EBikes (electric bikes) are no longer just for the commute, and with such a diverse and beautiful amount of countryside in the state of California, people are beginning to take their eBikes on exploratory adventures all across the state. But regulations and restrictions can differ from county to county and from trail to trail and keeping track of them, or finding out what you’re allowed to ride and where can be difficult.
So where can you ride an ebike in California? Here we’re going to cover California State Parks, Federally managed National Parks, National Forests, and, finally, touch on some of the most unique places to ride an eBike in California.
But first, a note on eBike classes:
Understanding the Class I, II, III eBike system
Not all eBikes are made equal and a system of three different classes (learn about them here) has been adopted by the state of California. This system of classification has been adopted by many states, and by the National Park Service, and serves as a great framework for understanding the difference between eBikes regulations.
Different local governments will think differently about where each of the different classes of eBike are permitted but there are two general rules that fit almost everywhere:
- Class III eBikes are only really permitted on paved roads and trails that are designed for use by motor vehicles.
- Class I eBikes are those most frequently permitted to be used wherever regular bicycles are allowed to go; often joined by class II eBikes.
So, if you own a class III eBike you are rarely going to be allowed to take it off the paved road and onto trails, both those paved and those not. If you own a class II eBike you may be allowed on these trails in many areas, but some will not permit it. If you own a class I eBike you’re going to be permitted to ride wherever eBikes are allowed.
Note: Many Class II and III eBikes can be temporarily converted by adjusting their speed limiters and/or removing the throttle. These modifications may allow you to access additional trails with your eBike by complying with local or location-specific requirements.
Riding an eBike in California State Parks
A policy was introduced in August 2021 that provides a framework for the use of eBikes in California State Parks. All 3 classes of eBike can be ridden on public roadways in all California State Parks, but when it comes to individual trails the Superintendent of the district has jurisdiction over which classes of eBike can be ridden and where. Typically:
- In State Recreation Areas - Only class I eBikes will permitted to ride on controlled access roads and trails (at the discretion of the Superintendent)
- In State Vehicular Recreation Areas - Class I, II, and III eBikes use may be allowed on controlled access roads and trails (at the discretion of the Superintendent)
- In Other Park Classifications - Only class I eBikes will permitted to ride on controlled access roads and trails (at the discretion of the Superintendent)
The "Locations to ride e-bikes" section of this California state resource clearly defines which trails you’re allowed to ride different classes of eBikes on in every California State Park. It is good practice to read the section of this resource pertaining to the state park you’re planning on visiting before heading out there, and if there’s a park host or ranger there it is always a good idea to check with them when you enter too.
Riding an eBike in Federal National Parks within California
In National Parks, electric bicycles can be used wherever public motor vehicles are permitted (read: public roadways). These eBikes are allowed to have up to a 750 watt motor and the National Park Service recognizes the same 3 tier system classification system as the state of California. Like in California State Parks the Superintendent who oversees the park has the final say on if and where eBikes can be used in other areas of the park. More details on the rules of eBiking in a National Park can be found here.
There are two things to note in the regulations set forth by the National Park Service and they are 1: that eBikes, like regular bikes, are not permitted in wilderness areas, and 2: that riders of class II eBikes are prohibited from using the motor to propel their eBike for an extended period of time when not on a public road designed for motor vehicles.
There are 9 National Parks within California, and below are the regulations for each park, correct at the time of writing. The official biking policy for each national park, where available, is linked and it is always recommended to check with the rangers upon entering the park in case regulations have changed.
- Channel Islands National Park - No bicycles of any kind are allowed on the islands.
- Death Valley National Park - Electric bicycles can only be used on roads open to public motor vehicles.
- Joshua Tree National Park - You can ride eBikes on all roads open to vehicles (but not on trails, this is the same as for traditional bicycles).
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park - Electric bicycles can only be used on roads open to public motor vehicles.
- Lassen Volcanic National Park -Electric bicycles can only be used on roads open to public motor vehicles.
- Pinnacles National Park - Electric bicycles can only be used on roads open to public motor vehicles.
- Redwoods National Park - Electric bikes are permitted on all trails and roads except for one partial and two full trials: Coastal Trail (partial), Little Bald Hills Trail, and the Ossagon Trail.
- Yosemite National Park - Electric bicycles are allowed on all trails and roads that bicycles are allowed on (the speed limit on bike paths is 15mph).
