Trails sometimes ride more like a Motocross track with the blind corners, random elevation changes and "what's around the next bend?" looks that keep the adventure moving at a fun pace - a big reason why so many enjoy the activity.

But remember, whether you ride dirt bikes or ATVs on the trails behind your house or through the state park system, expect to run into others - quite literally - if you don't take some precautions.

Just as motorcyclists learn to use various hand signals to communicate to drivers, other riders and those in their group, you too need to know a set of hand signals so you can let on-coming "traffic" know who remains in your trail riding party. Riders generally separate a good length, mostly out of safety, but also to assist beginner riders in their group. Therefore, if the lead fails to let approaching riders know the number in their caravan, accidents, even head-on collisions, can occur.

Dirt bikers sitting idle on a trail

Dirt Bike Trail Riding Tips - Trail Riding Etiquette

Use Hand Signals

Keep the trails safe for you, your party and other riders by learning a few easy hand signals. If you ride lead, indicate the number of riders behind you by showing the number of fingers. The last rider in your group should hold up a fist indicating last rider in the group. Check out the following illustration:

Infographic on using hand signals wile trail riding

That's it! Those are the hand signals and if you ride somewhere in the middle (between the lead and rear riders) you don't need to show any signals. However, in the event you have more than five riders in your group, then try this system: the fifth and sixth rider (and so on) each hold up five fingers, then every rider behind signals the progression down until the last rider holds a fist.

Passing Other Riders on the Trail

Use these hand signals for passing slower riders, as well, so they know your entire group has passed. On approach, you can't really yell "On your left" or similar because of the engine noise but as lead rider of your group, revving the engine lets the slower party up ahead know someone wants by. Don't pass along a difficult, obstacle filled or narrow section of the trail. And if you're the one getting passed, slow down and get right.

Additional Trail Riding Safety Tips

Know Trail Difficulty

States usually provide a rating system indicating the difficulty of a specific trail system. If you have limited experience riding trails or plan to bring along another rider(s) with limited experience don't pick the most difficult trails to ride. This not only poses a hazard for you but also for other experienced riders who handle the curves and terrain like a pro until they hit a roadblock (figuratively and maybe even literally) caused by you or those unskilled riders in your group.

Know Who Else Uses the Trails

Trails open to dirt bikes and ATVs always have plenty of those 2-wheeled and 4-wheeled machines however some trails also allow UTVs and off-roading jeeps along with lots of hikers and possibly those on horseback. Be aware and be alert. A dirt bike or ATV offers little resistance when going head-to-head against larger vehicles.

As a general rule, shared trails give the right-of-way to the lesser power so you must yield to walkers and since horses spook easily you'd best come to a stop, shut the engine off and let the horse and rider be on their way. You reckon?

Sign post on a dirt bike trail

Use a Trail Map

Trails take you far and wide and after a while they all look the same. Forks in the road look like other forks in the road and before long you might have no idea how to get back to camp. And it's an hour before sundown. Avoid this unnecessary issue by bringing a trail map, usually available at the park entrance, and/or GPS system. The US Forest Service website provides information for each state along with trail maps as well.

Also, make note of any signage along the trails indicating routes prohibiting motorized vehicles.

Simmer Down Now

A place exists to open the throttle but even on those advanced trails, which mostly offer technical challenges not full-on speed, you need to watch your pace around blind spots, corners, when coming up on the rear of slower riders and approaching oncoming riders.

Slip On a Spark Arrestor

File this under Trail Rules because if you plan to ride on public lands your dirt bike or ATV requires a spark arrestor whether you ride a 2-stroke or 4-stroke. A spark arrestor indeed "arrests" the amount of fiery hot carbon emanating from the dirt bike's exhaust pipe which helps prevent fires in addition to lowering the decibels. Park rangers come down pretty hard on those who don't follow the Trail Rules so save yourself a headache and some money by avoiding the hefty fine and/or possibly getting your ride impounded by installing a spark arrestor.

Dirt biker poppin a wheelie while trail riding

Don't Screw Around and Be a Good Neighbor

Think of camp like the pits at the track. Lots of people milling about, children perhaps even a pet or two. Now is not the time to practice wheelies or pin it to win it. Consider your ride day finished once you pop open an Old Milwaukee. Douse your camp fire, pick up all trash and leave your site cleaner than when you arrived.

Lastly and quite possibly most importantly - DON'T FORGET YOUR OHV PERMIT!

If applicable, of course.