There’s a lot of logistical prep work that goes into planning a trip like our ride up to Alaska. I’ve done a lot of research on my own, but we’re not the first people to try something like this, and we’ve gotten invaluable help from other people who have recorded the details of their own trips either on their own blogs or on adventure travel forums. So I’ll be compiling our own research here – not only as a resource to ourselves, but to hopefully help anyone else whose interested in doing something like this.

01 Research Notes
Backcountry Discovery Route
Map Scales
Latitude and Longitude

02 Recommended Maps
Road Atlases
USGS Forest Service Visitor Maps

03 Forest Information + Map Links (listed North to South)
Mt. Baker / Snoqualmie
Gifford Pinchot

Wallowa / Whitman
Mt. Hood

Shasta Trinity

04 Resource Links
Link dump of useful sites



A few explanations of terms that may be referenced later.

Backcountry Discovery Route: I don’t know the full history, but as I understand it, there was supposed to be a “Backcountry Discovery Route” that was going to be a strung-together off-road trail running from Mexico to the Canadian border. Sometimes it’s referred to as the State Motorized Trail System and there’s some good history on the smts.com site. For several reasons (budgetary, land use issues, the usual…) it was never completed and there have been so many significant trail closures in the last few years that any websites you find with pre-2008 info are probably woefully out of date. Nonetheless there are some places you can go for basic information:

Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (WABDR): Has maps, photos and GPS route for the Washington leg. Seems to be very up to date and detailed.

Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route (through OOHVA): Seems much less organized, though there are maps available for purchase. It’s good to support anyone who’s creating information for these routes, but the maps I ordered for Section 1 of Route 5 were just wiro-bound 8.5″ x 11″ color photocopies. They’re not the worst maps in the world, especially the more I get into the planning and find how difficult it is to find good information, but they’re not the greatest, and there don’t seem to be any GPS tracks available. Also, as of 06.13.11 I can’t tell you whether they’re still up to date enough to be useful – haven’t gotten that far yet. :

California Backcountry Discovery Route:  Sorry, there doesn’t seem to be a central CA Backcountry page.

There are more resource links at the bottom of this page in the 04 Resource Links section.


Map Scales: The scale of a map will tell you how detailed it is.

1:2,500,000 is a common scale for national road atlases where each state is usually given its own 2-page spread. In that case 1 inch on the map represents 2.5 million inches on the ground (about 38 miles). That’s plenty of detail for planning an interstate or major byway road trip. For larger states like California or Texas the scale may be increased to something closer to 1:7,500,000 (1 inch = ~118 mi) to fit within the format of the book.

1:300,000 to 1:200,000 are common scales for single-state road atlas. 1″ = ~3 miles.

1:100,000 (often referred to as a 100k map) is a much more detailed view (with 1″ representing about 1.5 miles) and is usually limited to a much smaller area. The USGS National Forest visitor maps are 100k scale and are detailed enough to show all the fire roads, and named forest roads. Our Garmin 62s GPS device comes standard with a 100k US map.

1:24,000 (or a 24k map) is even more detailed with 1 inch representing about .4 miles. The USGS creates maps at many different scales, but 24k is the most commonly used high-detail map. A standard USGS 24k map covers an area of 7.5 minutes of longitude and 7.5 minutes of latitude which is why they are often referred to as 7.5-minute quadrangle maps or simply 7.5 minute maps. (“minutes” as a measurement of distance are explained under Latitude and Longitude below). While most of the US has been mapped at 24k, Alaska, with the exception of the more populated areas, is generally mapped at 1:63,360.

Latitude and Longitude: Are the imaginary lines that run North/South (longitude) or East/West (latitude) around the globe. Somewhere in elementary school a teacher taught us to remember the difference between the two by the simple pneumonic: “lat / flat.” When looking at a map the latitude lines run East/West and appear as flat lines. Easy-peasy.

A circle is divided into 360˚. The Earth is round (!) so there are 360˚ of longitude and 360˚ of latitude. Each degree can be divided into 60 minutes (written as 60′). Each minute can be further subdivided into 60 seconds (written 60″). The latitude of the arctic circle is 66˚ 33′ 44″ which you would say as 66 degrees, 33 minutes, 44 seconds.

