Government of Nova Scotia Government of Nova Scotia Nova Scotia, Canada


Protected Areas

Wilderness Area Vehicle Use

Vehicle Use in Nova Scotia's Wilderness Areas:

Information and FAQs


Wilderness areas are significant natural areas designated under Nova Scotia's Wilderness Areas Protection Act and administered by the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC). Wilderness areas protect nature and provide opportunities for education, research, wilderness recreation, nature tourism, camping, sport fishing, hunting and community stewardship. While many are remote, others are close to communities. A growing number of wilderness areas have managed trails or access points.

Boundaries, descriptions and other information on wilderness areas is available on this interactive parks and protected areas map:

Many people enjoy wilderness areas as places to visit, explore, or camp in a natural and peaceful setting. In some cases, old roads and trails associated with wilderness areas can be used to support vehicle access to spend time in nature or enjoy a ride with friends and family.

Vehicle Use and the Wilderness Areas Protection Act:

"Vehicle" means a motorized vehicle, such as cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, motorized bicycles, motor boats, motor vessels, and aircraft.

To help protect nature and enhance non-motorized wilderness recreation, motorized vehicle use, including motorboats and aircraft, is restricted in wilderness areas.

In certain circumstances, some vehicle use may be allowed under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act at the discretion of the Minister of Environment. These include:

A. Licences

The Minster may issue a licence to use a motorized vehicle in a wilderness area to:

  1. Researchers who need the vehicle to do scientific research (s. 21);
  2. Campsite lease holders who need the vehicle to access their site for doing maintenance or removing buildings or other structures; or who wish to access their site by aircraft or motorboat for any purpose (s. 25(4), (5) and (6));
  3. People seeking to use a motorboat or aircraft for access to wilderness recreation, sport fishing, hunting or trapping (s. 23(4A));
  4. Individuals or organizations seeking to use vehicles to use or maintain legal interests, such as easements, powerlines or drinking water supply areas (s. 25(4)); and
  5. Private land owners whose land is surrounded by a wilderness area (s. 26).

B. Designated Trails or Routes

The Minister may choose to allow motorized vehicles to use connecting trails or routes that go through a wilderness area through a management agreement with a group or organization. The trail or route must have existed before the wilderness area was established and environmental impact of continued use must be minimal. These agreements cannot be used for trails in most of the original 31 wilderness areas. Other conditions apply. Under the Act, trails or routes which may be considered are:

  1. Trails in wilderness areas designated after 1998 (excludes original 31 areas), or within additions to any wilderness area, that are essential links in a more extensive trail network (s. 23(4))
  2. River Philip Road in Economy River Wilderness Area (s. 23(4C))
  3. Queensport Road in Bonnet Lake Barrens Wilderness Area (s. 23(4C))
  4. The Bypass Trail (SANS 104) within Jim Campbells Barren Wilderness Area (s. 23(4C) and s.23(3))
  5. SANS 104 trail in Economy River Wilderness Area – for snowmobile use only (s.23(3))
  6. Grant Lake-Ross Lake Connector Trail in Ogden Round Lake Wilderness Area; and (s.23(4C))
  7. Dominique Meadow Brook – Fountain Lake Connector Trail in Portapique River Wilderness Area (s.23(4C))

C. Agreements

The Minister can choose to sign an agreement for any purpose consistent with the Act (s. 9(1)).  These agreements may allow limited vehicle use, if needed - for example, to enable construction or maintenance of recreational infrastructure in a wilderness area, such as a trail or hut.  

Vehicle Access - Adjacent Roads & Trails

Many roads and off-highway vehicle trails along or next to the boundaries of many wilderness areas enable vehicle access to popular hunting or fishing areas, hiking trails, camping areas, lakes, viewpoints, or other areas of interest. These roads and trails are not part of the wilderness area.

In more than half of all wilderness areas, such roads or trails pass right through the interior of the wilderness area – about 250 kilometres of road or trail in total.

You do not need authorization under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act to use vehicles on roads outside of legally protected wilderness areas. However, other rules may apply for roads on private land or Crown land, and some are not actively maintained, so please check in advance.

You can find the boundaries of wilderness areas, and the roads and trails next to them, here:

Questions & Answers:

Q: Are there managed trails for off-highway vehicle riding in wilderness areas?

Yes. Off-highway vehicles, and other vehicles, can be authorized on essential connecting trails or routes under certain conditions. Currently, more than 135 kilometres of trails in more than 16 wilderness areas are designated for off-highway vehicle use through management agreements with the All-terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia (ATVANS) and Snowmobilers Association of Nova Scotia (SANS).

The designated OHV trails may be viewed here:

Vehicle use on these trails is permitted by those in possession of a valid ATVANS or SANS trail permit. This requirement is a condition of use in the management agreements issued under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act.

