The Ultimate Guide To ATV Riding (From ATV Tour Providers)

ATV riding

The only ultimate guide to ATV riding on the Internet. Learn everything you need to know before revving up the engine, including important safety precautions. 

Let us set the scene for you: you feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the power of the machine beneath you. You’re zooming through a picturesque landscape, and your heart is racing with excitement as you admire the winding road ahead. 

Yes — of course we’re talking about ATV riding! 

As exciting as it is, ATV riding can also be dangerous if you’re not familiar with proper safety measures or how ATVs should and shouldn’t be used. 

This ultimate guide will walk you through that and much more, equipping you with everything you need to know to get behind the handlebars asap. So, buckle up, and let’s kick up some dirt!

What Is An ATV Ride?

As their name implies, ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles) are vehicles designed to handle various terrains and conditions, such as driving through mud, snow, and hills. ATV rides are, then, usually off-road rides. While some ATVs can be used as on-road vehicles, too, most do not respond well to paved surfaces like asphalt roads.

ATVs are known for two defining features, handlebar steering and straddle seating position. Drivers steer them using handles and they must be seated with one leg on each side of the seat, like when riding a bicycle. 

Source: 1-Hour ATV Tour in Miami // Happy drivers standing on three ATVs with their arms spread

Some distinguish ATVs from UTVs (Utility Terrain Vehicles). Unlike ATVs, UTVs can seat two passengers side by side and are usually larger in size. UTVs are also primarily used for utility- or work-related purposes rather than recreation. 

Source: Sedona ATV Rental

Of course, ATVs come in various sizes as well. Smaller ATVs are recommended for younger adults or smaller-built people, while others should choose larger models with appropriate weight capacities. 

How To Ride ATVs

ATV riding can be a thrilling and fun outdoor activity for riders of all levels. However, it’s important to follow some basic guidelines to ensure your safety and the safety of others around you. Here are some tips on how to ride ATVs:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the ATV: Before you ride an ATV, familiarize yourself with the main controls, including the throttle, front and rear brakes, and gear shifter. It’s best to do so by reading the owner’s manual or taking an ATV training course. However, here’s a quick overview of the main ATV controls for your convenience:
  • The throttle controls your speed by determining how much fuel is sent to the engine. It’s usually located on the right handlebar.
  • The front brake controls the front wheels and is usually located on the right handlebar. 
  • The rear brake controls the rear wheels and is usually located in front of the right foot peg. 
  • The gear shift lever, if present, is usually located near the footrest area.

Alternatively, you can also opt for a guided tour for your first ATV drive. That way, you’ll have experienced guides that will walk you through all the steps, and be able to explore some really cool trails. It’s a win-win!

  1. Wear proper safety gear: Always wear a helmet, goggles, gloves, and boots to protect yourself from potential accidents or injuries.
  2. Start slowly: Begin by practicing in a flat, open area to get a feel for the ATV’s handling and responsiveness. Gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable and confident.
  3. Read our A-Z guide to driving ATVs: If you’ve never driven an ATV before and are unsure as to how to start the vehicle or shift gears, read our complete step-by-step guide on driving ATVs for beginners.

Types Of ATV Trails

Depending on your local laws and regulations, you may only be permitted to drive ATVs on designated trails

Even if that’s not the case, it’s usually best for beginners to practice driving on a proper trail system rather than unadapted terrains, like public roads or unmaintained dirt roads. This will help ensure you ride with confidence, avoid accidents, and even that you don’t harm the environment! ♻️

Riding ATVs on non-designated terrains can cause erosion, damage to natural habitats, and harm to wildlife. On the other hand, riding on public roads or unmaintained dirt roads can be dangerous and illegal.

So, try to avoid both scenarios and use a designated trail system. Here’s how to choose one that best fits your needs and preferences.

Private Vs Public ATV Trails

The first thing to consider is whether you want to use private or public ATV trails.

Private ATV trails are owned by certain individuals or groups and aren’t open to the public. 

  • Private trails usually offer a more personalized and secluded riding experience. 
  • You’ll likely need to pay a membership or a one-time fee to access these trails. Alternatively, some private trails may only be open to those with special permits or permissions, so you may not be able to access them at all.
  • Private trails are also likely to have specific rules or restrictions that you need to abide by. 

Public ATV trails, on the other hand, are open to everyone and are usually operated by federal or state agencies. 

  • Public trails can be free to use. 
  • They may offer a wider range of riding options.
  • They may also be located in especially scenic or protected areas that you may not be able to access otherwise.

When choosing between private and public ATV trails, consider your riding preferences and budget, as well as any applicable rules or regulations.

ATV Trails By Terrain

Although private and public ATV trails have their differences, the biggest – and most important – difference comes down to the type of terrain. 

