Forest Service Roads National Forests

Can You Ride ATVs and UTVs on Forest Service Roads?

Cruising around in an ATV or UTV is one of the most popular ways to explore everything that our National Forests have to offer. A large part of that is thanks to the great network of Forest Service roads.

Can you ride ATVs and UTVs on Forest Service roads? Both ATVs and UTVs are allowed plenty of access on U.S. Forest Service roads, as they are considered Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV). Access typically depends on the width of your OHV, as vehicles wider than 50 inches are classified separately. Motor Vehicle Use Maps provide more information about access.

Now that we’ve got the short and sweet answer out of the way, let’s dive into the details and cover everything you need to start using your ATV or UTV on U.S. Forest Service roads.

Determining Which Forest Service Roads are Open to Your ATV or UTV

Before we get started, I think it’s important to stress that riding ATVs or UTVs on Forest Service roads requires a fair amount of diligence. From reading the local regulations to remembering to check if a road is open before heading out, there’s a lot of keep in mind.

What You Need to Know Before Getting Started

There are a few things to check before we start looking for your specific rules and regulations.

I briefly mentioned it earlier, but ATVs and UTVs are both considered Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV) according to the U.S. Forest Service. You’ll be seeing this acronym a lot, so just be sure to remember that it’s a catch-all category that covers everything from ATVs to UTVs to even dirt bikes.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the Forest Service employs vehicle classifications in order to make the rules simpler. It’s possible that a specific National Forest has more complicated categories than this, but the two categories that ATVs and UTVs fall into are the following:

  • Off-Highway Vehicles <= 50″ Wide
  • Off-Highway Vehicles > 50″ Wide

As such, you’ll want to know the width of the ATV or UTV that you plan on driving. The majority of ATVs will be less than 50″ wide, but many UTVs are going to be wider than that.

Finding the Rules and Regulations Regarding ATVs and UTVs for Your National Forest

Each National Forest will have different rules and regulations surrounding the use of ATVs and UTVs on Forest Service roads, so you’ll have to do some digging.

First things first, go to the U.S. Forest Service website and select your National Forest from the drop-down menu on the right side of the screen. Once you’re on the website for your specific National Forest, you’ll need to find the ‘Recreation’ menu item on the navigational menu found on the left side of the screen.

Click this and then find the ‘OHV Riding & Camping’ item in the menu. This is approximately what you’ll find when you click through to this page:

screenshot of us forest service website with the OHV riding and camping section visible

Most National Forests are structured like this, in that they organize info on OHV riding by the type of activity you’re interested in. Looking through these pages will give you a better idea of the types of opportunities that exist in your National Forest.

You’ll be able to find a list of locations in the National Forest that allow that type of activity. Occasionally you’ll be able to find detailed information when you click through to the location-specific page, but that doesn’t happen often.

Read Everything You Can in the ‘OHV Riding & Camping’ Section

With all of that said, the best thing you can do for yourself is to browse through all the material found in the ‘OHV Riding & Camping’ section of your specific National Forest’s website.

This will alert you to any special rules that may be in place, and is just a best practice in general. Also, it’s possible that you could learn of unique opportunities for ATV or UTV riding, as they would likely be found in this section. This section usually isn’t too long, so it’s well worth the read.

Learn How to Use a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM)

Here’s the deal: if you’re interested in riding your ATV or UTV on Forest Service roads you’re best served by getting comfortable with Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs).

These maps look intimidating at first, but they have almost everything you need to get started safely riding. Each map will serve a different region and outline the specific rules and regulations that apply to each of the Forest Service roads shown on the map. Needless to say, this is a very important skill and is sure to save your butt at one point or another.

If you want to learn more about MVUMs, check out this post that contains step-by-step instructions on how to make the most out of them.

Using the Interactive Visitor Map to Find Open Forest Service Roads

There’s no doubt about it: technology has made it a lot easier to navigate the complicated system of Forest Service roads. This is best demonstrated with the Interactive Visitor Map, an application built and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.

Open the Map and Select Your Relevant Layer

Once you’ve opened up the Interactive Visitor Map in your browser, you’ll first be presented with the following screen:

screenshot of the interactive visitor map menu option from the us forest service

As you can see at the bottom on the menu, we’ve got two different categories that might be applicable for our purposes:

  • OHV > 50 Inches
  • ATV/OHV <= 50

This is why we first verified the width of your ATV or UTV. The majority of ATVs will be under 50″, but you’ll have to confirm the width of your specific vehicle. I’ll assume that we have an ATV that is less than 50″ wide, so we’ll select the bottom-middle icon.

How to Read the Map for Our Purposes

Next, we’ll want to zoom into the National Forest that we’re interested in exploring. Once you reach a certain point your map should start to show the Forest Service roads and look something like this:

screenshot of us forest service map in interactive visitor map highlighting open roads of ohvs in yellow shading

There are a couple of things you’ll notice here:

  • There are a few different colors of shading applied to the Forest Service roads (yellow and red)
  • Some of the roads use different types of styling
  • There are small icons scattered throughout that are attached to different roads

Let’s go over exactly what each of these mean. The first thing we need to do is to expand the Legend, which is found on the left side of the map. This is about what you should see when the Legend is open:

legend of the OHV section of the interactive visitor map provided by the us forest service

You’ll note that the color shading is used to depict the status of a road. Roads that are shaded red aren’t open to this class of vehicles, while roads shaded yellow are open for use.

The other thing that you’ll notice is that the styling of the road line refers to the type of road present (paved, gravel, dirt, etc.).

Getting Additional Information on Specific Roads

Once you’ve found a Forest Service road that you’re interested in, you might have the opportunity to click on an icon that is attached to that road.

Here’s the kind of information you can expect to see from one of these markers:

screenshot of an information window in the interactive visitor map from the us forest service

You’ll note that the there’s a variety of information available for this road. If you scroll down you’ll find more information on the type of road, the segment length, and the type of vehicles this road is designed for.

Other Things to Keep In Mind

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it’s our responsibility to ensure that the Forest Service road we drive on is currently open to our vehicle. Many roads have defined seasons, and these seasons are selected for a variety of important reasons.

For example, a National Forest might not allow ATVs or UTVs on certain types of roads in the spring, as the wet conditions could do unnecessary damage to the roads.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you enjoyed this piece and found some helpful information while reading.

