Guide to ATV and UTV Laws in Minnesota

Continuing in our series of articles analyzing the ATV laws in every state, which stemmed from this article, we are addressing the ATV laws in Minnesota in this article.  It should also be noted that, while I am an attorney, I am not your attorney, not licensed in Minnesota and am not giving legal advice.  If you have questions, you should consult a local attorney.

How does Minnesota classify ATVs and UTVs

Minnesota defines an ATV as a vehicle that has “at least three, but no more than six, low‑pressure or non‑pneumatic tires (not filled with or containing compressed air) with a total dry weight less than 2,000 pounds and a total width from outside of tire rim to outside of tire rim that is 65 inches or less.

Minnesota further breaks ATVs into two categories. Class 1 ATVs are basically your standard ATV and Class 2 ATVs are UTVs, but the full definitions are below.

An ATV with a total width of 50 inches or less is classified as a Class 1 ATV.

An ATV with a total width greater than 50 inches (but not more than 65 inches) wide is classified as a Class 2 ATV.

Are you required to register your ATV or UTV in Minnesota?

You are required to register your ATV or UTV in Minnesota and there is a $60.00 fee. Minnesota requires that you have a bill of sale displaying the ATV or UTV’s serial number.

If your ATV or UTV is legally registered in another state or country, you are not required to register it in Minnesota so long as you do not stay in Minnesota for more than 30 days. However, you will need to obtain and ATV Trail Pass, which must be placed on your ATV or UTV in a visible location.

You can also qualify for a private use registration or collector ATV registrations, both of which are valid until the transfer of the ATV or UTV.

Exceptions to ATV and UTV registration requirements

The following exemptions exist in Minnesota to the registration requirements:

  • Every year in June there is a free riding weekend where registration is not required.
  • ATVs and UTVs owned by federal, local or tribal governments.
  • ATVs and UTVS operated during an event where a special permit has been issued.
  • ATVs and UTVS operated on state and grant‑in‑aid trails by a nonresident possessing a nonresident state trail pass. Note, the ATV or UTV may not be in Minnesota more than 30 consecutive days.
  • ATVs or UTVs used exclusively in track racing events.
  • ATVs and UTVs registered by an Indian tribal government to a tribal member so long as the ATV or UTV has not been outside the tribal reservation boundary for more than 30 consecutive days.
  • ATVs that are more than 25 years old.
  • ATVs or UTVs operated on frozen water or private property.

Are you required to take a safety course to ride an ATV or UTV in Minnesota?

If you were born after July 1, 1987, Minnesota law requires you to complete an approved ATV safety course. After you have completed your safety course, you will receive a safety certificate, which you must carry whenever you are riding an ATV or UTV on Minnesota’s public lands.

Equipment Requirements for ATVs and UTVs in Minnesota

The following equipment is required whenever your ATV or UTV is operated on public land or streets.

  • Operable brakes.
  • A throttle that returns the engine to idle when pressure is removed.
  • A muffler, with spark arrester, that keeps noise below 96 db from 20 inches.

Youth Requirements for ATV/UTV riders in Minnesota

The following restrictions apply to youth operators of ATVs and/or UTVs in Minnesota.

  • Children under the age of 10 are only permitted to operate an ATV on private property with the landowner’s consent. They are also limited to operating a Class 1 ATV.
  • Children ages 10 and 11 can operate a Class 1 ATV on private property with the permission of the landowner. They can also operate on public lands and frozen water of Minnesota ONLY if the ATV has an engine of 110 cc or less AND they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. The same rule applies to an ATV with side by side seating up to 170 cc.
  • Children under the age of 12 may not operate on or cross a public road.
  • Children aged 12-15 may only operate a Class 1 ATV.
  • Children aged 12-15 public lands and frozen waters of Minnesota ONLY if accompanied by an adult on a separate ATV who holds a valid driver’s license.
  • Children under the age of 16 must have permission of a parent or guardian to operate an ATV.
  • Children aged 16 and 17 must have a valid driver’s license when operating on a road.
  • Children under the age of 18 are required to wear a securely fastened helmet when riding. If you want an awesome helmet that won’t break the bank, check out our recommended gear.
  • Children under the age of 18 are required to have adequate eye protection, which means a face shield on your helmet or goggles. We trust these Oakley goggles as we have seen them hold up to hitting a bolt at high speeds and preventing a devastating injury.
  • Children aged 12 to 17 are not permitted to carry a passenger on a Class 1 ATV unless the passenger is the child’s parent or legal guardian.
  • Children under the age of 15 may not operate a Class 2 ATV (a UTV) on any lands.
  • Children aged 15 must be accompanied by parent or guardian while operating a Class 2 ATV.
  • Children aged 15 or older may operate a Class 2 ATV only on the right shoulder or extreme right side of a public road and they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian on a separate ATV.
  • For a passenger under the age of 18, you must wear a helmet and, if applicable, a seat belt.

