Bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail? Proponents Are Pushing For It


The 2,663-mile Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking paradise that stretches from Canada to Mexico and winds through Washington, Oregon, and California. Up until 1988, people were allowed to ride bicycles on the trail but then the U.S. Forest Service decided to ban bikes completely. Now, a new campaign dubbed Sharing the PCT has formed to reassess that decision and push for returning knobbies to what many call the Perfect Cycling Trail.

Bike advocates say the 1988 ban was done too abruptly, without public comment or opportunity to appeal. Oregon-based group Disciples of Dirt, which supports the mission of Sharing the PCT, wrote on its website that the ban was “just fear and misunderstanding, mixed with a lot of well-funded ignorance.”

In 2010, a group of citizen activists looked further into the 1988 decision. They wrote a letter to the USFS on November 12, 2010, asking them to “put in place a process to examine the continuing usefulness of the 1988 closure order.” Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

“The closure order may have been intended to be only temporary. In 1988 mountain bicycles were newly popular and there was little understanding of how to manage them. Twenty-two years later the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service know how to manage multiuse trails. It is time to reassess the usefulness of the closure order.”

Sharing the PCT wants the USFS to use the Continental Divide Trail as a model for management. That trail, which runs more than 3,100 miles from Canada to Mex, is open to bicycles.

The group also pointed out that the Forest Service’s own policy dictates an annual review of the closure order, yet such a review has never been done. “We wish to be part of a public process to reevaluate the closure order comprehensively,” they wrote in their 2010 request.

They followed up that request in May of 2011 and earlier this year they finally got a response. “We received word that the USFS could be initiating a formal review process as early as sometime in 2013.”

Portland resident Daniel Greenstadt is one of about a “dozen or so” citizens who are behind the Sharing the PCT initiative. He said that for now Sharing the PCT just wants to raise awareness of the issue. The USFS has said they’ll look into it, but what exactly their review will entail remains to be seen. “The outcome could be a re-affirmation of the closure of the trail to bicycles; but our goal is to simply get some process and some daylight on the issue,” he said.

It’s likely, Greenstadt says, that the USFS will open up the issue to a formal public process. When it does, groups like his and mountain bike and trail organizations from all over the West Coast will weigh in. It’s also important to note that any consideration of bicycling on the PCT would only impact portions of the trail that are not designated as federal wilderness, since that designation is governed by a whole different set of rules.

Learn more at SharingthePCT.org or on Facebook.

In affiliation with Bike Portland. PCT photo by Shutterstock

{ 30 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Old Glenn

    I have had to “share” the PCT with knobbiest and they do not play well with others. We runners have to stand at the side of the trail while they downhill past at speed sometimes way too fast on a narrow trail. NO THANKS

  • Cody

    Yes! It’s about time. I’m an avid hiker and trail runner. I’m also an avid mountain biker. I’ve never understood why people couldn’t share trails with others. I’m so glad this is happening. This is as close as adventure sports get to civil rights. Mountain bikers are not lesser people! Open the trails!

  • Spencer Vaughn

    The amount of destruction from erosion that I see on my local trails from mountain bikers, is why I disagree with this.

  • wahington hiker

    not sure how i feel about this one. i definitely understand why mountain bikers would want it, and it makes sense that the USFS would at least review the reasoning behind the bike-ban. i am generally against an increase in traffic on the PCT, as well an increase in traffic on popular access trails folks use to get to the PCT. i’m split on this one.

  • TrailPotato

    Cast my ballot for for the “bad idea” party for this one. I get it. I ride and love finding new trails to crunch but I also love to hike and the two are not compatible. Even the most responsible rider is going to ride at a speed that isn’t safe for hikers. People will get hurt. One of the posters above mentioned another issue. Erosion. A well designed mountain bike trail can very effectively manage erosion issues (and be super fun!) but allowing riding on a trail that was not designed for bikes will cause erosion.

    If the desire is for a long trail to ride how about if we start an effort to create a long trail just for riding?

  • Chris

    What about the miles of PCT trail that travel through Wilderness areas and National Park? Presumably those would remain off-limits to bikes. Can you imagine the CF if a cowboy, trail runner, and bike encountered each other on a section in California?

