Sections of Pacific Crest Trail Poached by Mountain Bikers; Could Problems Arise in National Parks?

Mountain bikers have been poaching sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in California. USFS photo.

The Pacific Crest Trail ranges from Canada to Mexico, running through Washington, Oregon, and California along the way, traversing not one but seven units of the National Park System in the process.

On its way north and south portions of the trail touch or run through parts of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and North Cascades National Park.

While mountain bikers are not supposed to use the Pacific Crest Trail, recently some have been poaching sections in California. While the poaching did not occur in any national park sections, some have concerns that a rule currently pending in the Interior Department could open more national park trails to mountain bikes and, in the process, lead to the following scenario.

In its February issue, the PCT Communicator, the magazine of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, reported on trail damage committed by mountain bikes near the Parks Creek Trailhead in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.

From Big Bear to the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California, to Donner Summit and the Sierra Buttes north of Lake Tahoe, to Castle Crags and beyond, mountain bikes on the trail are causing damage and creating a number of "PCT Places in Need."

According to the trail association, "under U.S. Government regulation, bikes are prohibited in the PCT. The rationale for the prohibition of bicycles is based on the "nature and purpose" of the PCT, as dictated by the intent of Congress with the National Trails System Act and subsequent regulations designed to protect the experience of the primary users. The Code of Federal Regulations (36 CRF 212) directs that "The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as defined by the National Trails Systems Act, 82 Stat. 919, shall be administered primarily as a footpath and horseback riding trail."

"Unfortunately, however, U.S. regulations and regulators have not, thus far, been able to fully curb the illegal use of the PCT by mountain bikers," adds the article. "The resulting trail damage and user conflicts can't be taken lightly. To complicate matters, bikes are permitted on many trails that lead to the PCT, resulting in bikers reaching the PCT on such trails and then proceeding along the PCT to pick up another feeder trail. Given land management agency staffing and budget issues, policing and enforcement is sorely lacking."

The article goes on to point out the problems associated with mountain bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: the trail was not engineered to handle mountain bike traffic, it can be easily and quickly ripped up by bikes riding in wet and muddy conditions, erosion problems can arise.

"I can't stress enough the importance of responsible trail users reporting illegal uses of the PCT," says Ian Nelson, the trail association's regional representative for northern California and southern Oregon. "It is crucial that we hear from concerned users so that we and our agency partners can strategize as to how to curb the illegal use."


Firstly, on the bike, try a 29er at least. I love mine. Secondly, at least the part of the PCT that I use (through the Lakes Basin Area) would be great for Mountain Biking but not the Downiville type downhill ride. I am drawn to riding this section because it looks like a beatifull and challenging ride, not a thrilling decent. I don't ride it becuase it's illegal and poaching trails doesn't help anyone. But isn't there a way to share the trail? It seems like we are so caught up in arguing that nobody has any creative solutions. I don't think alternating days would work becasue it's used for multiple day treks. (I'll also add that doing a multiple day bike ride on the PCT would be epic if it were legal) What about a permit system to limit the number of bikes at any given time? Find a way to prohibit shuttle runs of the PCT. This would act as a cardio vascular regulator for trail use. If you can't climb it, you can't go down it. This will limit trail use. Maybe require everone to put a bear bell on their bike so hikers can hear bikers coming. Much as I hate creating new rules, this is the basic issue of sharing. We're not children we can figure this out.

I have read all the comments and I will state that I do not bike trails. I am have hiked and I am a horseback rider. I have not ridden NPS on horseback since it takes too much time to get there. Plus horses do tremendous damage to trails. In order to ride rough land we have to the horse shod on all 4 hooves and that means 4 steel shoes.

However as a person who was active in creation of the Wilderness Areas and upkeep of the AT and trail network I will say that the big trail networks were a result of people who enjoyed that activity.

Mountain biking is a new activity and like hikers they want access to the trails. It seems the PCT is ideal trail and if bike trails end on it is inevitable that bike will use it to get from one trail to another.