ATV Fit Requirement for Youth Riders

Like a lot of states, Minnesota has specific fit requirements that determine what size of an ATV a youth may operate. These requirements apply to riders under the age of 16 to ensure they can properly reach and control the handlebars and reach the foot pegs while sitting upright on the ATV.

Seat Clearance

When the rider is standing on the the foot rests, there must be a minimum of 3 inches between the the seat and the top inseam of the rider’s pants.

Upper Legs

While the rider is seated on the ATV, their upper legs should be horizontal or parallel to the foot rests.

Arm Length

While the rider sits upright on the ATV and grips the handlebars, there should be a distinct bend at the rider’s elbows.

Hand Size

While the rider is sitting on the ATV and gripping the handlebars, they should be able to extend their fingers to the brake lever such that the first joint on the index finger extends beyond the brake lever.

Where are you permitted to ride an ATV or UTV in Minnesota

There are many places in Minnesota where you can legally ride an ATV or UTV. Below is a brief note on wetlands to remember, then we look at driving on public streets, other regulations and then specific areas.

In 2004, the Minnesota State Legislature modified rules for riding ATVs and UTVs in wetlands to permit operation subject to Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) regulations. However, use extra cuation when you are riding in wetlands during drought years as the boundaries of water beds do not change even if the water level has lowered or completely dried.

Riding an ATV or UTV on public streets in Minnesota

There are areas where operating an ATV or UTV on public streets is permitted. In those situations a valid driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement is required. However, children aged 12-15 may operate an ATV or UTV on a roadway if they possess a safety certificate and are accompanied by a parent or guardian on a separate ATV or UTV.

When operating on a public road, your ATV or UTV must be equipped with a headlight, tail light, and brakes. You must also be wearing goggles or other eye protection. Above, we recommended these awesome Oakley goggles. We swear by them and they are a great value.

NOTE-A UTV may not be operated in a roadside ditch or outside slope.

Operation of an ATV or UTV is prohibited on the following roadways in Minnesota:

  • the median of a four-lane highway;
  • within the right-of-way on any interstate highway or freeway;
  • on the right-of-way between opposing lanes of traffic;
  • on grant-in-aid snowmobile trails;
  • on trails designated as non-motorized;
  • at airports; and
  • on any roads designated closed to ATVs by local ordinance.

Other than grant-in-aid trails, ATV operation is prohibited on public roads in the agricultural zone from April 1 to August 1 unless they are registered exclusively for agricultural use. The agricultural zone is the part of the state south and west of the following highways: starting at the North Dakota border, east along U.S. Highway 10 to State Highway 23, then Highway 23 east to State Highway 95 to the Wisconsin border.

General locations closed to ATV and UTV operation

ATV and UTV operations is not permitted in the following locations in Minnesota:

  • Below the ordinary high‑water level of unfrozen public waters that are lakes, streams, rivers, and certain wetlands, or in calcareous fens.
  • On any frozen public waters without legal access or where it is designated as prohibited.
  • In any area restricted by a local ordinance.
  • In a tree nursery or planting area.
  • On state forest lands that are posted or designated closed to motorized uses.
  • On any agricultural land without permission of the landowner
  • In most state parks, state recreation areas, state historic sites, wildlife management areas (WMAs), state scientific and natural areas (SNAs) unless there is a posted trail or area open to ATV use. OHV use is prohibited on WMAs, except OHVs that are licensed highway motor vehicles may be operated on established roads at speeds up to 20 miles per hour in the following WMAs: Carlos Avery, Hubbel Pond, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, Roseau River, and Thief Lake.

