A collegue at the High School where Martina works has been leading bicycle tours with his students for thirty years. He’s taken youth to incedible places like Greece and Turkey, and has dabbled here and there in the US. At the beginning of each tour on the San Juan Islands, however, Bob’s face lights up when he tells a fresh group that of all of the places he has cycled, he delights most in the chain of islands right here in the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Martina has been on three of Bob’s introductory tours of the San Juan Islands and has some gemstones to share! Whether you’ve ridden the islands a handful of times, or if you’re coming to the area for the first time grab a pen to jot some notes–this post is the culmination of our favorite spots and tips.
Leaving Seattle car free: you can board the Victoria Clipper (passengers only) right in Elliot Bay and sail into Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for $75.00 round-trip.
Leaving Seattle by car: head north on I-5 and head West toward Anacortes after the town of Mt. Vernon (a stop at the Skagit Valley Coop is in good order if you need bulk food and delicious deli goodies for the ferry crossing). At the ferry you can pay to park in their lot for about $10.00 a day.
Either way, the adventure begins when you purchase your Washington State Ferry ticket ($15.50 for passenger and bicycle) which allows you to island hop to your heart’s content. You don’t need to take any particular route, and often one’s daily adventures are simply mandated by the ferry schedule.
Local tip: Supporting Small Farms along the way, here’s a listing of small farms on the San Juan Islands.
Shaw Island: The Little Gemstone.
Imagine a small island with a single store-and-post-office at the ferry dock, quiet roads, and idyllic harbors. Shaw is not the destination for a fifty mile loop, but rather the place to go for a beautiful campground and delightful views. Camp is about three miles from the ferry. Follow Blind Bay Road from the ferry and turn left on Squaw Bay Road. Head 3/4 mile up the road and you’ll see a small sign on your left which quietly inducates the campground nestled beyond sight. During the summer season it is best to make reservations. If the camp is full, inquire at the store about camping on their lawn for a similar price.
Stars Galore: When evening settles, head back out on Squaw Bay Road continuing away from the ferry. About a mile and a half down, the road will make a sharp turn to the right. There you turn left and will find yourself on Hoffman Cove Rd, a well packed dirt road. At its end is a University of Washington Conservation site. You’d never guess it, so just prop your bike at the entrance, and walk the path abou a 1/4 mile out past an open field with two wooden shacks and onto the rocky outcrop at the water’s edge. On clear nights the stars tremble in the distance, and the lucky gazer may see traces of the Aurora Borealis. Lit ferries glide on route from Lopez Island to Friday Harbor.
San Juan Island. Welcome to Friday Harbor. Stock up on food and supplies at King’s Grocery. If you’re missing any camp gear just head upstairs to their outdoor supply to find camping supplies (think island prices).
The Bean has the best coffee on the island, with delicious pastries and breakfast goodies. You’ll have to keep an eye out for it: it’s tucked behind a handful of shops. From the ferry head up Spring St (the main drag) and make your first right onto 1st. Just past the Thai joint on the left, duck in to find the lovely cafe.
You have a few camping options on the Island. It’s a bit spendy compared to the State Park options, but we head out to Lakedale Resort and pitch our tents next to the little lake. If you’re one to splurge, there is a lovely Airstream Trailer to rent, or simple but beautifully maintained canvas tents starting at $150.00 a night (think Sunset Magazine).
If you need bicycle help see Chuck at Island Bicycles in Friday Harbor.
Circumnavigating San Juan is awesome no matter how you go, but I have to pitch for adding False Bay Road into your route. The West side of the Island reminds me of the California Coast. Dry rocky hills adorned with Douglas Fir and Magnolia trees, with steep slopes dropping to the water’s edge. Lime Kiln State Park is the only place I’ve ever seen a pod of Orca whales. It really is as amazing as they say.
Orcas Island. Orcas Island is the most hilly of the bunch. Deer Harbor Rd from West Sound heading toward East Sound is a rolling ribbon that gently propels the rider from one crest to the next. In East Sound look for the seasonal farm stands and weekly Farmer’s Market for fresh goods. The little natural food store has a great bulk section, and a stellar beer selection.
Camping at Moran State Park is great! From there you can take on the nearly hellish climb up Mt. Constitution. If you’d like to soak in your birthday suit for a few hours and take a sauna continue to Doe Bay Resort (let them know you’re on Cycle-Tour for discounted camping). A Local’s tip was to stop at Olga Cafe on the way to Doe Bay for their cobbler a la mode. After our ride up Mt. Constitution the treat was exceptionally good!
sLopez Island. If every single driver waves as they pass you at 20 mph don’t worry. On Lopez Island you’ll need to shed every ounce of city you’ve got wound up in you. Relax. Two beautiful places to camp are Spencer Spit and Odlin State Parks. Odlin is about a mile from the ferry landing, and it’s just beautiful. You’ll find easy riding through farmland and the little town boasts a lovely (and overpriced) Holly B’s Bakery. The coffee next door is perfect, too! There’s one bicycle shop, on Fisherman Bay Rd.
Often, the best treats are the ones you stumble by on your own. We’ve listed a few of the favorites we’ve gathered through the years, but there’s so much more to explore and see. We hope this inspires a Seattle escape, or tugs on our national readers enough to warrant a trip to the Pacific Northwest!