Q: Why do I need a valid ATVANS or SANS trail permit to ride on managed OHV trails in wilderness areas?

Under the management agreements, ATVANS and SANS are responsible for maintaining and operating designated, managed off-highway vehicle trails in wilderness areas to a high standard. Under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act, continued use of these trails must have minimal environmental impact on wilderness areas. This takes considerable volunteer effort, equipment, materials and contracted services.

ATVANS and SANS obtain money from multiple sources, including trail permits, rallies, lotteries and the provincial OHV Infrastructure Fund (OHVIF).

Purchasing ATVANS or SANS trail permits contributes money for trail management, helps grow active membership and enables communication with trail users. This supports responsible use and management of wilderness areas.

Under the Act, other OHV groups may also request an agreement for use and management of designated trails in wilderness areas.

Q: Who has enforcement authority in wilderness areas?

Provincial conservation officers and police officers have enforcement authority. ATVANS and SANS do not have enforcement responsibility; if anyone sees a violation, they can contact a conservation officer.

Q. Are conditions in the management agreements enforceable?

Yes. The management agreements with SANS and ATVANS are made under the Act and require ATV operators to be in possession of a valid ATVANS trail permit; and snowmobile operators to be in possession of a valid SANS trail permit. Failing to do so would place operators in violation of Section 17(2)(e) of the Act.

Q: How do Conservation Officers seek compliance?

Conservation officers use their professional discretion in seeking compliance with applicable rules, ranging from education to prosecution. Fine amounts can vary depending on the nature of offence, and charges may also be laid.

Q: Can an individual or group apply for a licence or agreement to manage a vehicle access route to reach a destination within a wilderness area like a lake or camping area?

No. There is no authority in the Wilderness Areas Protection Act to permit such use.

Q: How is vehicle access licensed to support scientific research?

Research activities in wilderness areas may be permitted by a licence issued by the Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC). This licence may permit vehicle access in some circumstances. Researchers who are interested in carrying out research in a wilderness area should contact ECC's protected areas ecologist by calling 902-424-3600 or emailing

Q: How is vehicle access to campsite leases licensed?

The Minister may issue a licence to a campsite lease or licence holder to enable vehicle access for maintenance or removal of structures, or for motorboat or aircraft access to the leased/licensed site.

At this time, individuals using a camp with permission of the campsite lease holder may continue to access the campsite along an existing, main access route, subject to any other applicable rules or regulations. They should carry a copy of the campsite lease, licence or occupancy letter. Vehicle use off this main route and construction of new routes or trails is not permitted.

For wilderness camp license holders in Tobeatic Wilderness Area, vehicle licensing is limited to aircraft or motorboat access for structure maintenance.

Q: Can I use a motorboat or aircraft to access recreational opportunities in a wilderness area?

Yes, under licence. The Minister may license use of motorboats or aircraft to enable access for wilderness recreation, sport fishing or traditional patterns of hunting or trapping, provided no reasonable alternative exists to enable access. Environmental impact must also be minimal.

At this time, motorboats may be used in all wilderness areas, except Tobeatic Wilderness Area, for the purpose of sport fishing during fishing season by individuals with a valid fishing licence. This provision does not authorize the use of land vehicles to transport boats to waterways within wilderness areas.

Inquires about aircraft access should be sent to the appropriate regional protected areas coordinator. Visit or call 902-424-3600 for contact information.

Q: How can I get vehicle access to private land?

Under the Act, the Minister must issue an access licence to the owner of land that is surrounded by a wilderness area, or a wilderness area and a watercourse or the ocean. Conditions for use may apply that determine or limit the type of access and how the access route will be built or maintained.

At this time, affected landowners and their guests may continue to access the private property along an existing, main access route, while carrying proof of land ownership. Vehicle use off this main route and construction of new routes or trails is not permitted.

For more information or to apply for a private land access licence, private landowners should contact the appropriate regional protected area coordinator. Visit or call 902-424-3600 for contact information.

Q: Can vehicles be used for management of wilderness areas?

Conservation officers or other government staff may use vehicles in a wilderness area to carry out their responsibilities under the Act.

The Minister may also sign management agreements with third parties that can include limited vehicle use, such as delivering materials to help build or maintain a hiking trail or other recreational infrastructure.

Q: Can vehicles be used in a wilderness area during an emergency?

Yes, the Minister may authorize use of vehicles in an emergency. For example, the Minister has authorized the Department of Lands and Forestry to use vehicles to fight fires in wilderness areas. Search and rescue operations may also use vehicles in a wilderness area if needed. We understand that these operations happen quickly. If vehicles are being used in a wilderness area, please notify the regional protected area coordinator as soon as possible by calling 902-424-3600.