As outdoor enthusiasts, we’re all about taking on the most grueling off-road challenges in our favorite side-by-side. And we imagine you feel the same. So we’ve got some questions for you. Do you thrive on all types of terrain, from rocks to mud to sand? Do you refuse to back down from extreme weather conditions when you’re behind the wheel? Do you love putting your abilities and limits to the test? If your answer to all of these questions is “heck yes,” the TransAmerica Trail is for you.
The TAT is a grueling but breathtaking collection of trails spanning the entire continental United States. It’s a challenge reserved for serious riders who are comfortable with pushing boundaries and doing what most other people can’t. Today we’re talking about what kind of trials the TAT provides and the immense preparation that goes into making this journey. Are you up for the challenge?
The TransAmerica Trail takes overlanding to a whole new level. Deemed “the cross-country adventure of a lifetime,” the TAT is a collection of trails across America’s lower forty-eight that’s open to dual-sport motorcycles and 4×4 vehicles. These aren’t your average trails—the TAT was mapped out with the most passionate and experienced off-road enthusiasts in mind.
Following the entire collection of trails will take you across 5,000 miles of mostly off-pavement travel across the United States. You’ll experience scenic vistas, unique attractions, and challenging conditions while traversing dirt, brush, rock, sand, mountain terrain, river crossings, swamps—in other words, just about any type of terrain you can think of.
Official navigation almost exclusively utilizes public roads, with the exception of some spans of private property. In these instances, the owners have given their express permission for their land to be used by TAT riders. The maps are constantly being updated to reflect road closures or change in land ownership.
Currently, there are four routes on the official TransAmerica map, all of them traveling from east to west: the main route, the Shadow of the Rockies Spur, the Atlantic Ocean Spur, and the Pacific Ocean Spur. The main TAT route begins in West Virginia and ends in South Dakota, but the three additional spur routes allow you to extend your journey even more. Adding one or all of these can turn your route into an ocean-to-ocean journey, literally taking you from sea to shining sea.
Sam Correro is a motorcycle enthusiast whose goal in 1984 was to chart an epic off-pavement cross-country trail. He spent twelve years surveying and covering thousands of miles of ground. He studied countless maps and detailed his travels every step of the way. After over a decade, his findings became known as the official TransAmerica Trail.
Correro’s efforts were prompted by his passion for motorcycles, meeting new people, and off-road exploration. When he realized that others were passionate about these same ideals, he began the process of making his trails available to the public.
Now, over thirty years after his initial charting, Correro still rides the entire TAT on a regular basis. Navigation resources are constantly being updated to keep up with any changes that may take place, and to make the trail even longer and more exciting for riders. It truly is a living, breathing legacy that he is still very much involved with to this day.
Following the entire TransAmerica Trail can take anywhere from four to six weeks, depending on your pace. It’s a huge time commitment and there are an unbelievable number of challenges along the way. You can’t just wake up one day and decide, “Hmm. I think I’ll set off on the TAT today.” But say you do want to tackle this journey at some point—where do you even begin?
The first step should be determining when you want your ride to take place. You need to give yourself several weeks (or maybe even months) to prepare. Pinpointing when to ride largely depends on which trails you want to cover. If you intend to take the entire cross-country journey, make sure to plan in accordance with the weather. For example, if you want to cross Colorado, Utah, and Oregon, make sure to do so between late June and early September, when snow in the high passes is at a minimum. At the same time, you may not want to traverse Utah or Nevada in the summer months, when the desert gets entirely too hot for comfort.
You also want to make sure you’ve got plenty of time on your hands if you’re planning on conquering the entire TAT. Like we said, the time commitment here is at least a month. But that estimate is based on the average rider covering 200 miles a day using official navigation resources, riding from 7 AM to 6 PM each day. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, you’re looking at even longer than a month. The time commitment is just another reason why planning ahead is key.
