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New Possibilities for the Pacific Crest Trail

Photo: IMBA Pacific Northwest Region Director Anna Laxague exploring in the Oregon woods.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and love mountain biking, you have probably thought about how great it would be to ride your bike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from California to British Columbia and is currently closed to bikes. Each time I hike a portion of the 2,600-mile National Scenic Trail, I find myself wishing that I could also access the stunning scenery, backcountry setting and phenomenal singetrack on my mountain bike. I also think about what a great resource mountain bikers could be in the efforts to maintain the PCT and other long-distance, remote trails.

The U.S. Forest Service recently indicated that it might consider a process to review the current ban on bicycle access to the PCT. Some bicycle advocates have actively challenged the legal basis for the current bike ban, but IMBA has not joined these efforts. We are instead focusing on communicating with both the Forest Service and other key stakeholders in the recreation community to assess current trail-use issues and identify potential opportunities.

IMBA believes that mountain bike access to long-distance backcountry trails is extremely valuable, though that does not necessitate opening the entire PCT to bikes (we will not pursue bike access in designated Wilderness areas, and some sections might not be conducive to riding). As the discussions evolve, IMBA will provide updates about which trail segments of the PCT are best-suited for bicycle access, and we will advocate for access to those sections.

We know that riding rugged backcountry trails for endless miles is an experience that many in the mountain bike community love and live for. For some, a remote, long-disance ride represents the ultimate adventure. Such a ride is something to dream about for years: those intrepid riders can't wait to have the skills, resources and time to cross such a challenge off their bucket lists. But they also simply enjoy knowing the experience is possible at all, waiting for them when they're ready for it.

When I think of the opportunities that mountain bike access to the PCT would open up near my home in Oregon's Cascade Mountains, I can't help but pull out the maps and begin dreaming of the big rides and beautiful loops that would be possible. I dream, too, of the eager mountain bike advocacy community that would be honored to treat the PCT with great care and respect — the same treatment they give their local trails.

I'm hopeful that IMBA's work with the Forest Service and with recreation community partners will move us a step closer to the rides many of us living near the PCT dream of. Success in gaining bike access to portions of the PCT would undoubtedly bring a larger community out to support and maintain this beautiful and enticing trail.

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Watershed for National Scenic Trails?

So since the National Trails System Act of 1968 just specifically banned motorized vehicles on most all the trails how did it change or start becoming enforced that bicycles couldn't be allowed on the trails? Does the "change" in mountain bike access in non-wilderness areas along the national Pacific Crest Trail mean that other national trails that might be good for mountain biking like the Appalachian Trail now have precedence to allow bikes?


For those of us who love "adventure riding", this would be absolutely wonderful. Additionally, getting the MTB community involved with the maintenance and protection of the PCT would be beneficial to all who use it. Contrary to the fear and hyperbole coming from the vocal minority in the hiking community, (as IMBA knows), the upwards of 1,600 miles of non-Wilderness PCT can peacefully be shared with hikers, equestrians, and mt. bikers. The segments of the PCT I'm familiar with would draw the type of mt. biker who is out to explore, see many things, and have a sense of accomplishment when it's done, much like his hiking bretheren. Bikepackers must be salivating. This is not the Red Bull Rampage crowd.

Keep in mind that during the Congressional Hearings that occurred in 1967 to discuss the National Trails Act (and National Scenic Trails), which gave birth to the PCT, the testimony from Norman Clark on behalf of the Bicycle Institute of America acknowledged that bicycles were very much a part of the conversation when it came to bicycles on National Scenic Trails... its just at that time, bikes weren't exactly made to ride rugged, backcountry trails:

"(p. 112) This Bill provides for the establishment of a nationwide system of trails that would include a number of National Scenic Trails, such as the Appalachian, Continental Divide, Pacific Crest and Potomac Heritage. We are pleased to see the recognition that this Bill gives to the place these Trails hold in our country, and for the increased opportunities they will offer the hiker and the horseback rider. Large portions of these Trails have only limited appeal for cyclists, either because they are on too rugged a terrain or because they are far removed from population centers. There are, however, significant portions of them that would be ideal for cycling and we were pleased to note that the Trail Study Report recommended that cycling be encouraged on several portions of these Trails."

The hearings: ( <------- fascinating document)

Thank you IMBA!

Delighted to see this

Delighted to read Anna's comments. Please check out the websites of the PCT Reassessment Initiative, which has been working for a multiuse PCT in non-Wilderness areas since 2010: