I was lucky enough to run all of the Jeep Badge of Honor trail systems in the East Coast recently – over a three month period – with the exception of New Hampshire’s Jericho Mountain (closed during the winter). These trails are located in nine states.
Part 1 will cover Jeep Bade of Honor trails in Pennsylvania, Virginia & West Virginia. Upcoming reviews will categorize each by trail system size, difficulty levels, private or public ownership, and cost. But first …
So you bought a Jeep and want to go off-roading, but where do you find trails?
One convenient, enjoyable, and perhaps addicting place to look is Jeep’s Badge of Honor (BoH) that identifies over 60 trails across 24 states. This free program is available to all Jeep owners regardless of model. Simply download the app, provide some information to include your VIN #, and you’re off and running.
When you’ve completed a BoH trail, you check in on the app and can request a hard badge that looks similar to a dog tag which you can mount on your rig. Jeep is pretty good about getting your hard badges in the mail. There are occasional back orders for popular trails, but no complaints since it’s a free program.
The BoH app provides general location and information and also rates trail difficulty (1 to 10 with 10 being the most difficult). Jeepers can add reviews and pictures which others can like. My advice is to use the BoH app as a starting point and do additional research on the internet before you head off on an adventure. Driving all the way to a closed trail or one that’s too difficult would be a bummer. Call or email ahead!
A general rule of thumb is the private parks are more expensive than the public National Forest trails. However, the former offer more amenities such as good maps, convenience store, air, and wash stations. BoH trails have some naming inconsistencies. For example, some locations have more than one BoH trail badge (PA, TN, AL), the entire system of trails may be the badge (GA, FL, SC, WV), or a specific trail inside the area is the badge (VA, NC).
When you do go wheeling, bring a winch, recovery gear, basic tools and know how to use everything. Dig into some YouTube how-to videos if you’re unsure. This was my biggest mistake as I got stuck in a mud hole without a winch the day before Thanksgiving. I was luckily rescued by a group of side by side buggy Good Samaritans with winches. Fast forward a month later where I learned from my mistake. I got stuck again as both my front lower control arms got hung up on rocks.
No problem this time as I installed an aftermarket front bumper and winch. In addition to relying on yourself, a winch will give you more confidence to attempt harder trails. Finally, I’d carry at least a 24 hour supply of water and food if you wheel alone. Cell phone coverage can be spotty to non-existent and some of these trail systems are enormous. You can go all day without running into another human being so plan on Murphy’s Law!
Quick word of warning. East coast trails are tight, slick, and off camber so turn in your side mirrors. You run the risk of crushing your fenders and side mirrors as they both stick out the most, sliding into tall mud walls. The stock plastic fenders have these plastic clips that fail first on purpose. They’re cheap and not too hard to replace. Side mirrors are not cheap and will make you less safe and illegal back on the highway if they’re damaged.
The National Forest trail maps aren’t the greatest. I would have gotten lost in North Carolina and Georgia had a friend not recommended the Gaia GPS app. Don’t think I paid anything (there’s a premium version) and it displays on my center dash when my phone is plugged into the Jeep.
Now let’s get into the trail reviews!
Rausch Creek off road park (large system, easy to extremely difficult trails, private, moderately priced) is 45 miles northeast of Harrisburg. With over 3000 acres of trails, Rausch Creek boasts three BoH trails. Trail #11 is long and easy and allows you access to many other trails in the park. Crawler Ridge is a short and moderate hill with rocks while Crawl Daddy is longer and more difficult. Management recommends 35” tires for the latter while the former two can be done in a stock Wrangler (31” tires).
Rausch Creek has it all… deep water to the point you feel it moving against your floorboards (be sure your drain plugs are installed), big rock gardens, mud, and off camber chutes. One of their unique requirements is you cannot wheel alone so I signed up with a local guide company. I essentially paid twice, but the experience was well worth it. Park is big enough you could easily spend more than one day here wheeling.
Peters Mill Run (single & easy trail, public, cheap) is located in the George Washington National Forest near Front Royal and about an hour west of the DC area. This is a very short and extremely easy single trail. Any AWD vehicle with moderate clearance can tackle Peters Mill Run. You could probably run the whole thing in 2 Wheel Drive. The picture of these rocks is the hardest stretch. The $5 permit is available at nearby gas stations.
If you drove a long way just to hit this trail, you’d be disappointed so pack in other activities. This is beautiful country and near many other outdoor attractions such as Luray Caverns and Skyline Drive. During the warmer months, be sure to stop at Triple Crown BBQ and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a winery or distillery. My favorite is Copper Fox on the other side of Thornton Gap. Highway 211 coming over the gap will blow your mind.
Bearwallow (medium system, easy to moderate trails, public, expensive) is located a little over an hour south of Charleston. Run by the state, this moderately difficult and medium size trail system gets a bad rap for two reasons. You have to wear a helmet and it’s $50 per person. However, I mitigated both of these by taking off my full face motorcycle helmet once clear of the trailhead, went by myself, and got a half off military discount. Not a lot of rocks or off camber parts, but the trails are extremely steep with lots of mud and water. A stock Wrangler will have no problem with most of the trails (welcome center where you pay provides a really good map) and you can spend an entire day here. I really enjoyed Bearwallow, but a party of five would pay ten times as much and have to come up with five helmets.
Jeep Badge of Honor trails in this part of the East Coast have a great deal of variety that really surprised and humbled me. I really enjoyed myself and learned a bunch, especially gaining confidence wheeling in nasty mud. Hope you enjoy the reviews coming up soon in parts 2-5.
[This guest post was written by our good Jeep buddy and future partner Christian Mahler.]