UTV and ATV Trail Riding Laws for Wisconsin

ATVs have been allowed on public and private trails for many years in Wisconsin. Earlier last year Governor Scott Walker signed for a UTV Pilot Program which allowed UTVs to use many of the same trails under the ATV Public Use registration. As of July 1st, 2012, many of the regulations set out by the UTV Pilot Program became permanent. If you’re new to the ATV or UTV world, here’s the basics of what you need to know…

Off Road

What Was the UTV Pilot Program?

The UTV Pilot Program was created to temporarily allow for the use of UTVs on marked ATV trails throughout Wisconsin using registered ATV Public Use decals. The Pilot Program did not include Private Use registration or trail passes. Counties wishing to participate in the Pilot Program were required to pass a resolution in order for UTVs to operate on ATV trails and routes.

So What’s In Effect Now?

As of July 1, 2012 many of the regulations and amendments set out by the UTV Pilot Program became permanent. Since the new law was passed, both ATV and UTV registrations are issued an ATV- or UTV-specific registration classification and decals for Public, Private, Private-Agricultural, Municipal as well as a Nonresident ATV or UTV Trail Pass. Prior to the law, such registration classifications and decals only existed for ATVs.

“All-terrain vehicle and utility terrain vehicle riding is a growing sport in Wisconsin.” – Wisconsin DNR

Operator Age Requirements

ATV and UTV operators (minimum of 12 and 16 years of age, respectively) must complete an ATV or UTV safety certification course in order to operate on public ATV/UTV trails or other areas in Wisconsin. This is not the same as the ATV/UTV Safety Course (highly recommended).

License Plate Regulations

All ATVs/UTVs operating in Wisconsin must be registered or display a trail pass, whether on public or private property. Both UTVs and ATVs registered for public use must display a 6-character registration ID number on a consumer-supplied regulation-sized license plate at the rear of the vehicle. Specific placement is not specified beyond that it must be visible. (Get a regulation ATV/UTV license plate here.) While all UTVs or ATVs must be registered, those registered for private use are not required to display a license plate. Private-Use UTVs or ATVs may still be used on trails as long as the appropriate trail pass decals are displayed.

Non-Resident Trail Pass

All ATV ant UTV operators must display either a Wisconsin Registration or a Non-Resident Trail Pass to use public or private trails throughout Wisconsin. Trail passes are purchased yearly and expire on March 31st of every year. The annual cost for a Wisconsin non-resident trail pass is $35. All passes must be displayed in a highly visible location and may not be removed or transferred to another ATV/UTV. Five-day passes are also available for $20. Passes can be obtained by calling WDNR at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463) or via any of the authorized Wisconsin Non-Resident Trail Pass sales locations.

Recognizing ATV/UTV Open Trails

UTVs may be operated wherever ATV trails and road routes designate them as open to UTVs throughout Wisconsin. Look for the appropriate signage on state DNR trails, county trails and routes, or federal government (U.S. Forest Service) areas. Look for the “No UTVs” signs prior to entering a trail system (except for the U.S. Forest Service. See their Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) for trails open to ATVs or UTVs).

“Under the new UTV law, registered UTVs are generally allowed to operation statewide. Permission is required on private lands. However, federal, state, county and municipal unites of government must officially ‘designate’ routes and trails under their jurisdiction that are open and closed to UTVs.” – Wisconsin DNR UTV Laws Pamphlet


Passengers are not allowed to ride in or on any part of a UTV that is not originally designed to be used by passengers. This includes the use of aftermarket seating placed in the cargo area of a UTV. If legal passengers based on age or property use are required to wear a helmet, the operator must also wear a helmet.

Hunting with Your ATV/UTV

Firearms and Bows may be transported in or on an ATV or UTV provided the firearm is unloaded (with the exception of registered handguns). Unless authorized under a Disable Hunting Permit, no firearm may ever be used/shot from within an ATV or UTV. Never place a loaded firearm within your ATV or UTV. If the vehicle is stationary, loaded firearms may be temporarily rested up against or place on the vehicle.

Additional All-Terrain Vehicle and Utility Terrain Vehicle Regulations for Trail Riders in Wisconsin

  • All ATVs or UTVs MUST have working head lights and tail lights
  • ATVs and UTVs must have a functioning, U.S. Forest approved, muffler to prevent excessive or unusual noise unless they are operated exclusively by an electric motor
  • DNR mandated noise limit is 96 decibels.
  • No person may operate a UTV unless each passenger is wearing a safety belt
  • No UTV may be modified for additional passengers
  • UTVs cannot be more than 65” wide or more than 2,000 lbs. Check with trails directly as some allow a maximum vehicle width of only 50” or 55”.

For more regulations, we encourage you to view the Wisconsin DNR Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) Laws & Certain ATV Law Changes pamphlet. Also check with the trails directly for additional rules and regulations.

Photo credit: mybulldog / Foter.com / CC BY

Author, J.M. Stickney is a powersports enthusiast working as the Digital Marketing Manager at GearUp2Go. She loves to ride her Suzuki GSX-R600 on the street or at the track. While not on her bike she spends a lot of time outdoors, writing, reading, running or playing with her family.

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