The Tonto National Forest may put restrictions in place for fire season, but that does not mean "no ATVs."
Four-wheeling is allowed on all Forest Service numbered roads, so long as the vehicle has a federally approved, working spark arrester. Riders on Control Road, which is maintained by Gila County, must have a street-legal vehicle.
Don't be discouraged by the limits, the Tonto National Forest is filled with forest roads, in varying conditions, for riders of all experience levels.
One of the most popular is the Long Draw route, located on the Mogollon Rim northeast of Payson. The 30-mile loop sits inside the Black Mesa Ranger District. It begins near the Chevelon Crossing at the Long Draw North Trailhead.
The route extends to the Long Draw South Trailhead near Chevelon Lake. Both trailheads have toilets and camping facilities, funded by Arizona State OHV Recreation Fund grants.
Take advantage of the many forest service-maintained side routes off the main path. During the winter, these are used for snowmobiling.
Veteran riders will love challenging Metate Canyon. The route begins in Star Valley and extends to Mayfield Canyon Trail before winding through the ponderosa pine forests to Metate Canyon. Along the way, riders will find rest stops and historic sites, one of which was a Native American Village, and the other, a decaying cabin once occupied by a miner.
Novice riders might want to check out other Forest Service roads that connect to Chevelon Loop Drive on top of the Rim. To start, hook up with Fire Road 300, due east on Highway 260. From FR 300, proceed north on FR 115 past the O'Haco Fire Lookout Tower to the FR 225 junction.
The 60-mile loop, considered the most scenic terrain in the state, returns to FR 300.
The Rolls OHV area, near Four Peaks Road off Highway 87, routes around Roosevelt Lake. It, along with the Crackerjack Mine route along the Verde River, are other popular ATV and 4x4 spots.
The freedom and exhilaration of a 4x4 trip can sometimes overshadow the dangers of off-roading. Be sure to tell another person when you are leaving and when you will return. If possible, take someone else along.
Especially during the hot summer months, pack one gallon of water per day per person. Always wear eye protection, gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and boots.
The popularity of off-roading can be attributed to the variety of high-tech ATVs now available to the public and the myriad of trails, routes and byways riders have to choose from.
Today's state-of-the-art ATVs -- with price tags that can now exceed $8,000 -- feature powerful 700 cc electronic fuel-injected engines, on-demand all-wheel drives, automatic transmissions, radial tires, independent rear suspensions and comfortable ergonomics for easy riding.
There's little doubt, today's machines are vastly superior to the original three-wheelers manufactured by Honda in the 1970s.
Longtime riders will remember those ATVs, which sold for about $600, as being underpowered, recreation-only vehicles with balloon tires that were easily flattened, and a chassis shaped like an isosceles triangle.
After being introduced to America from Japan, popularity soared when sportsmen found the vehicles to be useful for exploring remote areas where larger four-wheel drive trucks and Jeeps couldn't reach.
Most fire roads adhere to state motor vehicle law, which means your ATV must be registered and the rider licensed.
Newcomers to off-roading should take ATV rider courses, developed by the ATV Safety Institute, to learn basic techniques and safety guidelines.
For more information on OHV opportunities, call the Black Mesa Ranger District in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest at (928) 535-4481, the Payson Ranger District at (928) 474-7900, or the Tonto National Forest, (602) 225-5200.
Riders can also pick up off-highway recreation guides at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce at the corner of Main Street and the Beeline Highway.