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Laws on roads? Thru roads?


NAXJA Forum User
I try and do things by the book... that in mind I wanted to get the official word (and whether it varies from state to state) on where I can and cannot go. If there is no "no trespassing" sign am I ok to proceed? If my quad map shows a thru road can I proceed? There are some trails nearby that I KNOW are on private land...but they are thru roads (and maybe some ATV trails)... so does anyone have some REAL guidelines I can follow?
They are different from state to state.

For example I have come across some trails up here that the local residents string rope across and place very poorly written, on cardboard nonetheless, NO TRUCKS ALLOWED. I simply get out take down the illegal obstruction and proceed down the road. I can do this because I know that it isn't closed because it's not an official sign which is placed on closed roads.

I know all the laws in my state but yours are probably totally different.

Check with your states DMV, SOS, DEQ, DNR or whoever regulates 4x4 trails in your state.
My understanding is that "no trespassing" means exactly that. In addition to the quad maps, you need to look at land ownership. The BLM has some 1:100,000 maps that do a pretty good job of showing that. If a road goes across private ground, the owner can close it - which is exactly what Carol King did on the 4th of July Creek road in the White Clouds. (that wasn't a through road, but kind of the same concept)

I would also check with the state police or Fish and Game to see what their read is on this.
Well, that's not entirely true because if someone owns land on both sides of I-80, they can't throw up a sign and not let people thru...
I guess I'm wondering because the average joe driving along a dirt road may see turnoffs... (i.e. other dirt roads) and if there are no signs, then I'd assume he could just drive down one of them and not get in trouble.
Depends on the laws in the state, county, township, city, etc.....Last I was in Wyoming in the Medicine Bow area...I saw a sign that said " No Tresspassing, unless you want to get shot at!!" my GPS showed the road went through....but I still turned around. Never cross private land without permission.

If by "quad maps" you are referring to USGS quadrangle topo maps, they show topography and geographic features, but they don't address ownership or legal status. They are compiled primarily from aerial photography, with field checking to maintain accuracy.

All the line on the map means is that there is a geographic feature there which has seen enough traffic to make a semi-permanent route that the cartographer can see in the aerial photos. The USCGS does not check to determine if such roads and/or trails are or are not public rights-of-way. Anything that is not considered a public right-of-way by the legal authorities in your township or county is private property, and the owner can deny passage at any time.

In some cases, there may be a public ROW bounded on both sides by private property, and you can drive the road (even if it's a dirt trail) but the entire length will have "No Trespassing" signs along both sides. In such a situation, you can't go off the legal ROW but you can traverse the ROW.
So I guess that brings about the question "How do you determine if a road is public?".

There has GOT to be a website out there that defines all this kinda stuff....I've seen them for ATV's and dirt bikes....
Well, I see what you are saying, but your I-80 analogy isn't quite the same. The feds own the right of way between the fences; States own the right of way along state highways - in both cases to protect public access. When you get out in the forest or desert, you need to know who owns the land as that ownership goes up to and likely includes the road. The Forest Service has travel plans for their lands that show which roads are open for vehicle traffic (pretty sure the BNF has them on-line). The BLM maps I mentioned earlier are a good start for other areas but may not be totally accurate, and are at such a large scale that you may not be able to see small private tracts. Asking the locals is probably best, especially if the road is posted.