From an equestrian point of view I do not like bikes or hikers on the trails, there is a big chance of injury to either. I have run into kids on country trails who thought it fun to ride after horses, They did not find it fun when I turn around and road after them. But idiots aside, many riders also ride at speed and there is possibility of danger to others on the trail. Hikers sometimes act foolishly and horses spooked, can kick, Bikers are moving fast also can run into people and spook horses. I do not want to be responsible for a biker getting injured I will pull all the way off any trail when I run into other users. Horses get restless and can hurt others. Of course, I can also get thrown, but I took that risk when I mounted my horse. However my wishes do not dictate the use of trails by other people.

My point is that if there is a large group that want access to the NPS lands they will lobby for changes in trail designation and get trails built for them. The NPS is designed for recreation and use so visitors can enjoy the beauty either in a car, from horseback, rafting, canoeing, climbing or hiking. Accommodating to bikers is just another group to use the parks.

I disagree that NPS is solely to be enjoyed as Kurt indicates. There has been a lot of push to accommodate the disabled and I agree with that. But that involves more development. Thankfully the NPS are large and can accommodate the visitor that wants peace and quite and the person who will roll down a paved trail in their wheelchair. There are a variety of NP’s that are more primitive and some that are more developed to accommodate different users.

Bikers will get more clout and get more access and as bikers get older they will slow down and impress greater responsibility on newer bikers. That is the way any new sport happens, an upsurge and then it slows down.

Bikes were not in the picture when the PCT was designated but any new cross-country trail will have to deal with multiuse.

Foe those who want to expand trails in this country I suggest you ally with bikers, as they have been very successful in getting new trail development. Rather than users of trails fight over their slice of the pie, figure how to get the pie bigger and work with each other than fight

I just poached a section of the PCT today on my mtb. I know that mtb's are not supposed to be on the PCT but the short section (less than 1.5 mi.) I rode linked up a huge network of trails. Maybe certain sections of the PCT that have heavily traveled mtb trails linking up to it should be considered as multi-use sections (hike, horse, bike). In these sections, signage can alert the hiker/horse pounder that they will be sharing a certain section of trail with mtb's.

There are iresponisble Mountain Bikers, hikers and horse people alike. For the last 35 years I regularly enjoy our trail systems in all three ways. Common sense, and frankly (kind) policing those that choose to break rules will keep these trails enjoyable for all.

After all, trail maintaince is the responsibility of us all. Extending the use to many will help to keep those same trail systems growing with the internest of the public that uses them.

Such passion from both sides of the fence! I enjoy riding a mountain bike as much as I enjoy hiking/backpacking in the wilderness. The idea of riding a bike in the wilderness or national park seems wrong and is something I would not do. Living in Southern California, I enjoy both of my passions (biking and hiking) on a variety of trails and avoid most conversations of user entitlement. I completely subscribe to the multi-user mentality of trails outside of designated wilderness zones. While biking, my approach on ANY trail (whether that is the paved beach trail or the PCT) takes into consideration the environmental issues as well as consideration of another trail user's peace & serenity. I ride PCT without hesitation and have done so for over 25 years. Does that make me a bad guy? You make that call. I am ultra conservative when approaching ANY other trail user. I attempt to engage in pleasant conversation and do a very good job at minimizing my impact on anyone else's backcountry trail experience. Does that make me a good guy? You make tha call. However, if you choose to chastize me or attempt to "inform" me that I am a criminal or not supposed to be where I am, I will simply smile and say "have a nice day" and leave you behind. You won't get an argument out of me as to why I feel bikes should be allowed on PCT, nor will you stop me from enjoying what I am doing. People like Chris Anderson who say that most mountain bikers don't care about the environment are making generalizations that I can not agree with. I have found through my trail experiences that the mountain bike community is very involved in trailwork and volunteer work just as much as any other user group.

There are rude, obnoxious bikers AND hikers on the trail. Whether that is a bonehead biker blazing past your group on a narrow section of trail or a clueless group of 20 hikers leaving their trash on the trail, hiking in mud while discussing the damage to the trail tread by "wheeled machines". It's a small world, times change, and we all adapt. Let's try to get over the passionate discord for other "user groups".

There is a lot of angst on this topic and I have found it futile to attempt to provide an argument or justification for my cause. Time will eventually work this out. Perhaps I will be too old to ride legally on the PCT, but that day will come. A day when we can all enjoy the day's adventure and put aside out "titles" of mountain biker, hiker, trail runner, motorcyclist or whatever and unite to be "trail enthusiasts".

