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Greater Bicycle Access To National Parks Coming With New Revisions to NPS Bicycle Plan


Bicyclists lamenting the reluctance of the National Park Service to embrace mountain biking on seemingly suitable park routes may have some good news to celebrate.

The National Park Service just announced today it will expand bicycle access in parks nationwide.

The new rule, available online at:, gives park superintendents the authority to allow bicycles on roads that are closed to the motoring public – like fire roads and roads used by park maintenance vehicles. Bikes are already allowed on park roads that are open to vehicles.

Do not expect a major shift in trail riding restrictions. The rule continues to prohibit bikes in wilderness and other areas where they would have significant impact on the environment or visitor safety. The NPS release specifically says, “The National Park Service will continue to prohibit bicycle use in eligible, study, proposed, recommended, and designated wilderness areas.”

The National Park Service says this rule moves decision making about where bike use is appropriate from a regulatory to a planning process. Nevertheless, to open existing or new trails to bikes the approval process still retains rigorous environmental compliance requirements and mandatory public comment on proposals.

New trails outside of developed areas will continue to require a park-specific special regulation approved by the director of the National Park Service.

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said, “Bikes are a great way to exercise, get healthy, and experience the great outdoors. This new rule gives park superintendents greater flexibility to determine where bikes can be allowed in a park and additional authority to shut areas where cycling is jeopardizing visitors or park resources.”

The final rule, 36 CFR § 4.30, will be published in the Federal Register on July 6 and will go into effect 30 days later.


I agree with Zebulon that recent events are pretty significant. The National Parks & Conservation Association has traditionally reflected conservative values. That it ran a balanced article on bicycling on trails in NPS units is both pleasing and surprising.

Even more significant is the change in attitude at the NPS itself. While continuing to insist that bicycles won't be allowed in current or potential Wilderness acreage inside the national parks, the final rule contains a remarkable amount of bicycle-friendly rhetoric:

"[T]he net economic benefits of mountain biking generally exceed those of either hiking or horseback riding."

"Generally, impacts to soils, vegetation, and wildlife from bicycles are similar to impacts from hiking and less than impacts from horseback riding or motorized vehicle use. When a trail is sustainably located, designed, and constructed, it can support low-impact uses such as hiking and biking with minimal maintenance and with no degradation of the natural resources." "When trails are sustainably located, designed, and constructed, [bicycles'] impacts are normally insignificant."

"Bicycle riders of all skill levels and ages enjoy riding on park roads and designated bicycle trails for beautiful scenery, exercise, and adventure. People bicycle alone, with friends, or with family—they bicycle to visit points of interest, to be healthy, and because it's fun." (Obviously the NPS disagrees with the grumblers who can only see mountain bikes as "thrillcraft.")


All of the foregoing suggests that the NPS staff are tired of the naysayers, realize that their attitude is going to jeopardize public support for the national parks system over time, and want to make the national parks more appealing to benign users of nonmotorized equipment and not be limited to allowing only transportation modes that were around in 1850.

The Wilderness prohibition remains significant, however. The national parks in Washington state are between 93% and 97% Wilderness. There'll be no bicycling in Rainier or Olympic national parks unless it's to and from a campground bathroom or alongside retirees' Winnebagos on a paved road. Yosemite, similarly, is 95% Wilderness. Thus, the practical effect of this new regulation is limited. In time, however, the Wilderness ban will be reconsidered and repealed.

People, including me sometimes, complain about government. I was impressed, however, by the evenhanded, dispassionate, and professional tone of the text of the final rule. The people who write these rules are not highly paid—certainly not compared to Wall Street— and have to wrestle with the grinding demands of a number of pressure groups. This rule reflects the highest traditions of the government's civil service and the writers are to be congratulated.

Quoting without contacting the person seems a bit rude to say the least.

I'm pretty sure that the NPCA, being old and stodgy, probably remains anti bike, and will remain so until the dinosaurs die off. That being said, having an article in there admitting that MTBing is the future is pretty telling.


For the record, the author did not contact me about this article. Instead, she pulled a small piece of a story I'd written over a year earlier, and then added her own interpretation. I found that odd in that she later told me she had been working on the story for a year.

As for the NPCA's position on mountain biking and rules pertaining to biking in the parks, I'm told it hasn't changed. But there's certainly nothing wrong with the magazine taking a good look at the issue.

Wow, I could not believe the article (coming from the NPCA...):

Apparently, even the NPS admits that mountain biking is the new gateway to the outdoors for the youth. BTW, Kurt's quote did not sound too bike friendly. Of the 300 miles of biking opportunities in Big Bend, how many of those are single track?

Even the NY Times has an article on the subject.

You raise a good question, Jim. For those not familiar with the statute he's referring to, you can read up on it in the Traveler's archives:


The obvious question is whether the spirit of this constructive step will also be applied to the new statute requiring NPS to prohibit bikes on some roads with side paths. Will NPS apply that statute so as to promote safety or to promote the flow of automobile traffic, regardless of the impact on safety? That is: will bikes be banned from 30 mph roads even if the nearby sidepath is dangerously designed and maintained or has many pedestrians? Or only when there is a well-maintained sidepath with few pedestrians and a design speed of 15-20 mph.

The bicycle is a great human powered transport device. No emissions, moves quickly, not too loud, not too expensive, but it is hated by pedestrians, by motorists, by people on horseback, and sometimes even by other cyclists. I agree that some trails should be hiker only but bikes should be allowed on more trails and we should have some bike only trails so the horse people don't get so angry at us.

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