4x4 Vehicles and Off-Pavement Travel Safety

Ranger assists motorist with broken down vehicle
A breakdown can easily ruin a trip. Here at Parashant, unless you have a satellite phone or messenger, make sure someone back home knows where you are going so they can call for help if you don't return. Take supplies to last a few days in case you are stranded. Some roads here only get a few motorists on them each month so don't count on another person 'coming by' to help you.

NPS - J. Axel

 
Car stuck in deep water and mud on an unpaved road
Several bad decisions were made one cold winter day. 1) Cars just don't belong here. 2) The driver should have turned around. 3) He lacked tools, food, and warm clothing. 4) No one knew where he was. It took 3 days to find him down this remote road. He was covered in mud and severely hypothermic.

St. George Police/St. George News

Parashant is a scenic wonder but it also is one of the last truly remote places in the United States. A visit here means leaving the safety net of the modern world behind.

The information that follows is not designed to scare potential visitors out of visiting the monument but remind everyone that traveling into Parashant isn't to be taken lightly. Rangers want to be sure motorists understand that travel here requires specialized vehicles, equipment, and planning to avoid or recover from a mishap. The fact that you are reading this means you are the right track as you prepare for a safer visit to the monument. Thank you! Please contact us at the number on the bottom of the page if you would like to discuss with a ranger your particular equipment, skill level, and trip plans.

You are responsible for your own safety and you must be able to self-rescue. Appropriate vehicles and equipment in good working order and adequate supplies are critical. Roads are narrow and winding. Travelers need to be prepared for their trip and understand the guidance below. All roads are unpaved and of varying difficulty. While not prohibited, cars, minivans, crossover SUVs, and RVs are not the right vehicles for travel in this monument.

A high clearance 4x4 with tires designed for off-pavement use is the most important safety item you need. Most rescues involve vehicles with multiple flats where rocks ripped up tires only rated for street use. Other reasons include vehicles getting stuck in mud or high-centered on uneven road beds, or vehicles suffering some kind of mechanical breakdown.

Scroll to the bottom of the page for definitions of terms like "All-Terrain" tires, "high-clearance vehicle," or what a "short wheelbase" is.

Recommended Equipment and Supplies:
  • Return plan filed with friend or relative and Parashant’s contact phone numbers.
  • 24-hour EMERGENCY or MISSING PERSONS (702) 293-8998 (Lake Mead)
  • Non-emergency (435) 688-3200 during business hours.
  • Shovel to smooth off cut banks or dig out of sand
  • Jack to lift vehicle with a base that can be set up on rocky or sandy ground
  • All-Terrain spare tire
  • Extra food, water, and any needed medications to last several days
  • Hot/cold weather clothing
  • Satellite Phone or Satellite Messenger such as a Garmin InReach

 
Jeep on washed out road going across ditch
Most monument roads aren't this bad, but some are! Be ready to turn around if your vehicle isn't designed for this sort of road.

NPS - J. Axel

 
Visitor using a satellite phone
Only satellite phones and satellite messenger devices work here. There is no cell service available.

NPS - J. Axel

  • USE ROADS AT YOUR OWN RISK. Roads into the Arizona Strip are all unpaved and lead to ISOLATION. They do not lead to visitor centers, cell phone service, hotels, stores, or gas stations. Depending on the time of the year and the roads you are on, you may not see another vehicle the entire time you are out there.
  • While VERY RARE, PEOPLE HAVE DIED HERE while many others were rescued just in the nick of time. They didn't fully appreciate the risks, traveled in a vehicle not equipped for the conditions on a remote seldom traveled road, or didn't let anyone know where they were going. They lacked a satellite communication device to call for help and didn't pack enough equipment, warm clothing, food, or water.
  • Road Guide: Do not overestimate the capability of your vehicle. Some roads are fine for stock high clearance 4x4 pickups and SUVs. Others are so rough they should only be attempted with a UTV. Tow bills often exceed $2,000. Rangers are happy to provide you advice about a trip plan or to discuss your equipment. Contact Us
  • Always assume the road will get WORSE ahead. If it gets too rough for you, turn around!
 
Road Conditions
  • Due to the sheer size of the region and the number of roads on the Arizona Strip, it is not possible to provide updated travel conditions. Expect and be prepared for poor conditions. Don't go if it looks bad or rain is forecast.
  • Summer Weather: During the summer monsoon season (June - September), it is better to travel in the morning. Storms usually occur after 1pm.
  • Winter Snow and Ice: Planning on travel in areas above 5,000 feet? Check road conditions with a ranger. Contact info at the bottom of the page. Roads at this elevation may be saturated from rain or snow and impassible for weeks. There are very few people in higher elevations in winter to help you if you break down. Temperatures can drop well below freezing. The short days of winter surprise hikers who may need to finish their hike by headlamp.
  • Cattle: This is ranch country. Expect cattle standing in the road on blind corner and especially in the dark. Black cows on a moonless night have resulted in many accidents where people were driving too fast for the conditions.
  • UTVs (also known as Side-by-Sides): Look out for fast moving UTVs and dirtbikes. If a UTV driver flashes a number at you with their fingers, this means there will be that many UTVs coming behind them.
 
Car with flat tire in Hidden Canyon on rough 4x4 road
This crossover SUV is the wrong vehicle for most of the monument and has the wrong tires. This motorist had almost reached one of the roughest 4x4 roads when the tire blew out. Notice the thin pavement-only tires and spare tire that wouldn't have lasted more than a few miles over sharp rocks.

