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ATV in the mountains

Off-Highway Vehicles

From the sagebrush to high mountain lakes, Montana offers a variety of scenery and trail experiences for dirt bike and ATV enthusiasts.

Montana Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV)

An off-highway vehicle (OHV) is defined as a self-propelled vehicle used for recreation on public roads, trails, easements, lakes, rivers, or streams. This includes motorcycles, ATVs, ROVs, or side-by-sides, dune buggies, amphibious-vehicles, and air cushion vehicles. It does NOT include snowmobiles, vehicles designed primarily for travel on snow, boats, vehicles designed primarily for travel on water, and vehicles that are otherwise licensed under Montana laws (such as sport utility vehicles and 4x4 trucks).

Off-highway vehicles are used for many different reasons in Montana, including recreation. OHV use is increasingly popular and can significantly impact the economics of our state. Riders of all ages, abilities, and even those with disabilities can enjoy the iconic scenery and health benefits inherent in outdoor recreation.

Access to trails and OHV areas on public land is a privilege, and conscientious use of that privilege will help to maintain these important resources and opportunities. When riders obey the laws, recreate safely, ethically and responsibly, abide by road and trail restrictions and interact with other trail users in a positive manner, it encourages others to do the same. Conversely, when OHV users act in unlawful, unsafe, and disrespectful ways towards the environment, wildlife, and other users, the future of our sport is at risk.

OHV Registration & Trail Pass

Registration

If you wish to ride your OHV on public land or trails (off-highway), it must be registered. You will be issued a decal for off-road use that must be displayed in a conspicuous location on your OHV.

If you wish to ride your OHV on paved highways, it must be street legal and have a license plate. The license plate must be attached to the rear of your OHV. These registrations are permanent, until the OHV transfers ownership, at which time a new registration must be obtained by the new owner.

A certificate of title is proof of ownership and is required to license and register your OHV in Montana. If you have an older OHV or if your OHV was purchased from a state that does not title them, you may apply to obtain a replacement document from the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD).

If a resident owner of an OHV uses the machine ONLY on private property, it is exempt from fee, registration, permit, and certificate of ownership (title) requirements. 

The Montana Department of Justice, Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), Title & Registration Bureau is responsible for issuing certificates of title, registrations, and license plates for OHV. Title and registration work is performed at county treasurer's offices through the state and online. 

 

OHV Trail Pass

The Montana Legislature passed House Bill 355 in 2019, which created a Resident Trail Pass for OHVs. Revenues from each Resident OHV Trail Pass will be used to maintain and improve designated OHV routes and trails on public lands in Montana. The funds are distributed through a grant program. 

 

Residents

An OHV Resident Trail Pass is required to ride on designated motorized routes and trails on all public lands in Montana. 

The pass is valid for up to two calendar years, expiring on Dec. 31 of the second year of purchase.

In addition to the pass, Montana residents must have a permanent registration sticker, which is available through their county treasurer’s office. If a resident purchases a two-year Resident OHV Trail Pass and presents it to their county treasurer’s office while permanently registering their OHV, the resident is eligible for a reduction of $20 toward the cost of their permanent OHV registration.

A Resident Trail Pass costs $20 and is available through the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Online Licensing Service, or in person at any FWP office, or from these vendors or county treasurer offices.

 

Nonresidents

Nonresidents using their OHVs in Montana must purchase an annual Nonresident Temporary Use Permit, which is valid for the calendar year (January 1 – December 31). Residents of North Dakota are exempt.

The Nonresident Temporary Use Permit allows OHV use on trails only. OHVs must be street legal to be ridden on public roads.

A Nonresident Temporary Use Permit costs $35 and is available through the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Online Licensing Service, or in person at any FWP office, or from these vendors or county treasurer offices (pdf).

 

BUY PERMITS AND PASSES

Laws

Laws and Regulations for Operating an OHV in Montana

  • MCA 23.8 - Off-Highway Vehicles
  • MCA 61-8-401 - Driving under influence of alcohol or drugs
  • MCA 61-9-418 - Motorcycle and quadricycle noise suppression devices – motorcycle and quadricycle spark arrester.

