Planning ATV Trails [A trail completed: photo]

Note: General ATV Trail Guidelines are listed below.

Step One: Identify the specific needs and or destinations of the trail.

Questions to Ask:

  1. What is the purpose of this trail?
  2. Is there a need for trails linking different destinations in your area?
  3. Is there a trail system operated by an ATV club in an adjoining town?

Step Two: Identify potential trail corridor(s) and obtain maps of the proposed areas.

Questions to Ask:

  1. Are there existing corridors* that can be used for this trail? Such as logging roads, abandoned railroad rights-of-way, power lines, or other corridors or recreational trails.
  2. Are their obstacles the trail should avoid? Such as bodies of water, tree plantations, wetlands, heavily populated areas, and areas with very steep terrain.
  3. Are there areas that require extra sensitivity to the impact of noise and nighttime activities on nearby residences, domestic animals etc.


  1. Computer-mapping programs and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that are compatible. These combinations allow clubs to have very concise, accurate, customized maps.
  2. Mapping or aerial photo programs like Google Earth can help to identify possible routes corridors and obstacles.

Step Three: If one or more paths look feasible:

  1. Identify the landowners over whose property the trail passes; both private & public owners.
    • Local tax maps from
      • Tax officials and/or at your county courthouse
      • On-line (some records may be available)
  2. Visit landowners you have identified and:
    • Bring your maps, trail plan, and
    • Landowner permission form.
    • Emphasize that your request is for a corridor across their lands and that it will be built to the ATV Programs general ATV Trail Guidelines. Be prepared to revise your trail around landowners unwilling to give permission for use. Such refusals may require you to look for alternate routes.
    • Remember that your club may be working these landowners for many years so
      • Be sure you understand their concerns completely.
      • Put all agreements in writing if possible. (See Landowner Permission Information)
      • Never promise something you can’t do and follow through with what you agree to.
      • Be prepared to compromise, and always be considerate of the landowners' rights.
      • Consider volunteering to help landowners in return for permission to use their property.

Throughout the process utilize the resources of the Bureau of Parks and Lands ATV Program.

  • This becomes especially important if your path includes public lands of any type. It is often easier to obtain permission if a responsible public official is advocating for you.

Certain corridors present special opportunities to the trail developer. Examples of these include:

    • Highway corridors
    • Abandoned railroad rights-of-way;
    • Utility rights-of-way (gas and oil pipelines; power lines)

Rights-of-way may be of great interest to ATV trail users; however obtaining use of these corridors is no quick and easy job. Responsible club officials should contact the utility officials charged with land management. Keep in mind that just as with all landowners, the trail builders increase their chances for successful negotiations if they can avoid causing them additional responsibilities or liabilities. For this reason, club liability insurance (PDF 155KB) is often critically important. Additionally all trail construction should follow the following:

General ATV Trail Guidelines

  • All trails must be established in accordance with State Laws pertaining to All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and the Off-Road Recreational Vehicle Office’s BMP Manual for Maine Motorized Trail Construction (PDF 5MB).
  • Trails will be established only on land where landowner permission has been obtained.
    • If written permission is unattainable, verbal permission will be accepted with a written affidavit from the ATV Club President confirming permission was obtained and the date it was obtained.
  • The established trail width should be
    • Free from hazardous obstacles such as stumps and large rocks and
    • Maintained to a minimum of 5 feet wide.
    • Brush Free Minimum Clearances
      1. Width = One foot outside the established trail width and
      2. Overhead = brush and limbs cleared to a minimum of (7') seven feet.
  • Trails should
    • Pass through variable terrain to hold interest and create a reasonable degree of challenge.
    • Be maintained for safe operation of off road motorized vehicles, considering some operators will be less experienced than others.
    • Avoid critical wildlife, ecological areas, and other areas of potential conflict.
    • Be routed to avoid steep slopes.
      1. Sustained slopes should not exceed 30 percent.
      2. Precautions should be taken to eliminate erosion during and after construction.
    • Be monitored on a regular basis in order to insure safety.
  • Streams and rivers will be bridged in compliance with all environmental regulations.
    • Bridges will be a minimum of (5') five feet wide and we recommend (8) eight feet wide for trails that are also groomed for snowmobiles.
    • Crossing fords are allowed only if they are located on a hard bottom so as not to cause sedimentation and only if approved by the appropriate environmental agencies.
  • Wetlands like streams are also protected and permits may be needed to cross them. Trails across wetlands will only be approved if the trail hardening techniques such as corduroy, turnpike, or puncheon are used to protect the soils.
  • Railroad tracks can only be crossed where authorized by the railroad.
  • Sign the trail following the established Off-road Recreational Vehicle Office’s ATV trail signing guidelines (PDF 863KB).
  • Highway crossings should be at right angles to provide clear visibility in both directions.
    • You can apply to have Department of Transportation install highway signs notifying traffic of the trail crossing. This may be advisable in areas of limited visibility or heavy traffic. Use the DOT Trail Crossing Application (PDF 113KB)