Land Access

Land access refers to the ability to physically and legally access a given parcel of land, typically in the context of roads, right-of-ways (ROWs) and property inholdings. The term “access” also conveys administrative restrictions on the methods or timing of land access, as in non-motorized or seasonal. Finally, access can also refer to gaining access to lands via trails or other non-motorized methods.

Common land access issues include:

  • Private land surrounded by federal lands
  • Private lands within designated wilderness
  • Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration lands within federal lands
  • Federal lands accessed through private property


Map of Data

Download mxd The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

Resource Information

Northern Utah’s land ownership pattern is complex and varied. Within the Wasatch Front, property is managed by 11 different state and federal agencies, not counting local governments. This complexity results in a many cases in which land owned by one entity is surrounded by or accessible only by crossing land owned by another entity. The Surface Ownership and Administration data as well as the several road and route datasets can be used to identify access areas that cross other landowners.

County governments have a responsibility to facilitate land access regardless of land ownership. This is accomplished by acquiring and maintaining ROWs or easements across property. Counties acquire and enforce access by participating in planning processes of federal and state agencies and, if necessary, litigation.

Best Management Practices

Gaining or maintaining access to lands is typically accomplished through right-of-way across another landowner’s property. The process is different for each type of landowner as each has specific administrative procedures, management objectives, and historical context. The following best management plans are presented in order of total acreage owned in the five-county WFRC planning area.

US Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
The BLM manages ROWs through resource management plans authorized by the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.[1] Prior to FLMPA, ROWs on BLM lands were enabled by Revised Statute 2477 (Section 8 of the Mining Act of 1866) and are generally considered to be available for accessing property within and across US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, though this is not always the case. All BLM lands in this region are under the jurisdiction of the Salt Lake Field Office and are managed by the Pony Express Resource Management Plan of 1982.[2]  

Private Property
Just like access to private inholdings among federal lands is important, so too is providing access to public lands through private property. Counties have an obligation to ensure the ROWs with historic access across private lands remain open. Additionally, as urban development continues along the Wasatch Front, counties should facilitate new public access to forest lands by purchasing easements across private property.

Counties can establish new ROWs through private lands in three ways. First, for developing lands, counties can identify ROWs on the transportation component of the General Plan. With ROW’s identified, counties can work with developers to construct ROWs as the land develops over time. Second, counties can work with willing landowners to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution to purchase a public ROW or easement across property. Finally, in cases where landowners do not want a public ROW or easement across their property, counties can use eminent domain to condemn private property. State law enables the right of eminent domain for  roadways for public vehicles but not for recreational uses (78B-6-501 3f).[3]

Department of Defense (DOD)
The DOD is the third-largest land manager within in the WFRC, with nearly 1.6 million acres of property. DOD operates the Utah Test and Training Range North, Tooele Army Depot, Hill Air Force Base, Dugway Proving Grounds, and Camp Williams Army National Guard. These facilities serve critical national security interests and any existing or new ROWs must support the goals of the appropriate base.  

Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Utah’s DNR manages about 640,000 acres of land as State Parks (Antelope Island), Wildlife Reserves and Management Areas, and State Sovereign Lands (Great Salt Lake) under Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. In general, state parks and wildlife areas are managed primarily for resource protection, while the state manages the Great Salt Lake under a multiple-use paradigm. Regardless of overall objectives, the state manages ROWs within the areas through resource management plans.

US Forest Service Roads (USFS)
Right of ways on USFS lands are managed through the Forest Planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes. The Uinta Wasatch-Cache National Forest established access goals for their management areas in 2003.[4]

State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA)
More than 250,000 acres of SITLA trust lands are distributed across the WFRC area. SITLA is directed by state law to maximize commercial gain from these properties through sale, lease, or exchange.[5] Originally allocated to western states upon statehood by the federal government to support state institutions like schools and hospitals. Utah was given sections 2, 16, 32, and 36 in each township. The resulting checkerboard pattern of ownership means many SITLA parcels are surrounded by federal lands with limited to no access. Land transfers are a common solution to this situation. SITLA has a successful history of working with the BLM, US Forest Service, and private land holders to enable mutually beneficial consolidations of property.

Tribal Lands
Tribal lands in the region include the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes and the Goshute Tribe both in western Tooele County. ROWs on tribal lands are complicated and beyond the scope of this report.

Economic Considerations

The economies of counties within the WFRC are closely tied to accessing public lands for both resource development and recreation. Physical access via roadways is required for the development and utilization of energy, mineral, or other resources. Of special concern are state inholdings managed by SITLA, and also private lands, surrounded by BLM properties in western Tooele County, for example.

Impact Considerations

Access is a pivotal resource management issue that balances resource use and resource preservation goals as well as public and private interests.

  • For example, a goal of the Mountain Accord, for example, is to “Establish appropriate levels of access and designated settings in harmony with the desired recreation experience” on the Wasatch Front.
  • An example goal from the Wasatch-Cache National Forest Revised Forest Plan is to ”Provide a variety of opportunities for motorized access while avoiding or reducing undesirable social and resource impacts.”

Another key issue is the balance of responsibilities and administrative costs between counties and other entities that require access into or through public lands. For example, a goal of the Tooele County Access Plan is: Recreational land uses and access to them (especially to Forest Service and BLM areas) should be supported by County maintenance of dirt roads and creation of trails and trail systems.”

Wildlife impacts can increase with improved access. For example, the Antelope Island Resource Management Plan included the objective to: “Study the possible impacts on wildlife before opening the southern tip access road to hiking, biking and horseback riding as recommended in the 2004 Access Management Plan. Park biologists have suggested that  these activities may cause wildlife, especially mule deer, to walk off the island (particularly at lower lake levels).”

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
SITLA Road Easements
Active county road easements and active valid existing rights1/1/20101:24,000State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
GIS Group
Utah Road Centerlines

Major Roads

Minor Roads
Statewide Roads aggregated from local, county, state, federal and tribal governments aggregated and improved by AGRCData Download; January 16, 2016

Service publication dates undetermined
VariableThe statewide roads dataset is maintained by AGRC in partnership with local government, the Utah 911 Committee, UGIC, and UDOT.

AGRC Roads and Highway System
USFS Right of Ways
An area depicting a privilege to pass over the land of another in some particular path, pipeline, road, railway, private passage.

Map Service Metadata
March, 2016
1:24,000United States Forest Service,
Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest,
Ruth Ann Trudell
GIS Database Manager
Land Ownership
Surface Land Ownership; use Admin field to identify administrative agencyUpdated Weekly1:24,000State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
GIS Group
USFS Roads
National Forest System Roads

Map Service Metadata
Download Data; April 10, 2015

Service; Updated Daily
VariableUnited States Forest Service,
Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest,
Ruth Ann Trudell
GIS Database Manager


  1. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Office of Public Affairs. 2001. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Salt Lake District. 1988. Proposed Pony Express Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, September.
  3. Utah State Legislature. 2014. Title 78B Chapter 6 Part 5 Section 501.
  4. U.S. Forest Service. 2003. Revised Forest Plan for the Wasatch -Cache National Forest, February.
  5. Utah Administrative Code. Title R850. School and institutional Trust Lands Administration.