 

  • To legally operate on roads (including roads on Public Land), operators of motorcycles must have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license (MCA 61-5-102).
  • A person who operates an OHV must have in the person's possession a license to drive a motor vehicle, unless the person:
    • Is under 16 years of age but at least 12 years of age, AND
    • At the time of operation of the OHV, has in their possession a certificate showing the successful completion of an OHV safety education course approved by FWP, AND
    • Is in the presence of a person who possesses a valid driver's license, AND
    • Is operating an OHV that is not subject to street legal requirements, i.e. operating on trails or unpaved highways (MCA 23-2-824).
  • A person under 12 years of age may operate an OHV on unpaved roads or highways if the person is accompanied by an adult and the OHV is operated in a reasonable and prudent manner (MCA 23-2-824).
  • A motorcycle operator may not carry a passenger unless the machine is designated for more than one rider, or another seat has been firmly attached to the rear or side of the operation and the position of the passenger does not interfere with the operation of the motorcycle or the view of the operator (MCA 61-8-359)
  • All motor vehicles, including properly modified and licensed OHVs, are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane, and a vehicle may not be driven or operated in a manner that deprives any other vehicle of the full use of a traffic lane (MCA 61-8-359)
  • An OHV may not be operated below the ordinary high-watermark of a stream on state, private or federal lands except on an established road or trail that enters or crosses a stream by the shortest practical or designated route to the road or trail on the opposite bank (MCA 61-8-371).
  • A person operating an OHV shall operate the OHV in a reasonable and prudent manner at all times (MCA 61-8-359)

 

OHVs and Public Roads

OHVs must be street legal to be ridden on roads. To be street legal, vehicles must be registered for on-highway (paved roads only) use. These vehicles must have specific equipment (functioning headlamp, stop lamp, brakes, electric horn, rearview mirror, exhaust muffler, and spark arrestor) and a license plate on the rear of the machine. (MCA 61-3-301)

Some Forest Service and BLM roads may be open for use by OHVs. Contact the appropriate Forest Service or BLM office for information such as road designations, closures, conditions, and maps.

 

OHVs and Trails

Most OHV trails are on public land. Trails are maintained by local clubs or government agencies, oftentimes with grant money provided by Montana State Parks. OHV funds are derived from OHV gas tax refund and decal fees.

For information about trail riding areas contact the local Forest Service or BLM office for a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM).

 

Safety & Equipment

Helmet — Helmets can prevent and reduce the severity of head injuries. Helmets must meet DOT or Snell standards and be worn by those under 18 who operate or ride a motorcycle or quadricycle on streets or highways (MCA 61-9-417).

Eye Protection — Is recommended for operators of OHVs not equipped with a windshield.

Headlights — Motorcycles must be operated with lights on at all times when operated on any paved public roadway (MCA 61-8-359).

Muffler — All motorcycles or quadricycles operated on the streets and highways must be equipped at all times with noise suppression devices, including an exhaust muffler, in good working order and in constant operation. Or noise suppression device that prevents emission of sounds above 96 decibels during stationary sound testing (MCA 61-9-418).

Stop Lamp — All OHVs must be equipped with at least one properly functioning stop lamp while being operated on a paved highway (MCA 61-9-206; MCA 61-9-109 (5), (6)(a))

Rearview Mirror — Required when OHVs are operated on a paved highway (MCA 61-9-404; MCA 61-9-109 (5), (6)(a)).

Safety & Ethics

Montana has many miles of developed trails for great riding adventures. Responsible riders know that riding on public lands is a privilege. The best way to protect your riding privilege is to stay on designated trails and act respectfully toward other users, wildlife, and the environment.

 

Pre-ride Checklist

Review this checklist before you ride to ensure a safe trip.

