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.
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).
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.