If you are interested in reading more on similar topics, here are some articles you might like:

Forest Service Roads National Forests

What is the Difference Between National Parks and National Forests?

It’d be quite understandable if you get a little mixed up when talking about either National Forests or National Parks. I mean, they both start with the same word and they’re owned by the federal government, right?

What is the difference between National Parks and National Forests? National Parks are usually designed to protect very unique natural features and landscapes, such as the Grand Canyon. National Forests are more plentiful and cover much more land, as they are designed to protect forests as a whole while offering recreational opportunities and producing timber.

While I personally tend to be more of a National Forest guy, in this post I’ll go over the differences between the two. Both are incredibly valuable in our efforts to protect the natural landscapes, but they generally serve very different purposes.

How They Are Managed

While both are areas of land that are managed by the federal government, National Forests and National Parks are managed for very different reasons.

National Forests

Right off the bat, we arrived at one of the clearest distinctions between the two. The National Forests in the United States are managed by an agency called the U.S. Forest Service, a part of the United States Department of Agriculture. This should provide a pretty good idea of what’s so different about these two. As you may guess, National Forests are managed more with utility and recreation in mind.

Regarding what utility means, you should really think about forest products such as timber and other related timber products. In comparison, National Forests cover almost four times as much land compared to National Parks. Despite having more land, the U.S. Forest Service has a lower budget per acre.

National Parks

On the other hand, National Parks are managed by the National Park Service, which falls under the Department of the Interior. Generally speaking, the purpose of National Parks is to protect an exceptional natural resource and the land that surrounds it.

While the National Park Service has less land to cover, they have higher budgets and employees when you look at it from an acreage perspective. What kind of areas are covered by a National Parks? Think of locations that are very well-known to the average American, such as Crater Lake or the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. These locations typically have a unique feature or landscape that draws people in from all sources.

As the National Parks are structured to protect such resources, they are generally meticulously maintained, and you’re a little bit more restricted in what you can do there.

How They Are Used by the General Public

While National Parks are great places for anyone to visit, National Forests tend to offer a mix of visit of recreation and utility that’s worth taking advantage of.

National Forests

National Forests are open to a wide variety of activities: everything from fishing to hunting to ATV riding and so on. While some of these things may be possible in National Parks, you can generally expect that you’ll deal with far fewer restrictions when in a National Forest.

A good example of this is foraging: almost every National Forest allows foraging of some kind, but a significant portion of the National Parks doesn’t allow foraging at all.

You can also generally expect to pay less in fees when visiting a National Forest. in fact, the vast majority of a National Forest is almost always open for free visitation. If you are interested in simply being around forests and spending time in nature, National Forests are likely a great fit for you.

National Parks

You can do many things in a National Park, but almost all of the activities are centered around the idea of visiting that location. Think of things like hiking, camping, or even visiting learning centers.

The idea is that visitors to the National Parks shouldn’t expect a certain level of engagement with the natural surroundings around them. Time spent in National Parks is better reserved for appreciating and admiring these amazing natural resources preserved by the National Park Service.

Geographic Distribution and Size

You can expect both National Forests and National Parks to cover large areas of land.

National Forests

Simply put, National Forest covers a lot more land when compared to National Parks. This makes sense, as one of the main purposes of National Forests is to help protect forests in general, not just specific areas of beauty. The National Forests in the United States cover more than 190 million acres of land, from 154 designated locations.

Most of that land is out West, but a fair amount of National Forest is distributed through the rest of the country. This isn’t necessarily the case with National Parks, but National Forests are more accessible to people in the country’s remaining parts.

National Parks

Although it’s still a lot of land, National Parks cover much less land as the 62 designated National Parks cover just over 50 million acres. The vast majority of the National Parks are located at West, making sense when you think about the unique geography associated with the western part of the United States.

Once again, the purpose of National Parks is generally to preserve natural features or landscapes that are particularly beautiful and unique.

What Kind of Lands They Protect

The type of land that is covered by each is one of the most significant distinctions between the two. As much as I love my National Forests, they just don’t usually have the incredible geography that’s often the main feature of a National Park.

National Forests

Much of the land designated as National Forest was less suitable for agriculture but perhaps quite suitable for forests. These lands are almost exclusively second-growth timber, which means that they were initially logged at some point, and very little old-growth trees remain.

Despite being mostly second-growth forests, there are still many mature forests present throughout our National Forests. Many of these lands were acquired in the early 20th century, and therefore the second-growth forests may be more than a hundred years old.

National Parks

Typically, what you see in a National Park is a natural feature or grouping of incredibly unique features prized by the public. The National Park typically consists of these features and then a wide range of land surrounding it. On the other hand, some National Parks are designed to protect a unique landscape itself.

A great example of this is Isle Royale, which is a remote island in the middle of Lake Superior near the Canadian border. This landscape is not unique from a geographic standpoint, but its size and location allows it to be and incredibly interesting experiment in predator and prey dynamics.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a thing or two about the great opportunities present on federal lands. Whether you’re interested in National Forests or National Park, there are plenty of ways for everyone to spend time in nature.

If you’d like to read other articles that are similar, here’s some you might want to check out:

Forest Service Roads National Forests

Can You Ride Dirt Bikes on Forest Service Roads?

Got a dirt bike and find yourself interested in taking a good old-fashioned forest bath? If so, the Forest Service roads you see running through your local National Forest might be a great opportunity for you.

Can you ride dirt bikes on U.S. Forest Service roads? Many Forest Service roads in National Forests allow are open to use with a dirt bike. Forest Service roads may be open to dirt bikes only in specified seasons, and some National Forests may limit the kind of activities a dirt biker can participate in.

With that being said, keep reading if you’re interested in learning more about how to make the most out of our National Forests with your dirt bike.

Determining Where You Can Ride Your Dirt Bike in a National Forest

When trying to figure out where you can ride your dirt bike in the National Forest, the unfortunate reality is that you have a good amount of reading to do. While you’ll have to carefully read the materials that your National Forest provides, the U.S. Forest Service does provide some great tools to help you along your way.

This post will cover step-by-step instructions as to how this information can be found, as well as what you need to know to make the right decisions.

