San Juan Islands

Puget Sound, Washington State, USA

The Route, at a glance...

Sidney, Anacortes, Lopez Island, Orcas Island,
San Juan Island, Sidney

NOTE: The images on this tour were taken pre-digital cameras. Photos appearing here were all scanned with somewhat primitive technology at the time resulting with images of poor resolution.

 

The San Juan Islands of Washington State are an excellent touring destination, with quiet roads and low volume traffic. This trip included Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands and although I only spent three days on this trip, it could certainly be extended into a longer tour/vacation. The area is beautiful and offers some great scenery for anyone who visits. Keep a camera handy because there are many wonderful photos that can be taken here.

 During the summer months, Washington State Ferries makes two round-trips a day to Sidney, BC from Anacortes, WA. In the winter, this schedule changes and there is only one round-trip per day.

 

An excellent resource for touring the San Juan Islands, WA and Gulf Islands, BC, is the pocket book by Peter Powers and Renee Travis...
Touring the Islands

 

Day 1 - 50 Kms

I chose to leave via the noon ferry from Sidney and travelled to Anacortes; and then had to catch another ferry to Lopez Island. Lopez is a beautiful island and much of it seems to be farmland. The roads were exceptionally quiet and relatively flat with no major hills to negotiate. Of course, there was the obligatory hill from the ferry dock!

Lopez Island Views
Lopez Island Views

 After leaving the ferry, I cycled onto Ferry Road and Lopez Road until I came to the small village of Lopez where I picked up some groceries and water. Oh, and I had two ice creams! I had discovered that in many places on the island, ground water from the wells was contaminated with nitrates, probably leeched from fertilizers used on farmland, so it was wise to buy some when I could. Ultimately, I made a loop tour of the island by taking a perimeter route south to Day Park and then returning north. The loop took me through scenic countryside with some ocean views, until I ended up at Spencer Spit State Park.

 The park was well kept, but the hiker/biker area was really rustic. In the bushes with the mosquitoes and no sun! No picnic tables or eating area, save for a small bench. In retrospect, I should have paid a few more bucks and occupied a "regular" campsite. "Cheapskate!" However, I was the lone occupant of the hiker/biker area and after I pitched my tent I took a wander down to the beach and spent a relaxing time just pondering life! I was rewarded with a magnificent ocean view and I noticed that there is also moorage for boaters to stay at this State Park. All that sea air made me hungry, so I cooked up dinner, ate, cleaned up and retired for the evening.

Day 2 - 57 Kms

 The next morning I completed the loop of Lopez Island and arrived back at the ferry terminal ready to catch the boat to Orcas Island. I had a little time left to wait, so I indulged in a coffee and mid-morning snack at the small café. The ferry arrived; I boarded and was on my way to Orcas. One stop was made, at Shaw Island, and I learned that on this island, the ferry dock and some other businesses, are managed and handled by the local nuns, who have been resident on the island for many years. I did not have time to visit Shaw Island, but it is in my plans for a future venue.

Orcas Hotel
4th of July at Orcas Village
Observation Tower on Mount Constitution
Observation Tower on Mount Constitution

 I had been forewarned that Orcas was the "hilly" island and the advice certainly held true. I rode out to the village of Eastsound and found myself in the midst of their July 4th parade. The streets were closed off for a while until the parade finished, so after the hilly ride out, I was glad to have a break and found a convenient ice cream store to rest at for a while. After the parade had finished, I located the grocery store, picked up what I needed and headed out to Moran State Park. More hills! I arrived at the park and paid my dues for a hiker/biker spot, after confirming that there were picnic tables available.

 This park is very large, but was not very busy when I was there. I arrived at the hiker/biker area to find only four spots occupied. One was full with a bunch of tents and some kids engaged in smoking dope. The other occupied sites just had tents and no visible occupants. I found a decent site, away from the kids, pitched my tent and unhitched the BOB trailer and locked it up. Now with empty bike, I could take an exhilarating ride up to the highest point in the Islands, Mount Constitution at over 2400ft. Quite the switchbacks on the 4 Km climb and a some brutal grades to contend with. But well worth the effort, for the view from the top is just spectacular, especially on a clear day. There is even a 50ft high observation tower to climb up, which allows a 360° panorama. Views of Mount Baker, Vancouver, and Bellingham are not uncommon on a clear day. I took some photos, chatted with some of the other sightseers and then left for speedy ride back down the switchbacks, which was absolutely hair-raising. I passed the campground and carried on for a side trip to Doe Bay Village and more hills! Ice cream stop at Doe Bay and then I returned to the campground, almost exhausted.

 The park ranger was in the process of kicking out the dope smoking kids. He then came over to my site and asked me if I had seen the occupant of one of the other sites that a tent (with duct tape patches) was pitched in. I replied that I hadn't and he then chatted for a while and warned me about leaving any food on the picnic tables, as the local thieves were the crows, deer and raccoons. "At least there's no predators on the islands," I thought to myself!

View from the Tower
View from the Tower
View from the Tower
View from the Tower

 A short while after the ranger left, my neighbour showed up - the guy the ranger was asking about - and I wasn't impressed! Without a word of a lie, the guy was a dead ringer for Charles Manson, but with blond hair, weird eyes, the whole bit! He was kind of down and out and didn't look like a regular hiker or touring cyclist, in fact he had no bike. He came over for a chat and basically seemed OK. But I still thought about moving, except that it would have looked odd and besides I really had nowhere else to go, so I resolved to stay. He left my site and I took to the business of reading my book for while; then later cooked dinner. After cleaning up, I lay down in the tent and read some more, while I heard my "buddy" making a fire. I suppose that I must of dozed off, and later woke up in the dark to hear the crackling, and see the glow, of a campfire. And voices, chatting and mumbling, loud and soft, and I assumed that the guy had visitors, as the voices sounded different. I fell asleep again eventually, but kept waking up through the night to hear the same commotion.

Day 3 - 46 Kms

Wating for the Ferry at Orcas Island
Wating for the Ferry at Orcas Island

 Early in the morning, I awoke to still hear voices and looked out from my tent, I saw the guy on his own, happily chatting away to himself! I'd had enough, time to go! I packed up quickly and made my way to the ferry terminal, to have breakfast at the local café, while I waited for the first ferry to San Juan Island.

 Because I had left so early, I arrived at Friday Harbour on San Juan Island, with lots of time to spare before my ferry ride back to Sidney was scheduled to leave. I made good use of this time by leaving the BOB trailer locked up again and going for a tour of the island. I rode out to Roche Harbour and ogled the magnificent private yachts that were moored out there. I spent too much time there and realised that I didn't have enough time to make a loop of the island, so I returned back to Friday Harbour.

Friday Harbour
Friday Harbour

 Friday Harbour is always a busy place and a favourite stopover for many tourists. Lots of places to eat and drink yourself silly etc. It's also a great place just to lounge around and people watch, which is just what I did to occupy myself for the rest of my stay!

 My ferry ride home soon arrived and I left the United States for the short trip back to Canada and Sidney, BC.

 

Summary

It's mentioned in the book that I recommended at the beginning of this page, and I also think that a good idea would be to set up a base camp on San Juan Island. Then one could take advantage of the free ferry rides and day trip to the other islands, without the burden of all of a touring cyclist's baggage. Either way, it's a fabulous destination.

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