    That photo above is a great example of someplace I wouldn’t want to have to meet a bike coming the opposite way – that looks like the Kendal Katwalk, a section only a few miles north of Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, and a popular day hike destination.

    I have to vote for “bad idea” on this – the opportunity for conflict is just too high.

  • Don

    Terrible idea … How much damage will be done to the many fragile areas that the PCT goes through. These bikers have not thought about the environmental impact of this kind of decision. I would agree with finding an area that a real bikers trail could be created… I’m all for that… Built to withstand erosion concerns… And for the safety of its users. Bikes on the PCT… That is the idea comes from ignorance.

    -d

  • chris

    New Zealand has recently (in the last few years) changed the classification of bicycle in National Parks, as previously they were considered the same as cars/motorbikes, and banned. Now, they are being allowed on a trail by trail basis.

    1) A study was done (I don’t have the reference) which showed that errosion is not an issue if the trail is suitable and closed in very wet periods.
    2) Not all trails are suitable for sharing, but equally hikers and bikers like different sorts of trails (gradient, rooty, flow etc … ).

    I am in favor of opening selected sections up to mountain bikers for a trial period. New Zealand has re-opened the Heaphy Track up for mountain bikers for the winter (it doesnt snow there like it does on parts of the PCT). The trial period is a year or two I think, but it may be permanent now.

    How’s about that first? Find a section which is suitable, find a time of year with less hikers and not too wet/snowy, and see? I would absolutely love to ride some sections, like the sections near Big Bear, CA, which I have hiked and thought would be perfect for mountain biking … in fact the LBS suggested riding them.

  • Trail Biker

    I’m not the least bit surprised to see a barrage of “anti-bike” comments in relation to this issue. It essentially boils down to naïveté and simply being uninformed. Several well-conducted studies have been recently published, which all provide empirical evidence from independent organizations that were contracted by the California Parks system to study the effects of multi-use trails. To sum things up, essentially they found no problems with sharing the trails, there were no incidents reported in any jurisdiction of conflict between hikers and cyclists, and the rate of damage done to trails was statistically equivalent among foot traffic and cyclists, with stock and equestrians essentially destroying the trails. (for those who I’m sure are already scoffing, here’s the link: http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/980/files/app_c_trailuseconflictstudy_chginuse_draft.pdf)

    I’d be ashamed to consider myself of the hiking community. Apparently the concept of SHARING something was not part of their moral development. The core message being spewed by hikers is “this is MY sandbox . . . go find your own!” Pathetic at best.

  • Chris

    As an avid hiker and cyclist, I think that allowing bikes on this trail is a bad idea. I can only assume that the CDT is not as heavily trafficked as the PCT which is why it works. I could understand opening sections of the PCT to bikes when no other routes are available, but a dedicated trail would be a safer option. As a cyclist, I would want the option to ride hard and fast, and not worry about pedestrians wandering about. As a hiker/backpacker, I would be seriously bummed if a cyclist suddenly appeared, traveling at high speed, and left little time for either of us to react/move/announce our approach/whatever. No bueno.

  • Don

    My point would be… at least in the sections I have hiked in Oregon – the trail is not designed for bikes or erosion…etc. IF the trails were funded and re-engineered for bikes – then I am ok with it. But I would like to see how that would be done – given that 90% of trail upkeep and repairs are done by volunteers. Federal funding – does not exist. For me its not “my sandbox” … I am concerned about the trails… and the environment they exist in. Sure there are parts that are perfectly fine. Yet Jefferson Park for example ( north flank of mt. jefferson )… is a sub-alpine meadow with over use problems in the past – just with hikers no less. The damage takes decades to recover… I would be worried about areas like that… and how a plan allowing bikes would enforce permitting and prevent overuse. Several areas in that general area also have visitor limits … as to people visiting or hiking through the area… etc. These are my concerns… let alone the quality of the “feeder” trails to the PCT in my region… many would need to be re-engineered for bikes to travel safely for their own sake. – let alone to control erosion.
    At least in the northern Oregon sections… – rain – and more rain – do not make for erosion free trails. Bikes added to that natural erosion would require more work to be done on the trails – to make them better able to handle that added requirement.