Understand How the U.S. Forest Service Classifies Your Dirt Bike

The first thing to understand before we begin is that the U.S. Forest Service considers your dirt bike to be an Off Highway Vehicle, otherwise abbreviated as OHV. You want to keep this in mind while you’re browsing the website of your National Forest, as this will be the best spot for you to get relevant information.

The most helpful information regarding how your National Forest classifies dirt bikes will likely be found in a Motor Vehicle Use Map, otherwise known as an MVUM. You can find more information about how exactly to use MVUMs in this post that covers them in great detail.

What Riding Allowed is Highly Specific to Each National Forest

As you probably already know, what opportunities you have to ride your dirt bike in a National Forest is highly dependent upon the specific National Forest that you’re interested in. Therefore you must know the local rules of that forest before you start using its vast network of roads and trails. Not everything will be open to dirt bikes throughout the year, and it’s your job to understand what roads are open to you at the time.

You can generally assume that you’ll be prohibited from traveling off-trail or off-road while in the National Forest. Most locations keep dirt bike travel to specific roads or trails, but there are exceptions to this. If you’re looking to ride your dirt bike and don’t necessarily want to be confined to the trails, you’ll be looking for something referred to as ‘OHV Open Area Riding.’ This doesn’t appear to be available in many locations, but it could be possible in your National Forest.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to go to the website of the U.S. Forest Service and select your specific National Forest from the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the screen. This will take you to a website devoted to that National Forest, and then you’ll want to find the recreation menu item in the navigational menu on the left side of the screen. After you click through to this part of the menu, you want to look for an OHV riding and camping menu item that might look like this:

screenshot of the recreation menu for a us forest service site with a red arrow pointing to the OHV Riding and Camping menu option

Please note that not every National Forest has the section listed in the recreation part of the menu. This may very well indicate that your opportunities for riding dirt bikes in this specific National Forest may be limited. Assuming you do have that option in the menu, you’ll be presented with a screen that may look something like this:

screenshot of the OHV riding and camping page of a us forest service site

There may be additional text presents on this page, but you can at least expect to have several OHV links present on the page, as you see in the above screenshot. These different lengths cover the different types of activities that are available to off-highway vehicles in this National Forest, so you want to click through to the areas that interest you the most.

One other thing to note is that the right-hand side of the screen may have a menu that contains links you might want to check out. These could be links for additional applicable regulations, riding clubs, or specific trails dedicated to motor vehicle usage.

When you click through to a specific site, you’ll likely be presented with a page that looks something like this:

screenshot showing a list of OHV road riding areas of a us forest service location

If you click on the links for the individual locations listed on this screen, it is possible that you’ll find greater details about that location. However, this doesn’t appear to happen very often, as the majority of locations merely list that that activity is an available option.

Your Best Bet: Read Everything You can Find in the ‘OHV Riding & Camping’ Section

With all that being said, the best thing you can do before riding your dirt bike in the National Forest is to spend the time needed to read all the different rules and regulations found on the website. What you might encounter is highly variable from one National Forest to another, so it’s quite difficult to summarize effectively.

I’ll be the first to admit that reading the rules and regulations isn’t my favorite activity in the world, but it’s an essential part of using these tremendous resources responsibly. It’s also a good opportunity to find out interesting and unique things that might be offered by your local National Forest.

How to Use the Interactive Visitor Map to Find Open Forest Service Roads

The Interactive Visitor Map is an application maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Its job is to take the Motor Vehicle Use Maps’ relevant information and turn it into an interactive and searchable platform.

Finding Forest Service Roads Open for Dirt Bikes

To use the Interactive Visitor Map, you’ll want to open this link, and you can expect to get a screen that looks like this:

screenshot of the menu of the interactive visitor map from the us forest service with the dirt bike option highlighted in red

You want to select the dirt bike option on the lower right-hand side of the menu, and then zoom in to your area until you see Forest Service Roads on the map. Once the roads are visible, the first thing you want to do is expand the legend, which is found on the left side of the map. This will contain all the information that you need to find local roads open for dirt bikes.

screenshot of us forest service map in the interactive visitor map with yellow shading on the roads open to dirt bikes

Ultimately, we’re looking for Forest Service roads or trails shaded in either a yellow or green hue. Green shaded trails indicate that they are open for dirt bike use at the time and that they are ultimately maintained for dirt bikes. On the other hand, yellow shaded trails indicated that Forest Service road is currently open to dirt bike usage.

Getting Information Regarding That Specific Road

Once you find a Forest Service road that you’re interested in learning more about, you can look to the Legend on the left to learn more about that specific road. The styling that you see applied to the road will indicate how the road is constructed.

screenshot of the legend of the dirt bike option in the interactive visitor map from the us forest service

For additional information, you’ll want to find an icon on the map that looks like a trail marker, and you want to click it. This will bring up a window of information that corresponds to that specific forest service road.

information pane of a forest service road in the interactive visitor map

You will see the seasons available for the different classes of vehicles and other relevant information about the road’s grade or the length.

Reasons Why a Road Might be Closed to Dirt Bikes

You might be noticing at this point is that a lot of Forest Service roads are not open to use by dirt bikes. There are many possible reasons why a road may not allow dirt bikes, but here are some to keep in mind.

Generally speaking, you can assume that any national forests that experience wet springs will do what they can to ensure that their roads received minimal damage at this time of year. You might also run into temporary closures resulting from storm damage or related to ongoing construction, which is why it’s always a good idea to check the interactive visitor map before heading out.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found this article valuable and that you came away having learned a thing or two.

If you’re interested in other articles on similar topics, you should check out the below links:

Forest Service Roads National Forests

Can You Park on Forest Service Roads?

Forest Service roads are in many ways the unsung heroes of our amazing National Forests. With the ability to connect us to vast areas of wilderness, they are a wonderful tool for those looking to get a little wild.

Can you park on U.S. Forest Service roads? Many National Forests allow the parking of vehicles on U.S. Forest Service roads, though parking rules are maintained by each specific location. These rules can often be found under the ‘Dispersed Camping’ section, found in the ‘Recreation’ menu.

Next I’m going to show you what you need to keep in mind when determining whether you can park on Forest Service roads.

How to Determine if You can Park on Forest Service Roads

At first, you might believe that all the National Forests would have one single policy regarding parking, but the reality is that each location has its own unique challenges and demands.

