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