Yesterday I spent about an hour watching CNN coverage of the confirmation hearings for Sotomayor. My main interest was to get a better idea of this jurist's qualifications, but I was also interested in the process. America is a nation of laws, and that's certainly one of the key reasons that this is the greatest country that ever was. Jay may think it's OK for him to to break the law because -- well, because he is a nice guy. 'Scuse me, Jay, but I am not impressed.

Reading all the posts prior to mine, the PCT was established for hikers and equestrians. If mountainbike people and dirtbike people want to ride a trail, go through the process and channels and get one established. The existing PCT does see bike and off-road vehicle traffic, mostly dirtbikes that tear up the trail. Living near the trail I see them all the time. The BLM, forest service and PCT association do not have the manpower to patrol or police the usage, nor do they have enough volunteers to repair the damage done by illegal users. So buying a special permit to allow mountainbikers to ride it will not cover that deficit for manpower and repairs. It just does not exist. The mentality of mtnbike riders in some of these posts is childish, you're going to ride it anyway since you haven't been caught and are aware there is little to no enforcement. If I rode in your front yard against your wishes and clearly against the law without your permission I would get a citatioin by the local police, there are plenty of those around in cities. Get some sense.

How in the hell can we relegate illegal mountain biking in the national parks when we can't even curtail illegal wildlife poaching, or stop drug pushers from instilling meth labs and from growing marijuana. We need more crises intervention across the board to stop this illegal activity. Were ----ing the parks big time folks. Say, Ray and Random Walker...your my pack backing buddies in spirit. Love your mountain zest for life.

[This comment was edited to remove an offensive remark]

That was NOT a silly comment at all. The PCT is bone dry just about whenever it is snow free. With the exception of a week or two after snowmelt and perhaps on the late fall the trail is mostly bare, dry, and perfect for cycling. Lets not even BEGIN to pretend that horses do not damage the trail. I am not an equestrian, but I have seen much evidence of trails damaged by horses. Mountain bikes do not cause significant trail damage when ridden on dry trails. Should the PCT be open to mountain bikes (probabaly, maybe, no way) I don't really have a well thought out opinion right now. There are arguments either way. I just hate it when anti biker groups cite damage as the reason for keeping bikes off of the trail. Nonsense. Just say it. You feel it is YOUR trail and you want it to yourself. Fine..just stop making excuses and tell the truth.

Janet (7/30/09) In my opinion, the majority of the posts from the "mountainbike people" make a lot of sense and bring to light "your people's" ignorance. Your elitist statement of "go get your own trail" just makes me laugh. I would go on and on about how your post makes no "sense", but frankly you bore me.
I will suggest that you do some research and educate yourself before you attempt to engage in any intelligent banter on this topic. The PCT was created LONG before mountain bikes were invented. No one set out to create or build a trail that is exclusive to any specific groups. Unfortunatey, the manging agencies have since made a determination that some are allowed and some are not. I understand the idea of limiting specific areas to specific groups to preserve wild areas (wilderness, N. Parks). No one wants motorcycles and/or bikes on the John Muir Trail. However for non-wilderness designated areas, the idea of allowing only certain trail users to a specific trail is crazy. You obviously subscribe to this theory as confirmed by your silly comment of "go get your own trail". I find YOUR argument to be rather childish. Consider the scenerio where I AM able to go out and create a trail and put up signs which state "mountainbike people" only. Consider that my trail may be in an area that you find attractive and you wish to take a stroll on my trail, but now you are unable to do so legally because my trail has been built exclusively for my people! Finally, what difference does it make that you live near the trail? Once again, a clear indication of your "not in my back yard" mentality. I happen to live near the ocean, does that make the beach any more my property than say those of you that may live in Tehachapi, Wrightwood or Acton? Shame on you!

