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Anyone who has ever ridden an ATV knows the trill of cruising over rough terrain. It makes exploring new places much more exciting and is a fun way to spend time with family and friends. But can you ride ATVs in National Parks? The answer is a little complicated.

Can you ride ATVs in National Parks? 

Though it would be easy to say yes or no, it’s a little more complicated than that. For most National Parks, the answer is no, but there are a few exceptions. 

According to ATV Man, “National Park Service regulations generally limit OHV use in the park system to four types of National Park Service land units — national recreation areas, national seashores, national lakeshores, and national preserves. The regulations also require special rulemaking, with environmental impact analysis and public comment, to designate routes and areas for OHVs in these park units.”

That’s mostly to protect the land. National Parks are designed to preserve nature and protect the environment, so though riding your ATV through the oldest forests in America might sound great, most parks don’t allow it. That said, a few National Parks allow ATVs and offer designated trails and areas.

How can you be sure ATVs are really allowed?

Trying to figure out if a specific National Park is open to ATVs or other off-road vehicles isn’t always an easy task. That’s because an executive order signed in 1977 gave National Parks the right to close a once-open trail without notice. This means that a trail that was once open might be closed for repairs or give the land time to heal from all that traffic.

The quickest way to figure out if ATVs are allowed in specific National Parks is to check the Travel Management & Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Program maps that the U.S. Forest Service provides. They’ll give you a good starting point, but they might not be up-to-date. 

Instead, contact the location and ask to speak to a park ranger to find out for sure. They’ll be able to give you more up-to-date information about any potential trail closings. Some areas are open only during certain seasons. For instance, a trail open in the summer won’t necessarily be available in the fall. Always double-check so that you don’t violate park rules.

Penalties for riding an off-road vehicle in a restricted area

The cost of riding wherever you want can be rather high. According to the National Park Service, you’re looking at a maximum fine of $5,000 or six months in prison if caught outside designated areas. 

For instance, if you harm an endangered species while in the park, the cost could be even greater. You could end up with fines up to $50,000, civil penalties up to $25,000, or even spend a year in prison.

And if you harm or destroy archaeological reserves, the max penalty would be $20,000 and two years in prison.

In addition, before you head off on your ATV, you’ll need to carry a few things in case a park ranger stops you. The first is a permit showing you’ve paid the fee for driving your ATV in the park if required. The second is a map showing where you’re allowed to go. And the third is any equipment you might need and proof of insurance. 

If you’re unsure about something, stop by the park’s visitor center and ask questions. It’s better to know before you venture out and run into a ranger.

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