There’s good reason so many songs on the radio today refer to a trip on those long, winding gravel roads. Whether it’s going for a weekend with a longtime friend, a significant other, or the entire family, who doesn’t look forward to a window down, radio humming, and no worries kind of escape every now and then?
Even country star Rodney Atkins tells us it’s as simple as diverting our typical drive home from work and turning on that gravel road that takes a bit longer but can be so much sweeter. The only thing local UTV, ATV, and side-by-side enthusiasts need to think about is which direction to go at the next fork in the road.
One might choose to take the road less known for beautiful views of Missouri fields with grasses waving in the wind or to take a gravel trail that leads down to the creek for a little fishing and wading with the family. Everyone finds the need to escape at times, but what most fail to realize is that the path to serenity is not always through a crowded airport or a 12-hour drive to the next destination; it can be found right in Missouri’s backyard. Welcome to the world of gravel roading.
There’s a time and place for well-planned family trips to the mountains, beach getaways with the girls, or the fishing trips every guy dreams of, but all these. trips take a lot of time, expense, and planning. Going out and exploring Mid Missouri’s gravel roads, on the other hand, doesn’t require a lot of time, expense, or planning and can take people places they have never been able to reach by car. For some, it is a relaxing trip down to the bottom, around the bend, and up the holler that can simply help them unwind and feel the wind. And for others, it can be an opportunity to see the beautiful Missouri countryside that most have never viewed before. While there are many parks that accommodate ATV, UTV, and side-by-side riding of all different levels, riders can go wherever the dirt road takes them. There are countless unpaved roads winding throughout the Mid-Missouri area. Finger Lakes State Park in Columbia and The Loop in Gravois Mills, which rests on private property, provide rolling terrain and trail adventures that cost anywhere from $5 per permit to $20 per driver for an entire day of exploring. Riders just need to bring a reliable ride and be ready to hit the road!
Getting there is simple. That’s the point, right? Riders can simply turn to their GPS on their phones. Google Maps, OnX Off road, ATVTrailz, and the Polaris trail apps can be great tools for riders as they venture out and some can also give a vehicle diagnostics in order to make sure all is running smoothly. If turning to tech to get away isn’t the ideal backroading adventure, riders can simply haul their off-road vehicles or rentals just a few miles out of town to find a backroad to explore. Information regarding trails, parking lots for unloading, and getting the journey started can be found on the Missouri State Parks website.
With the ride and the route planned out, what’s next? Gear! It is always important to think about attire on these off -road trips. A big part of picking the right attire is keeping in mind the weather and terrain. In cooler months, wearing layers can help riders stay dry and warm throughout the day. Packing hand warmers and extra hats and gloves is another good idea. During the warmer months, remember there will be streams and big mud puddles that may be too enticing not to go through; so rubber boots, water shoes, and even a swimsuit may be the way to go. Warm weather also calls for plenty of sunscreen and bug spray to keep the rays in check and the insects at bay. Also, try to store an old blanket or some towels inside one of the many storage areas beneath the seating. That blanket may come in handy for spreading out a tasty lunch at a stopping point or for cuddling under on the cooler ride home after sunset or after exploring a good creek or swimming hole. Storing linens in an airtight container or large trash bag can help keep out the inevitable dust, water, or mud.
When it comes to planning food and drink for the day, think about items that travel well and how much time is planned for hitting the gravel. If it’s just going to be a few hours of hitting the creek in hopes of catching supper, just pack a few snacks, a small cooler of water, and other refreshments. If planning a full day of exploring, try packing an easy lunch. An important thing to remember when packing food and drinks is that the trails and roads will likely be dusty. The use of tubs, coolers, dry bags, or other sealable containers are essential to keeping dust off a bag of trail mix or the brats and dogs planned for the picnic.
As with any motorized vehicles, AVTs, UTVs, and side-by-sides are subject to rules and regulations so everyone can use them and share the road safely. Before purchasing or renting a machine, be aware of the rules and regulations within the city and state in which it will be driven. The Missouri State Highway Patrol website is a great first stop for knowledge about safely hitting the trails. For general safety precautions, check into wearing helmets and packing a first-aid kit. When it’s time for that next adventure, don’t be afraid to let those worries fl y with the dust while taking in the rejuvenating air of the countryside.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
While off-road vehicles are becoming more popular than ever, the safety aspects of these machines are often overlooked. Operators should be at least 16 years old and trained to operate the vehicle being driven. All side-by-sides are equipped with safety belts that should be used by all passengers. There are also three-point harnesses available for more aggressive off-road adventures. Many side-by-sides come equipped with netting to keep arms and legs inside the roll cage in the event of a roll over. It is advised that all occupants. wear helmets and eye protection while riding. Many small towns now allow side-by-sides, UTV’s, and even some ATV’s to be driven on public roads. These machines are not designed to be on-road vehicles, and many are not equipped with road tires or turn signals. They are also short and
narrow, which makes them more prone to tip over – especially at high speeds. Take the time to think about what the vehicle is being used for. Some models are. designed to be workhorses, and others are designed for fun outings with friend. Workhorse models usually do not go as fast and do not have long-lasting travel suspensions. Other work/sports models are designed to be a little of both. This is often the most popular model as people can work with them all week and still have some fun on the weekends. Lastly, the sports models will have powerful engines and long travel suspensions with a lot of ground clearance. They come in both two or four seat models.