    I have not hiked the Cali PCT areas… maybe they are less of an issue – maybe they were constructed methods that allow for bikes without many changes… I can’t attest to that. But in my area – changes would have to be made to make it happen.

    Living in the Portland metro area… a “bike friendly” city – I have no problems with bikes – but the few rule breakers – within the city… are dangerous – and have caused damage within forest park in the past year – I shutter to think about those same folks let loose on the PCT. Not to say that the hiking community is any better. I pick up garbage… clean up damaged trees…etc. every time I go hiking. I know I have see many careless hikers and campers. I would expect a similar percentage of bikers to be the same. Lots of great folks – but on trails not maintained for bikes – how do you re-construct all the problem areas to keep the damage in check. I worry about the environmental impact of this.

    -d

  • Don

    Chris – I agree on that point… PCT has typically quite a few folks where I have gone. And with very young “hikers” as well… on sections of trail that are not very safe to begin with – I just see dangerous things getting worse. Not to harp on the erosion factor – but there are several places where just minor increased trail use could make the trail even more dangerous for anyone using it.

    Thinking about the whitewater trail lead in to the PCT… around sentinel hill/ridge… that part of the trail would be very sketchy. It is similar to the photo above – but without that nice jagged rock and grass “curb”… I guess bikers would have to carry their bikes through those sections. – its not impossible… but I don’t see it as being as easy as just “changing the ban”.
    -d

  • Don

    That link to the Cali study was very informative… but I will need to read through further. What I did gather so far was that most jurisdictions have trails designated by usage – dependent on what the trail could support. Some trails were ok for hikers and bikers – some ok for all and some only allowed hikers as the trails were not currently designed for bike use. Trails were evaluated for use – and if it was not suitable for bikes – it doesn’t allow bikes. I only read through 8 or so of the studies from other jurisdictions so far.. from canada and the us… but that was a common theme.

    The other elements of the report I found interesting was the “design” of multi use trails – which when designed for all kinds of users – its easy to plan for. Minimum trail with was around 3-6 feet. Like some of the multi use trails in portland’s forest park. Single track trails – from what I read were nearly all single use… peds. unless passing zones were created. But I didn’t see yet where a single track trail was studied as a multi use trail. If there is a page number for that I would like to read that portion. I would also like to read the section about environmental impact that pertains to single track dirt trails (which is all of the PCT I have been on). The one study I did see so far was of environmental impact… on a multi-use gravel and paved (3-4′ wide) trail in the carolinas? anyhow – more reading…

    thanks for the link.

    Over all is a nice draft – mostly about trail DESIGN for multi use… which makes sense. As far as the PCT goes – lots of re-design would have to happen.

    -d

  • Don

    Trail Biker,
    At which point does this study – sum up the other studies as to there being no problems? Again sifting through it… the only jurisdiction so far I find without any problem was Los Vegas (paved multi-use trails) – LOL. City of portland / forest park study found issues… why was that not shown in the aggregate data? Again I have yet to get to the summary… maybe they will explain it in those pages.

    d

  • Macho Taco

    As someone who’s thru-hiked the entire PCT, I say HELL NO. The whole idea of hikers and bikers sharing a trail is a joke. Once bikes are allowed on the trail, hikers will have to constantly keep eyes open for high speed bikes. Anyone who has been creamed by a mtn biker on trail will know my concern. It will definitely ruin the hiking experience. I’ll never support mtn bikes in the wilderness or the trails I love. I imagine that horseback riders would feel as strongly as I do. As a hiker, I can easily share the trail with them.

  • Cody Hanson

    Reading some of these comments just makes me sad. I see a much bigger issue here than that of opening the PCT to bikes. There is still a very strong “you vs. me” sentiment between hikers and mountain bikers. I’m just bummed that many people cannot understand that different people like to experience the backcountry in different ways. With proper management, we should all be able to experience the wilderness in our own way. And yes, that means sharing some trails.

    The more people who can experience the wilderness, the better our world will be. So can we get rid of the ego and selfishness and work together a little bit? Seeing a mountain bike will not “ruin” a hiking experience. As an ultra runner and mountain biker, it often seems like I’m the only one who will make friendly conversation with a mountain biker while I’m on foot, or vice versa. Please help me spread the love!