As such, your best bet when trying to figure out if you can park on Forest Service roads is to go local and check with your specific National Forest. While there are national standards, they don’t necessarily apply to each location.

Also, it’s important to have your specific use in mind when trying to answer this question. As you can probably guess, parking on the side of the road for your morning hike is a much different situation than leaving your vehicle on the side of the road for 14 days while practicing dispersed camping.

Your Best Bet: Check the Rules of Your Local National Forest

The easiest way to check the local rules of your specific National Forest is to go to the U.S. Forest Service website and select your local National Forest from the drop-down menu.

Next, you’ll be taken to a homepage, and you’ll have to find the navigation menu on the left side. This navigation menu is consistent for all National Forests and Grasslands, so you should expect something like this:

screenshot of the side menu of the chequamegon nicolet national forest web site

Even if you don’t plan on doing dispersed camping, the best bet for you to find local parking rules is to locate the dispersed camping rules section. This can be found by going to the ‘Camping & Cabins’ menu item after opening the ‘Recreation’ area and then looking for a link that says ‘Dispersed Camping’ on the next page.

If you manage to find this page, you’ll likely have to expand the text at the top of the screen to see the full rules that apply in this National Forest:

screenshot of the dispersed camping site of a national forest with the expand text button with an arrow pointing to it

It’s possible that you won’t be able to find explicit rules on parking vehicles for your National Forest, as not all locations provide that information.

If Parking is Okay, Confirm the Distance From Road Legally Allowed

If parking is allowed at your local National Forest, you’ll have to confirm The following two things: the distance from the road and how exactly they measure that distance. Now, you don’t exactly need to bring out you’re 100-foot measuring tape for this job, but it’s good to have clarity on the rules when you’re parking.

Some National Forests Have Designated Parking Areas

If you happen to be visiting a National Forest or Grassland near a large population area, you can expect that parking on Forest Service roads possibly won’t be allowed.

You can see how this would be for a good reason, as designated parking areas are a great way to reduce the unnecessary impact on the land. This is especially true for these areas that may get a high volume of visitors while not incredibly large.

If Their Website Doesn’t Specify, Then Visit a Local Office

If you are looking on the website for your specific National Forest near you don’t find any parking information, it might be best to swing by and visit a local office. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to know the rules when enjoying public locations like this, and it’s never a bad idea to stop by a Forest Service office.

You can even pick up a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) for your local area while you’re at it!

Tips and Tricks to Keep in Mind While Parking on Forest Service Roads

While that covered the logistics of finding out whether you can park on a forest service road, there are a few other things to keep in mind before you go and park your vehicle. Yeah, parking a car isn’t terribly difficult, but it’s a little different when we’re working to keep from getting stranded in the middle of the woods.

Know the Capabilities of Your Vehicle – And Be Honest With Yourself

First of all, try not to be overconfident in your vehicle’s capabilities or overall performance. This can ultimately mean many different things, but we’re really trying to say here is that you should play it safe.

If you happen to get stuck in the middle of the National Forest, it’s going to be a little more difficult to get out of there, and you might be there awhile. Part of this is being aware of the difficulties that may arise from the different seasons of the year.

For instance, Forest Service roads can be quite muddy during spring, and therefore you easily could run into some difficulties while trying to get out of your parking spot. Also, do your best to avoid unnecessary dead batteries- no, it isn’t completely necessary to listen to the Packer game in the truck.

Securely Store Your Keys While in the National Forest

This sounds a bit silly at first, but it’s really important to store your keys securely while you’re away from your vehicle and exploring the National Forest.

I’ve fortunately never had to experience this, but it would be an absolute nightmare to try and locate your lost keys, assuming you didn’t realize that until you got back to your vehicle. Your best bet here is to store them in a zipped pocket or, at the very least, a pocket that has a button over it.

It’s also best if you can physically feel your keys’ presence while you’re walking, as that will help to remind you that they are securely on you.

Allow Safe Enough Distance for Logging Trucks to Pass

You probably won’t run into loggers or logging trucks while in the National Forest, but it does happen often enough. Regardless, you want to verify that your car isn’t parked so close to the road that it could create problems for a logging truck with a wide load.

Also, you want to make sure that there is enough room for two cars to pass each other on the forest service road. These roads are usually a bit narrower than your average city road, and it would be really helpful to have your car out of the way.

Be Sure to Notify Someone of Your Plans

Finally, be sure to notify someone about exactly what you plan to do in the National Forest. This doesn’t have to be terribly complicated if you are going out for a morning hike, but it’s still worth mentioning to a loved one.

Many things can go wrong when exploring such wide-open spaces, so it’s better to play it safe. This doesn’t have to be a very complicated thing either, as you can give them the approximate GPS coordinates of where you plan to be parking your car or where you plan to be exploring.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully you learned some valuable information from this post that’ll help you out the next time you’re out and about in the National Forest.

If you need more ideas about what to do in our National Forests then check these articles out:

Forest Service Roads National Forests

How to Find Forest Service Roads

Some of my fondest childhood memories occurred on bumpy Forest Service roads.

Here’s how to find Forest Service roads: The U.S. Forest Service maintains an application named the Interactive Visitor Map that provides information on Forest Service roads. A road may be open for use depending on the vehicle class and the time of year.

In this post we’ll go over all the options you have when searching for forest service roads. From online mapping applications to printed Motor Use Vehicle Maps to layers in mobile applications, we’ve got you covered.

Check Out the Interactive Visitor Maps From the U.S. Forest Service

Unsurprisingly, your best option is an mapping application offered by the U.S. Forest Service: the Interactive Visitor Maps. It’s been around for a few years and offers a great deal of needed functionality.

For many years, anyone looking for information on Forest Service roads either had to be standing at the intersection where the road sign was posted, or they had to have a printed map handy.

Their have been Forest Service informational layers that were accessible in GPS units and smartphones with the right mapping applications. However, I don’t believe there’s been a map that so easily shows a road’s status to a specific type of vehicle at a specific time of year.

Overall, this application is a great option for anyone looking to use Forest Service roads.

How to Use the Interactive Visitor Map Application

While the truth is that there’s a lot going on with this application, the nice thing is that the U.S. Forest Service made a clean interface that works nicely.

