Feb 27, 2020

Overlanding 101 – An out-of-this-world road trip through California

This post is sponsored by Visit California.

[dropcap2_large]T[/dropcap2_large]his month I embarked on my first overlanding trip. I’ve never been overlanding before but was familiar with the term. I teamed up with Cypress Overland and Visit California to build an out-of-this-world road trip of my dreams through my home state of California. Today I’m spilling all the details so you can plan your own out-of-this-world California road trip.

Pisgah Crater, California

First of all, what is overlanding?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.

Trona Pinnacles, California

What gear do you need?

Overlanding vehicle
The most important part of any overlanding trip is the vehicle. For this trip I partnered with Cypress Overland in addition to Visit California. We had a Cypress Overland FJ Cruiser for the week. It comes pre-equipped with almost everything you need for an overland trip, including; sleeping area, camping gear, equipment, kitchen setup, cooler, silverware and cookware. The only thing we really needed to pack was clothes, food, water, sleeping items (you can rent these if you need to), and firewood. For more information and to rent your own, please be sure to visit their website.

Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin Salt Flats, West Side of Death Valley National Park, California

Where did we go?

My goal for this trip was to camp in parts of California that are a bit wilder. I wanted to see parts that reminded me of another world. To get the full effect of it, camping was very necessary. There’s so much of the experience that you miss by sleeping disconnected from nature. Being able to watch the sunset, eat, sleep, and roll out of bed and watch the sunrise in a beautiful place was important to me. The tent on top of the FJ Cruiser was so easy to set up, by the end of the trip we had it up and down in about 5 minutes flat.

Pisgah Crater (overnight)
A perfect little-known spot to explore lava tubes and enjoy out of this world views. If you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle (such as our Cypress Overland FJ Cruiser), you can drive to and camp at the top. If you don’t, you can still park at the bottom and do plenty of hiking.

Red Rock Canyon State Park
A small state park with lots of places to explore. The Red Cliffs Natural area is a great place to stop for a quick hike and some photos along the way. There is also restrooms, a picnic area, and a campground in the park if you’d like to extend your stay.

Trona Pinnacles (overnight)
An unusual geological feature that consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Lake basin. The entire area is part of the Bureau of Land Management and you can access or camp for free. There is a small bathroom near the entrance and the roads range from non-4wd to 4wd with high clearance to ATV vehicles only.

Zabriskie Point
A very popular stop in Death Valley National Park. Do yourself a huge favor and instead of hiking up to the “observation area”, take the nature trail to the right. You can hike for miles or only a little to get a great view and better explore the area with less tourists.

Badwater Basin
Another popular spot in Death Valley, if you want to see more pristine salt flats you’ll have to walk about 20 minutes from the parking lot to get to them. Bring water and take your time.

West Side Road (overnight)
We headed out after our sunset stop at Badwater. You aren’t allowed to camp along West Side Road, but on the side roads you can after about a mile. We slept about 2 miles up Trail Canyon Road (GPS 36.306237, -116.938232) and did not have much time to scout a spot since it was dark. The night was pretty windy so we left as soon as morning came.

Natural Bridge Trail
A day use area in Death Valley Natural Park. It can get quite busy mid-day. As soon as the sun was up we headed to this spot to cook breakfast and hike. By the time we hiked out photos with the arch without other people in them would have been hard. I love that we were able to stay so close and head over so soon to have the place almost all to ourselves.

Ubehebe Crater
A crater you can hike around and to the bottom of. There is also a smaller one that looks cool too. We did not get to stop here because we misread the map where a road was closed (oops), but when we return in April we will for sure make a stop. The road to it is paved.

Eureka Dunes (overnight)
A magical place in Northern Death Valley that is way less popular and less trafficked than the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Of all the places we stayed the night, this was my favorite. Due to some extra driving we arrived just before sunset and explored the dunes. There are tracks of small critters and easy areas to access that don’t have human footprints. At 680 feet tall, they are the tallest dunes in Death Valley and the second tallest in the country. There is a small campground here that is free and fills on a first-come basis. There is also a restroom. Most of the road from the west to here is paved, and some is dirt with some washboard. Depending on the condition you may need 4wd.

Keough’s Hot Springs
A very simple and easy to find hot springs resort that happened to be along our route. The entry fee was $12 and the hot springs were well worth the stop. We decided to go with these instead of finding natural springs nearby to save on time.

Lake Mono
Another great stop on the out-of-this-world California tour. Though the tufa here are much smaller than Trona Pinnacles, the lake has a different feeling entirely and felt just as other-worldly. Camping on the lake is not typically done but there are plenty of seasonal camping areas nearby.

Natural Bridge Trail, Eureka Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park, The Moon

What did we pack?

The kitchen is well equipped (even comes with propane!) and the cooler kept our food plenty cold with a few ice refills along the way. We packed food for the both of us and cooked breakfast & dinner with an easy lunch/snacks in between. My goal for when we cooked was to wash as few dishes as possible so we used less of our water stash. My biggest advice when it comes to food is to not forget to pack the extras like salt & pepper, and sauces.

Some breakfast & dinner ideas:
Breakfast burritos (same tortillas for dinner burritos!)
Pancakes with pre-made pancake batter
Teriyaki Bowls (use pre-cooked rice to warm up in the same skillet)
Pasta and sausage
Sausages and potatoes
Hot dogs & chili

The car comes equipped with a 20L water container which we filled up before we left. We still had about 1/4 of it left when we got back home and although we were not conservative with our drinking water we were conservative with it for other uses such as dishes and washing up.

Layers are always essential on an outdoors trip because it can be much cooler at night than during the day. We packed mostly active clothing, though I did have a light sweater and my puffer jacket. I also packed a pair of sandals and a swimsuit for the hot springs.

Sleeping Gear
We packed our own pillows and sleeping bag, but you can also rent gear from Cypress Overland as well.

It’s best to stop along the way and buy wood locally. Most gas stations that we visited had wood. Keep in mind that in order to run a propane stove or build a campfire in California you will need to obtain a campfire permit. It’s very easy and can be done online.

Mt. Whitney & Mono Lake, California

What are our thoughts?

My husband joined me for this trip and we both absolutely loved it. The ease of having everything we needed at our fingertips and being able to move around easily made everything worthwhile. We can’t wait for our next overland trip and my husband has been stalking rooftop tents for his future car, haha.
Overlanding 101 at Death Valley National Park - An out-of-this-world road trip through California

West Side Death Valley National Park (36.306237, -116.938232)

Have you been overlanding before? Any tips to add?

Thank you so much to Visit California & Cypress Overland for partnering with me on this wild California adventure.

Expand Comments

Beautiful photos, especially the one with starry night! Have never heard of “overlanding” before, thank you!

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