  • markv

    The pro-bike comments (here and on other sites) seem to center around equal usage, rights, and selfishness of hikers for wanting to keep bikes out. I can’t take these comments at all seriously, because as a (not-PCT) cyclist and a PCT thru-hiker, i know that hikers don’t endanger and ruin bike trails. Cyclists can however endanger and ruin hiking trails. Wanting to keep this particular trail (really, the crown jewel of USA hiking trails) off-limits to bikes isn’t selfish or a question of equal rights. It’s a question of impact. One can show cases of bikes not making impact, but if you’ve walked much of the PCT you can pretty easily show cases of the negative impacts that just a few bikes make. This isn’t a study, it’s firsthand knowledge shared by the whole PCT hiking community.

    So really, i understand wanting the PCT for bikes, and i understand the need to balance usage for all groups. But if you’ve hiked the PCT, seen it, had brushes with bikes and seen the ruts, it’s a real no-brainer. There is no faction of the PCTA in favor of bikes on the trail. They all know it would be madness to add them. Keep the bikes away. And in turn, if there is some historic crown-jewel bike trail that hikers’ presence is making unsafe or ruining for cyclists, then keep the hikers away from THAT trail.

  • lil' buddha

    from my FB: i’m a mountain biker and a hiker, and i would never want to bike on a trail with lots of people hiking on it … it is just too dangerous. besides, what bad arse biker wants to shred a trail that is at best a green circle (easy) and offers little challenge?

  • Craig Giffen

    @Trail Biker, the hikers’ response is the same one that mountain bikers would have if motorcross riders demanded that MTB’ers “share” their single-track MTB trail. It would ruin the whole experience.

    Mountain bikes would have the upper hand on the PCT..there is no “sharing” going on. Instead you are effectively asking to “take over” the PCT. Hikers travel at 0-3 mph, bikes travel at 0-25mph+, who is going to get hurt more in a collision?

    A few PCT hikers have already been hit by illegal MTB riders in California. The problem is only going to get a lot worse if bikes become legal on the PCT.

  • Vladimir

    im a Mountainbiker and a hiker also , we need to share this trail with each other … also to equestrian the only thing i dont like to those equestrian are that they dont pick up poop of their horses but im willing to share the trail with them …. everytime i met someone in the trail and im riding my bike and hiker would stay on the side i always say THank you to them … i know im also a hiker and theres some mtbiker i met and just stupid to go faster on the downhill without regards for other trail user … we could work this out by trying to understand each other….

  • Nancy Sathre-Vogel

    No, No, No!! I am a very committed biker. In fact, I’ve spent five years of my life traveling full time on my bike – four of those with my children. As a family, we cycled from Alaska to Argentina. I love my bike and I love the freedom it gives me.

    We also spent last summer hiking the Colorado Trail through the Rockies. I was looking forward to a peaceful hike through the mountains, but the bikers totally ruined it for me. And I do mean totally. We were walking along the trail carrying heavy backpacks and every few seconds had to leave the trail and climb up onto the grass to let cyclists go by. Very much not relaxing at all!

    I understand that mountain bikers want nice trails to ride on, but backpacking trails are not the place to do it.

  • Katie devenish

    NO NO NO….hiking and cycling just isn’t compatible!!! Especially on such a narrow trail….there would be massive damage to the track, it would be dangerous for the cyclists and the hikers…I imagine high speed collisions…and what about the fragile/extreme sections!!! I thru hiked in 06 and came across bikers on the trail…they move TOO fast and the tyres just churn up the ground….the damage wouldn’t be much different to the sections shared with horses in oRegon!!! That was a HORRIBLE section to hike!!!
    I Love Bikes and Horses….I cycle tour myself, BUT it shouldn’t be assumed that each mode of transport is compatible!!!