It's a federal law. The law states that there shall be no vehicles driven on PCT - period. Is that what this nation has become? A collective mass of idiots believing that they are entitled to whatever they feel is justified in their own minds? Well, as a Marine Vet, I see these types of recurring actions incessantly. From those that believe they are entitled to a handicap parking place because there aren't that many handicapped individuals to the mama and her small troupe of [disorderly children] infiltrating a public arena and flagrantly disobeying house rules. And, now, this continuance of unhealthy self-entitlement attitudes that are tearing at the very fabric of this nation and who we once were. So, what's next? What if the Hell's Angels want this trail because it affords them a shorter distance to a new watering hole, then we must relent and allow them to do so; because bike riding with the Angels is an important part of their lives, and they bridle at the absurd restrictions imposed on their activity? I know I'm exaggerating just a hair but it does bolster my point - we are a nation of soft, self-entitled, self-absorbed, little lambs that are always pouting because we're not allowed our hobbies no matter its consequences. Be real men and women such as those serving you overseas. I'm disgusted that not one response, I read, was in regards to protecting our vital land and its laws.

[This comment was lightly (and reluctantly) edited for language.]

A lot of trails where there are no bikes allowed get overgrown and then no one can use them.

Someone please point me to one case in which an equestrian was injured by a mountain biker.

Also please point me to one case in which a hiker was injured by a mountain biker.

Please also tell me if you know of any cases in which a hiker was injured by an equestrian, and vice versa.

There are tons of places to hike, bike, and ride horses all on the same trail. There simply must be hundreds of said cases of injury if these activities are so incompatible. Personally I can only think of hiker-caused hiking injuries (hikers killed/raped/injured by others on the trails). I can't recall any of the other incidents. So please educate me on this.

My problem with other users on the Pacific Crest Trail, is that for one, the federal government under the National Trails Act, created this trail for hiking and horseback riding. There are other trails that mountainbiking and other off-roading activities are legal on. Here's something to think about, you wouldn't ride a bike in a pool would you? A pool is for swimming, now why wouldn't you go there, why would you demand the right to be able to "share" that pool? Why do you not ride through your neighborhood across everyone's lawns, because it is not yours. The outdoor experience enjoyed by hikers and equestrians is much different than that of a mountain biker, dirtbiker, ATV rider and 4WD vehicle rider. Hikers and equestrian people enjoy nature, the peace and quiet, the scenic aspects of hiking a trail. Dirtbike riders don't want to stay on designated trails, they like to find new, better, more challenging places to ride. They do not stay on trails, the more whoops there are on a trail, or hills in the area, the more they like it. They also like riding up on banks along trails, more exciting than riding flat and straight. A mountain bike track looks just like a dirtbike track in the respect of its singular width -not the tread pattern. We have both on the trail in our area, where one track goes, another follows, whether its a bicycle or motorbike. Once a narrow tire track is made many more follow and then the trail starts getting wider. Address getting your own trails in appropriate places where it does not conflict with destroying the forest and disrupting wildlife. Multi-purpose or shared trails is absurd, you cannot achieve the same outdoor experience if a bike is zipping by, whether its motorized or non-motorized. Also absurd is the alternate day use, as I previously mentioned, also refer to the dirtbikers objective and mentality and the destruction to trails they cause.

why don't we ask the deer and bear who the want to hang with and get the lawyers sue anyone the animals don't see eye to eye with by the way i wish there were more people out in nature then maybe we would not want to rape our school system and steal our kids ability to get an education as well as enjoy the natural world. my son is 11 and loves nature he wants to ride his Mt Bike from mammoth to yosemite . I wonder if the animals would rather see a kid and his dad ride by or smell the exhaust of the 3.8 million tourist a year who fly to cal and get on a bus to yosemite and take a few pictures and say i need to save this place from people who gave up on cities and lawyers and oppressing others years ago and left the city and came back to nature. I wonder how the people who live in nature feel about others in nature I am no angel but i lived off the pacific ocean for 11 years and lived in the cascades for 10 years before that i have pulled people out of the ocean who would have died if not for others in nature with them and i have pulled dead people out of nature because they screwed up and there was no one there to save them I have dug people out of avalanches because I saw them get buried nature can't type or sue the only real place that people who enjoy solace (inconsolable more likely) are disturbed is at their computers bitching about the unfairness of three people who want to use 9 million acres for different recreation . to equate not being able to ride your bike or have to see a bike on your trail to slavery is funny to me because i'll never see you people in nature and if i was hiking and u were biking i would rejoice in your sharing nature with me or if i were on a horse and you were walking I would offer you company and any help you might need and a smile my point is those of us who really embrace nature don't want to stop others from enjoying nature WE look at others in the natural world as allies in the life or death struggle that is nature by the way you don't have to camp out on the pct between Mammoth and yosemite this summer along with respect for nature i also am teaching my son respect for the law (not to be confused with lawyers) so we will gladly hike the pct and smile and embrace fascists , bikers , horseback riders , parachuters , pogo stickers and any other people along the way .as far as a 600 pound horse and his 200 pound rider be easier on the trail then a mountain bike i would like to see that data I grew up with horses and motorcycles and saw the conflict when you bring them together but mt. bikes and horses on the other hand, really? ok !
signed i love fascism aka steve in mammoth
P S shouldn't we sue the yellow jackets they get so aggressive in the summer heatthats a joke for anyone who has actually been in nature

