cheese Country Recreation Trail offers an exciting drive, it is not fit for bikes.

Enjoying The Best Of Midwestern U.S.A

The Midwest is riddled with interesting trails contributing to an exciting overlapping adventure. From North Dakota to Ohio, we guarantee that you will always find interesting trails that suit your overlanding needs if you know where to look.

Our list of trails is nowhere near extensive. Although they are great starting points for your adventure, look outside our list for more exciting routes to travel on. To contribute to your thirst for adventure, here are 10 camping storage ideas for your subsequent expenditure!

November 02, 2022 — Russ Hennings