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Carrie Heckendorf rides her ATV near the family home in rural Mosinee, Tuesday, September 4, 2012. / Dan Young/For
Carrie Heckendorf, from front to back, her husband, Garth, son Nick and nephew Ethan Krzanowski, 12, of Mosinee, ride near the Heckendorf home in rural Mosinee, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.

Places to go

Burma Road ATV Trail,
Marathon County
This 11-mile trail system is a few miles west of Mosinee. The trail system has two access points — a north parking lot on Burma Road and a south parking lot on Highway 153. The trails are closed each year during October and November for fall hunting seasons and from mid-March through April during spring thaw.
Harrison Hills Trail,
Lincoln County
This northeastern Lincoln County trail system has more than 50 miles of wooded trails mainly in Harrison and Gleason. There are six access points to the trail system, three of which — at the Harrison Convenience Store, at Bailey’s Town and Country Inn and at the Clover Club — have food. The trails are open from May 1 through Dec. 1. It connects with a trail system in Langlade County to the east and Oneida County to the north.
Parrish Highlands Trail,
Langlade County
This 40-mile trail has three access points and connects with the Harrison Hills Trail in Lincoln County. The trail head and main access point is on Highway T, three miles west of Highway 45 on Summit Lake. The trail is developed and maintained by the Langlade County Forestry and Recreation Department.
Lynne/Little Rice Trail,
Oneida County
This trail system in southwestern Oneida County offers 16 miles of woodland trails, 23 miles of connecting road routes and 76 miles of open town roads. The trails are maintained by the Little Rice ATV Riders Club. The trails open in late May and close at the end of November. They also connect to trails in Lincoln County.
Enterprise Trail,
Oneida County
This 10-mile trail lies entirely on Oneida County forestland and has a campground and picnic shelter in the central part of the trail system. The trailhead is on Bowman Road, about seven miles south of Rhinelander. The trail opens in late May and closes at the end of November. It also connects with the Parrish Highlands Trail in Langlade County.
Source: County forestry departments



Cost: Prices for new ATVs can range from $2,000 up to $14,000, depending on the size, the manufacturer and any extra outfittings. Used ATVs can be found for less than $2,000.

Cost: Prices for new helmets can range from $50 to $300, depending on the quality, manufacturer and features. Bicycle helmets are not acceptable by Wisconsin law.

There is no specific piece of clothing an ATV rider is required to wear, but most people recommend gloves and wearing pants over shorts to protect legs from dirt, sticks or stones that the wheels might kick up. Shoes or boots, not sandals, also are recommended. ATV gear, including boots, pants, a jacket and gloves, can be found at most sports retailers or online.


• Any ATV that is in Wisconsin for 15 consecutive days must be registered with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or covered by a valid registration in another state.
• Anyone who is at least 12 years old or who was born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must take an ATV safety education course and get a DNR safety certificate. Wisconsin does honor certificates from other states.
• ATVs are required to have a license plate with a registration number, which should be affixed to the rear of the vehicle.
• In general, ATVs are not allowed on public roads unless the municipality permits it. This includes ditches and rights of way next to roads. Check with the local government or an ATV club to find out whether roads are open to ATV travel.
• When you are riding on a road, you must drive at the extreme right side. ATV riders must obey the speed limit, but they also have to slow down to 10 mph when they are within 150 feet of a residence or 100 feet of a pedestrian or anyone else not on a motorized vehicle.
• All ATVs are required to have a white headlight and a red taillight that are turned on when riding in the dark. They also must be on when riding on roads.
Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

From front to back, Garth Heckendorf, his wife, Carrie and son Nick ride their ATV's past a deer stand near their rural Mosinee home, Tuesday, September 4, 2012.


The lure of Wisconsin’s Northwoods for outdoor sports enthusiasts, with its acres of undeveloped land and thousands of lakes, is undeniable.

But it doesn’t attract only those who participate in silent sports such as hiking and biking. Motorsports, such as snowmobiling, have boomed during the last couple of decades, perhaps none more so than the sport using all terrain vehicles, or ATVs.

Membership in local ATV clubs has boomed, too. Clubs began popping up across the state in the late 1990s and early 2000s with just a few members. Now though, many of them have 100 members or more. The Harrison Hills ATV Club, based in Lincoln County, started in 2002 with fewer than 20 members but has since blossomed to 250 members from across north central Wisconsin.

More on ATV riding: ATV news from around the state | Find an ATV trail, powered by U.S. Trailmaps

Garth Heckendorf, the president and one of the founders of the Harrison Hills ATV Club, attributed the rise, in part, to the accessibility of the sport. It isn’t limited to one age group, he said; the club has teenage members, but Heckendorf’s father, who is in his 80s, also still loves to ride.

“It’s a great way for the entire family to do something together,” he said.

With the way the Harrison Hills Trail in northeastern Lincoln County is set up, riders have easy access to trails from local campgrounds. Heckendorf said he and his family can truck their ATVs to a campground and spend an entire weekend camping and riding the trails.

The numbers of riders isn’t the only thing that has increased, however.

The miles of trails open to ATVs has jumped from several hundred a decade ago to several thousand today. Wisconsin alone has more than 6,000 miles of trails, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The sport has become popular enough that several towns and cities in the Northwoods are beginning to open portions of roads to ATV travel.

Open roads

When roads first started opening to ATVs, Heckendorf said club members were a little worried that riders, particularly younger ones, would treat their machines like bikes. Instead, it really hasn’t been an issue. He said ATV routes on roads are well-marked, and peer pressure from other club members and riders does a lot to reduce recklessness.

“Riders understand how hard the clubs have worked to get these routes open,” he said. “They respect that privilege.”

Tomahawk last year opened many of its city roads to ATVs, an action the Tomahawk City Council took to increase tourism activity in northern Lincoln County. The idea is to connect rural trails to gas stations, restaurants and motels, said Mike Tolvstad, Tomahawk’s director of public works.

Riders are prohibited from Wisconsin, South Tomahawk and East Somo avenues, as they are three of the busiest in the city, Tolvstad said. But riders still can access local shops and restaurants from alleys.

“It’s a means of getting from point A to point B,” he said. “It’s going to help bring business because now (riders) can stay at the hotels and ride again in the morning.”

Minocqua, too, recently has expanded its ATV routes within town borders in an effort to bring more people to the area and increase accessibility of gas stations and lodging to riders.

ATV access has limits

Not all towns are moving that way, though. Most roads remain closed to ATV traffic, and this summer, Vilas County rejected a proposal from the town of Phelps to open a six-mile portion of Highway A to ATVs for a trial period.

Vilas County Board members said in a June meeting that feedback from county residents showed that many people oppose expanding ATV trails and road access, and the process for determining whether the trial period was successful wasn’t clear enough.

But Phelps Chairman Colin Snook said the positives would outweigh the negatives. The expanded trail could bring more people and tourism dollars to the area, and it also could connect trails in Vilas and Forest counties.

“We need economic development here,” he said. “ATVs might be a piece of that; they might not, but you don’t know until you explore it.”

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