What Is an OHV, or Off-Highway Vehicle?

Take an off-highway ride with these go-anywhere vehicles

Custom ATV in the sunlight.

Matt Finley

OHVs come in all shapes and sizes, may be enclosed or open air, and have anywhere from two to eight wheels or tracks. Motorcycles, Jeeps, quads (ATVs), trucks, and even some sport utility vehicles (SUVs) can be OHVs.

OHV Definition

An off-highway vehicle (OHV) is a type of vehicle designed specifically for off-road use. Some can be driven on the road, but the vast majority of drivers reserve their OHVs for recreating in places that regular vehicles cannot go.

Going Where Most Vehicles Cannot

If you want to visit places that are too remote to get to by regular road, you're going to need an OHV. One of the most popular for short jaunts is an all-terrain vehicle like an ATV. These four-wheeled (although some do feature six and even eight wheels) open-air vehicles perform well in mud, sand, and snow, and can handle moderately steep, rocky inclines, which makes them extremely popular with hunters, ranchers, and even the military.

Dirtbikes are another great way to explore backcountry trails, while dune buggies remain popular with people who love the sun and surf (and testing their driving skills in wet sand).

You'll need an enclosed vehicle if you're headed out for more than just a few hours, though. One of the most popular is undoubtedly the Jeep, whose rugged construction and range of four-wheel capabilities make it a top choice for backcountry hikers and snowshoers, fishing enthusiasts, and campers. Toyota, Land Rover, and Ford are a few automakers that also produce SUVs with off-highway capabilities.

Extreme Off Road

If you want to test your off-highway skill with something a little more challenging than a dirt trail or a snowy track, you might want to join the growing number of people who compete in rock crawling events. Held in places where the sand is soft and the terrain is steep and rocky (like Utah, Nevada, and Arizona) rock crawling involves putting super-modified Jeeps, SUVs, and buggies through their paces, including "crawling" over boulder fields and inching up steep inclines.

Rules and Regulations

OHVs typically have to be registered if they are going to be used on public lands, such as places managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Although some of these spots can be accessed for free, other places require users to pay a fee.

Just because a vehicle can go off-road doesn't mean it necessarily should. Try to stick to well-designated off-road areas, as blazing your own trail can upset fragile ecosystems. And it goes without saying that responsible drivers of OHVs pack out what they pack in and leave their surroundings as close as possible to an unspoiled state.