You may want to experiment with different terrains or stick to the one that’s easiest for you to navigate and maneuver through. Either way, it’s useful to know the options you have at your disposal. So, here are the most common ATV trails by terrain: 

  1. Mud trails are perfect for riders who love getting dirty and navigating through muddy and wet terrain. However, they’re more suited for experienced drivers, as they can be challenging to maneuver through. There’s a high risk of getting stuck or sliding across the slippery surface.

Mud riding in action. (Source: Extended Denali ATV Tour) // Three people in a UTV driving through mud

  1. Rock trails are ideal for riders who enjoy technical challenges and obstacles. These trails require precision and good control over the ATV. 
  2. Wooded trails are paths through forests or wooded areas, providing a scenic and challenging experience for ATV riders. They usually require careful navigation through tight spaces and around obstacles and may have uneven terrain and steep inclines.

ATV driving on wooded trails. (Source: Extended Denali ATV Tour) // Three ATVs driving through a forest

  1. Snow trails are a good choice for riders who enjoy winter sports and exploring snow-covered landscapes. They may require special tires or modifications to the ATV to prevent sliding or getting stuck.
  2. Hill trails offer a thrilling experience for those who enjoy steep inclines and descents. They require advanced riding skills and caution, as they can be dangerous if not navigated properly.
  3. Sand flats are open areas covered with sand that offer a different type of challenge for ATV riders. Riding on sand requires constant adjustments to balance and steering, and can be physically demanding. You can find them near beaches or in desert areas.

ATV sand driving. (Source: Las Vegas Dunes ATV Tour) // A group of ATV riders riding through the Las Vegas desert

Benefits Of ATV Riding

ATV riding has many benefits besides being just a fun activity to share with family and friends. 

For example, research shows it can benefit your health by providing moderate-intensity physical activity. It can also help you develop unique skills, such as navigating uneven terrains and learning to maintain balance while maneuvering the vehicle.

On top of that, ATVs also have several advantages over similar off-road vehicles, such as UTVs and dirt bikes.

ATVs vs UTVsATVs vs dirt bikes
ATVs are generally less expensive than UTVs

ATVs are lighter and smaller than UTVs, which allows them to navigate tight spaces and narrow trails more easily

ATVs require more physical exertion and can lead to greater health benefits
ATVs are more stable and easier to handle than dirt bikes, making them more suitable for those with less off-road experience or limited physical abilities

ATVs are more versatile and can be used for various activities, such as utility work or hunting

ATVs can accommodate passengers and gear more easily than dirt bikes

ATV Riding Safety Precautions

It’s important you familiarize yourself with ATV-related safety precautions before your first ATV ride. This will help you minimize the risk of serious injury or accidents.

Here are the most important precautions to follow:  

  • Don’t drive off-road ATVs on paved roads. The tires on off-road ATVs are designed for low-pressure or non-pneumatic use on soft and uneven terrain, such as dirt, gravel, or mud. When ridden on paved surfaces, the tires can lose traction and stability and make it difficult for you to control the vehicle. This increases your chances of tipping over, which can result in injuries or even fatalities.
  • Never drink and drive or use psychoactive substances before getting behind the handlebars. Alcohol and drugs will impair your judgement, coordination, and reaction time, and possibly lead to dangerous situations.
  • Always wear protective gear. As we’ve already mentioned, you should always wear a helmet, goggles, gloves, and boots to protect yourself from potential accidents or injuries. 
  • Avoid riding alone. It’s best to ride with a buddy or a group of people to ensure mutual safety.
  • Stay alert and aware of your surroundings throughout your ride. Look out for obstacles, wildlife, or other riders on the trail.
  • Stick to designated trails to ensure you don’t harm the environment and stay away from hazards.
  • Always adjust your speed according to the terrain and weather conditions.
  • Regularly maintain your ATV to ensure optimal performance and prevent breakdowns.
  • Keep a safe distance from other riders and obstacles.

Always keep a safe distance from other drivers. (Source: Guided ATV Tour Sedona) // People riding ATVs one behind the other

ATV-Friendly Outfits

When riding ATVs, always wear long pants and a shirt with long sleeves to protect your skin from scratches, cuts, or sunburn. Also, ensure your clothing fits snuggly so you avoid getting caught on parts of your ATV.


Is an ATV safer than a motorcycle?

The short answer is no; an ATV is not safer than a motorcycle. Research shows that ATV accidents have a higher death rate than motorcycle accidents, primarily because they typically lead to more serious injuries. However, you can minimize the risks by sticking to the safety precautions described above.

Book Your ATV Adventure With Trusted Operators

Want to learn how to properly ride an ATV — or explore trails you can’t access on your own? 

Book an ATV tour on our website and let our trusted operators take great care of you. Whether you want to drive through forests, canyons, mud, or deserts, we’ve got you covered!

Browse through our extensive list of available ATV tours across the US and book one that best suits your needs. All that’s left to do is gear up and get ready for the thrill of ATV riding!

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