NPS - J. Axel

4x4 Vehicle Terminology:

All-Terrain/Mud Terrain Tires: For full size vehicles the ideal tire is a good condition E-Range All-Terrain tire. Examples of All-Terrain tires include BF Goodrich AT/KOs, Cooper ST-Maxx tires, Firestone Destination ATs, etc.This is a tire that has a very thick rubber tread, more flexible rubber, and much stronger steel belts inside the rubber to handle driving over rocks. Load range E is equivalent to a 10-ply tire, where there are 10 layers of reinforcement in the tire. Load Range D tires are equivalent to 8-ply tread, and C is equivalent to 6-ply tread. You also want 3-ply sidewalls on your tires as the rougher roads have rocks along them that will rip open thinner sidewalls.

Mud-terrain tires are not effective at handling mud on the Arizona Strip. The local clay packs into the spaces between the knobby treads like peanut butter. It isn't flung out by the revolution of the wheel like watery mud in other regions of the country. Mud-terrain tires turn into slick, smooth donuts that have no traction in mud in this area.

Rugged Spare Tires: If you plan to spend a lot of time on unpaved roads, your vehicle needs at least one All-Terrain spare tire. Most stock spare tires are thin and will blow out after only a few miles on a rocky road. Do you need 2 spare tires? Motorists occassionally scrape and rupture the sidewall of a front tire against a rock along the road. Then before they realize what happened they also rip open the sidewall on the rear tire on the same rock. This has caused many double flats.

Street Tires: These are normal automobile tires. They are designed for pavement only. Their rubber is thinner than all-terrain tires. The rubber is more stiff, and often equivalent to 4-ply tread with 1-ply sidewalls. Street tires may ride more comfortably on pavement and last longer but they are far more likely to rupture off-pavement.

Rental 4x4 Warning: Rental 4x4 trucks and SUVs often come with street tires not designed for off-pavement use. Just because the vehicle is a 4x4 doesn't mean it has the right tires. Check the sidewall to see if it says "All-Terrain."

Tire Pressure: Many new vehicles including pickups come with tire pressures up to 75 pounds per square inch. This is very high pressure. Many off-road motorists lower their tire pressure to well under 40psi when traveling on rough roads, then fill the tire back to recommended pressure when they return to pavement. The risk with highly pressurized tires on unpaved roads are blowouts. As tires go over rocks they are so rigid from the high pressure they can't flex and absorb rocky surfaces, so instead they rupture.

What is the difference between a 4x4 and All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicle? True 4x4 vehicles have a 'transfer case' in the drivetrain that puts full engine power to the front wheels. All Wheel Drive, common on vehicles like crossover SUVs, relies on a 'differential' to send variable power to each wheel. AWD is good on level road beds in low traction conditions like snow. It is not designed to fully power the front tires in off-pavement rugged situations. For example, if the road goes up a steep hill and there is a lot of loose rock in the road, fully powered front wheels are needed to rotate strongly and pull the vehicle up the slope. AWD cannot do that very well and may fail.

High Clearance: Any factory stock full or mid-size 4x4 pickup or SUV. Lifted 4x4s have extra high clearance to accomodate taller tires. Running boards, step bars, and plastic bumpers can get ripped off when going over rough sections. Vehicles like a Subaru Forester can be considered Medium Clearance and is acceptable on main Parashant roads so long as they have off-pavement tires.

Low Clearance: Any car, minivan, RV, or SUV Crossover. None of these are designed for Parashant's roads, even with off-pavement tires as they sit low to the ground and can scrape off engine components like the oil pan.

Short Wheelbase: These are vehicles where the front and rear axles are closer together. This includes SUVs like a Jeep Rubicon, Toyota FJ Cruiser, or Chevy Tahoe, as well as 4x4 pickup trucks with a short bed (less than 6' long) and a regular cab. Short wheelbase vehicles create a situation where the rear tires start to climb a hump in the road or obstacle before the front tires go down the other side very far. This lifts the center of the vehicle up and over the hump preventing scraping.

Long Wheelbase: These are vehicles where the front and rear axles are further apart. This includes Chevy Suburbans or 4x4 pickups with a crew cab and/or long bed (see image of red truck below). The risk with long wheelbase vehicles on the roughest roads is that when going over the top of a hill that drops steeply on the other side, the center of the vehicle may high center and get stuck before the rear tires have a chance to climb the obstacle and lift the back of the vehicle.

Entry/Departure Angle: Short wheelbase vehicles simply are less long, making getting through a wash easy. Long wheelbase vehicles may be too long and hang up on the front or rear bumper.

Bumpers: If you have a stock front bumper look at how close the bumper is to the ground. On rough 4x4 roads, hazards like boulders, deep ruts, or hard centerline ridges in the road can rip off the bumper. Vehicles designed for rugged off-pavement use have had the lowest parts of the front bumper's air dam removed, or a custom bumper installed that is much higher off the ground. If you drive into a wash at a steep down angle down that suddenly pitches up to leave the wash, this presses the bumper into the roadbed, which will scrape and damage the bumper.

Running Bars/Step Bars: Like low bumpers, these bars along the vehicle are used to step easily into a truck or SUV. They reduce clearance and can be damaged or ripped off on rough roads.
 
Truck with multiple flat tires
This long wheelbase truck is the right vehicle for much of Parashant, but it had street tires that were not All Terrain rated to go off pavement. Believe it or not this vehicle had THREE tires that went flat in one day. Two All-Terrain spare tires are recommended in Parashant.

NPS - J. Axel

Last updated: August 12, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790

Phone:

(435) 688-3200
Phones are answered Monday - Friday 7:45 a.m. - 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. The center is closed on Sundays as well as all federal holiday with the exceptions of Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Contact Us