The TAT in its entirety is 5,000 miles—even more with the spurs added to your route. It doesn’t have to be that long of a trip, though. You can jump in at any point along the trail and as long as you are traveling from east to west, the navigation resources will carry you as far as you want to go.
Maps can be purchased on the official TransAmerica Trail website for anywhere from $8 to $298. You can purchase maps by state, by individual loop, or as an entire bundle. You also have the option of customizing your own shorter route by selecting how many days you want the ride to be (two, four, or six) and then picking which loop(s) you want to cover. Maps and roll charts can be sent to you via snail mail (either as a hard copy or on an SD card) or emailed digitally.
NOTE: It’s strongly recommended that you not purchase TAT navigation resources from anywhere other than the official website. This is the only way to ensure that you are following the safest and most law-abiding route possible. Some individuals have been caught distributing GPS files claiming to belong to the TAT, but these unofficial maps take riders through unauthorized lands. This can result in some pretty unhappy landowners and/or riders being issued unwanted citations by law enforcement.
Purchasing navigation resources directly from TAT also shows respect to Sam Correro and the decades of work he has put into making these maps available to the public.
Once you’ve planned your route and purchased your maps, it’s time to equip yourself with the proper navigation technology. Purchasing TAT maps gets you maps and roll charts, and some include GPS tracks as well.
It is possible (yet risky) to follow the trails using roll charts only. If you’re relying solely on roll charts during your journey, you’ll obviously need a standard roll chart holder. It’s recommended that you load one day’s worth of directions at a time, changing it at the end of each day to prep for the next leg of your trip.
You know what they say, though—just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Roll charts are an easy and convenient way to navigate, but we don’t recommend putting all your faith in them. Unexpected conditions like downed trees, flooded paths, or road closures can result in the need to reroute. In these instances, having a reliable GPS for backup is a must.
Make sure your GPS is updated and has enough memory to run something like MapSource or BaseCamp—both free resources that can be downloaded from Garmin’s website. Whichever software you go with, make sure it can support GPS tracks in addition to routes. Tracks are what you get when you buy maps from the TAT website.
What’s the difference, you ask? Great question! Allow us to explain.
You also want to make sure you have a solid understanding of latitude and longitude before setting off on your journey. Many of the trails along the TAT are pretty remote, with no cell service. Even if you have routes and tracks pre-loaded onto your GPS, it’s good to cover all your bases and be as prepared as possible. You never know when you’ll need to rely on a good, old-fashioned paper map.
Speaking of cell service, the last thing you want when taking on the journey of a lifetime is to find yourself stranded in the desert (or the mountains… or the woods…) with no way to call for help. In this case, you’re going to want a reliable two-way radio to reach out in case of an emergency. You can never be too prepared.
So you’ve marked your trip on your calendar, purchased the TAT maps, set up your navigational resources, and purchased a two-way radio. Congratulations! You’re still only about halfway done (if that) when it comes to preparing for the TransAmerica Trail. We told you this was a long process… but it’ll all be worth it!
Packing is a true art form on trips like this. There’s a fine line between packing too much and not packing enough. You want to be self-sufficient and prepared for anything that comes your way, but at the same time, you’re traveling on a motorcycle or UTV. Either way, your cargo space is limited when you’re on the go. So pack smart!
Pro tip: do as much as you can ahead of time. You want to set out in a machine that’s basically like new. Remember, you’re going to be putting a lot of miles on this machine over the next month—5,000 miles, to be exact. That requires some preparation in advance.
Before you leave, we recommend investing in new tires, new brake pads, a fresh oil change, and a clean air filter, just to name a few. You’ll definitely have to fix or replace some things along the way, though. When maintenance is needed, call ahead to the closest town and see what your options are. If you’re traveling out west, specifically in the Utah area, you’re in luck! Moab is roughly the halfway point of the entire trail, and there are plenty of opportunities to schedule repairs or replenish your gear while you’re there.
