Over the past few years some of the Southeast’s best public wheeling lands have been taken away from the people who loved them the most. This left many looking for new places to dig in their cleats and sparked an ever-growing trend that we are glad to see: privately owned off-road parks.
Skip Wilkenson created one such private ORV area in Laurens County, South Carolina. Known as the Gulches, this 80-acre wheeling haven has over 43 trails to accommodate every level of rig and wheeler.
Like most business, Gulches has felt the effects of the slow economy. To show support for Wilkenson and his incredible park, longtime wheeler and Big Dixie Boggers club member Paul Poplin decided to help give the park an economic boost. Using the power of the Internet, Poplin started the Save the Gulches weekend idea. It wasn’t long before the idea went viral and hundreds were geared up and ready to show support for this epic place to wheel.
Since we’re always up for a wheeling weekend and wanted to show support for a great park and excellent group of wheeling enthusiast, we loaded up our rig and headed south for a weekend of wheeling fun. So if you’re looking for another reason to get out of the house and want a great taste of some of the south’s most challenging terrain, then check them out at www.gulchesorvpark.com.
Jacksonville, Florida, native Brian Allen and what’s left of his ’96 Chevy S-10 made the long drive up to support the Gulches park. Now sporting a 5.3L V-8, 1-ton axles, and 42-inch Pit Bull tires, the mostly tube ZR2 was well equipped for some of the more extreme trails.
The most famous trail in the park is Papa Gulch. This off-camber valley climb is notorious for devouring windshield frames and has laid plenty of vehicles over on their side. We caught up with Chris Durham and his SRT-4 TJ just as he was making his way through one of the tightest spots on the twisty trail.
If mud bogging is more your speed, then Gulches has you covered. Though some of the property’s lower pits are considered bottomless abysses, at the top of the park there is a hole-and-hill pit that will keep mud lovers entertained for hours.
Bob Poore and his well-built ’89 FJ-80 were a blast to watch on the trails. Equipped with 35-inch KM2s, automatic lockers, and a host of body protection, the once luxurious SUV made for a capable and comfortable trail machine.
To help first-time visitors get the most out of their Gulches experience, the park provides a guide to show you around the trails, free of charge. We had Greg Jones and his $300 ’93 Jeep Cherokee guide our pack through some of the hot spots around the park.
The southern red clay is extremely grippy in some places, and when it’s mixed in with large boulders it’s not uncommon for it to lift a wheel on some of the hillclimbs. This classic Bronco’s front end bucked a few times before finally making it to the top.
There was no shortage of Suzuki Samurais on hand at the park. Their short wheelbase and small body made them perfect for squeezing around the bigger boulders and extremely nimble in the tight valleys.
Another familiar face we ran into at the Gulches was the father of the BFG Krawler, Gary Enterline. He and his son, along with a few diehard off-roaders from Michelin’s South Carolina facilities, were out enjoying the great trails and Carolina weather. Proof that the people who create your off-road cleats are actually wheelers just like you and I!
Following in his father’s tracks was Bobby Poore Jr. in a ’79 Toyota Land Cruiser. Using Gulches to test out his freshly finished FJ-40, the father and son team had a blast cruising over the natural and manmade obstacles in the park.
With most of the Gulches lined with trees, it’s not the most forgiving park for sheetmetal or fullsize rigs. And while the width didn’t always favor the larger rigs, the longer wheelbases on the pickup platforms helped tremendously with many of the parks steep climbs and ledges.
Tall ledges and rocky undercuts are some of the main challenges found at the park. And while plenty of tube buggies were on hand opting for some of the harder lines, there were also plenty of fun yet less extreme bypasses perfect for milder 4x4s.
Josh Canfield’s weekend was cut short when his ’04 Rubicon’s rear differential came apart while trying to power up this steep rock face. And while Gulches does have a welder on the premises along with a few extra tools and parts, Canfield’s ring-and-pinion fix would have to wait for another day.
Gulches ORV Park