Bumper-to-bumper traffic, road rage, no parking spots and long delays getting from one point to another. No, I'm not describing the big city; I'm talking about conditions in some of our national parks, state parks, and national monuments. Our treasured parks are being loved to death, as hoards of people visit, bringing with them an onslaught of automobiles.
Traffic has become so congested in some places, like Zion National Park in Utah, that roads inside the park have been closed to public motorized traffic, except buses. New management plans in other parks are calling for eliminating private vehicles on all or some roads. The new transportation paradigm calls for visitors to park their cars at the entrance and ride a bus, walk or "¦ ride a bicycle.
Can you picture yourself cruising on a bicycle through a national park without automobile traffic? Wow!
What an opportunity for individuals and families to enjoy some of our nation's natural wonders while leisurely pedaling along and viewing spectacular scenery, wildlife, flowers and native birds from their bicycles.
Although a few parks have eliminated private automobiles, the greater share of state and federal parks are still catering to motorized traffic. However, don't let this deter you from taking your bicycle with you the next time you visit a park. Most parks have surprisingly good bicycling opportunities. In general, park road systems are designed and managed for slow traffic flow that is compatible with safe cycling.
I'll be the first to admit, I often head for a national or state park without taking my bike. However, after arriving, I usually wish I had it. The times I have remembered to load it on the bike rack, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. I like to ride from my camping spot to trailheads for day hikes. I also enjoy cruising around during the early evening after most of the tourists have hunkered down to their dinner and evening campfires. Approaching wildlife along the roads is easier on a bicycle.
If you take your bike, check ahead with the park to determine conditions and rules for the roads and trails. Ask whether bicycles are allowed on the single-track trails and if there are any other restrictions to bicycle use in the park. Checking ahead can help you decided whether you want to take a road bike or a mountain bike. It's best if you can get maps of the park so you can determine route lengths, topography, potential trails, campgrounds, access to water, restroom locations and riding opportunities adjacent to the park. The Internet is a great place to find and view maps of state and federal parks.
Many parks are at a distance from towns, so some planning is in order if you are going to be cycling. Take a small backpack with you to carry extra water, tubes, patches, a light coat, snacks, etc.
Another tip is to keep close tabs on the weather, especially at higher elevations or in mountainous terrain. It will take you longer to retreat to your campsite or lodging on your bike during inclement weather. Be cautious of riding if thunderstorms are predicted or if rain is expected to turn to snow.
Several guidebooks are available that will help make your cycling experience more enjoyable. Most of these provide detailed maps, tour directions, information on trail or road surfaces, length and difficulty of rides, and information on sites you can enjoy along your route. For opportunities in Oregon, check out Bicycling America's "National Parks: Oregon and Washington," by David Story. Some other books in this series are: "National Parks: Utah and Colorado: The Best Roads and Trail Rides from Canyon Lands to Rocky Mountain National Park," by Sarah Bennett; "National Parks: Arizona and New Mexico: The Best Roads and Trail Rides from the Grand Canyon to Carlsbad Caverns," by Sarah Bennett; and "National Parks, the Northern Rockies and Great Plains: The Best Road and Trail Rides in the National Parks of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and the Dakotas," by Phil Van Valkenberg.
A few sites I found on the Web for cycling the National Parks are: National Parks Offering Bicycling (http://nps.seeamerica.org/pmgr?activity=flagBiking) and Top Ten National Parks for Biking (http://gorp.away.com/gorp/activity/biking/topten_np.htm).
You may have to use some of that expensive gas to get to a state or national park, but once you're there, park your car at the park entrance or at your campsite and ride your bike. You will have a more pleasant experience seeing the natural wonders from a bike saddle than from behind a steering wheel.
Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.