Motorized Bicycles May Soon Be Sharing the Trails in Zion and Other National Park

Sep 6, 2019

On Thursday, August 29, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order allowing electric bicycles, also known as e-bikes, to be classified as non-motorized bikes. The administrative order has been in the works for a while now. Many outdoor groups have opposed it. However, it does open up the trails to individuals who may be physically unable to ride using a traditional bicycle. Keep reading to learn more about the order, the opposition and support, and what you need to know if you want to bring your e-bike to Zion in the coming weeks.

Biking in Zion Prior to the Recent Order

Many national parks, including Zion, offer at least a trail or two that is open to bicycles. These are great for families looking for a more accessible trail It’s also opens up a trail for those with mobility issues who find it easier to bike than hike. And, of course, for anyone who enjoys a nice ride. 

Up until last week, those bike-friendly trails were limited in what kind of wheels could be used. Zion’s Pa-rus Trail is  the only bike-friendly trail in the park. On this trail, only traditional bicycles were allowed prior to this past summer. This meant that only those capable of pedaling the full 1.7 mile one-way trail or the full 3.4 mile trail could enjoy a ride.

Bicycles were also allowed on all park roadways. This includes the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, even when the shuttles are in operation. The only section of road off-limits to bicycles was the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Bikers were advised to hitchhike or plan ahead to get a lift through the tunnel, or else turn back at that point. Of course, with the hilly landscape of the park, this was an activity reserved only for skilled, active bikers. 

The Benefit of Allowing E-Bikes in National Parks

Not everyone can handle pedaling up and over the steep, hilly roads of Zion National Park. And even though it’s relatively flat and paved, even the Pa-rus Trail may be too much for some. That’s where e-bikes offer an obvious benefit. Many e-bikes are designed to assist in pedaling, rather than replace it entirely. This means that the motors make pedaling easier on hills, while still requiring the rider to put in some work.

On June 1, 2019, Class 1 pedal-assist e-bikes were officially permitted in Zion for the first time. In order to be allowed on the trail and roadways in the park, the bike had to supply less than 50 percent of the power, and could not operate if the rider was not pedaling. This meant that bikes that helped those with limited mobility or reduced strength were permitted, while strictly electric bikes were kept out.

Outdoor Groups Oppose the Introduction of E-Bikes

Unlike the June 1st rule change that allowed pedal-assist electric bikes into the park, the new order doesn’t have the same stipulations. In fact, e-bikes can be fully electric and operate with no pedaling at all. The only rule is that the bike cannot be capable of going more than 28 miles per hour.

Many outdoor groups, including the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, have voiced their concerns. They worry that collisions will be frequent and that e-bikes may spool horses on trails where horseback riding is permitted. They also feel that e-bikes will only further add to the destruction of natural spaces in the park.

Another problem opposition has mentioned is that many of the trails in national parks across the country are narrow, winding, or rugged. This makes them tough to travel on a bike that’s going 20 miles or more per hour. Add in hikers, walkers, traditional bikes, and sometimes even pets and you have a recipe for disaster.

Practicing Safety on E-Bikes in Zion and Other National Parks

Whether it’s right or not, e-bikes are now allowed in all 400-plus national parks and recreation areas. Park Services have two weeks from the August 29 announcement to make changes to their rules and prepare for the arrival of e-bikes.

If you already have a bike and are looking forward to hitting the trails in Zion in the coming weeks, there are a few rules you’ll need to be aware of. Whether you’re pedaling on an old-fashioned bike or a fancy new e-bike, here’s what you need to know:

  • When riding with a group on roadways, remain in a single file line on the right side of the road. Groups are limited to just 6 bikes.
  • On trails, stick to the right side and form a single file when approaching other traffic on the trail.
  • Never attempt to ride through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Besides being against the law, it’s also incredibly dangerous.
  • Always wear a helmet.
  • If you’re riding on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, remember that shuttle buses always have the right of way. Yield to approaching buses and come to a complete stop to allow them to pass. Never pass a moving bus.

Biking in Zion National Park

E-bikes have been growing in popularity for several years now. Which means that with the new order, you’ll no doubt be seeing them on trails in your favorite park soon.

Whether you opt to pedal alone or with a little motorized help, remember the rules, pedal at a safe speed, and keep your eyes open for others on the trails and roadways!