Mountain bikes cause no more damage to trails than hikers. This is all our public land and should be shared. I have been doing both for 20 years. I see the big picture.

While I certainly think there are trails that should be kept to hikers only, it is absolutely absurd to think that mountain bikers cause more trail damage than horses. I can't tell you how many trails I've ridden that were absolutely littered with pothole as a result of horses stepping through soft ground, especially when there is a significant burrowing mammal population. Any mode of transportation can wreck a muddy trail, and certain horses are as bad as mountain bikes in this regard, if not worse. If the PCT, and other trails, were closed to all traffic but hikers, I could understand the rationale, but anyone claiming that horses cause less trail damage than mountain bikes, all things being equal, either doesn't know any better or is a liar. Oh and my mountain bike doesn't randomly shit in the middle of the trail. I'd be arrested if I did that. Horses are by far the largest burden, both on a trail itself and on other users of the trail, and it is simply the coincidence of money and equestrian pursuits that has allowed them the access they currently enjoy.

To put the counterproductivity of the no-bicycles-on-trails crusade in perspective, the OECD reports that 75% of Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020:

It is amazing that there are people working hard to keep Americans from getting healthy exercise on trails if it happens to be on a bicycle.

The other day I was riding my bicycle on a California highway with beautiful redwoods alongside, and trails on both sides of the road. These trails, I'm told, go virtually unused. But they're not open to bicycles. So I contended with irritable commuters roaring past my elbow at top speed on the shoulderless sections of the highway.

At one point I stopped to rest (it had been a long climb) and admire the view of the ocean. My reverie was interrupted by a loud braying of horns and a woman screaming "go!" and "move, you [expletive] idiot!" Two cars had slowed to make a right turn and she couldn't stand the 20-second interruption of her mad dash to wherever she was going.

This is an insane situation.

Jeri Lee, I can't quite follow your argument. What is exactly your point?

Does your own statement above not list the PCT shopudl be available for all? MTB users/riders are a large segment of the outdoor populace.

Also, equines do far more environmental damage than mountain bikes do.

I say share the trail and all trails for ALL just as you state in your article.

Mtn bikers shoulder be allowed on all trails, they cause no more damage than any other activity. If damage is caused, it could be from any disrespectful hiker, equestrian, or biker. If everyone resected one another and whatever there passion may be, we all could enjoy the beautiful trails and parks that this country has to offer.

mountainbikes damage trails? in my experience horses are far far worse and nobody seems to have issues with them. it's the cuteness factor horses have and mountainbikes lack.

Because horses damage trails far worse doesn't mean that mounatin bikes don't. Use of both should be limited if, when, and where damage to trails begins to occur.

Mode separation is required. It is not possible to have a pleasant thru-hike of the PCT if mountain bikers are part of the equation. Equestrians simply do not seek every opportunity to gallop their steeds, while many mountain machine riders do. Sad but true. What cyclists need to have a great trail experience is much different than what quiet recreationists need. And that is all right. Mountain bikers should harness their community and build a Mexico to Canada bike only trial. Go for it.

I'll even support the effort by making a donation. Likewise, I helped start the Trail Skills College in Cascade Locks, Oregon and mountain bikers have always been made welcome.