  • Notify someone of where you intend to ride and what time you will return. Never ride alone.
  • Check that your OHV is in proper working condition; all fluids are topped off; there are no loose or broken parts; and that your spark arrestor is in good condition and has not been modified.
  • Carry basic tools and survival gear, including plenty of drinking water.
  • Make sure you have proper riding gear for the route planned, including at the very least a helmet, sturdy over-the- ankle boots, gloves, and eye protection.
  • If riding in an unfamiliar area, make sure you have checked with the managing owner or agency to verify the area is open for OHV use. Be sure you have a current travel plan map.
  • Make sure your OHV is clean and free of weed seeds.
  • Be sober.
  • Be mentally and physically prepared for your ride.
 

Operator Responsibilities

  • Consider slope and trail conditions when judging your ability to navigate a particular route.
  • Maintain control of speed and course at all times while operating the vehicle;
  • Heed all posted warnings.
  • Refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of anyone.
  • Obey all OHV laws in Montana.
  • An OHV operator accepts all legal responsibility for injury or damage of any kind to the extent that the injury or damage results from risks inherent in the sport of off-highway vehicle use. Operators must regulate their personal conduct at all times so that injury to self or other persons or property is avoided.
  • Risks inherent in the sport include variations in terrain, surface or subsurface conditions, crevices, ravines, streams, poor visibility, rocks, trees, other forms of forest growth or debris, and any other natural hazard.

 

Travel Responsibly

  • Stay on designated roads and trails or in permitted areas.
  • Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands, and streams, unless on designated routes.
  • Ride in the middle of the trail to avoid widening it. Trail widening is unsightly and expensive to repair.
  • Avoid riding over small trees and shrubs. Trampled vegetation not only looks bad, but also damages wildlife habitat and contributes to soil erosion.
  • Respect seasonal and permanent trail closures.
 

Respect the Rights of Others

  • Always yield the right of way to nonmotorized trail users. When encountering hikers or horses on the trail, pull over and shut off your engine. Remove your helmet and let them pass out of sight before restarting.
  • Do not alter the manufacturer's muffler system. Loud exhaust systems can be offensive to others, and your exhaust system must comply with the Montana State Sound Law.
  • When overtaking others, follow at a safe distance until they signal you to pass. Be courteous while passing. A little bump of the throttle can leave a shower of gravel or a cloud of dust and an angry rider behind you.
 

Care for the Environment

  • Leave the area as good as or better than you found it.
  • Never harass wildlife or domestic animals that you may encounter while riding. Always view wildlife from a respectful distance.
  • Properly dispose of waste. Never litter. Always carry out what you carry in. Carry a trash bag with you to pack out other people's trash.
  • Leave gates the way you find them, either open or closed.

Safety Certification & Education

Online Safety Courses

Children ages 12-16 who wish to ride on a road must possess a Safety Certificate and be accompanied by a licensed operator.

Montana Off-Highway Vehicle Safety Courses are available online. When you pass the safety certification course, you will be able to print a temporary certificate, and your permanent card will be mailed to you within a few weeks. There is a modest cost for the course, but the certificate has no expiration date, so this is a one-time fee. 

 

Hands-on Safety Courses

Enroll in an ASI (ATV Safety Institute) certified hands on safety course today. It’s a fun-filled half day of riding on a closed course that will benefit all skill levels and be fun for the whole family. Class sizes are limited to 8 students and they fill up fast so don’t delay.

Enroll in a certified DirtBike School course, a fun, one-day, hands-on training session available to anyone six years old or above. At approved training sites, MSF certified DBS Coaches will teach you basic riding skills and responsible riding practices, including risk management and environmental awareness.

OHV Grants

Visit the About FWP > Grant Programs page for details on the OHV Grant program.

OHV Advisory Committee

Visit the About FWP > Commission, Boards & Councils page for details on the OHV Advisory Committee.

Off-Highway Vehicle Permits & Passes

What you need to hit the trails

An OHV Trail Pass is required to ride on designated motorized routes and trails on all public lands in Montana.  Residents may obtain an OHV Resident Trail Pass, which is valid for two years. Nonresidents may obtain an annual Nonresident Temporary Use Permit, which is valid for the calendar year (January 1 – December 31). Residents of North Dakota are exempt.

 

Buy Permits and Passes 
ATV in the woods

Be Prepared

Important information for getting outside safely and responsibly.