Do I Need A License Or A Trail Permit To Drive A Snowmobile?


Your friend invited you out of state for a weekend of snowmobiling. For you, there’s nothing better. You happily agree, pack up your stuff, and set off. Then you arrive and find out you need a license to operate a snowmobile in that state. Is this common in the United States?

If you want to ride your snowmobile across the US, some states do mandate that you get a license first, which is often referred to as a trail permit. Here are some states that require a license:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In this article, we will explain the laws governing trail permits or licenses in the above states. We’ll also tell you everything you need to know about how to get licensed, such as where to get your permit, how long it lasts, and whether renewing will cost you money. Keep reading! 

States That Require a Snowmobile License

Per the intro, let’s start with the states that require you to have a snowmobile license or trail permit to ride. According to Michigan.gov, “the trail permit enables snowmobilers to ride state-designated trails and thousands more miles of public roads and on public lands (where authorized).” That applies to other states that use these permits too. 

In other words, you don’t want to go without it. Here are the rules for each state concerning trail permits. 

Arizona

Although not the likeliest place to ride a snowmobile, you can indeed do so in Arizona once you go to the Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division and get your license. 

Colorado

The Colorado Non-Resident Snowmobile permit is necessary unless you live in this great state. You also have to register your snowmobile in Colorado, which is the same rule for residents. This costs $30.25. 

Idaho

To access Idaho’s 7,200 miles of trails, you need a non-resident license. Then you can ride on the trails and some roads, but not ditches or shoulders in many instances. 

Iowa

Once you register and get your license (also available for non-residents), you can enjoy the beauty of Iowa on your snowmobile. 

Illinois

If you don’t live in Illinois, you’ll have to get the state trail permit before you can hit the road on your snowmobile. Even still, some roads are blocked off to snowmobilers. You can get near a paved roadway, at least 10 feet, but you have to follow local ordinances for going over a culvert or bridge. Roadway ditch riding is also permissible on your snowmobile. 

Michigan

In Michigan, a trail permit opens up access to unplowed county roads and even some plowed shoulders, but watch for signs about whether you can ride on the latter. You also need an ORV license in this state, which complements your trail permit. 

Minnesota

Unlike Wyoming, Minnesotans and non-Minnesotans alike must have a license if they want to go snowmobiling in the state. Riders cannot use shoulders or roads, but road ditches are allowed. That said, you have to match traffic flow once the sun goes down, with an exception for riding on a two-way signed trail. 

Montana

It’s unclear what the rule is for non-residents, but Montanans with snowmobiles must obtain a Trail Pass, this state’s version of a license. The good news is once you have the license, you don’t have to renew it ever again. You can then ride in some towns among snowmobiling communities and on groomed trails. 

Vermont

In Vermont, they refer to their snowmobile license as a Trail Maintenance Assessment (TMA). Any snowmobiler in the state needs a TMA whether you live there or not. If you want to enjoy the Vermont Trail System, you also have to get liability insurance valued at $2,500 to $100,000. Do keep your eyes peeled for road signs, as you can’t ride on every road in the state on your snowmobile. 

Wisconsin

Snowmobile trail passes are priced differently in Wisconsin depending on whether you call this state home or not. Residents will pay $10 to $30 for a license while non-residents are charged $50. You also need to have previously registered your snowmobile, although not necessarily in Wisconsin. 

Wyoming

Don’t live in Wyoming? If you want to bring your snowmobile here, you must have a trail permit first, as all out-of-staters need one. Most roads in the state are ridable on your snowmobile, but do look for signs blocking roads because the snow is too deep. You’re even allowed to maneuver your snowmobile through ditches and road shoulders with a trail permit. 

States That Don’t Require a Snowmobile License

You might think that because you’re not planning to ride your snowmobile in one of the above states that you’re totally in the clear, but that’s not necessarily true. The following states don’t demand a license, but they do have other rules and laws you must abide by. 

Alaska

No insurance, no problem! You don’t need a trail permit nor snowmobile insurance to enjoy one of the snowiest states in the country, Alaska. You can even forego helmets, although we wouldn’t recommend doing so. When you do ride your snowmobile in this state, take care to avoid ditches and road shoulders, as snowmobiles are banned there. 

California/Nevada

California and Nevada share the same rules, hence why they’re lumped together. You can ride any road, but not road ditches or road shoulders. 