You did it! You’ve successfully planned and prepared for an exciting adventure through the TransAmerica Trail. The planning doesn’t stop here, though—even during your journey, you’ll want to plan out each stop, day by day, to ensure that things run smoothly.
Some legs of the TAT have plenty of gas stations nearby, while others will leave nearly 200 miles in between. That’s a lot of miles between fueling up! If you can’t get at least 200 miles out of your tank, you need to carry spare fuel. Even if it does, always plan for the worst and fill up whenever possible—even if you still have half a tank left. Also, when planning for gas station pit stops, remember that some gas stations close up for the night. This means you need to use extra caution when riding into the evening hours.
The cool thing about the official TAT navigation resources is that they include names and contact information for volunteers along the route. These businesses and individuals have agreed to offer food, water, shade, and even lodging to riders following the TAT.
There are also plenty of hotels and motels on your route, although these aren’t marked on the TAT resources. You’ll have to do your own research if you plan on staying in a hotel each night. And don’t forget to make a reservation ahead of time, especially if you’ll be arriving later in the evening. You can’t count on there always being a vacancy when you need one.
Of course, camping is an option as well. There are plenty of camp sites located along the TAT—some on volunteers’ properties, others at campgrounds, state parks, or national parks. Again, remember to plan ahead instead of just showing up and expecting there to be somewhere for you to pitch a tent for the night.
Don’t forget to take plenty of photos and document your journey, day by day. The TransAmerica Trail is an unforgettable experience that you’ll want to relive again and again (until it’s time to do the adventure all over again). Your pictures and daily journals are a great way to keep the memory of this trip alive, and they can also serve as valuable resources for other off-road enthusiasts hoping to follow in your footsteps.
Speaking of documenting the journey, our buddy Hubert Rowland from Nitro Circus dominated the TransAmerica Trail in August of 2017. Click here to read a day-by-day account of his group’s travels. You might pick up a few tips along the way!
As recommended, Hubert and his buddies put in countless hours of preparation before setting off on their journey. Part of that preparation included outfitting their three machines—a 2017 Polaris General, 2017 Polaris XP 1000, and 2017 Polaris XP Turbo—with parts and accessories from SuperATV.
Here are some of our parts that helped them successfully navigate the TAT:
All of that planning paid off, because after all was said and done, Hubert told us he wouldn’t change a thing—except for maybe one.
“I would give myself more time,” he said. “We rode from nine to fourteen hours a day for twenty-nine days straight. There was no time to see things.”
And with the TAT taking you near some of our country’s most breathtaking views and stunning national parks, making time to stop and take in your surroundings is a must.
Hubert has two more pieces of advice for anyone who plans on embarking on the TAT: “Plan for all conditions,” he said. “And be ready to pay fines and tickets in areas that aren’t UTV friendly! It doesn’t matter how your UTV is tagged.”
He’s right—the way your side-by-side will be received on the trails depends on the local laws, which can differ greatly based on which state you’re in. According to Hubert, whether or not law enforcement will honor your tags varies from county to county (and sometimes even from town to town). Our advice? Make your machine as street legal as possible and be willing to comply with law enforcement in case of any misunderstandings or holdups.
Being able to say you successfully navigated the most impressive collection of off-road trails in the United States makes all of the prep work and grueling 10+ hour riding days worth it. Hubert and his team wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, and they’re already looking forward to doing the ride again someday.
Thirty-six years ago, Sam Correro set out to chart the most epic off-road adventure in the country. He was prompted by his passion for the outdoors and his love of connecting with other like-minded riders. We can only imagine the sense of pride and accomplishment Correro feels today, knowing that those years of exploring, charting, and mapping have turned into an elaborate collection of trails that are enjoyed by off-road enthusiasts all across the country, each and every day.
Have you or someone you know ridden through the TransAmerica Trail, either in part or all the way through? Tell us about it in the comments!