I have found that when confronted by trail users adverse to my cycling on the PCT, the closer I am to a trailhead, the more vile, hate filled and angry the offended hikers are. I have found through my own extensive experiences on the trail that your typical thru hiker is less likely to have issues with sharing the trail. The fact that the PCT travels through a very large amount of wilderness and also huge expanses of desolate lands void of another human for miles and miles, that encountering bikers on the BLM sections would not jeapardize or minimize a thru-hiker's experience. Typically, your thru hiker is motivated by adventure and acomplishment of completing an extremly difficult task rather than being driven only by a peaceful, serene experience. Most hikers looking for a serene and quiet experience will rightfully choose trails in the wilderness areas and are able to plan accordingly. Split-mode (Ron 10/10/12) I suspect that you are far from a thru hiker (perhaps I am wrong, but I doubt it). Quite frankly, while we all are throwing out our generalizations, I suggest a vast majority of the anti bike posters here log very few miles on the trail. It amazes me when I speak with trail users from other areas in the country (CO, ID, UT, NM) they can not relate to the elitist mentality of excluding a user group from trails based on your mode of transportation.

As for the "legal" aspect (Marc Taylor 9/28/10) suggests we are "a collective mass of idiots" all breaking the law and satisfying our soft, self absorbed interests. Marc, REALLY? Your post concerns me. It is ovious you have some control issues. God forbid a child misbehaves in a public forum, rather beat them into submission so that they obey your commands - you must be a joy to live with/be around. Your mentality sums up the elitist and narrow minded approach to THIS issue. No-one is getting killed here, no one is endangering lives (contrary to some of the extreme posts here)' we are speaking of the rights for all to enjoy equal rights to a TRAIL. I suggest we resist being soft and just adhere to a mismanaged rule just because that is the way it is. We are Americans and therefore instead of putting our heads down and being ushered around like sheep, we need to resist ridiculous restrictions, question why those rules are being enforced and do what we can to adjust our rules and laws to ensure that we are on the right track.

We will get there. Times are changing. While I believe that trail users in populated areas (Southern California) have a challenge in their attempts to co-exist, the "laws" are being looked at and I truly believe that forward thinking minds will acknowledge and address the user issues/restrictions and change the restrictions.

Please take note of the Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail, similar issues with a rational multi-use mentality (non-wilderness areas).

While i too would like to see more ( not all) trails opened to biking, i strongly disagree with your ignoring the rules just because you believe they are "ridiculous". If everyone did that, we would have no rules (laws). Work within the system to make change. ignoring the rules just makes people think more deeply that you are a "collective mass of idiots".

Unfair rules and laws are rarely followed. Many cyclists have figured out already that they're better off riding the PCT rather than waiting for the elusive time when it will become legal (although that time might be approaching faster than you think). Whether anonymous thinks that the cyclist is an idiot or not is completely irrelevant to the cyclist. Cyclist got to have fun without harming anyone.

So, who's the idiot? The cyclist grinning from ear to ear, or Anonymous seething with anger over some trivial violation?

So Zeb who is to determine if the rule is "unfair", suppose I decide to some rule about paying my taxes Is unfair. Or maybe needing a license to fish, hunt, drive, or needing to carry auto insurance. The list is endless. People don't get to pick and choose the rules they want to follow. Either they are a member of the society and follow the rules or they are a nihilist pariah. Grin or no grin.

Despite my grinning from ear to ear, I had a difficult time converting the State Trooper to my personal opinion that the speed limit was a Trivial Violation. He explained how Darwin was about to apply to my case.


By the way. When I started to read this thread tonight I didn't notice that it was three years old at first. I was reading the same players, same words, from posts first stated in 2009.

When I fast forwarded to the end in 2012, I found little difference.

Dead horse much?


Rick, if you actually read the PCT listserv lately, you would see how this debate is actually quite relevant. Happy reading. :)

Anonymous -

Ultimately the judge decides.

Your example of taxes, fish/hunt lic, drive, auto ins is flawed. It would be unreasonable to resit any of those laws. The courts look at each case on its own merit and it is my experience that the majority of judges and law enforcement that are brought into this issue feel that cycling on the PCT is not unreasonable, prosecution is.

Jay - Ultimately the judge follows the law.

Zeb, just because it appeared on the pct listserve doesn't mean it's true.

Steve. You make a good point, but it is. The review process is slated to start sometimes early next year.