46,629. For simplicity’s sake lets round that up to 50,000. That’s roughly the total mileage of unpaved roads in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania combined. 6,543,616 – lets call this one 6.5M – or more accurately the number of acres of Federal Land in those 4 states.
So why the raw numbers? Simply to highlight that there are more opportunities to get off the beaten path in the East than you might think. The Eastern US gets over shadowed by the wide open expanses and sheer magnitude of the West. I get it – I love to travel and take in the above-tree-line vistas in Colorado, awesome emptiness of Nevada and post card worthy sights of Idaho and Montana. But there is something special about the dense forests that line the ridges and valleys of North America’s oldest mountain range – the Appalachians – that can’t be found elsewhere.
To efficiently take advantage of all the great eastern public lands by road takes some heavy lifting in the research and planning department. Googling yields the same old tired, blown out jeep roads, or worse – no real results at all. People really in the know don’t share much online – the epic track logs tend to stay off of the cloud and out of public circulation. Ideal backcountry camping spots become closely guarded secrets amongst friends. And that’s ok – because the most rewarding outings are often the ones you personally pour over to plan and make happen. You also are more likely to know what you are actually getting yourself into, unlike blindly following someone else’s track log. Let’s look at those numbers a little more closely and talk planning resources…
State Roads: 9,610 Miles of Unpaved State Secondary Roads.
National Forests: 1.8M Acres of National Forest in the George Washington and Jefferson NF.
Forest Roads: 1780 miles of year round or seasonal roads open to the public.
State Roads: 11,766 Miles of Unpaved County Roads.
National Forests: 921K Acres of National Forest in the Monogahela NF.
Forest Roads: 570 miles of year round or seasonal roads open to the public.
State Roads: 16,500 of Unpaved State Secondary Roads.
National Forests: 513K Acres of National Forest in the Allegeny NF.
Forest Roads: 836 miles of year round or seasonal roads open to the public.
State Roads: 4,470 of Unpaved State Secondary Roads.
National Forests: 1.25M Acres of National Forest in the Nanthala, Pisgah, Uwharrie and Croatan NF.
Forest Roads: 1,052 miles year round or seasonal roads open to the public.
To map out a solid route – be it a day trip or week long excursion – you will need some good mapping resources, information and determination. The last decade has led to a paradigm shift in how USFS roads are managed. Long story short – roads are assumed closed unless marked as open on official maps. All Forests have recently gone through Transportation Use Analysis and the USFS has released Motorized Vehicle Use Maps – maps detailing legal routes in the forest . What this means is that detailed, granular digital road / trail data is available – but you need to dig if you want good information. Usually it takes some Google–fu and a few phone calls – but more information than you ever wanted is out there. It’s surprising what can be found on obscure government servers……
Want to find the rougher, scenic routes in the Allegheny National Forest? Comb through their Roads Analysis Report and keep an eye on segment length and maintenance level. If you are interested in roads suitable for high clearance vehicles – look for ML2 roads that are marked as open here. Also keep in mind that ML3 roads often slip into ML2 conditions – so those can be interesting as well. Then markup the interesting ones on the MVUM here.
How about the longest, two track road in the George Washington National Forest? Take some time pouring over the massive road data set here from their recent Transportation Use Analysis. Again keep an eye on maintenance level 2 & 3 roads, length and closure status. From there you can highlight the found routes on the MVUM here.
A similar exercise can be done with the Pisgah National Forest – with roads data here and MVUM here.
If you are curious as to how the USFS classifies thier roads give this a read. The cliff notes version is that open ML2 and ML3 roads are usually the most interesting – rocky, native surfaced roads and two track to single lane gravel. ML4’s are usually two lane, compacted gravel and ML5 is paved. All are head and shoulders above the daily pavement commute for most of us.
Every forest in the East has this sort of highly detailed road data available – some make it easy to to get online – in other cases it will take a phone call or visit to the to the forest HQ. Where things get real interesting is when you connect these Forest Roads with forgotten, often unpaved backroads for multi day trips. I’ll cover in detail mapping resources, finding the right backroads and the technical aspects of planning in future posts.
Ethan Holshouser says
Whatever happened to the follow-up article(s) you mentioned? I looked through the archives and couldn’t find them, were they ever published?
Thanks for following the blog. A follow up was never produced, but thanks for the input. We’ll definitely start working on one now!
Great article, I wanted ask you what tools you used to build you route on the computer and download them to hand held devices. Looks like you will cover that in follow on articles.
very interested to hear more about this subject.
This would be a great resource to have for those of us planning future trips. We have been trying to track down information about Pisgah’s ML2 roads for a while now without luck.
We’ve got more details in the works, thanks for the feedback!
Great write up.
Thanks Vance – I appreciate that. Those that don’t know – Vance has probably covered more ground in the local forests than just about anyone.
And even that’s an understatement.
One of my favorite articles thus far! Thanks guys.
Thanks Cody, will follow up with more articles expanding on route planning, mapping and all the good stuff.