Latitude and Longitude can also be written decimally so the Arctic circle latitude can also be written as 66.5622˚



Through the US we’ll be traveling mostly through National Forest lands but we’ll need both large and small scale maps to work out the final route. (If you skipped the first part of this post, 100k and 25k maps are explained above.)

Road Atlases: There are any number of road atlases that one can use to plan the journey.

National Geographic Road Atlas: Adventure Edition: We’ve had great success with this atlas that we picked up at REI for our multi-state, on-road trips. It’s large (11″ x 15″) with a plastic cover and is spiral bound which makes for easy reference. Most states are mapped at 1:2,500,000. It also has a fair amount of information about National and State parks and local points of interest (which is probably what makes it the “adventure” edition; that and the heavy-duty construction). We did not treat it kindly as we traveled and it held up great.

Benchmark Maps makes a series of state atlases that were recommended as a good starting point for our Alaska trip. In addition to the standard maps they include a large “Recreation” section listing campgrounds, We picked up the CA, OR, and WA editions. To save some space we may end up removing pages that we know we’re not going to need; map paper can add up quick.

USGS Forest Service Visitor Maps: These are large (24″ x 36″) 25k scale maps that can be purchased through the USGS online store or in person at one of their offices which can be located on their contact us page. The maps are currently $12 each. We purchased one for each of the CA forests we plan on traveling through. They’re detailed enough to list all fire roads and forest trails. But read the next paragraph on MVUM maps for an important clarification.

(I went to the location in Menlo Park, CA to find ours in person which worked out very well. There was a very helpful guy working there who was excited about the trip we were taking and helped explain which maps would be most useful, which ones would be good for details, and which ones were freely available online. The closest location to us (Menlo Park) happened to be the main Western Region Offices – I don’t know that every branch sells maps so check first; but this place had tens of thousands of them all laid out self-service style for you to browse through. Very useful trip.)

USGS MVUM Maps: These maps are your bible for OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) travel through the forests. The Visitor Maps list all roads and trails, but they’re only updated and reprinted every few years and may show trails that are no longer open (especially after a number of trails closures in 2008). You may see a great trail on the visitor map, but if it’s not on the MVUM, it’s off limits. Taken from the USGS site:

Routes not shown on the Motor Vehicle Use Map are not open to public motor vehicle travel. Routes designated for motorized use may not always be signed on the ground, but will be identified on the MVUM. It will be the public’s responsibility to refer to the MVUM to determine designated routes for motor vehicle use. The MVUM will be updated annually to correct mapping errors or discrepancies.

The Motor Vehicle Use Map is a black and white map with no topographic features. It is best used in conjunction with a Forest Visitor Map or other topographic map. The MVUM is free to the public at each local Ranger District office. The MVUM is available on (the USGS) website and sections of it may be printed from your home computer.

The MVUMs are great but can be terribly confusing. Each Ranger District in a park will have its own MVUM, but it can be difficult to find an overall map of ranger districts (for example Stanislaus Nat’l Forest is divided into the Summit, Calaveras, Mi-Wok and Groveland Ranger Districts) so it’s up to you to figure out that Summit is roughly the north-east corner of the park, Calaveras the north-west, Mi-Wok the south-west and Groveland the south-east. I’ve included notes on the basic location to help a bit.

They’re also large (24″ x 36″ or even 34″ x 44″ ) so it can be very difficult to trace a route while looking at them at computer monitor size. They can be printed full size at Kinkos for ~$4.50 each (printing them is legal).

Also, the implementation of MVUM maps is ongoing and not all forests have complete MVUM sets.



I’ve listed all the forests along our route from North to South. It’s weird for searching, but useful when planning a north/south route. Also, here’s a direct link to the main US Forest service webpage.

Okanagon (main page)
*As of 06.09.11 there are no MVUM for Okanagon. Also, the Okanagon and Wenatchee pages are apparently in the process of being combined into one single site.

*As of 06.09.11 there are no MVUM for for Wenatchee. Also, the Okanagon and Wenatchee pages are apparently in the process of being combined into one single site.

Mt. Baker / Snoqualmie (main page)
*Mt. Baker / Snoqualmie is basically a strip of forest running north to south. The Ranger Districts below are listed from northernmost to southernmost

MVUM (main page)
MVUM Legend (which maps cover what areas)
Mt. Baker Ranger District
Darrington Ranger District
Skykomish Ranger District
Snoqualmie Ranger District
Evans Creek

Gifford Pinchot
these are here


Wallowa / Whitman (main page)
*As of 06.09.11 there are no MVUM for Wallowa / Whitman.

