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Get in Gear: How to Start Off-Roading in Colorado

Understanding Trail Signs

An abbreviated guide to understanding where you can be, where you can’t be, and how to use Colorado’s trails in your OHV of choice.

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Trail Name and Number
OHV riders must obey all signs posted at trailheads by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. Some are vertical posts; others look like common road signs. Although this signage is typically up to date, the Forest Service’s annual motor vehicle use maps are always your most au courant field guide—and supersede trailhead signs. These maps are generally posted on ranger districts’ websites.

Hiker Symbol/Horseback Riding Symbol/Mountain Bike Symbol
Motorized vehicles must be prepared to slow down—or stop completely—to yield the right of way to all nonmotorized trail users.

Motorcycle Symbol
The motorcycle badge is just one of eight symbols seen on trailhead signs in Colorado. If a symbol appears under the words “Open To” or without a red slash across it, that route is open to that particular use.

ATV Symbol
ATV trails are open to OHVs that are 50 inches or smaller in width. Keep in mind that aftermarket add-ons can make ATVs—which are typically narrower than 50 inches—too wide. There is no emblem for UTVs/side-by-sides. Many UTVs measure wider than 50 inches; if that’s the case, they cannot use ATV trails (because they won’t fit and because trying to make them fit can harm vegetation along the trail) and must stay on paths for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles only.

High-Clearance, 4Wd Vehicle Symbol
Badges with red slashes through them or that appear under the words “Closed To” indicate that the trail does not accommodate that specific use.


Way Finder

COTREX knows all the places your OHV can go in Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Although the U.S. Forest Service’s motor vehicle use maps can be helpful and that time-worn atlas in your seatback pocket comes in handy more often than you’d think, the very best way to find OHV trails in the Centennial State is COTREX. Launched in late 2018 by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (in conjunction with 236 land managers and organizations as part of the Department of Natural Resources’ Colorado the Beautiful initiative), the free downloadable app—and companion website—is an interactive encyclopedia of more than 45,000 miles of local trails. OHV enthusiasts will love that COTREX allows users to search for trails by mode of transportation—motorcycles, ATVs, and OHVs wider than 50 inches. They’ll also appreciate that clicking on a trail produces detailed beta about things like length, fees, seasonal closures, elevation range, trail numbers, and the land management agency responsible for the area. Furthermore, the ability to download maps through the app in the event you lose cell service—and save your routes with detailed notes and photos—is key for returning to a trail you might otherwise never find again. Maybe the most compelling reason to use COTREX for the off-roading set, however, is that all of the paths are official, legal routes, meaning you won’t ever get that is-it-OK-for-me-to-be-driving-here uneasiness almost every OHV operator has felt at one time or another. In 2020, look for COTREX to add real-time land-manager-approved closures and a function that will show upcoming trail maintenance volunteer projects.

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