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So, a friend and I were out in Loudoun County, Virginia this weekend on a mixed-surface/gravel route that we got from a local bike shop. A few miles in, we are on a wooded two-track about a quarter mile off the main road and this pickup truck rolls up on us (somewhat aggressively) to tell us it's a private road and we need to turn around. We hadn't noticed any signs on the way in, but politely thanked him for letting us know and follows him back out to the main road to reroute.

When we got out there, we found this tiny blue and white sign with nothing to the effect of "do not enter" or "no trespassing" or even "closed to the public." It simply said "private road, not publicly maintained" in small lettering. That road was only 1.5 miles of a 35 mile route, but we ended up on several more "private" roads, most with much more prominent and specific signage. All told, probably close to half the route. And we did pass other cyclists on several of them.

So I wanted to see if anyone on here knows if this kind of private road in Virginia is actually closed to the public, or if this guy was just flexing on some out of towners for kicks. Didn't find much useful info on the state or county websites when I checked. Where I moved here from (Montana), if a road had a proper road sign and wasn't gated off, it was almost always fair game regardless of whether it was publicly owned/maintained. Heck, some fire roads were gated off and still open to public travel (just watch out for cattle on the road).

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    The land of the free as it seems!
    – Carel
    Oct 13 at 7:39
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    It might help to pinpoint the exact road on Strava or Google Maps and post the URL.
    – Criggie
    Oct 13 at 10:35
  • A public road that is a dead-end is almost implied as a private road but not really because door-to-door marketing is not illegal. A private road that is not a dead-end is almost implied as a public easement. Private rural road ? Is that marijuana growers ?
    – S Spring
    Oct 13 at 18:19
  • According to this definition, you were in the right, but I found other conflicting definitions: "A private road can be used by the general public and is open to all who wish to use it, but it primarily benefits those at whose request it was established."
    – Adam Rice
    Oct 13 at 18:31
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The "not publicly maintained" part of the sign is interesting. Who is the intended audience? If it's for the owner and the owner's friends, there wouldn't be a need to tell themselves that, because they'd know the condition of their own road. It therefore implies that it's directed to the public, as a "use at your own risk" caution, and maybe as a "please don't litter" request. It falls far short of a "No trespassing" sign, in my opinion.

Regardless of the ambiguous signage, if it's private land and the owner gives you oral notice to leave, then you must comply, according to Virginia Code 18.2-119: Trespass after having been forbidden to do so:

If any person without authority of law goes upon or remains upon the lands, buildings or premises of another, or any portion or area thereof, after having been forbidden to do so, either orally or in writing, by the owner, lessee, custodian, or the agent of any such person, or other person lawfully in charge thereof, or after having been forbidden to do so by a sign or signs posted by or at the direction of such persons or the agent of any such person or by the holder of any easement or other right-of-way authorized by the instrument creating such interest to post such signs on such lands, structures, premises or portion or area thereof at a place or places where it or they may be reasonably seen, or if any person, whether he is the owner, tenant or otherwise entitled to the use of such land, building or premises, goes upon, or remains upon such land, building or premises after having been prohibited from doing so by a court of competent jurisdiction by an order issued pursuant to §§ 16.1-253 , 16.1-253.1 , 16.1-253.4 , 16.1-278.2 through 16.1-278.6 , 16.1-278.8 , 16.1-278.14 , 16.1-278.15 , 16.1-279.1 , 19.2-152.8 , 19.2-152.9 or § 19.2-152.10 or an ex parte order issued pursuant to § 20-103 , and after having been served with such order, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

(It's a bit like a grocery store. Even though it's implied that anyone may enter, if they ask you to leave and it's not for an illegal discriminatory reason, then you have to leave.)

Virginia doesn't have a right-to-roam law.

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  • Welcome to the site - great first answer! Do have a go at any other questions that look interesting.
    – Criggie
    Oct 22 at 7:15
  • Thanks for the well reasoned answer! Based on this, it seems like a sign could be sufficient to forbid public travel on a private road, but the sign on that road probably didn't do so explicitly (through the verbal order did). Would probably always leave when asked, even if it wasn't required (it's a pretty vulnerable spot to be in on a bike out in the middle of nowhere). But this code you cited does imply that I'm probably not going to be charged for trespass so long as I comply with orders and/or posted signs explicitly forbidding use of the road.
    – MikeyC
    Oct 28 at 15:34
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Generally a "private road" is the private property of one or more owners. You should no more ride on a private road without permission than you would ride up someone's driveway or ride across their lawn.

So the person, who I assume was an owner of the property, was within his rights to ask you to leave and, in my opinion, you did the right thing by promptly and courteously leaving the property.

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  • Just for general interest, there can be cases where a major recreational trail crosses someone's private property (road or land), and the owner grants an easement to allow the public to access the trail. One example is here, including a photograph of a sign which indicates that the trail users are crossing private property: ectaonline.org/news/the-truth-about-trail-easements/…
    – Weiwen Ng
    Oct 13 at 18:38
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    "private road, not publicly maintained" doesn't inherently mean that the road isn't open to the public. There are entire subdivisions full of privately owned roads that are otherwise just normal streets. Whether or not that's the case with this particular road is a more complicated question. Oct 14 at 4:34
  • I guess this begs the question of why local bike shops are distributing GPS routes and cue sheets that include so many private roads. Like I said, it was probably close to half roads on the route. Either it's cool to ride them and the bike shops know this, or they're just being rude to neighbors in their community, either intentionally or through negligence.
    – MikeyC
    Oct 14 at 16:09
  • As cyclist it's generally good to be nice to neighbors. Perhaps the maps were prepared some years ago and the properties changed hands and nobody followed up to get permission. You might contact the originator of the map and ask them this question. The LBSs that are passing these out are likely just middlemen.
    – jwh20
    Oct 14 at 17:40
  • @MikeyC OP should have assumed that the people in the pickup truck were the property owners and left; but we do not have to. Maybe those guys had no connection to the property owner.
    – emory
    Oct 16 at 22:40
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Wikipedia on private roads

A private road is a road owned or controlled by a private person, persons or corporation rather than a road open to the public and owned by a government. Private roads can be on private land or can be constructed on government land for use by government agencies or by agreements for access to private facilities.

Private roads are private property and are not usually open to the public. Unauthorized use of a private road may be trespassing. In some cases, the owner of a private road may permit the general public to use the road. Road regulations that apply to a public road may not apply to private roads.

Just because you weren't run off private property in the past does not make it OK in the future.

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    I found a similarly generic and equally unsupported definition that says the opposite, that private roads are generally open to public travel. Which is why I was careful to ask for information specific to Virginia, as laws often differ between states and countries.
    – MikeyC
    Oct 14 at 21:14
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    IANAL, but I suspect that notice is required. You may legally use private roads unless notified otherwise (e.g., "Private Road - No Trespassing" signage). If I had a private road that I was not willing to share with the public, I would post such signs prominently.
    – emory
    Oct 16 at 22:23
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My very limited experience:

Germany: Privatweg/Privatstraße - the owner can call the cops on you if they spot you passing without permission, although they usually don't. Signs always posted. You can usually even tent camp without being noticed.

Bulgaria: you might be infringing on a cannabis plantation, so you may be shot. But are usually warned beforehand. No signs obviously.

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