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Stay On Trails

UTV Create New Class of Motorized Trail Machines
Using Public Lands; Find Out Where It’s Legal To Ride

Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) are bigger, faster, and more comfortable with plenty of pickup and horsepower, and thus, they’re rapidly increasing in popularity statewide. Most of the models are made for jeep trails and dirt roads, but several models, including the Polaris RZR, are legal to ride on narrower ATV trails, which are built to only accommodate machines that measuring 50 inches or less in width.

“Some folks are buying these new recreational vehicles without learning what the rules are, and out of ignorance, they’re getting in trouble,” said Dennis Duehren, Montpelier District Ranger for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Patrick Baker of Caldwell is one person who did his homework, and bought a 50-inch RZR because he wanted to ride on ATV trails. “We love it. It’s great,” said Baker. “My wife and I love to ride on Forest Service roads and trails, so I wanted to make sure that I was perfectly legal.”

The Polaris RZR is legal to use on ATV trails.
The Polaris RZR is legal to use on ATV trails.
With big-game rifle hunting seasons coming up statewide in October, officials with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Department of Lands encourage owners of UTVs, ATVs and motorcycles to check with land managers to determine which trails and roads are legal to use during hunting season.

Public use and regulation of off-highway vehicles is an important issue in Idaho because approximately 132,000 motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs were registered with the state in 2007, and that number is growing about 10 percent every year. A cornerstone of the Idaho Off-Highway Vehicle Education Campaign is to remind people to Stay on the Trail.

In addition, all motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs operated on public land must be registered and display a valid license plate and/or registration sticker. Get your registration sticker from one of many OHV vendors across the state before you go.

Here are 10 tips for safe and legal hunting.

Tip #1: Cross-country use of trail machines is illegal in most national forests and BLM districts in Idaho. New travel management plans for many Idaho public lands have outlawed cross-country travel. Some travel plans are still pending. Again, check with local land managers on what trails/roads are open before you go hunting.

Tip #2: UTVs wider than 50 inches are restricted to open roads – old logging and mining roads, jeep trails and forest gravel roads. UTVs wider than 50 inches are not allowed on ATV trails or singletrack trails. Anyone who drives UTVs on major dirt roads that are open to normal motor vehicle use also needs a driver’s license and liability insurance or they could be cited by the county sheriff.

The Polaris Ranger is too wide for ATV trails.  This model didn’t fit on an ATV bridge.
The Polaris Ranger is too wide for ATV trails.  This model didn’t fit on an ATV bridge.
“The biggest growing issue is that motor vehicles over 50 inches in width are not allowed on ATV trails,” Duehren said. “I don’t care what it looks like. If it’s over 50 inches, then it’s not allowed on our trails.”

Forest Service law enforcement officers will cite UTV riders if they are caught violating the 50-inch standard, he said.

Tip #3: Stay on trails that are open during hunting season. Use your trail machine to ride on designated trails to your hunting area, but do not hunt from your trail machine. That is illegal.

“You can use your ATV to move your hunting camp into where you want to go, but you can’t hunt from an ATV,” said Bill Jones, president of the Idaho ATV Association. “Set up your camp, throw a rifle over your shoulder and go hunting on foot.”

Tip #4: It is legal to use a trail machine to ride on an open ATV trail to get close to where you need to retrieve a big-game animal, but it is not legal to ride cross-country to retrieve game. Keep your trail-machine on the trail, and park it if you need to leave the trail.

Tip #5: To increase your chances of success and cause less disturbance to hunters around you, access your hunting area before shooting hours and then hunt on foot.

Tip #6: Show respect and courtesy to other trail users. Horseback riders, hikers and mountain bikers may be using the trails you’re riding on – as well as other trail machines – so keep your speed down and use caution when approaching blind corners or poor visibility areas to avoid nasty collisions.

“This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart because I was run into in a head-on collision last year and ended up on the trail with a compound femur fracture from somebody (another motorcycle rider) who was going much much too fast,” said Mark Weaver, a Kuna-based motorcycle rider. “You have to remember these are two-way trails, and you have to use extra caution to ensure that you don’t get hurt.”

Tip #7: Use safe practices, wear a helmet and carry along plenty of food, water and overnight rescue gear in the event of an accident, breakdown or emergency.

Tip #8: Obtain a travel management map for the national forest or BLM area where you are hunting to determine if the road or trail is open during hunting season.

Tip #9: Watch for changes in OHV registration and licensing to occur on Jan. 1, 2009, when license plates and stickers will be required for UTVs and ATVs to operate on national forest and BLM trails and roads.

Tip #10: Limit trail-machine use in and around campgrounds. Be respectful of other campers' desires for quiet and minimal disruption.

The Idaho OHV Education Campaign has a web site that provides many contacts for public land management agencies to see what trails and roads are open during hunting season. Please see for more information.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game just published a new brochure “Motorized Vehicle Rules for Hunters.” Check it out:

About the Idaho OHV Education Campaign: To help raise awareness about the importance of OHVs staying on trails, five state and federal agencies in Idaho work on a statewide campaign called the Idaho Off-Highway Vehicles Public Outreach Project. Idaho-OHV encourages riders to ride safe, responsibly and reduce their impact on the land and other trail users. See for more information.

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