This page presents some basic information and suggestions on dealing with the exceptional road conditions found in canyon country.
Drive and ride only on roads and trails where such travel is allowed.
- When leaving your vehicle, do not invite theft by leaving valuable items in plain view. Lock your car when you leave it even for a short time.
- No vehicles may be operated outside of established public roads, parking areas, and other designated areas, including wash bottoms. This includes cars, pickups, trucks, motorcycles, trail bikes, ATVs, ORVs, RVs, etc. Obey all signs. Off-road driving destroys plants and animals and leaves scars that are slow to heal.
It's going to take longer than you think. Twisting mountain roads, single lane roads, and all the wondrous things to do every day are going to slow you down.
- Leave a trip agenda with friends or family. Services and water are not generally available in the backcountry areas.
- Have plenty of gasoline in your vehicle, and take food, water and emergency supplies.
- Seatbelt and child restraint laws apply. Buckle up!
- All vehicles and bicycles must stay on roads. Driving off road is prohibited.
- Drive defensively, at or below posted speed limits within the parks. These roads are designed for sightseeing speeds, not normal highway and freeway speeds.
- Never pass another motorized vehicle while in the park. Use caution when passing bicycles.
- Use pullouts to allow vehicles to pass if traveling under 30 m.p.h.
- Stay to the right, on your side of the centerline.
- Pull off of park roads only at designated pullouts. Do not stop in the roadway. Do not block traffic when viewing wildlife or scenery.
- Brake gently; don't swerve to avoid wildlife; you could end up in a collision with a tree or vehicle.
- Watch for Animals. Free-range livestock grazing is commonplace out here, and if the cows and sheep don't wander into the road, the deer might.
- If a road advisory blinks a warning like "Steep Curves Ahead," or "Chains or Snow Tire Required," or advises you not to continue without four-wheel-drive, believe it. Carry water and, in winter, extra clothes and a small shovel.
- See Lost in the Backcountry.
Many unsurfaced roads within canyon country, even within the parks, are minimally maintained. Many backcountry roads have clay or dirt surfaces. Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended on these surfaces. Dirt roads may be impassable when wet.
- Stop at a visitor center to check park road conditions. Weather is a major factor on road conditions and can make them impassable for several days at a time.
- Be prepared for flash floods. Many roads cross normally dry washes. Don't try to drive through a flood.
- Unless signs indicate otherwise, leave gates open or closed as you find them.
- In case of breakdown, remain with your car until help arrives.
Don't start wildfires. Follow these rules:
- Unless otherwise posted, ATVs are not permitted on most park roads.
- Snowmobiles are generally prohibited except within specific parks and monuments. Within those locations over-snow vehicles must be registered yearly and state snowmobile registration is required. Snowmobiles are permitted on designated unplowed roads when snow conditions permit.
- Never park on, or drive through, dry grass.
- Grease trailer wheels, check tires, and ensure safety chains are not touching the ground.
- Internal combustion engines on off-road vehicles require a spark arrester.
- Check and clean the spark arrester.
- Carry a shovel and fire extinguisher in your vehicle or OHV/ATV.
- Sparks from chainsaws, welding torches, and other equipment can cause wildfires. Check local restrictions before using such equipment.
Getting around on national forest roads is different from driving on a city street or a state highway. When planning a trip to a national forest, a map is the most helpful planning guide. National forest maps are sold at Forest Service offices and through the mail. With a national forest map, information on roads, trails, campgrounds, and more is at your fingertips.
- Most national forest roads are low-standard, single-lane roads with turnouts for meeting oncoming traffic. Most roads are unsurfaced or have gravel. Gravel makes steering and stopping more difficult, and unsurfaced roads are often very slippery when wet. Most roads are not snow plowed or maintained for winter travel.
- Food, gas, and lodging are seldom available along national forest roads.
- Encounters with large trucks are possible even on weekends.
- Driving rules used on state highways apply to national forest roads.
In some national forest areas, motorized vehicles are allowed to travel only on roads displaying route markers. In these areas, off-road vehicle travel is restricted to protect soil, vegetation, or wildlife, or to reduce conflicts between uses.
A regulatory sign stating "Motorized Travel Permitted Only on Roads Displaying Route Numbers" will be posted at main access points to restricted areas. Roads open to motorized vehicle travel within such areas will be designated by route markers displaying road numbers.
The two route markers in this drawing are used on national forests to help you choose which roads will best fit your vehicle capabilities and the driving experience you desire.
- The horizontal marker is used on forest roads recommended for passenger cars. It may also be found on some roads unsuitable for passenger cars until it is replaced by the vertical marker.
- The vertical route marker is placed on unimproved roads that are maintained for high-clearance vehicles such as pickups and four-wheel drives. Many of these roads can be safely driven with a passenger car, however, considerable caution should be exercised.
Some unimproved roads, unsuitable for passenger cars, still have horizontal route markers. It will be several years before all horizontal markers are replaced by the vertical marker on roads unsuitable for passenger cars, so be aware of changes in road conditions and drive defensively.
Unimproved roads unsuitable for passenger car travel can be identified by one or more of the elements show in this graphic.
These unimproved roads are not always shown on forest visitor maps. If you choose to drive these low-standard roads, be prepared to encounter rocks and boulders, road washouts, downed trees, and brush encroaching on the roadway. For safety, use a vehicle suitable for rough travel and carry extra equipment, such as an ax, shovel, gloves, jack, tow cable, and extra fuel.
Some roads are used by logging or other large trucks. When one of the diamond shape signs is posted, you may want to consider not using the road, even though it may appear well maintained. However, if you choose to use the road, exercise caution. You also may encounter large trucks on roads without special signs. Always drive defensively.
Roads marked with one of these signs are available for heavy truck use that may be more hazardous than truck use on other roads without such signs. Check with the nearest National Forest office to see when these roads will be available for recreation or other uses.
When driving on single-lane national forest roads, watch for turnouts (a widened section for passing) and be prepared to stop and wait if you see oncoming traffic. Some roads do not have turnouts and, in other cases, a turnout may not exist when another vehicle is encountered. Vehicles must always stop when meeting another vehicle on a single-lane road. Be a courteous, safe driver.
Drive at a reasonable speed; most national forest roads are low-standard roads and are not designed or maintained for high speeds. Your line of sight is often obstructed by trees, brush, hills, or sharp curves, and your vehicle cannot stop as quickly on gravel or dirt surfaces as on paved streets.
- Drive defensively.
- Keep to the right, especially on blind curves.
- Don't drive in the dust created by other vehicles.
- Park well off the road, but don't block turnouts.
- Be prepared to stop in less than one half the distance you can see ahead of your vehicle.
- Night Driving: Enjoying Desert Wildlife After Dark
How to get photos of desert wildlife at night, and get there and back safely.
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