Once you open the Interactive Visitor Map you should see a screen like this:

There are three main things to notice here:

  • The main part of the screen prompts you with an activity based menu
  • The left side of the screen has a few buttons, of which you only need to use the ‘Legend’ and ‘Clear Map’ buttons
  • There’s a top menu that contains a few icons, this is where we’ll change base maps and select activities

It’s also possible that you might find the application a bit slow if your internet is struggling. Hang in there, it just may be that there is a little buffering when zooming or switching base layers.

Select Your Vehicle Type on the Main Toolbar

Assuming you’re looking for Forest Service roads in order to drive some sort of vehicle on them, we’re first going to cover how to input your vehicle type.

As you may have noticed in the above screenshot, the last four activity icons in that main menu are all vehicles. Here is what they are:

  • Highway Legal
  • OHV > 50 Inches
  • ATV/OHV <= 50
  • Dirt Bike

If you happen to be familiar with Motor Vehicle Use Maps and this road system in general, you probably recognize these as the most commonly used vehicle classes used by the U.S. Forest Service.

Needless to say, clicking on the vehicle type appropriate for your vehicle brings you to a map that is tailored to that vehicle.

Expand the Legend to Translate the Road Colors Into Access

Now that you’ve chosen your vehicle type, go over to the buttons on the left side of the screen to expand the legend, like so:

It depends on how far you’re currently zoomed into, but you may notice that the legend updates as you zoom farther in.

As I clicked on the ‘Dirt Bikes’ option in the main menu, my menu added the following options once I zoomed in far enough:

You’ll notice that there are now three additional categories specified on the top of the legend. These red, yellow and green highlights specify the following about each U.S. Forest Service road visible:

  • Green: the road is specifically managed for that kind of vehicle
  • Yellow: the road is open for use for your vehicle class
  • Red: that Forest Service road is currently closed to your vehicle type

The green category isn’t available for Highway Legal Vehicles (as road maintained for highway legal vehicles would be a…road), but every other vehicle category has all three present.

Zoom Into the Area You’re Interested in Exploring

If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to zoom into the area that you’re interested in. While zoomed in you can easily see all of the Forest Service roads in your local area.

There are two components to each Forest Service road that you’re seeing on the screen, both of which are clearly laid out by the legend on the left. First, the type of line represents the classification of road you’re dealing with. Here are the options (the options you see don’t change based on the vehicle class selected):

This information doesn’t have any bearing on whether the road is currently open to your vehicle class, but it’s helpful to know the type of roads available. Secondly, the ‘Roads and Trail Uses’ part of the legend indicates whether you’re allowed to drive that class of vehicle at this time of year.

As mentioned before, yellow and green highlights over the road both mean that it is open for traffic with your vehicle class. Here’s what the highlighted roads look like on the map:

The yellow and red highlighting are easy enough to see when contrasted against the default base map, but some of the other options can be a little busy when applied. Roads are always easy enough to spot, but the ‘Imagery’ and ‘USGS Topo’ base maps make it difficult to read the road information.

Explore Which Forest Service Roads are Open in That Area, While Checking Out the Different Base Layers

Speaking of the base maps, you can change the base map by first clicking on the gears icon on the top toolbar, and then clicking on the ‘Base Map’ button on the upper left.

The ‘USGS Topo’ base map contains the most information and is the standard Forest Service map that you may have run across previously. The areas shaded green are a reasonably accurate indicator of forested areas, so that may save you time shifting back and forth from the Imagery layer.

If you’ve found a Forest Service road that you’d like more information on, you can click the trail marker icon highlighted below:

Note that the icon highlighted is not for the same icon as the text box represents

When you click on the icon, it will pull up a window with data similar to the results shown on the screen. As you can see, the window has three separate panes available. You’ll most likely only be interested in the ‘Road’ tab, as the other tabs aren’t terribly valuable. The ‘Forest’ tab has links to that National Forest’s website, and the ‘Share’ tab allows you to get a URL for that map area, but it doesn’t pass on further variables (such as the activity selected).

Other Uses for the Interactive Visitor Maps

Be sure to check out the other activities covered by the Interactive Visitor Map, as those layers often contain valuable information.

It doesn’t appear that the different activities are consistently covered by the different National Forests, but they may have use to you. It seems like the best use for the other layers is more efficient way to navigate the U.S. Forest Service website, which unfortunately isn’t exactly known for its cutting edge design.

Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) are a Great Alternative

You may be familiar with Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) if you’ve navigated Forest Service roads in the past. While they don’t offer nearly the amount of functionality that the Interactive Visitor Map application provides, they are a clean alternative.

As they don’t offer information regarding the topographic or habitat of the National Forest, MVUMs are perhaps best used as a paper copy of the Forest Service roads and their information on vehicle classes. Physical copies of the MVUMs are generally available at local offices for your National Forest, so be sure to check them out.

If you’d like to know more about Motor Vehicle Use Maps, this post goes into greater detail on how to use them.

Mapping Applications Often Have Forest Service Layers Available

Many smartphone applications built for navigation include map layers that have details on the U.S. Forest Service roads. This is most valuable for those that would like a map they can reference in the field with their smartphones, as it’s often tricky to navigate Forest Service roads.

Forest Service Roads National Forests

How to Read a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM)

There’s no way around it: reading a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) from the U.S. Forest Service can be a bit of a daunting task.

How should you read a MVUM? Motor Vehicle Use Maps contain valuable information about U.S. Forest Service roads, such as the open dates, vehicle classes allowed, and any rules for special vehicle classes. They are an invaluable navigation tool to have on hand when exploring National Forests.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to competently use a Motor Vehicle Use Map. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions.

Step by Step Instructions on Reading a MVUM

Before we get into the details on how you read a MVUM, it will be helpful to quickly cover how to find them on the Forest Service website.

First, go to the U.S. Forest Service website and find your National Forest or Grassland in the drop-down menu. Clicking the ‘Go’ button will take you to the website specific to that location.

Once you’re on the website for the specific property, you’ll need to click on the ‘Maps & Publications’ menu item as highlighted in brown on the navigation pane below:

motor vehicle use maps for the chequamegon nicolet national forest, highlighting the different mvums available

Once you’ve landed on the Maps & Publications page, you’re next job is to search that page for any mention of Motor Vehicle Use Maps or the MVUM acronym. Each National Forest or Grassland organizes this page differently, so you may have to dig around a little bit in order to find the MVUMs.

