Have you checked the rules of the trail and prepared everything? Do you believe you’re ready to ride? Think again, because some states might enforce rules that aren’t posted at trailheads or online. Riding up and down in creeks could be illegal, and you’re expected to know the law. This is the lesson a Tennessee man learned.
Jamie Carroll was issued a citation after the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) saw photos of his ORV on the top of Hickory Creek Falls. Just four months prior, the TWRA published an article warning riders that “riding in a stream, except to cross on a trail, is illegal.”
This article was shared widely online, but it didn’t reach everyone. Carroll says he wasn’t aware how harmful ATV creek riding was to the fish populations and that it was illegal. Apparently, there weren’t any signs posted to let riders know.
Creek riding might look harmless, but it can do irreparable damage to the streams and fish. According to TWRA law enforcement, citations will be issued to anyone caught riding in the creeks.
“Where do the fish and other aquatic life have to go while eight, nine, fifteen or so side-by-sides come all the way up through their home? I would imagine [it’s] just the same as if a tornado or hurricane tore through our neighborhoods,” they said.
Jamie Carroll now advocates for the endangered fish and cautions others from riding in the creeks.
It’s important to look up the laws before heading out on the trails. We’ve gone through and looked up what each state has to say about creek riding, if anything, to help you out. Make sure you verify this information before riding, since it’s always subject to change.
*These laws reflect what was current as of August 2021.
*N/A refers to states whose laws don’t mention anything about crossing creeks, harming the environment, or staying on the trails.
|Alaska||Only operate vehicles on designated trails, not off trail or on pavement.|
|Arizona||A person shall not operate an off-highway vehicle in a manner that damages the environment, including excessive pollution of air, water, or land; abuse of the watershed or cultural or natural resources; or impairment of plant or animal life, where it is prohibited by rule, regulation, ordinance or code.|
|California||No person shall operate, nor shall an owner permit the operation of, an off-highway motor vehicle in a manner likely to cause malicious or unnecessary damage to the land, wildlife, wildlife habitat, or vegetative resources.|
|Colorado||Any county, city and county, city, or town acting by its governing body may regulate the operation of off-highway vehicles on public lands, waters, and property under its jurisdiction and on streets and highways within its boundaries by resolution or ordinance of the governing body.|
|Connecticut||The operator or owner, or both, of a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle shall be responsible and held accountable to the owner of any land where trees, shrubs, crops, fences, or other property have been damaged as a result of travel of such snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles over such land, or where consequential damage has resulted from such travel.|
|Delaware||A person shall not operate an OHV in a manner to cause excessive damages or disturbances of the land, wildlife, or vegetative resources, or endanger, disturb, or annoy other persons or property.|
|Florida||It is a violation of this section to operate an off-highway vehicle in a careless or reckless manner that endangers or causes injury or damage to another person or property.|
|Georgia||Any person operating an off-road vehicle within any perennial stream, except when directly crossing such stream, shall be deemed to be in violation. As used in this paragraph, the term “perennial stream” means a stream:|
—That, under normal circumstances, has water flowing year-round
—That has the channel located below the groundwater table most of the year
—For which groundwater is the primary source of water
—For which runoff from rainfall is a supplemental source of water flow
|Indiana||An individual shall not operate a vehicle in or upon a flowing river, stream, or creek, except for the purpose of crossing by the shortest possible route, unless the river, stream, or creek is of sufficient water depth to permit movement by flotation of the vehicle at all times.|
|Iowa||A person shall not drive or operate an all-terrain vehicle in any park, wildlife area, preserve, refuge, game management area, or any portion of a meandered stream, or any portion of the bed of a non-meandered stream which has been identified as a navigable stream or river by rule adopted by the department and which is covered by water, except on designated riding areas and designated riding trails. This paragraph does not prohibit the use of ford crossings of public roads or any other ford crossing when used for agricultural purposes; the operation of construction vehicles engaged in lawful construction, repair, or maintenance in a streambed; or the operation of all-terrain vehicles on ice.|
|Maine||A person may not operate an ATV: |
—On a freshwater marsh or bog, river, brook, stream, great pond, non-forested wetland, or vernal pool
—In a source water protection area as defined in Title 30-A, Section 2001, Subsection 20-A
|Maryland||An off-road vehicle may not be used where its operation will damage the wildland character of the property.|
|Massachusetts||It is prohibited to operate an OHV in a manner so as to harass or chase wildlife or domestic animals.|
|Michigan||An individual shall not operate an ORV in any area in such a manner as to create an erosive condition.|
|Minnesota||A person may not operate an off-highway vehicle in a manner to:|
—Indicate a willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property
