Off-roading 101

Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) might be off the beaten path for many, but all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), utility task vehicles (UTVs) and everything in between provide an exhilarating way for everyone to explore the outdoors in places that hiking and mountain biking trails can’t take you – especially in an off-roading haven like Greater Zion.

Don’t be intimidated by the heavy machinery or a lack of experience in the mechanical department; off-roading is open to all who are willing to learn basic definitions, skills, best practices and take a 15-minute OHV education course. Or, you can ditch the course and just tag along for the ride. Local adventure outfitters have plenty of options for you to ride as a passenger – same thrilling experience, less pressure. 

Wait, what even is an ATV? What is a UTV? What is the difference between an ATV, UTV and OHV? There are lots of acronyms and interchangeable terms at play here, so before we dive in, let’s establish some important definitions:

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  • ATV: All-terrain vehicles are also known as “quads” or “four-wheelers.” They typically seat one passenger, take tighter turns, fit into smaller spaces and have an open-air design – meaning it’s just you and the open road on this one. Their light design makes them perfect for speedy, solo adventuring.
  • UTV: Utility task vehicles are also known as “side-by-sides”, or “SXS” to abbreviate it further. This name comes from their ability to seat multiple passengers. The subsequent size increase means that they don’t turn as tightly or fit into smaller spaces like their ATV counterparts, but they do have bigger, more powerful engines and a slightly more covered design.
  • OHV: ‘Off-highway vehicle’ is an all-encompassing term that includes both ATVs and UTVs, along with Jeeps, customized lifted vehicles and any other vehicle that can travel off the highway and handle off-road conditions. Pretty self-explanatory! 

Preparing for your ride

Mechanics Matter.

First thing’s first, you have to make sure you’re riding a reliable, road-ready machine. Any maintenance like oil changes, tire repairs, structural adjustments etc. should be taken care of before your adventure so you can cruise confidently. Having your vehicle inspected and registered as required by your state will help you to know what needs your attention. Make sure to pack a few tools like straps and towing gear in case you ride until the wheels fall off (we hope not literally, but you get the point).

Your body is also an important machine, so treat it as such.

Go all out with the gear. Helmets, goggles, nose and mouth covers, gloves, long sleeves, long pants and riding boots are useful and highly recommended for riding in sandy Greater Zion – where a lot of roost is always tossed up. As an added bonus, you’ll definitely look the part of a cool, experienced rider. T-shirts, shorts and open-toed shoes scream amateur when it comes to off-road adventuring. 

Off-road riding is fair weather fun.

We believe you when you say you can weather any storm, but your vehicle can’t. Neither can the unpaved roads, for that matter. That said, check the weather and road conditions before you take off. Accidents happen and people get stuck, and it’s a real mood-killer. You don’t want to end up on Matt’s Off Road Recovery. 😉

While you’re riding

Know your machine’s limits and your personal limits.

Each ATV and UTV is different, so make sure you know the ins and outs of your machine. Where is the emergency brake? Is the clutch more on the sensitive side? Do I need to choke the engine before taking off, or does this vehicle do that automatically? Is this vehicle built for climbing or cruising? These are just a few examples of things to consider.

When it comes to your personal limits, know that off-roading is a blast regardless of your skill level. Even the easiest off-road experiences in Greater Zion are sure to satisfy your need for speed and get your adrenaline pumping, so there is no need to bite off more than you can chew. Beginners, in particular, should get familiar with the machine and practice the basics in a forgiving area before attempting anything too advanced. 

Remember: If you’re going for leisure and this seems like too much learning, you can always sign up through our local adventure sports outfitters to ride along and let the professionals drive. You’ll still have a front-row seat to all the action (literally).

Keep physics in mind.

We didn’t pay much attention in that class either, but let’s review some important, off-roading specific takeaways:

  • Stop at the top of a sandy hill = roll to the bottom. We get it. The best views are at the top of the hill and you want to take a moment to soak them in, but you have to resist the temptation. If you lose your momentum on an unstable surface, like the sand found in Greater Zion, gravity will take over – not in a good, fun way. There are plenty of designated, stable spots from which to admire the scenery.
  • Brake with intention. It’s human nature to slam on the brakes when in doubt, especially when you’re hitting high speeds and quick turns, but do so with caution. Stopping too hard too fast can cause your vehicle to lock up, so make sure you’re easing into things.
  • Keep your balance by riding actively. This is easier said than done when your center of gravity is always changing as you move through the environment, so we simplified it:
    • Going uphill → Lean forward.
    • Going downhill → Lean backward.
    • Traversing a slope → Lean the uphill direction.
    • Turning → Lean into the turn on flat surfaces, and don’t perform any sharp turns on uneven surfaces when avoidable.

Zoomin’ in Greater Zion

Three unique ecosystems – the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau – converge in Greater Zion, allowing you to experience all the different flavors of OHV trails in a conveniently small radius. Ranging from mountain forests to desert lowlands, and rocky overlooks to rolling sand dunes, everything you need to roam free at high speeds is right here in Washington County. 

Some of Greater Zion’s hidden gems are out of reach for the average car owner due to intense road conditions, but obstacles are part of the fun for OHV riders. You can conquer a challenging trail and experience sights unseen by most, like the dinosaur tracks at the bottom of Warner Valley or the breathtaking views from the Top of the World.

A strong OHV community has sprouted alongside our iconic off-roading trails, and these guides and outfitters are more than happy to guide you through their favorite spots. Whether you’re driving or just riding, see for yourself why Greater Zion is the Land of Exhilaration.