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Tread Lightly! Tips for Responsible ATV/UTV Riding

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Quick Tips for Responsible ATV Riding



To view this information in a brochure format, Click Here4811247091592.jpg.

Ride Right! Below are some quick tips from the nonprofit Tread Lightly! on responsible ATV riding in the great outdoors. Also, check out our fantastic 1-minute ATV video.


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

  • Travel only in areas open to All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) use.
  • On switchbacks, avoid roosting around the apex of the turn when climbing or brake-sliding during descent, both of which gouge the trail. Never cut switchbacks.
  • Drive over, not around obstacles to avoid widening the trail.
  • Cross streams only at designated fording points or where the trail 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.
  • Comply with all signs and barriers.
  • Buddy up with two or three riders. Riding solo can leave you vulnerable if you have an accident or breakdown. Designate meeting areas in case of separation.
  • When winching always inspect your equipment, use the right winch for the situation, find a good secure anchor, and never winch with less than five wraps of wire rope around the drum.
  • When using a tree as an anchor, use a wide tree strap to avoid damage to the trunk of the tree.





STREAMS: Cross streams where the trail crosses the stream at a 90 degree angle.CUTTING SWITCHBACKS: Switchbacks are designed to maintain the stability of a trail. Cutting them destroys their integrity.OBSTACLES: Drive over, not around, obstacles such as small rocks and logs to avoid widening the trail.



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 ATVs.
  • 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 a small backpack full of emergency items.
  • Wear a helmet, eye protection, and other safety gear.
  • Buddy up with two or three riders. Riding solo can leave you vulnerable if you have an accident or breakdown. Designate meeting areas in case of separation.
  • Know your limitations. Watch your time, your fuel, and your energy.
  • Take a class or the ATV RiderCourse SM that provides a fast-paced, half-day, hands-on training session. Call the ATV Enrollment Express toll-free at 1-800-887-2887 to enroll.
  • Make sure your ATV 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. This protects wildlife habitat and sensitive soils from damage.

  • 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 and camping 200 feet from water resources and trails.
  • Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out.
  • Spark arrestors are required on all OHVs traveling on public lands.
  • Protect the soundscape by preventing unnecessary noise created by a poorly tuned vehicle or revving your engine without need. Use proper silencers on exhausts, which meet regulatory decibel levels.
  • Following a ride, wash your ATV and support vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.
  • Don’t mix riding with alcohol or drugs.

Want to learn more? Take the Tread Lightly! 101 Online Course.



Or, download the Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible ATV Riding.

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