Indiana

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Snowmobilers Association provide trails throughout the state for snowmobile lovers. For that reason, the trails aren’t open all year long, only from December to March. You also need to register your snowmobile in Indiana to ride. 

Nebraska

The state of Nebraska doesn’t require insurance or trail permits. You will need to register your snowmobile, which is $16 for a year. Helmets are also required. 

New Hampshire

You must register your snowmobile before riding it in New Hampshire as well. If you’re a non-resident and not a member of the state’s snowmobiling club, you’d pay $116 for registration. If you’re a non-resident but a club member, the fee is $86. Residents who aren’t club members pay $96 while residents who are part of the club get the best deal at $66. 

New York

You can forget about the trail permit in New York, but you can’t legally ride without a registered snowmobile. Also, helmets are mandated, whether you’re snowmobiling on road shoulders, open roads, or trails. To register your snowmobile, you’d pay $45. You must register in the state of New York as well. 

Massachusetts

You only need a trail permit if riding on Massachusetts’ private lands. Otherwise, you’re okay without a license. All snowmobilers need a helmet in this state. 

Oregon

To register your snowmobile in Oregon for two years, it’s a very affordable $10. 

Pennsylvania

Like in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania requires trail permits on private trails if you’re a non-resident. Otherwise, you need a registered snowmobile, but the registration doesn’t necessarily have to be in Pennsylvania. The state requires all snowmobilers wear a helmet. 

South Dakota

South Dakota asks that its snowmobilers have liability insurance, probably because you don’t need a helmet to ride in this state. You can then explore open roads, shoulders, and some ditches on your snowmobile. If you do want to register your snowmobile in South Dakota, it’s $10 annually. 

Utah

Snowmobiles are governed as part of the Utah OHV laws. Per those laws, you cannot ride your snowmobile on a closed highway or street, you need a helmet if you’re under 18, and you must register your snowmobile and then put a sticker on your vehicle’s pan or hood on both sides. It costs $23 to register. 

Washington

In Washington, they don’t ask you to get a license for your snowmobile, but you may need their Sno-Park Permit. This allows you to park your snowmobile throughout the state, so it’s skippable depending on where you ride your vehicle.

How Do You Get a Snowmobile License?

After reading to this point, you realize that you absolutely need to get your snowmobile license or trail permit. How and where do you do that?

Well, it depends on the state, honestly. 

In Minnesota, you need to contact an Electronic Licensing System or ELS agent. Here’s a page from the Minnesota state website about finding a local agent. You can also call 1-888-MINNDNR or 1-888-665-4236. The ELS accepts major credit cards like Discover, Mastercard, and Visa.

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources or DNR handles all snowmobile licensing in that state, and the same is true of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois’ respective DNRs.

Over in Vermont, as we said before, you’d obtain your VT Trail Permit through the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers or VAST, a club where membership is $10 to $20 on top of the licensing charge. You may have to pay county fees too.

Service Arizona is the resource for Arizona snowmobilers who want to register or license their vehicle. 

Does It Cost Money to Get a Snowmobile License? How Much?

As you probably have an inkling, getting a snowmobile license in the states that mandate it is not free. Here are the prices of obtaining your trail permit:

  • Idaho – $22.50
  • Illinois – $25
  • Iowa – $15
  • Michigan – $48
  • Minnesota – $36 per season  
  • Montana – $37.50 
  • Vermont – $130 to $136 depending on whether you’re a member of the VAST 
  • Wisconsin – $10 to $50
  • Wyoming – $35

How Often Do You Need to Get Your Snowmobile License Renewed?

You got your snowmobile license, and you took the time to register your vehicle too just to be on the safe side. It was a bit of a time-consuming process all said, but you can ride with peace of mind knowing you’re not breaking the law.

Well, that peace of mind won’t last forever. Your snowmobile license isn’t permanent, unless you happen to live or ride in Montana. For every other state, the license lasts a year, maybe two years if you’re lucky. Then you have to use the avenues we discussed above to renew your license if you want to continue snowmobiling in that state. 

Conclusion

In a handful of states across the US, you need a license or a trail permit to ride your snowmobile. For the others, many of them demand you wear a helmet, register your snowmobile, or buy insurance before you can hit the snowbanks with your buddies. 

Having this information handy is extremely helpful, as now you’ll be ready to abide by the law no matter where your snowmobiling adventures take you! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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