You’ll notice that the MVUMs are clearly called out on the above screenshot. The Motor Vehicle Use Maps we’re searching for come in the format of PDF files, so clicking on any of the above links will open up the PDF file of the MVUM for that region.

Reading the Folding-Style Maps on Your Computer

Now that we’ve got the MVUM open on your computer, you may notice that part of the map displays upside down. In my experience this only occurs on the part of the MVUM that corresponds the cover page. Of course, when I talk about the cover page you have to keep in mind that MVUMs are designed to be printed as a folding travel map, which explains the layout.

Before we get into some of the details on the MVUMs, you may want to consider setting up multiple browser windows to more easily reference the key later (this assumes you’re on a desktop computer and have sufficient screen space). To do this I open up another copy of the MVUM (Chrome users can use the ‘Duplicate’ option by right-clicking on the current tab) and place it in a new browser window.

Typically, what I’ll do is have two windows. The left window is narrow and this is where I have the MVUM fixed on the ‘Legend’ and the ‘Explanation of the Legend Items’ parts of the map. The right window takes up the majority of the screen and this is where I’m viewing the actual map and exploring around.

Here’s a screenshot showing what I’m talking about:

close up view of motor vehicle use map with the legend on the left

While it takes a little extra effort to set up, this will allow for much easier use of the MVUM later on. Otherwise I’ve found, that I’m constantly zooming in and out, going back and forth from the legend to the part of the map I’m interested in. As these maps are large files that detail an expansive network of roads, it’s easy to lose your spot if you keep going back and forth.

One last thing to mention about the PDF forms of the MVUMs is that not all of the maps are searchable. Being from the generation that got spoiled with the advent of the ‘Ctrl + F’ functionality, I just thought it was worth mentioning that it’s possible that you might not have that available. Most MVUMs do appear to allow for search, though.

Read the ‘Purpose and Contents of This Map’ Section and Beyond

Alright, so now we’ve reached the part of the post where I dust off my ‘compliance professional’ hat and I remind you to read the rules before getting to the fun stuff.

While MVUMs across the different locations use the same general formatting, it’s important to recognize that each National Forest or Grassland is unique and therefore may have slightly different rules or recommendations.

Therefore, you’re best served by finding the ‘Purpose and Contents of This Map’ section and start reading. Carefully read all of the text that is present in paragraph form (the text in the tables is usually road specific and you can reference that later).

Yes, much of this may be the same from one MVUM to another, but the different sites do include information that is specific to their land. Anytime the Forest Service decides to include site-specific information they’re most likely either trying to save your life or keep you from getting arrested, so pay attention.

Check the Tables for Additional Information That May Affect Your Trip

Before getting started with the trip planning or exploring part of this, it makes sense to quickly check out what kind of information the tables of the MVUM contain.

The reality is that the type of information contained in the tables for each MVUM may be different, as the different sites have unique information they wish to convey through the MVUM.

Here are some of the types of information you may expect from tables of MVUMs:

  • Lists of roads too short to be found on the MVUM
  • Seasonal and Special Vehicle Designations for specific roads
  • Dispersed camping rules and details for specific roads

As you can see, the tables found on MVUMs are a great resource when you have additional questions about the map.

Have a Destination or Purpose in Mind Beforehand

Okay, we’re finally getting to the point where we dig in and start exploring the map. There are a few things to keep in mind when planning a trip with a Motor Vehicle Use Map.

First, it’s really important to understand the limitations of MVUMs. As they’re designed to effectively convey a lot of information about a large complex network of roads, the simple truth is that MVUMs are missing a lot of crucial information. These maps contain no topographical information and little information about habitats present. As such, it’s critical that anytime you’re using MVUMs to plan a trip, that you should be using them in conjunction with other maps that allow a more complete picture.

Second, I think it’s likely easier to have a destination or purpose of your trip in mind before you ever start referencing the MVUM. Think of the MVUM as a tool designed to inform you about how and when you can use the different roads.

How exactly you go about planning your trip is really up to you and this will vary highly based on your plans.

Verify That Your Vehicle is Allowed for That Trip

When you’re using a Motor Vehicle Use Map to plan a trip, the best way to think of your job is that it is your responsibility to ensure that your planned route and vehicle of choice are legal.

It’s important to read the rules in order to properly classify your vehicle according to the Forest Service various categories. You may need to know certain specifications for your vehicle. Here are some of the more common vehicle classes that the Forest Service refers to:

  • Highway Legal Vehicles
  • Wheeled Vehicles 50″ or Less in Width
  • High Clearance Vehicles
  • Non-Highway Legal Vehicles Wider Than 50″
  • Motorcyles

In addition to the different classes of vehicles, understand that many roads only allow access to vehicles during certain open seasons. This limited access may also differ for different vehicle classes. I’ll explain with an example: a Forest Service road may allow year-round access to Highway Legal Vehicles while restricting the months when wheeled vehicles less than 50″ in width can drive.

One last tip is to occasionally check the Forest Service website of your National Forest or Grassland for roads that may be temporarily closed. Anything from construction to natural disasters may force the Forest Service to close a road, so checking every now and then for updates can’t hurt.

Print a Hard Copy of the Full Route You Plan on Taking

Last but not least, if you don’t already have a hard copy of this MVUM (which can possibly be obtained by visiting a nearby U.S. Forest Service information center), do be sure to print off at least the portion of the MVUM that contains your planned route.

Yes, if you’re of the smartphone generation than you’ve already likely downloaded the PDF file of the MVUM onto your phone or laptop, but it’s always a good idea to have a hard copy as a backup. Better yet, obtain a hard copy and then use that for navigation, as you’re perhaps wiser to save your battery and treat your smartphone as the backup.

Download a Digital Copy of the MVUM on the Avenza App

By far, one of the best applications of the Avenza app is having the ability to navigate a MVUM straight from your smartphone. In case you haven’t heard of it, Avenza Maps is an app available on Android on iOS that offers the ability to integrate traditional maps like a MVUM with your location data.

The only downside is that you’ll need to sign up for an account in order to use Avenza Maps. The U.S. Forest Service kindly provides Motor Vehicle Use Maps as a free download on the Avenza network. Once you’ve downloaded the app and signed up for a free account, all you need to do is search for your MVUM in their store.

