Know before you go: ATVs and water don’t mix

Photo of an ATV rider driving through a water body

Temporary fun can lead to permanent damage.

Picture this: It’s a gorgeous summer day and you’re out exploring a new area on your ATV. The sun is hot and you see the cold, refreshing gleam of a creek coming up in front of you. Do you ride through?

If you’re tempted to answer ‘yes’ to this question, you might not know that riding a motorized vehicle through any water body on Alberta’s public lands – or along the shoreline – is against Alberta law. And if you know that it’s against the law, you might be thinking ‘yeah, I’d do it – but I would be careful – and besides, how much damage can one person do anyway?’

The simple answer is that you can do a lot of damage – not only with your tires, but also through the example you set for other riders. Your actions by themselves might not have a huge impact, but it’s not only your actions that matter – it’s the actions of everyone in that area. A little damage multiplied by many vehicles can lead to a lot of damage – very quickly.

No one knows this better than our field staff. Here, they tell you for themselves about the damage motorized vehicles can cause – and how you can prevent it:


Can’t watch the video right now? Here’s a cheat-sheet: 

Three reasons why riding through water is bad news:

  • It kills fish eggs and fry and damages their habitat.
  • It stirs up silt and lowers water quality for everyone downstream.
  • Tires can severely damage the shoreline, which can require ESRD to close trails or whole areas to allow for repair.

Here’s a quick summary of exactly what you need to do to avoid damaging riverbeds and shorelines – and to stay within Alberta law:

  • Stay dry. Keep your wheels out of the water and away from the shoreline. If you need to cross a water body, use a designated bridge or crossing to minimize damage.
  • Know before you go. Research your route before you go and make sure it minimizes potential damage to the landscape.
  • Keep it clean. Always wash your vehicle after use to minimize the spread of invasive species – but do it at home, not in a lake or stream.
Photo of two ATVs driving through water and mud.

Riding through small streams can still lead to big damage – keep it dry.

4 thoughts on “Know before you go: ATVs and water don’t mix

  1. ATV’S should be completely banned in our natural wild areas. They cause long term damage to the trails, they scare and terrify animals, and they ruin it for hikers mainly because of the noise the ATV’S make. I don’t want to go in to the countryside to experience the fumes, noise pollution and wrecked trails. I hope and pray they will be banned. They should be restricted to ATV parks where they can churn up the earth without ruining everyone else’s day.

  2. Responsible ATV users would disagree with your comments. There is a lot worse work going on in Alberta’s wilderness that scares away animals and ruins habitat. Stay in the city where you belong, lots of quiet parks there.

    • I think we should use our resources together. We all love nature in different ways and all humans have a negative impact. The best way to protect the environment is to keep all hikers, skiiers, bikers, horse riders and motorized vehicles out, but then none of use will get to appreciate it.

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