The Hale Creek Rec Site has two entrances- the Northern route, usually called the "Easy Way", and the Southern route or "Hard Way". In the fall of 2017 this labeling got a little confused, as culvert removal on the Northern route made it nearly impassable for long wheelbase vehicles. After a few months the ditches created by the culvert removal got rounded off, making the Easy Way possible again for any near-stock vehicle with decent ground clearance.
The Hard Way into Hale is really not that hard and can be easily driven by near-stock vehicles that have a short wheelbase and decent ground clearance. For example a Jeep YJ on 30" tires can go through with no difficulties at all. Small SUVs with 30" or taller tires can also go through easily, however scraping the underside is possible and their is a small risk of banging rocker panels on the rocks. Going slow with careful spotting should keep any contact with the rocks to areas that won't take damage such as frame rails. The longer and lower a vehicle is the more likely it is to encounter problems, and longer rigs such a near-stock trucks would be best to have Rock Rails in order to avoid damage if a mistake is made. The obstacles on the Hard Way consist of hills with loose rock, a couple of small spots on hills that are deeply rutted with rocks sticking out, and the "Rock Garden" featured in the photos. Naturally the hills are far easier if you are traveling down rather than up.
Going downhill there are a couple of popular lines as you enter the garden.
I prefer to straddle the rut coming in, putting the driver side tire on a ledge half way up the rock outcropping and running the passenger tire over the large rock on the passenger side. The advantage of this line is that you keep the rocks under the areas of your rig with the most clearance, and by starting to the driver side and turning left around the rock outcropping as soon as your rocker panel is clear you get a better angle on the following right turn toward the exit. The pictures show this approach. The disadvantage of this line is that if you turn left too soon you risk hitting your driver side rocker panel, if you wander too far right you could slide off the outcropping onto the drivers rocker, and really low rigs could touch the underside of the body on the large rock on the passenger side after the front tire comes down off it.
The other popular option is to start with the driver tire in the rut and the passenger tire going over the right edge of the large rock. This puts you in a situation where you are far more likely to hit your frame on the rock, however it reduces risk to your vehicle's body. The other downside of this line is that you still need to get your driver tire onto the rock outcropping on the driver side as you turn left, and vehicles with limited wheel travel often need a small push due to being stuck dangling with opposite corner tires a couple inches off the ground. Even though there is a much higher chance of getting stuck, many spotters prefer to send rookies on this line because a mistake is less likely to cause damage.
Going uphill the Rock Garden is only minimally harder than it is going downhill, however now the rock outcropping is on the passenger side, making it much harder for the driver to judge exactly where the passenger tire needs to be. If you are not confident of your line you should either have a good spotter or get out and check your position. The rutted spots on the hills are actually the tougher challenge, as stopping to check your line will make it hard to get moving again. Low tire pressure and controlled steady momentum is the key.
Photos by Benny Lin