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Tread Lightly! Tips for Responsible 4 Wheeling

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Quick Tips for Responsible Four Wheeling


To view a pdf of the brochure Click Here 5211247091987.jpg

Ride Right! Below are some quick tips from the nonprofit Tread Lightly! on four-wheeling responsibly in the great outdoors. You can also get some off-road basics with these fantastic 1-minute videos.



For more tips on minimizing impact when ATV riding, snowmobiling, camping and other outdoor pursuits, click here.


Travel responsibly on designated roads and trails or in permitted areas.


  • Travel only in areas open to four-wheel drive vehicles.
  • For your safety, travel straight up or down hills. Don’t traverse the face of a hill; you may slip sideways or roll your vehicle.
  • Drive over, not around obstacles to avoid widening the trail.
  • Cross large rocks and other obstacles slowly, at an angle one wheel at a time.
  • Cross ravines slowly at a 45-degree angle.
  • Straddle ruts, gullies, and washouts even if they are wider than your vehicle.
  • Cross streams only at designated fording points, or where the road crosses the stream.
  • When possible, avoid mud. Save wet, muddy trails for another day when they are dry. If you do come upon mud on the trail, don’t widen the trail by going around it. Drive through it by going easy on the gas to avoid wheel spin, which can cause rutting.
  • Don’t turn around on narrow roads, steep terrain, or unstable ground. Backup until you find a safe place to turn around.
  • Stop frequently and reconnoiter ahead on foot.
  • Go easy on the throttle and avoid riding the brake or clutch.
  • To help with traction, balance your load and lower tire pressure to where you see a bulge (typically not less than 20 pounds).
  • Know where the differential or the lowest point on your vehicle is.
  • Maintain a reasonable distance between vehicles.
  • Comply with all signs and barriers.
  • Travel with a group of two or more vehicles. Driving solo can leave you vulnerable if you have an accident or breakdown. Designate meeting areas in case of separation.
  • Choose the appropriate winch for your vehicle size.
  • Attach towing cable, tree strap, or chain as low as possible to the object being winched. Let the winch do the work; never drive the winch.

Respect the rights of others including private property owners and all recreational trail users, campers and others to allow them to enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed.


  • Be considerate of others on the road or trail.
  • Leave gates as you find them.
  • If crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowner(s).
  • Yield the right of way to those passing you or traveling uphill. Yield to mountain bikers, hikers, and horses.
  • Do not idly ride around in camping, picnicking, trailhead, and residential areas.
  • Keep speeds low around crowds and in camping areas.
  • Keep the noise and dust down.

Educate yourself by obtaining travel maps and regulations from public agencies, planning for your trip, taking recreation skills classes, and knowing how to use and operate your equipment safely.



  • Obtain a map of your destination and determine which areas are open to off-highway vehicles.
  • Make a realistic plan, and stick to it. Always tell someone of your travel plans.
  • Contact the land manager for area restrictions, closures, and permit requirements.
  • Check the weather forecast before you go.
  • Prepare for the unexpected by packing necessary emergency items.
  • Buckle-up! Seat belts are mandatory.
  • Know your limitations. Watch your time, your fuel, and your energy.
  • Take an off-highway driving course to learn more about negotiating terrain in a four-wheel drive vehicle.
  • Make sure your vehicle is mechanically up to task. Be prepared with tools, supplies, spares, and a spill kit for trailside repairs.

Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands and streams, unless on designated routes.

  • Other sensitive habitats to avoid unless on designated routes include cryptobiotic soils of the desert, tundra, and seasonal nesting or breeding areas.
  • Avoid disturbing historical, archeological, and paleontological sites.
  • Avoid “spooking” livestock and wildlife you encounter and keep your distance.
  • Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed in areas designated Wilderness.

Do your part by leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species, restoring degraded areas, and joining a local enthusiast organization.

  • Carry a trash bag on your vehicle and pick up litter left by others.
  • Pack out what you pack in.
  • Practice minimum impact camping by using established sites, camping 200 feet from water resources and trails.
  • Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out.
  • Protect the soundscape by preventing unnecessary noise created by a poorly tuned vehicle or revving your engine without need.
  • Following a ride, wash your vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.
  • Don’t mix driving with alcohol or drug

Commit to responsible four-wheeling and learn more about how to protect off-road access by becoming a Friend of Tread Lightly! free.

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