  • James

    Very selfish (some self-righteous) responses from hikers. People that say they also ride but are against this must not be actual mountain bikers (maybe road bikers) as any mountain biker would want to have equal access to wilderness trails. No group damages trails worse than equestrians (horses). It is common rule among mountain bikers not to ride wet trails…most comply, there will always be some that don’t just like there will always be some bad apple hikers and equestrians (that litter etc.). Regardless of differences, these things can be worked out. The Tahoe area has a system where certain trails are open to bikes even days closed to bikers odd days. Maybe something of this nature can be considered. Also, in my experience (in two different states), mountain bikers come out in large numbers for trail work days in order to keep trails maintained and safe. I think there is a perception by some that people on mountain bikes are reckless, indignant youngsters. We are doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, and professionals from every walk of life…and most of us are good trail stewards and courteous to hikers and horses. As a hiker (day hiker and wilderness backpacker) and serious mountain bike rider in Norther California, I certainly look forward to equal access (or even any access) to these trail in the future.

  • KC

    I’m so glad I found this article. I really would like to see the possibility of mountain bikes allowed on the PCT. I began hiking the PCT in 1989 (age 8) at the Mexico border with my father and siblings. We spent our weekends and summers completing section after section from South to North. We now have less than 200 miles left before stepping foot in Canada. The rest of my family will be finishing this summer or the next (depending on snow melt), but unfortunately I can no longer hike more than a few miles before massive swelling in my ankle (road bike vs. car accident shattered my ankle two years ago). I have since adapted and learned that I can mountain bike all day long and then some. I know I am in the minority, but there are probably many people that have bad knees, ankles, etc. that would greatly benefit from being able to mountain bike 20-40 miles per day as opposed to hiking 10-25 miles per day. Roads were meant for cars (unless there is a big shoulder) and trails were meant for hiking and biking. We can learn to share those trails.

  • Jill Corum

    Is there a way to have a bike trail that is close to the PCT, but made for bikes? In this way, bikers would not disturb the hikers.

  • Keith Sightler

    I believe the PCT should be open to everyone.. I do many hours of volunteer work on trails… I have been to many meetings concerning Cuyamaca trail/land usage.. In which trails are endanger of becoming closed to mountain bikers again due to lack of knowledge of mountain biking… I think we can all share there resources together as it is only fair.. I also noticed many of the people that complained never used a McLeod (Heavy Hoe) or and other types of trail maintenance tools.. Most mountain bikers I encounter are usually courteous and usually yield to hikers and equestrian trail users… But every group has a few exceptions… I have volunteered many hours with SDMBA (San Diego Mountain Bike Association) and noticed they promoted this action of yielding and the use of Bear bells (Bell to alert other on trail that a mountain biker is approaching). I pay my taxes… LOTS of money in taxes and feel offended by being told that I can not ride on trail because of some misunderstanding about my activity mountain biking.. Nice idea “Jill” but then environmentalist will argue about land usage percentages and area to keep open space or free of being disturbed… Believe it or not bike riding on trail are actually good for them.. Keeps them smooth… Keeps them groomed… Keeps vegetation from taking over… That’s my two cents… It’s my privileged to help maintain these natural treasures… That’s why I volunteer and always will!!!

  • Keith Sightler

    Oh… Please describe what overuse and abuse of trail usage is??? I don’t understand what you mean by that… Many general use trail such as in Laguna are some of the best trails around as they are used quite a bit.. by everyone! And yes bikes with no problems…. Thanks ;)

  • John

    Why is it some body always wants what some one else has!!
    The simple fact is this, The PCT was built for “Hikers”! If the “Bikers” want a trail, then get off your buts, get the funding and build your own! I’m a MT Biker and a hiker! Yes, most of the PCT would be great on a bike! But I certainly would not want to selfishly ride it at the cost of altering the experience of hiking it for anyone! Selfish, Hm… I think the bikers are not thinking of the hikers in there quest to intrude on the there trails. I like the comment about dirt bikes on Mountain bike trails. Not a good combo there! Simply put…. make your own trails!

  • Raymond Nelson

    Sharing seems to work pretty well on the Continental Divide Trail. Backcountry Horsemen and mountain bikers have actually been teaming up for maintenance and improvements. To those who just say “no”; what a ridiculously selfish response. No discussion, no listening to the other side. Sharing can and does work, it just takes effort from all sides, and the result is always much more beneficial for all involved, the trail in question, and the future of conservation as a whole.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151290325664066.516350.102836614065&type=1

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvFZUl4Pgs0

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