Forest Service: Snowmobiles not allowed in wilderness areas, be aware of regulations |

Forest Service: Snowmobiles not allowed in wilderness areas, be aware of regulations

A snowmobiler rides on Rabbit Ears Pass in Routt National Forest in January. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The U.S. Forest Service is warning snowmobilers to stay out of areas where motorized vehicles are not allowed or risk a fine up to $5,000 and possible jail time.

The agency has seen a spurt of violations in which people on snow machines entered wilderness areas and places where only nonmotorized uses are allowed.

So far this year, at least 10 citations have been issued for snowmobilers riding in areas where they are not allowed, including the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area and the nonmotorized area of Rabbit Ears Pass, according to Routt National Forest spokesperson Aaron Voos.

At a glance

For more information, contact a local U.S. Forest Service office:

Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District
925 Weiss Drive, Steamboat Springs

Parks Ranger District
100 Main Street, Walden

Yampa Ranger District
300 Roselawn Avenue, Yampa

The Forest Service highlighted the following regulations that apply to the National Forest in the Steamboat Springs area:

• Operating any motorized equipment, including snowmobiles, is illegal in all wilderness areas.

• The west side of Buffalo Pass has a Winter Backcountry Permit Area, in which a permit is required for all uses.

• Separate areas for non-motorized and motorized use exist at Rabbit Ears Pass

• Mandatory and voluntary closures exist throughout the area. Please ensure you have the most up-to-date information before heading out.

Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Tara Umphries said violations have been an issue throughout the winter, and Voos added that it has become an annual problem.

“Simply put, wilderness areas in the forest are off limits for motorized use,” Umphries said in a news release.

Wilderness areas are congressionally designated with the intention to minimize impact from human activity. Motorized and mechanized travel is not allowed in these areas, Umphries said.

Those who violate these rules face fines up to $5,000 and the possibility of up to six months of jail time.

In the Forest Service’s eyes, not knowing is not an excuse.

“Some of the wilderness area is marked, but it is ultimately up to the individuals to know where they are in reference to restricted or prohibited areas,” the news release states.

Umphries emphasized that the agency has several ways to access maps reflecting where specific uses are allowed. Maps are available at Forest Service offices or online at and

The Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District also uploads maps to Avenza Maps. Users can use the Avenza smartphone application to scan a QR code linking to the map they’re interested in at some trailheads and at the Forest Service office in Steamboat Springs. The maps have to be downloaded over a cellphone or internet connection, but once they’re loaded on to a phone, users can use their phone’s GPS connection to pinpoint where they are in the forest.

If you’re not sure where to go, the Forest Service suggests contacting the agency’s local office or area backcountry guides to get connected to areas where motorized uses are allowed.

“Local recreationists are a great resource to help spread the word,” Umphries said in the release. “Many local individuals and businesses can give accurate information about where people should and shouldn’t be.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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