Using an eBike on National Forest Lands in California
All three classes of eBike are allowed on all motorized trails and roads in national forests and grasslands nationwide. Different forest units can open up non-motorized trails to the use of eBikes at their own discretion so it’s always good to check with your local ranger station to see if there are any bonus trails that you can ride on! You can read the Forest Service statement on eBike use here.
Local and County Parks within California
At the local level, regulating authorities are still becoming acquainted with eBikes and the local public sentiment concerning them. As a result, regulations will differ by county and even by park or trail. It is recommended that you check with the manager and governing body of the parks where you want to ride your eBike to be sure you’re not doing so unlawfully.
Generally speaking it can be expected that busier, more publicly accessible parks and trails will not permit the use of eBikes, however this does not mean that all the parks and trails that are not high traffic will allow it.
When in doubt? Ride respectfully and don't be a jerk. Be aware of your surroundings and you're unlikely to be hassled when riding your eBike.
Best Places to Ride an eBike in California
With the size of the state (3rd largest in the nation), the huge variety of eBike friendly trails and areas, the variety of terrains available to eBike riders, and the differing skills and wants of eBike riders it is difficult to narrow down the best places to ride an eBike in California. That being said, there are some unmissable rides that everyone should experience at least once and we’ve gathered these up for you here.
Note:If you’re looking for eBike trails in your local area, Trailforks is a great, community contributed resource (also available as a mobile app) that allows you to filter your search specifically for eBike friendly trails. Trailforks lists trails of all styles and for abilities, but it is an especially helpful resource if you’re looking to ride your electric mountain bike, eMTB, on off-road trails.
In addition to Trailforks, there is a huge ecosystem of mobile apps that can help you find safe, accessible places to ride your eBike. We've compiled a list of the best mobile apps for eBiking.
Napa and Sonoma Valleys
Both the valleys of Napa and Sonoma are popular biking destinations because of the stunning scenery they offer, as well as being popular wine destinations. A variety of terrain, not to mention wine, is waiting here to greet riders of all levels and many companies offer guided ebike tours through the region. Just remember that the drinking and cycling laws are the same as drinking and driving laws.
San Diego Bayshore Bikeway
The Bayshore Bikeway is a scenic bikeway that takes in the sights and sounds of the city of San Diego along with stretches of beach and the bay’s Wildlife Refuge. 13 Miles of this route consists of bicycle paths away from the road, before joining the the road where you will use designated bicycle lanes or bicycle routes.
This bikeway starts and ends at the Coronado Ferry Landing and those who do not wish to ride alongside traffic can turn around when they meet the trafficked section and meet the others back at the start/finish point. More information on the Bayshore Byway can be found here.
Redwoods National Park
The Redwoods National Park offers many trails for ebikers and many of these trails pass through ancient groves of redwoods, running along rehabilitated logging roads that are wide and free of motorized traffic. Checkout the biking and eBiking segment of their website here.
American River Parkway - Sacramento
This 32 mile trail, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, runs from Discovery Park in Old Sacramento to Beal’s Point on the southwestern bank of Folsom Lake. Only class I and II eBikes are allowed on this trail and the speed limit is set to 15mph. More information here.
Fibreboard Freeway - North Lake Tahoe
The hilliest trail on this list the Fibreboard Freeway is a, mainly paved, fire road that runs along a ridge. It features little traffic, fantastic views of Lake Tahoe, and access to many more technical, off-road mountain biking trails for those that fancy them. The Trail begins at Brockway Summit, runs for about 15 miles and finishes at Tahoe City.
The last few miles of this trail into Tahoe City are unpaved and are not for the non-technically inclined rider, but riders can take the Bunker Drive to Burton Creek Connector, an unpaved fire road in and out of Tahoe City, which offers a much smoother and less steeply inclined ride in and out. More information can be found here.
The Last Word
There are so many beautiful areas of the state of California and with the popularity of bicycling and eBiking growing every year expect many new eBike friendly trails to keep popping up in the not too distant future.
If you’re not looking to travel to one of the above mentioned best eBike trails in California, don’t fret. There are almost definitely some eBike friendly trails and paths near you! Simply hop onto the internet and search for trails and routes that allow for the riding of eBikes in your area. Many of the resources found online are also available as apps so you can take them with you in your pocket in an easy to use format!