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Trip Destination: BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route)

BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route)

Backcountry Discovery Routes are (mostly) dirt roads that traverse a state, generally designed south-to-north (with a few exceptions). They are a great way to experience varied landscapes and the main routes - while designed by dual-sport motorcycle riders - are generally friendly for stock 4WD rigs. Expert "alternate" sections can be a great way to get a little flexy and see some even more amazing scenery.

We try to run one BDR each summer and I'm commonly asked questions comparing one BDR to another. Most frequently, I get asked which BDR we liked the most, and how the difficulty of the various routes compare to one another.

Favorites

I'd say our favorite BDR (so far) has been the Wyoming BDR. The landscape through that entire state was just stunning, and as the first 4WD vehicle to run it, it was a special trip, for sure.

  • Second was the Nevada BDR. It had a really nice mix of terrain, and lots to see. Plus, it really embraced the landscape of Nevada for much of the route.
  • Next favorite would be the Idaho BDR. This was actually a great route with varied landscape and terrain (perhaps even moreso than Nevada). In fact, the southern half (through the Lolo Trail) of the IDBDR might give Nevada a run for its money. The northern end though was a bit bleh for us, which I suppose is understandable as there's not a lot of options up there as the state becomes super narrow.
  • The Utah BDR is a close runner-up to Idaho. It's an iconic route through a state that I argue won the landscape lottery - perhaps the best of any BDR. The only reason it ranks where it does for us is that we've visited much of it previously and we know that there's so much (more amazing) stuff just off the route.
  • Next would be the Oregon BDR. The northern half of this route (from Riley onward) is by far the nicer half, though the beginning of the route - to Summer Lake - is very nice as well. This one will always have a special place in our hearts because it was our first BDR, as well.
  • Fourth, the New Mexico BDR. Really, the highlights of New Mexico for us were the side trips, as oppossed to the BDR itself, but we very much enjoyed the side trips. The biggest issue with this one is that it wasn't at all what we expected, given New Mexico's abundant Native American Indian Heritage and dramatic landscapes. We felt like we were in the forest most of the time, and a California Sierra forest at that. (I love the Sierra, but I wanted NM in New Mexico!)
  • Last, (so far), the Washington BDR. I don't know if it's because this one is our home state and so we've done a lot of hiking around and know what there is to see, but we felt like this trip was a series of "tree tunnels." With so much greenery, the sights and views are limited (not that there aren't any, it's just that there aren't as many. All the greenery also means that historical elements - like cabins, etc. are less well preserved than they are in the more desert-y states.

So that's our list of favorites (again, so far).

Difficulty

As far as difficulty goes, I'd say that most-to-least difficult would be: ID, UT*, WY, OR, NV, WA, NM. Note - we ran all of them in the summer and were never stopped by snow or anything, so this is just a rating of the trails during "optimal" conditions.

* The Alternate Expert Stage 2 section of the UTBDR through Lockhart Basin is by far the most technical stage we've run. It's easily skipped by running the main Stage 2 route.

Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route (Apr 2024)

Running a BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route) this year is going to be a little different for us than it has been in years past, for several reasons. First, we'll be exploring a state that - due to its distance from home, or even Las Vegas where the Tacoma is now stored - we've done very little adventuring through. This should be a great thing, as one of the "problems" with the last couple of BDRs we've explored was that we were already reasonably familiar with what we'd encounter, making the trip less exciting. Second, we'll be running the route in…

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Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (Jul 2023)

As always, we wanted to run a BDR this summer, and I'd had my eye on Colorado or Utah as both are always beautiful states through which to travel. With record snowfall across the west, we realized a few weeks before our departure date that Colorado was completely out of the question, and even portions of the Utah route could still be blocked by snow. Still, the Utah BDR is an iconic route. Meandering 871-miles through the Valley of Gods, climbing the Moki Dugway, picking the perfect route through the rough roads of Lockhart Basin, and winding through four mountain ranges…

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Wyoming Backcountry Discovery Route (Jul 2022)

July 4, 2022. Just five months ago - almost to the day we set out - the Wyoming Backcountry Discovery Route (WYBDR) was released by the BDR organization. Totaling 967 miles and blocked by snow until summer, it winds through one of the last frontiers in America - some 48% of the state being public land - perhaps the most remote adventure of all the BDR’s created to date. As always, we wanted to run a BDR this summer, and I'd had my eye on Colorado or Utah as both are always beautiful states through which to travel. But the…

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New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (Jun 2021)

After doing the same thing annually - for five years running - it's probably safe to call it a tradition. Backcountry Discover Routes (BDRs) have become that for us. Oregon got us hooked, and after adding Washington, Idaho, and Nevada over the last several summers, this year we decided that we'd make a run at New Mexico. Weaving our way more than 1,200 miles back and forth across the Continental Divide, our elevation varying from 3500- to 11,000-feet, and with temperatures predicted to be 100°F (or higher) for much of our journey, we knew it was going to be quite…

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Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route (Jul 2020)

Nevada's BDR is known to be a bit different than some of the others. Most interesting is the temperature differential between the northern and southern ends of the route - even as the north is still covered in snow, temps in the south reach over 100°F. For that reason, a lot of travelers split the trip into two - doing the southern route in winter or early spring and the northern bit come summer. But not us; we're not that smart. Well no, that's not it exactly - it's just that the time we had to do the trip happened…

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Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (Jul 2019)

If you’ve ever wanted to travel endless twisty mountain roads, the Idaho BDR will throw corners at you for days on end. You also won’t get many digital interruptions because your cell phone won’t have reception on much of this route. It’s a true off- the-grid ride with plenty to see along the way! Starting in the historic town of Jarbidge, NV the route crosses range lands and then heads into the Boise National Forest and treats riders with views of Andersen reservoir and epic alpine camping at Trinity lakes. Tiny towns and treasures like Burgdorf Hot Springs make this…

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Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (Jun 2018)

It's not often that we end up on a trip in our own backyard. There are many reasons for that - there are amazing sights far and wide, adventurous friends are located states away, and of course the weather in Washington makes snow-free exploration tough much of the year. But when Joe got a 4Runner and mentioned that he and his wife (Daisy) wanted us to get them (and their 16-month old) out on their first trip, it seemed like a great opportunity to do something a bit easier and a bit more local. The WABDR (Washington Backcountry Discovery Route) fit that…

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Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route (Jul 2017)

Back in May (full trip), we'd attempted to run the northern 40% of the Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route, from Seneca to the Washington border. A day in, we chose a more reasonable goal: Seneca to Unity. And at day three, we called it quits - less than 50 miles from our start point. So you can imagine that we were excited for a second chance. Redemption as it were. Our plan was to run Route 5 - from New Pine Creek, California to Walla Walla, Washington - in a week. It would mean approximately 150 miles per day (assuming no…

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