Electric bikes (or e-bikes) are increasingly popular. They give easier access to exploring the outdoors, traveling longer distances, tackling bigger hills, and crossing tougher terrain than ever before. With an e-bike, you can enjoy the ride more and arrive with more energy to explore your surroundings. They also allow people with physical challenges to have more access to parks and trails. An e-bike can make it possible to keep up with a group for someone who might otherwise have to stay at home. The pedal assist of an e-bike can add years of enjoyment for cycling enthusiasts as they age. An e-bike is even a reasonable transportation option in many circumstances, prompting some riders to leave the car at home. Recent advances in technology make electric bikes a great choice for anyone!
Despite all of these advantages, the use of electric bikes is not without controversy, especially when it comes to national parks and other public lands. Critics argue that e-bikes will increase traffic on trails and allow more cyclists to reach more remote areas to the detriment of the natural environment. There are concerns regarding the weight and speed of these bikes and the impact this will have on-trail durability and maintenance. There is also a philosophical argument about the ubiquity of motors in our modern world and the importance of preserving a non-motorized wilderness. As these questions continue to be discussed in the evolving policies of national parks, one thing is clear: riders of electric bikes have more access than ever to roads and trails in national parks! It’s wonderful to see how the parks are adapting to advances in technology.
Electric Bikes in National Parks
In the fall of 2019, the National Park Service adopted an official policy regarding electric bikes in all of their parks. The policy was created quickly after a directive from the Department of the Interior, and a longer-term policy is currently under review. Public feedback regarding ebike policies is welcomed until June 8, 2020 as a part of the NPS formal process. Get more information and join the conversation.
In essence, the current policy allows electric bikes to be operated in parks with the same restrictions and regulations as non-electric bicycles with a few caveats. Electric bikes that can be self-propelled (rider does not have to pedal) are considered motor vehicles and are restricted anywhere motor vehicles are restricted. The National Park Service recognizes the federal class system regarding e-bikes: Class 1 has no throttle, 750W, and offers pedal assist up to 20 mph; Class 2 is equipped with a throttle, 750W, with pedal assist up to 20 mph; Class 3 has no throttle, 750W, and offers pedal assist up to 28 mph. Individual parks have policies about which classes of e-bikes are permitted on specific trails, so electric bike riders should always check the park-specific policies as a part of planning their trip.
Best Parks to Ride Your E-bike
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Cyclists love riding around Rim Drive for exceptional views of stunning Crater Lake. Between the altitude and some steep hills, however, this 33-mile ride can be a challenge. Class 1 electric bikes (with pedal assist that caps at 20 mph, not self-propelled) are permitted and make this experience accessible to more riders. Plan your trip in September, when two Saturdays are vehicle-free on Rim Drive. Learn more about these annual Ride the Rim events, and be sure to register in advance.
Acadia National Park, Maine. Acadia is especially popular with cyclists thanks to its unique network of carriage roads that are closed to motor vehicles. Over 45 miles of carriage roads and bike paths give cyclists access to parts of the park that cannot be reached by vehicles. Class 1 electric bikes are permitted everywhere a standard bike is permitted, but e-bike riders should be aware that e-bikes are not currently permitted on Island Explorer buses or Bike Express trailers due to load limitations.
Zion National Park, Utah. While hiking in Zion is the most popular activity, road biking is a close second since cyclists are allowed on all park roads, even those that are closed to private vehicles during the peak season. Recommended rides are the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which you’ll share only with shuttle buses from April to October, and the Pa’rus bike and pedestrian trail. Class 1 e-bikes are permitted everywhere regular bicycles can be ridden.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park is more than just great hiking! The Tetons are breathtaking from any angle, and cyclists in Grand Teton National Park can experience a great variety of these views. This park boasts the most paved trails open to cyclists of any national park, including 15 miles of multi-use pathway that’s closed to vehicles. The pathway also connects to 67 miles of pathways in Jackson Hole and the surrounding areas of Teton county, outside the national park borders. E-bikes with fully-functioning pedals (less than 1 horsepower) are permitted on the multi-use pathway.
Everglades National Park, Florida. While the other parks on this list are snowed-in for the winter, head to the Everglades for warm breezes and sunshine. Bike trails here are flat and give you access to wilderness areas where cars are not permitted. E-bikes with fully-operable pedals (less than 750 watts / 1 horsepower) are welcome on all bike paths but take note that the speed limit on most trails is just 10 mph.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona. Another respite from winter, the two districts of Saguaro National Park near Tucson are very popular with cyclists. The park loop roads are open to cars, but you’re likely to see more bikes than cars on the road, especially on the Cactus Forest Loop Road. The park’s location also gives easy access to cycling around Tucson, which is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States.