First, click the orange plus sign in the lower right corner of the screen and then click the ‘Download or import a map’ button, like so:

screenshot of the avenza mapping app with the download or import a map button in the corner

Next, you’ll want to click on the ‘Get a map from the store’ area, and this will take you to their “store” for map layers. We’re not looking to spend money on digital maps, so the first thing we’re going to do is to click the ‘Filter’ button at the bottom of the screen and then toggle on the ‘Free’ filter on the ‘Map Price’ part of the menu:

screenshot of the avenza mapping filter option with an arrow pointing to the 'free' price filter

Click the ‘Apply’ button and then we’ll want to click on the search menu at the top of the screen. This will bring up a screen that looks approximately like this:

avenza mapping application auto selecting your current gps location

You’ll see that it will automatically assign a value to the ‘Location’ field based on your current location. If you would like to search a different location, click on that area and then type in your preferred location. This should bring up a bunch of different options that might match. Find the option that matches your desired location and click on it. Next, you’ll simply want to type ‘mvum’ into the ‘Keywords’ search box like below:

searching for motor vehicle use maps in the avenza mobile application

To download a MVUM for this area, all you need to do is first click the ‘Free’ button and then click it once again when it changes to say ‘Download?’

finding free motor vehicle use maps with the free download button highlighted with red arrow

This will download the map in the background and once the download is complete you’ll have it available for offline use anytime you’re out on some Forest Service roads driving around.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope you got value out of this post and came away with more of an appreciation for the often disregarded MVUM.

If you liked this article, you may find these related articles to be an interesting read:

Forest Service Roads

How are Forest Service Roads Numbered?

If you’ve ever driven through a U.S. National Forest and saw a small sign with a series of numbers and letters posted at the start of a road, you’ve found yourself a Forest Service road.

How are Forest Service roads in U.S. National Forests numbered? Each National Forest in the U.S. assigns a short number and letter combination to each Forest Service road. The road numbers are unique for each state and a few different naming conventions are employed.

So how exactly does that work? Read on and we’ll go into greater details on how this great system works.

How the U.S. Forest Service Numbers Their Roads

Before we get started, it’s important to know that there is no universal naming convention employed by all the National Forests. Many National Forests employ similar conventions, but each is ultimately free to choose their own method, so your mileage may vary.

How to Find the Forest Service Roads for your National Forest

As this process is specific to each unique National Forest, the first step is to go to the website for the National Forest you’re interested in exploring. Simply enough, go to the U.S. Forest Service website and find your National Forest in the dropdown box, then click the ‘Go’ button.

Once you’ve found the website for your National Forest, find the navigation pane and go to the ‘Maps & Publications’ part of the menu. This should be available for each National Forest, as it doesn’t appear that the navigation menu changes in any way. However, what you see once you’ve navigated to the Maps & Publications section is unique.

What we’re looking for now is something called the ‘Motor Vehicle Use Map,’ otherwise referred to as the MVUM. Every National Forest should have the MVUM somewhere on this page, it’s just that the different forests format this page differently. Once you find the MVUM, you should look for links to PDF maps of the Forest Service roads. Most National Forests will have several different maps that showcase different sections of the forest, but some may have only a single map.

screenshot of the motor vehicle use map section for us forest service website in missouri
Here is the Motor Vehicle Use Map section for the Shawnee National Forest

Each MVUM should have a key that explains what the different stylings mean. There also will be tables that provide more information about roads that have restricted use, whether that be restrictions based on vehicle type or seasonality.

Difference in Numbering Methods for Different National Forests

Most National Forests name their Forest Service roads with a three to five digit combination of numbers and letters. Each National Forest is free to name their roads with whatever conventions they like, so understand that there isn’t a singular method applied universally.

However, know that most of the National Forests use numbers to designate the main roads, and then letters are used as modifiers that are most commonly used with smaller branches of roads. A hypothetical example: a National Forest has a main road with a number of 1234, with a branched road of 1234A. More on that later.

Quick Note: as the Forest Service maintains tens of thousands of roads throughout the vast network of National Forests in the United States, you can expect that some numbers will be reused. It’s important to note that the numbers for all Forest Service roads are unique to that state, so keep that in mind.

Roads Branching Off a Main Road

A common theme running through many National Forests is that a main Forest Service road may have smaller roads branching off of it, and those smaller roads are often named in a way to easily highlight that relationship.

For example, the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois names their Forest Service roads with a 3-digit number, and then appends a letter to the end if that road branches off a main road. Below you can see a screenshot of on of the Motor Vehicle Use Maps, which shows the main road (750) and the attached sub road (750D):

up close screenshot of roads in motor vehicle use map with road numbers visible

Not just limited to one level of branching, you can see in the below screenshot that there can be branched roads off of other branched roads. This creates a situation where an already branched road (Forest Service road 307C) can have two roads branching off of it, with names that indicate that relationship (roads 307CA and 307CB).

motor vehicle use map with branched roads visible

While this all may be a little confusing at first, I promise you you’ll appreciate the value the first time you get a little lost exploring a National Forest. In this case, if I got turned around while driving on FS 307CA it would be easy for me to get back to FS 307C, and then I could reach FS 307, which appears to be a regular road.

This is all very helpful from a navigation standpoint, as being able to quickly navigate from the remote trunk roads back to the main road keeps people from getting lost. Anyone who’s tried to navigate a dense forest without a map will appreciate that.

How Forest Service Roads are Marked in the Forest

As helpful as it is to explore the National Forests with the maps, most of us would prefer to spend much more time actually in the forest. So, how does the Forest Service mark the different Forest Service roads in the actual forest?

From my experience, the Forest Service roads are posted with a sign at the spot where the road bisects another road. For example, the Forest Service road 743A would have a marker posted at the spot indicated in the below screenshot:

road intersection point for motor vehicle use map

This would likely be the only marker on that road, as the road is a dead end that doesn’t encounter any other road.

It’s also helpful to know that most of the time Forest Service roads have very limited signs posted on them, so I wouldn’t expect to see signs posted anywhere else on this road. Remember, you’re deep in a National Forest, not on the interstate. Don’t expect to be constantly reminded which road you’re on, so it is your responsibility to pay attention and notice the signs you’re given.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope this article was helpful for you and you picked up a few things that you didn’t know before.