While ATV and UTV operation is generally prohibited in WMAs, operation is permitted by ATVs or UTVs that are licensed highway motor vehicles so long as they stay on established roads at speeds up to 20 miles per hour only in the following WMAs: Carlos Avery, Hubbel Pond, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, Roseau River, and Thief Lake.

Riding in the 7-County Metro Area

The 7-County Metro area includes Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties. As you would expect, ATV and UTV riding is not very possible in these metro areas. In these counties, you are permitted to operate an ATV or UTV only in the following locations:

  • On private property with permission of the landowner, occupant or lessee.
  • Land posted with signs specifically permitting the use of OHVs.

Riding outside the 7-County Metro Area

Outside of the 7 counties listed above, the restrictions on ATV and UTV use is much less restrictive. In these other counties, you are permitted to operate an ATV or UTV as follows:

  • On private land with permission of the landowner, occupant or lessee.
  • On frozen public waters where you can gain legal access so long as it is not otherwise restricted by law or local ordinance.
  • On any public lands and trails that are open to OHVs.

Riding in State Forest Lands

Operating in state forest lands is not as straight-forward as you would hope. Minnesota classifies its state forests into three separate categories for dealing with off‑highway and motor vehicle use. The three categories are Managed, Limited and Closed.

In general, the following rules apply to riding in the different categories of state forest lands:

  • In managed state forests north of U.S. Highway 2, you may only operate ATVs and UTVs on mapped trails and other existing routes that are not designated as “Closed.” In other areas, you may ride on all state forest roads, trails and non‑designated routes unless they are posted “Closed.”
  • In limited state forests, ATV and UTV operation is only permitted on signed and mapped routes that are open for the type ATV/UTV you are on.
  • Obviously, no ATV or UTV use is permitted on closed state forest lands. However, the less obvious part is that ATV and UTV use is permitted on frozen water in closed state forest lands.
  • In the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest, ATV and UTV use is permitted on trails designated and signed as “Open.”

State Forests Classified as “Closed”

  • Battleground
  • Birch Lakes
  • Buena Vista (portions)
  • Burntside (portions)
  • Cloquet Valley (portions)
  • Finland (portions)
  • George Washington (portions)
  • Insula Lake
  • Lake Isabella
  • Lake Jeanette (portions)
  • Pillsbury
  • Sand Dunes
  • Snake River (portions)
  • Welsh Lake
  • Whiteface River

State Forests Classified as “Limited”

  • Badoura
  • Bear Island
  • Bowstring
  • Buena Vista (portions)
  • Burntside (portions)
  • Chengwatana
  • Cloquet Valley (portions)
  • Crow Wing
  • Daughters of the American Revolution
  • Emily
  • Finland (portions)
  • Fond Du Lac
  • Foothills
  • General C.C. Andrews
  • George Washington (portions)
  • Golden Anniversary
  • Grand Portage (portions)
  • Hill River
  • Huntersville
  • Lake Jeanette (portions)
  • Land O’ Lakes
  • Lyons
  • Mississippi Headwaters
  • Nemadji
  • Pat Bayle
  • Paul Bunyan
  • R.J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood
  • Remer
  • Rum River
  • St. Croix
  • Savanna
  • Smoky Hills
  • Snake River (portions)
  • Solana
  • Sturgeon River (portions)
  • Two Inlets
  • Wealthwood
  • White Earth
  • Waukenabo

State Forests Classified as “Managed”

  • Beltrami Island
  • Big Fork
  • Blackduck
  • Cloquet Valley (portions)
  • Finland (portions)
  • George Washington (portions)
  • Grand Portage (portions)
  • Kabetogama
  • Koochiching
  • Lake of the Woods
  • Lost River
  • Northwest Angle
  • Pine Island
  • Red Lake
  • Smokey Bear
  • Sturgeon River (portions)

Riding in National Forests in Minnesota

National forest lands in Minnesota are open, with exceptions and rules, to ATV and UTV operation. Generally, the Minnesota regulations regarding ATV or UTV operation apply on national forest lands.

In determining where you are able to ride your ATV or UTV, the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) is the legal guide you need to consult, but you should definitely consult our guide to riding on federal lands for more information.

The general rules for Minnesota’s National Forests are that you may ride an ATV or UTV on national forest roads or trails designated open to these uses on the MVUM map. However, you may not ride an ATV or UTV on national forest roads that are signed, gated, bermed with dirt, rocks, trees, etc., or not designated “Open” on the MVUM map.

