VW Vanagon (1979 -1990)
It’s the classic VW bus, but with a better, water cooled engine (that means the heater works). With high clearance, the Vanagon is pretty off road capable, especially with chains.
Price: These old babies have held their value. Well maintained models from the mid-80’s still bring close to $10,000 on Craigslist. That said, many can be found for much less if you’re willing to do some work.
The Good: The Vanagon is huge inside and carries up to seven passengers in reasonable comfort. It has all kinds of conversion potential. If you are lucky, you may even find one of the Westfalia camper models.
The Bad: Can you say underpowered? You will always see the Vanagon in the far right lane, creeping up mountains at a snail’s pace. Saving grace is first gear is really low, so it will always get going.
It was manufactured between 1979 and 1990, so you’ll be looking at an old model and should be ready to wrench her.
Why Vanagon: These vans have classic styling, tons of room and can handle easy off road conditions with their high clearance.
Chevy Silverado (1999-2006)
The Silverado was named Motor Trend’s “Truck Of The Year” four times since its introduction in 1999 and has two distinct generations, before and after 2006. The new models are nice, but hard to find under $10,000 and 4×4. The ubiquitous full size Chevy is available in many trims and configurations that should fit any taste in a back roads explorer.
Price: Nice Silverados under 200,000 miles should be easy to find between $5,000 and $10,000. Newer models under $10,000 will likely have high milage.
The Good: Silverados are big trucks, but they are pretty easy to drive and are remarkably comfortable inside. This is a full sized truck, and thus a 4×4 model will get you anywhere you should need to go. Feeling frisky? Beef it up with a lift and go get weird. Want a camper? Slap on a topper and toss in a mattress. Boom.
The Bad: Well, they are kind of huge. You won’t enjoy parallel parking in downtown Denver. And filling the tank? Ouch.
Why Silverado: If you’re looking for a full sized pickup, this is one great choice that is easy to find at a good price on the used market.
Toyota Corolla (2000’s)
Why, you ask, is the measly Corolla on this list? Because I’ve taken one on more adventures than any car other I’ve ever owned, and I still own one to this day — it’s nicknamed the “Off-road-ola.” It often gets chosen over my truck for one serious reason: Gas milage.
Price: $2,000 give or take
The Good: Cheap, reliable transportation that is remarkably spacious for two adults. The back seats fold down to allow long items (skis) to fit in the trunk. Stick on a bike rack and you can carry a full summer’s worth of camping gear with no trouble.
And you better believe this thing can off-road (ok, within reason).
The Bad: It can’t REALLY off road. It’s a car. Factor in the price of a roof rack; you’ll need it!
Why Corolla: If you are strapped for cash, a Corolla will get you there reliably for very little money. Want to road trip to Yosemite with a bunch of climbing gear? Turn the key and go. Need to drive from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean for some R&R? Turn the key and go. These things are tiny little tanks that run on a little fuel and crossed fingers.
So those are some of our favorites. Yes, there are tons (literally any) of vehicles that can get you into, and hopefully out of, adventure. Got a favorite, too? We’d love to hear your story.