Umatilla (main page)
MVUM (main map page)
MVUM Index (which maps cover what areas)
1 (legend – also called the “designation table”)
2 (legend)
3 (legend)
4 (legend)
5 (legend)
6 (legend)
7 (legend)
8 (legend)
9 (legend)
10 (legend)
11 (legend)
12 (legend)
13 (legend)
14 (legend)
15 (legend)
16 (legend)
17 (legend)
18 (legend)
19 (legend)
20 (legend)
21 (legend)

Malheur (main page)
*It looks like, as of around 12/2010, that there have been significant changes to the amount of open trails in the park, but there are no final MVUM for Malheur as of  06.09.11. The proposed maps are listed below.

Map Index (which maps cover what areas)
Proposed Map 1
Proposed Map 2
Proposed Map 3
Proposed Map 4

Mt. Hood (main page)
From what I can tell, there are currently no dirt routes that travel through Mt. Hood. From the Mt. Hood OHV management page:

There are now three locations on Mt. Hood National Forest in which OHV vehicles can be used.

One of these OHV locations is located on the west side of Mt. Hood National Forest southeast of Estacada in the vicinity of LaDee Flats. Please refer to Map B5 and C5 (southern portion of maps) and Map B6 and C6 (extreme northern portions of maps), below to see roads and/or trails open to OHVs. Please also follow the link for a more Detailed Map of LaDee Flats OHV Routes.

There are two OHV locations located on the east side of Mt. Hood National Forest.

  1. For the McCubbins Gulch OHV location, please refer to Map G6 and Map H6 below to see roads and trails open to OHV use. Please also follow the link for a more Detailed Map of McCubbins Gulch OHV Routes.
  2. For the Rock Creek OHV location, please refer to Map H5 and Map H6below to see roads and/or trails open to OHV use.  Please also follow the link for a more Detailed Map of Rock Creek OHV Routes.

Mt. Hood Index (which maps cover what areas)

Willamette (main page)
Detroit and Sweet Home Ranger Districts (frontback)
McKenzie River Ranger District (frontback)
Middle Fork Ranger District (North) (frontback)
Middle Fork Ranger District (South) (frontback)

(main page)
Modoc does seem to have a Backcountry Discovery Trail available on this page.

*As of 06.09.11 there are no MVUM for Modoc.

Shasta Trinity National Forest (main page)
*As of 06.09.11 there are no MVUM for Shasta Trinity.

Lassen National Forest (main page)
Lassen has come Backcountry Discovery Trail maps available on their site here.

Small Map of Lassen Districts
1a – NW
1b – Central E
2a – Central W
2b – Central W Inset
3a – Lower E
3b – Lower Central
4a – Lower W
4b – S

Plumas National Forest (main page)
MVUM (as of 06.09.11 these seem to be waiting final approval)
Belden Area – NW
Taylor Lake Area – N Central
Antelope Lake Area – NE
Frenchman Lake Area – E
Graegle Area – E Central
Bucks Lake Area – W Central
Jarbo Gap Area – W
Sly Creek Reservoir Area – S

Tahoe National Forest (main page)
*As of 06.09.11 there are no MVUM for Tahoe.

Eldorado National Forest (main page)
Georgetown Ranger District (front / back) – NW
Pacific Ranger District (front / back) – NE
Placerville Ranger District (front / back) – Mid/SW
Amador Ranger District (front / back) – Bottom/SE

Stanislaus National Forest (main page)
The Stanislaus maps are below, but I’m not sure that there are any dirt trails anymore that run through the park and connect to Eldorado, the next park to the north. As of 06.13.11 I don’t know of any.

Summit Ranger District (front / back) – NW
Calaveras Ranger District (front / back) – NE
Mi-Wok Ranger District (front / back) – SW
Groveland Ranger District (front / back) – SE



American Trails
another one

Leave a Comment

We are not evil! If you do choose to include your email above, it will not appear on the site with your comment, nor will we spam you or sell your address, it's just a way for us to (potentially) respond to you directly.