If you need more ideas about making the most out of our National Forests then check these articles out:

Forest Service Roads

Are You Allowed to Drive on Forest Service Roads?

There’s something freeing about exploring our National Forests, and nothing gives us better access to this treasure than the vast network of Forest Services roads.

Are you allowed to drive on U.S. Forest Service roads? Road-type, vehicle-type and time of year may affect access to Forest Service roads. While roads are accessible to the public, each road has a specific rules. Check the website of your National Forest and find the Motor Vehicle Use Map for more information about Forest Service road access.

Now that we’ve gotten the easy answer out of the way, lets dive into the nitty-gritty and see exactly how this works.

Is This Forest Service Road Open for Use

As Forest Service roads contain a variety of widths, purposes and road types, not all roads are open to use the entire year round. Forest Service roads in more remote locations or less-trafficked roads might not be open for a variety of reasons.

Before we get started, you should go to the Forest Service website and find the website of the specific forest you’re interested in. Then, find the Maps & Publications section on the navigation panel. The different forests organize this section differently, but the part most important for our purpose is the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) section, which will contain the specific information we need. Find this section and then explore the different maps and webpages that make up the MVUM.

The season in which a Forest Service road is open is specific to each road, and therefore you will need to determine if you’re in the “open season” each time you are interested in driving down a road with a limited season. Most of the time Forest Service roads are closed during seasons like winter or spring where heavy snowfalls or wet spring conditions would make the road difficult to navigate.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Forest Service roads may also be closed during the open season, as natural disasters, planned maintenance/construction, or logging activity all can temporarily close a road. For example, a tornado-like windstorm in 2019 devastated thousands and thousands of acres of the Nicolet National Forest. Overnight, this event shut down dozens of Forest Service roads as they were inaccessible due to downed logs. This also dramatically increased the logging activity in the months to follow as they did salvage work.

Is Your Vehicle Allowed on the Forest Service Road

Once you’ve determined that the Forest Service road is open for use, you then have to determine whether your vehicle legally qualifies to drive on that road. The first thing you can do is check whether your vehicle would be considered a Highway Legal Vehicle according to the Forest Service. This is as straightforward as it sounds: if your vehicle is legal to operate on public roads in that state then it would be considered a Highway Legal Vehicle.

Other vehicles that might not be highway legal, such as ATVs and UTVs, would be designated as Special Vehicles according to the Forest Service. As you might guess, the Special Vehicle category is further split into different categories, depending on the specifications of the vehicle. Typically this comes in the form of the type of vehicle (ATV, UTV, etc.) and the width of  the vehicle.

To further confuse things slightly, it’s possible that a Forest Service road could be open for use, but your specific vehicle might not be allowed at the time. For example, some Forest Service roads allow year-round access for Highway Legal Vehicles but restrict when Special Vehicles like UTVs and ATVs may use that road.

A Real Life Example

It’s late April and I’m exploring the northwoods of the Nicolet National Forest near Eagle River in Wisconsin. For vehicles I have my truck with 4-wheel drive and an ATV with a width of 47 inches.

First, I go to the Forest Service website and find the webpage for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. I click the ‘Maps & Publications’ menu item and find the Motor Vehicle Use Map in the second section, as highlighted. As I’m near Eagle River, I click the first map listed and it opens a PDF of the MVUM for that entire region.

screenshot of the motor vehicle use map section of the chequamegon nicolet national forest website

I’m interested in exploring the area near Halsey Lake, so I zoom to the following view of the map:

screenshot of a motor vehicle use map from the national forest with forest service roads visible

To determine where I can ride my ATV and where I can drive my truck, I have to use the key while referencing any of the relevant tables. This is where it helps to have multiple windows open, or better yet, a physical copy of the map.

Looking at the Special Use table for FS 2076, I can see that in late April I would be able to drive my truck (as it is a Highway Legal Vehicle), but not my ATV, as the season for ATVs runs from May 1st through March 14th of the following year. If I came back in May I would be able to ride my ATV down FS 2076, as then the road would be open for that vehicle.

Also, I would be able to drive only my truck on Forest Service roads 2156M, 2156N, and 2158A, as those roads only allow access to Highway Legal Vehicles.

Other Things to Take Into Consideration

The last thing to keep in mind is that just because you can drive down that Forest Service road, doesn’t mean that you should drive down it. Forest Service roads are in a wide variety of conditions, and many roads that are designated as “Open to Highway Legal Vehicles” may have significant rutting that may require a vehicle with high clearance, such as a truck or Jeep Wrangler.

This is where its best to approach the road with a good bit of common sense, as while my Toyota RAV4 may technically be considered a SUV, I know that it would be highly likely to bottom out on a road with deep enough ruts.

Weather and the road conditions are also important to keep in mind. A dirt road with ruts may be difficult to navigate in a wet spring, while that same road can be much easier to navigate once frozen solid and the “shape” of the rut isn’t so malleable.

Interactive Visitor Map: the Best Option for Real-Time Information

I cover this more in this post, but the U.S. Forest Service provides an Interactive Visitor Map that takes care of a lot of the confusion regarding Forest Service roads.

When you land on the website you’ll be met with a screen like the following:

screenshot of the main menu of the interactive visitor map from the us forest service

At this point you should look at the last four options on the menu. Choose the category that best represents your vehicle and then you’ll be taken to a map specific for that.

It’s pretty straightforward to use, but what you need to know is that the Legend on the left side of the screen contains everything you need to interpret the results of the screen.

You should specifically note is that each Forest Service road on the screen has two elements:

  • A color shading indicating whether it is currently open to traffic from that class of vehicle
  • A line styling that indicates what class of road it is

You can then explore around the map to find roads open for your purposes. Here is about what you can expect a screen to look like:

screenshot of the interactive visitor map with open roads highlighted in yellow

Note that the yellow shading indicates that those roads are open for traffic by this type of vehicle, while the faint red shading indicates that it’s closed. You’ll want to verify beforehand that your route of choice is open to traffic at that time.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully after reading all of this you feel better about taking advantage of the great asset that our U.S Forest Service roads are.

If you liked this article, you may find these related articles to be an interesting read: