How to Drive Backroads – Enjoy the scenery, have fun and be safe

How To Drive Backroads In Central California

How To Drive Backroads In Central California

Driving the back roads is relaxing and enjoyable, taking in scenery that is unspoiled and seldom seen. There are some challenges, but with a few tips and the advance preparation we share here, your trip can be enjoyable and uneventful.

At first blush, this may seem to be a silly topic, but there really are things to take into consideration when driving in the country or on rural back roads.

Top tips for driving backroads:

1. Top off your fuel tank
2. Check your spare tire
3. Get a good map
4. Let someone know where you’re going
5. Slow down
6. Don’t swerve for animals
7. Take along some food and water
8. Enjoy the drive!

This is a real sign, on a real road. No Photoshopping. Don’t ignore!

How to Drive Backroads: The “Dead Zone”

Beautiful AND no cell service on this back road
No, not the Stephen King novel, but the truth about cell coverage in rural areas.

Your cell phone service provider may not have coverage in the area of your backroad drive. It happens. Here where I live, there is only one network that provides service. That’s it!  And even with my network, there are large dead zones where there is no coverage whatsoever. Not much to do about it, but realize that you might not be getting any bars out in the country.

That’s why a good map (in physical form) is a good idea.

Your GPS will be able to get a fix, but with no data service available, I’ve found that my smart phone can’t pull up the map information. A stand-alone GPS with resident maps will probably be OK, but you get the idea. If you have one of these road maps, and can get GPS coordinates, you can find where you are.

You might have OnStar and rely on it for navigation. As I understand it, the regular navigation and phone links work through standard cell towers. It doesn’t always work on backroad drives. We had it and found that out the hard way. The emergency portion relies on satellites for its uplink and generally works anywhere. Another reason to have a good map.

The bottom line is to let someone know where you’re going, even if it’s just a general idea.

No gas station here...A very nice place AND no gas station

Top Off Your Gas Tank

The first thing to take into account is that there may not be a gas station near your destination. I live at least 25 miles from the nearest gas station and many are the drivers visiting this area who just assume that if a locality has a name, it must have a gas station.

Not so. Gas up before starting any backroad drives.

How to Drive Backroads: Around the Bend

Slow moving farm equipment blocking the road

You never know what’s around the next bend in the road. That’s a good thing (mostly) and something to be alert about.

It’s good because the vista may open up to a most beautiful view.

If you are driving in an agricultural area (and that’s not always easy to tell) farmers move large equipment from field to field on the roads. Some of their rigs take up both sides of the road.

Cattle being driven down a back road

Or, there may be a herd of wild pigs crossing the road right in front of you. You may even encounter a cattle drive right down the middle of the road (no, I’m not making this up). You just don’t know. It makes things interesting. But be cautious.

wild pigs

The pigs, by the way, don’t ever look both ways and they assume they ALWAYS have the right of way. Some of them can weigh over 300 pounds and can cause quite a bit of damage to your car.

Deer sometimes get spooked and jump out right in front of you. Yes, it’s happened to us several times and they too can cause lots of damage.

If you see deer on the side of the road and can slow down, do so. They haven’t a clue which direction they will go until they are in motion. We’ve seen a group disperse in four separate directions!

Driving Backroads In An RV

If you are driving the Central California backroads in an RV, all these tips certainly will apply to you as well. However, there are considerations specific to large RV’s.

The truth is, however, that while I have a dual rear wheel crew cab pickup (about 22 feet overall length – Big!) and often tow various trailers, I’ve not driven an RV on these or any other roads. And that’s something entirely different.

So, we are calling in a specialist for RV driving tips – Bernie Martin at the great website – – has “been there, done that” and will give you the pointers that will keep you safe.

My wife and I have been thinking about getting an RV and when we do, Bernie’s great site is the resource we’ll use to get us up to speed quickly. I recommend you do the same.

How to Drive Backroads: Be Humane – To Yourself

Ground squirrels seem to dare each other to run across the road in front of cars. It may seem harsh and cruel, but the safest strategy is NOT swerving to avoid them (see the photo here of someone who DID swerve. They were most fortunate that the car stopped where it did!).

Every year or so we hear of an accident and even the occasional fatality caused by swerving to miss the squirrels. The squirrel is not worth it. You don’t need to aim for them, and generally they do make it across the road, even going right under your car.

Just keep in mind that they won’t visit you in the hospital or even send you a get-well card…

How to Drive Backroads: Road Kill Cafe

Turkey vulture with a six foot wingspan

Turkey vultures (as well as ravens, crows and magpies) make most of their living eating road kill. They provide that service at no charge to the county, and often they are reluctant to move off the road as you come by, only flying off at the last second and into your windshield.

Not nice.

Don’t assume they will move.

Slow down.

How to Drive Backroads: “Debris Ahead”

You won’t find the above warning on roadsigns generally.

Just recently here we had a full-on 24 hour windstorm that knocked out our power and tore down tree limbs everywhere.

I was quite cautious the following morning driving into town since I was quite sure that there would be some of those limbs in the roadway.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Be cautious.

How to Drive Backroads: Be patient

You will encounter other vehicles and some will be moving more slowly than you.

Most of the byways on your backroad drive won’t have painted center lines so you have to be careful when passing.

Folks around these parts are generally polite and will move over if they see you behind them. Just be aware that they will have their right side wheels off the road and can kick up rocks into your windshield and crack it.

And yes, this has happened to us more than once. Just back off a bit as they move to the side.


It’s really not that much different than driving anywhere else, is it? Just some more things to consider and watch out for. Keep these in mind and you’ll have a great time.

Enjoy the drive!

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