ATV: Utah's trails, dunes among best in U.S.

This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Defining what makes a good all-terrain vehicle riding area depends on the type of experience it offers.

Some riders look for thrills and technical hills or dunes to challenge them. Others like to take scenic trails that lead to campgrounds or overlooks. A few seek places close to home to enjoy their sport.

"The ingredients are similar to any other trail-based activities," said Brian Hawthorne of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, an Idaho-based advocacy organization. "We look for loops and level of difficulty in a scenic backcountry setting. Mountain bikers are looking for the same thing. We like a place with variety, which offers super technical trails as well as the ones where you take your wife and kid."

Hawthorne's two favorite Utah ATV riding areas include the San Rafael Swell, the Whitewash Sand Dunes near Moab, and the Arapeen trail in central Utah.

"Arapeen has it all," he said. "It offers more trail experiences, scenery, fantastic camping, a killer map and is easy to find."

Utah is blessed with some of the best ATV riding trails and dune areas in the world, a fact that brings tourists from all over the United States to join the state's nearly 100,000 registered ATVs. Many of the trail descriptions can be found on

Here are 10 great Utah riding areas to explore:

Little Sahara » Located 34 miles north of Delta, this 60,000-acre play area of shifting sand dunes combined with sagebrush and juniper trees ranks as one of Utah's most popular locations, especially in the spring. Expert riders challenge themselves on Sand Mountain, a 700-foot high dune, while other dunes are more suitable for beginners and intermediates. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and includes campgrounds with flush toilets and drinking water in warmer months. The Willard R. Fullmer Visitor Center offers year-round drinking water and is open year-round but is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call 435-433-5691 for information. There is an $8 per day use fee except on holidays when the fee jumps to $10. An annual pass is $75.

Paiute ATV Trail » The main loop of this popular trail that runs through the center of Utah is 260 miles that, according to the Public Lands Information Center, covers three mountain ranges, canyons and deserts. The trail starts in central Utah at the junction of Interstate 15 and Interstate 70, but can be accessed from a number of small towns on either side of the mountains. The information center lists the Tushar Mountains, Koosharem area, Monroe Mountain and Pahvant Range as part of the trail, which also offers more than 700 miles of roads and trails for ATVs. Towns near the trail include Salina, Richfield, Aurora, Elsinore, Monroe, Joseph, Junction, Circleville and Beaver. For information, contact the Fishlake National Forest Supervisor's Office in Richfield at 435-896-9233. Good commercially produced maps are available for this trail. For information, visit

Wasatch Mountain State Park » While many view this popular Heber Valley park as a place for golf, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, the park and the U.S. Forest Service maintain some of the closest riding areas to the Wasatch Front. Facilities include 70 miles of trails, parking areas and restrooms. According to Fred Hayes of Utah State Parks, riders may park and ride from Mill Flat on the northern end, and Cascade Springs at the southern end. Mill Flat trailhead is above the Wasatch Mountain State Park campground and golf course. The trail climbs to the summit of the Wasatch Mountains before descending through American Fork Canyon to Tibble Fork Reservoir. From the Cascade Springs Trailhead, riders take the Decker Pass Trail, which winds up and over the mountain through quaking aspens, sagebrush and water.

Great Western Trail » Long-term plans for this trail call for it to eventually stretch from Mexico to Canada, traversing 4,455 miles through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah. While parts of the trail, especially those near Wasatch Front watershed canyons, are closed to ATV riding, other areas are popular riding spots. According to the Public Lands Information Center, about 125 miles of the Dixie National Forest and 75 miles in the Fishlake National Forest (where it crosses the Paiute ATV Trail at several locations) have been marked. Most of these areas are open to ATV use. Portions of the trail head south of Bryce Canyon National Park, northeast through the Escalante Mountains and over the Boulder Mountains into the Fishlake National Forest. Check with Fishlake and Dixie National Forest Service offices for maps and trail riding information.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes » This beautiful area of shifting pink sand dunes is southwest of Kanab and contains both Utah State Parks and BLM-managed riding areas. There are about 1,200 acres of sand dunes to explore as well as miles of trails managed by the BLM. A campground with showers and running water makes this scenic area a major draw. For more info, visit

The Knolls » To reach this west desert BLM-managed riding area, drive 80 miles west of Salt Lake City on Interstate 80. Take exit 41 and follow the signs. According to the BLM, this area contains 36,000 acres of sand dunes, hills and mud flats. Dispersed camping is allowed and there are vault toilets, but no running water. Fire pans are required. The camping/day use fee is $6 per vehicle while an annual pass runs $40.

Yuba State Park » Many Wasatch Front residents don't realize there is some good ATV riding next to this central Utah reservoir. According to Fred Hayes of Utah State Parks, a new policy this year allows ATV riders to access areas to the south and west of Yuba Reservoir from campsites at Painted Rocks, Oasis and North and West Beaches. For more information, visit

Arapeen Trail » According to, this trail complex covers much of the southern portion of Skyline Drive in south central Utah and includes more than 350 miles of trails. Access points include Spring City Canyon, Manti Canyon and Twelve Mile Canyon east of Mayfield on the west, and Castle Dale, Ferron and Joe's Valley Reservoir on the eastern side of the mountain. Because of its high elevation, much of this trail does not open until summer.

Mirror Lake Highway » There are three good trail systems for ATVs along Highway 150 between Kamas and Evanston, Wyo., a road known locally as the Mirror Lake Highway. Trail systems include Taylor's Fork, with 22 miles of linked trails; Murdock Basin, which contains 50 miles of trails and another 34 miles of dirt road; and Wolverine, which covers 22 miles. Open during the summer, these are scenic trails in alpine settings near the Wasatch Front.

Sand Hollow Reservoir » Located near Hurricane, this state park features developed and primitive camping close to the reservoir as well as 16,000 acres of prime off-highway vehicle riding accessed by a tunnel south of the OHV staging areas. ATV riding is also allowed on the south and east sides of the reservoir. An orange whiptail flag is required and ATV riders should contact park personnel about other laws and rules.

Protecting the environment

» Stay only on roads, trails or other areas designated for ATV use.

» Try to stay in the middle of the trail to avoid widening it.

» Cross streams only at designated fording points, where the trail crosses the stream. Approach the stream slowly, crossing at a 90-degree angle.

» On switchbacks, avoid roosting around the apex of the turn when climbing or brake-sliding during descent, both of which gouge the trail.

» On slick trails, moderate the throttle and use the clutch to gain maximum traction with minimum wheel-spin.

» Try to avoid muddy trails; save them for future trips when they are dry.

» Pack out what you pack in. Carry a trash bag on your vehicle and pick up litter left by others.

» Following a ride, wash your ATV and support vehicle to avoid spreading invasive species the next time you ride.

» Observe proper human waste disposal. Bury your waste at least six inches deep and camouflage the hole or pack out your waste.

Source » Tread Lightly

ATV safety tips and rules

» Helmets are required for riders under age 18 and strongly recommended for all riders.

» All machines must be currently registered.

» Children under age 8 may not operate an OHV on public land.

» Operators over the age of 8 must have a driver's license or OHV education certificate.

» Operators under 16 must have adult supervision at all times.

» All OHVs must have a spark arrester.

» Drinking and driving an ATV is against the law.

» Always check for steep drop-offs or other riders before powering over the crest of a dune.

Source » Utah State Parks

What's your favorite trail?

Share what you think is Utah's best ATV trail and rate other riders' picks.

» Click on Outdoors and Recreation