Rules for Trail Riding in Minnesota

The following rules are established in Minnesota when you are riding an ATV or UTV on a trail.

  • You must obey all trail signs.
  • Unless posted otherwise, assume all designated trails are two‑way traffic.
  • If you are on a one‑way trail, you must travel in the direction indicated.
  • You must stay to the right side of the trail when meeting or being passed by another trail user.
  • When passing another trail user, you must pass on the left side only when the trail is free from oncoming traffic.
  • You must yield to non‑motorized trail users.
  • When you come across a horse, you must shut off your engine until the horse has passed or until you are waved on.
  • You must yield to traffic when entering or crossing a trail.

Hunting on an ATV or UTV

In general, you may not leave the road or trail on an ATV or UTV when hunting. However, you may leave the road or trail on a Class 1 ATV (not a UTV) in any of the following circumstances.

  • To retrieve big game between September and December.
  • To hunt for big game or construct stands between October and December.
  • To trap during the open season for protected furbearers.
  • To trap for minnows under certain conditions.

NOTE- The big game exceptions do not apply to land designated as “No Motorized Travel” or within the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest.

The rules are a bit different for deer. Hunters possessing a valid deer license may operate an ATV or UTV on public lands during the firearms deer season only during the following times:

  • Before legal shooting hours (1 ⁄2 hour before sunrise).
  • From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
  • After legal shooting hours (1 ⁄2 hour after sunset).

NOTE- trails and roads on state forest land are otherwise closed to all ATV and UTV operation during deer hunting season.

In Minnesota, you may carry a firearm in an ATV or UTV if it is unloaded and securely fastened in a case where none of the firearm is visible (this includes a car trunk). While operating an ATV or UTV, you may only carry a firearm uncased at a shooting range, while lawfully hunting or while traveling to or from a hunting location. In these situations, the firearm still must be unloaded.

You are not required to case a bow while riding an ATV or UTV, but the bow may not be armed with a bolt or arrow.

In no situation are you permitted to shoot a firearm or bow from your ATV or UTV.

What to do if you are in an ATV or UTV Accident in Minnesota

To report an ATV or UTV accident in Minnesota, you are directed to call 911. You are required to cooperate with the officer investigating the accident to file a written report to the DNR within 10 days if the accident resulted in a human injury requiring medical attention or total damage of $300 or more.

Other ATV and UTV Regulations in Minnesota

  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you are convicted of a DWI in Minnesota, you will lose your ATV operating privileges for one year.
  • It is unlawful to operate an an ATV or UTV in a careless, reckless or negligent manner that endangers another person or property.
  • It is unlawful to litter from an ATV or UTV.
  • It is unlawful to enter or leave lands by cutting wire or tearing down a fence.
  • It is unlawful to mutilate, destroy, damage or remove any property within a trail or on state land.
  • It is unlawful to post, damage or remove any signs on any lands or waters unless you are the landowner, occupant or lessee of the property
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in a manner that will upset the natural and ecological balance of a wetland or public waters wetland.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in a manner that will impact a wetland or public waters wetland in excess of minimum amounts established by law.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV on forest lands in a manner that causes erosion or rutting unless you are on a designated trail.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV on or over lakes, rivers or streams unless the body of water is covered by ice or you cross at a bridge, culvert or designated low‑water crossing.
  • It is unlawful in Minnesota to knowingly tamper with your ATV or UTV’s odometer with the intent to defraud by reflecting a lower mileage than the true mileage.
  • Minnesota requires you to report to the DNR License Center within 15 days any registered off‑highway vehicle that is abandoned, stolen or destroyed.
  • If your ATV or UTV is equipped with headlights and tail lights, they must be turned on during operation.
  • If you are riding on a frozen body of water within 100 feet of another person (does not include someone on an ATV) or a shelter, you are limited to 10 mph.
  • Your ATV may not be equipped with a snorkel device that has a raised air intake 6 inches or more above the manufacturer’s original air intake unless you are riding the Iron Range OHV State Recreation Area and other designated public OHV recreation areas.

Brent Huntley

Brent Huntley is the owner of ATV Man and is responsible for almost all the material on the website. He also runs and loves to travel and ride ATVs with his family. When he isn't playing, his day job consists of owning Huntley Law.

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