—Carelessly upset the natural and ecological balance of a wetland or public waters wetland
—Impact a wetland or public waters wetland in excess of the amounts
|Mississippi||It shall be unlawful for any person to operate any all-terrain vehicle, four-wheel-drive motorized vehicle, or other wheeled or tracked conveyance within the bed of a public waterway and following the meanders thereof in such a way as to cause damage to the streambed.|
|Missouri||No person shall operate a recreational off-highway vehicle within any stream or river in this state, except that recreational off-highway vehicles may be operated within waterways which flow within the boundaries of land which a recreational off-highway vehicle operator owns, or for agricultural purposes within the boundaries of land which a recreational off-highway vehicle operator owns or has permission to be upon, or for the purpose of fording such stream or river of this state at such road crossings as are customary or part of the highway system.|
|New Hampshire||Riding in wetlands is against the law, and violators can be fined up to $10,000 and may be required to restore damages that result.|
|New Mexico||It is illegal for any person to operate any OHV in a way that damages the environment, plants, or animals, or creates excessive noise.|
|New York||You may never operate an ATV on the ice or public water within 100 feet of a person, fishing shanty, or shelter at a speed greater than necessary to keep the ATV moving.|
|North Carolina||No person shall operate an all-terrain vehicle in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger or cause injury or damage to any person or property.|
|North Dakota||You may not ride on public lands that are not designated as trails or riding areas. This includes state parks and wildlife management areas, except when used on public roads.|
|Ohio||No person shall operate a snowmobile, off-highway motorcycle, or all-purpose vehicle on any land or waters controlled by the state, except at those locations where a sign has been posted permitting such operation.|
|Oregon||You may not operate a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle in a negligent manner so as to endanger the person or property of another, or to cause injury or damage to either. You may not operate a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle in a manner so as to run down, harass, chase, or annoy any game animals, birds, or domestic animals.|
|Pennsylvania||No person shall operate a snowmobile or an ATV on state-owned property, except on clearly marked and previously designated snowmobile or ATV routes, or as expressly permitted by the Commonwealth.|
|Rhode Island||No person shall operate a motorcycle, recreational vehicle, or other motorized vehicle within the Blackstone Valley Flood Plains or Marshes, also known as the “Valley Marshes.”|
|South Carolina||It is unlawful to cross any watercourse on an all-terrain vehicle except at a designated ford, crossing, or bridge, or if the watercourse is bisected by a trail.|
|South Dakota||Off-road riding is allowed only on designated areas inside OHV areas.|
|Tennessee||The fish and wildlife commission shall issue such regulations as are necessary to carry out the purposes of the Species Protection and Conservation guidelines.|
|Utah||A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor for unlawful cross-country use of a motor vehicle on public land or unlawful motor vehicle use on private property if the person knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly:|
—Damages vegetation, trees, wetlands, riparian areas, fences, structures, or improvements
—Harasses wildlife or livestock
|Vermont||An ATV shall not be operated outside the boundaries of trails established by the VASA Trail System, unless such operation is specifically authorized pursuant to another provision of this chapter.|
|Wisconsin||You cannot operate an ATV or UTV in any navigable water, or on the exposed bed of any navigable water (including exposed lakebeds in front of your property), except to cross a stream by use of a bridge, culvert, ford, or similar structure, provided the crossing is in the most direct manner.|
|Wyoming||Avoid wet areas and waterways. They are a vital resource for many plants and animals. If you must cross water, ride carefully and only at designated spots.|
Carroll’s Facebook post started a conversation about problems with creek riding. Other Facebook users responded with similar situations at other trails.
One Facebook user chimed in that Windrock Park has closed two of its trails. It’s said that this is because of too much erosion in the water and because riders were sharing pictures of riding in the creeks. Although this can’t be confirmed on their website, Windrock has implemented a rule specifically stating to not ride in the creeks unless crossing.
Another user mentioned that the Hatfield and McCoy Trail has had problems with riders going through the creeks and hurting endangered salamanders. This can’t be verified either, but there is a rule about staying on designated trails.
A different off-road enthusiast on Facebook gave a real-life case of what could happen when there’s too much erosion in the water. The Tellico Trail on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina was a popular place to ride during the 80s and 90s. But it closed down because of pollution from excessive ORV use (including damage to the streams).
Every state has different laws when it comes to creek riding. Wardens may hand out citations, even from seeing pictures posted online.
That’s why the rule of thumb is to stay on the designated trails and look up all the rules before riding. By doing this, you won’t have to worry about getting in trouble and you’ll enjoy the trails for a long time to come.