Backpacking on Four Wheels: Overlanding in Missouri

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Solitude and scenic views. You can find plenty of both on an overlanding adventure in Missouri.

Defined as self-reliant travel to remote locations, overlanding is often combined with camping for a multi-day journey into the wilderness. Because overlanding focuses heavily on self-sufficiency, rigs are equipped with all the essentials needed for a trip.

Think of it as backpacking on four wheels.

The origins of overlanding date back more than a century, but it has become more popular in recent years as a new way to explore the outdoors.

Although a four-wheel drive or high-clearance vehicle is not required, it is highly recommended in order to handle the range of terrain you’ll likely encounter – from well-maintained gravel roads to rocky water crossings. Some vehicles are outfitted with winches and recovery gear for extra-rugged experiences.

For overnight trips, simple camping equipment will take care of your basic needs. Overlanding enthusiasts often add roof-top tents, kitchen setups, awnings and solar panels to their rigs.

Southern Missouri is a perfect place for an overlanding trip. The Mark Twain National Forest is full of roads that travel through towering oak, hickory and pine forests. With more than 1.5 million acres of public land, the area provides plenty of room to roam. Be sure to research your route before heading out. The Motor Vehicle Use Map on the US Forest Service website is updated annually and can tell you if a road is open to motor vehicles or not.

It’s recommended that you travel with at least one other vehicle in case you run into problems. If you find you’re not comfortable continuing down a route, turn around. Be sure to stay on the roadway and respect and protect the surrounding terrain.

For a taste of overlanding, try the Glade Top Trail, Missouri’s only National Forest Scenic Byway. The 23-mile gravel road is a relatively easy drive that runs across narrow ridgetops above the rolling countryside near Ava. Considered one of the most scenic routes in the state, the road cuts through part of the Mark Twain National Forest and borders the Hercules Glades Wilderness Area. Seven pullouts feature panoramic views of the Ozarks.

A number of companies in Missouri offer overlanding gear and advice including:  Overland Addict in Nixa, Ozark Overland Outfitters in West Plains, Axleboy Offroad in St. Louis and Adventure Motors in Grandview.

Ultimately, overlanding is what you make it. Whether you prefer a mild off-the-beaten-path experience or a more challenging adventure – it’s an exciting way to enjoy the Show-Me State’s natural beauty.