Tag Archives: Bike Touring

Cycle Touring the San Juan Islands of Washington State

San Juan Islands

Puget Sound, Washington State, USA

One of the tours I had planned for 2020 was to revisit the San Juan Islands which I hadn’t visited since 1998!
Why? Just too many other venues have “whet my appetite!”
Of course, the Covid restrictions of 2020 put a stop to any cross-border travels including the cancellation of the Washington State Ferry from my home town of Sidney, BC Canada to Anacortes, WA USA, from where the San Juan Island ferries are based. Looking through my journal archives, I found this one from my visit years ago that I had not added to the Touring Journals Archive of this blog – the information is somewhat still relevant, so here it is…

The Route, at a glance…Sidney, Anacortes, Lopez Island, Orcas Island,
San Juan Island, Sidney

PLEASE 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 or limited service dates, best to check the WSF website for current schedules.

Touring the Islands Guide Book

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

  • ISBN-10 : 0944376010
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0944376010
T2000 & Bob Trailer
Cannondale T2000 & Bob Trailer

Day 1

I decided to leave via the noon ferry from Sidney, which sailed to the port of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island (Fidalgo Island is connected to the mainland and Whidbey Island via road bridges). After reporting to the US Customs & Border Protection personnel for a quick check of my credentials and equipment, I then had to turn around and board a smaller ferry to get me to Lopez Island.
Arriving at Lopez I could see immediately that is was a beautiful island, with much of it seeming 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 at the beginning of the ride!

After leaving the ferry, I cycled onto Ferry Road (imagine!) and Lopez Road until I came to the small village of “Lopez” where I picked up some groceries and water. Oh, and I had a couple of ice creams – one just wasn’t enough!
Through a little research, I had discovered that in many places on the island, the ground water from the wells was contaminated with nitrates, probably leached out from fertilizers that were used on farmland, so it was wise to buy some water when I could before reaching my camping destination. After stocking up, 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 arrived at Spencer Spit State Park.

The park was well kept, but the hiker/biker camping area was very rustic – in the bushes with the mosquitoes and no sun! Furthermore, there wasn’t even a picnic table or eating area, save for a small rickety bench. In retrospect, I should have paid a few more bucks and occupied a “regular” campsite. “Cheapskate,” I said to myself! However, I was the lone occupant of the hiker/biker area and after I pitched my tent I took a wander down to the wonderful beach area to spend a relaxing time just pondering life! I was rewarded with a magnificent ocean view and I noticed that there was also moorage for boaters to stay overnight at this State Park. All that sea air made me hungry, so I returned to my meagre camping area to cook up some dinner. After demolishing that, I cleaned up, then after a little reading retired for the evening for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Day 2

The next morning after breakfast, I completed the loop route 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 there. The ferry arrived; I boarded and was on my way to Orcas Island. On the way, one stop was made at Shaw Island, and I learned that on this island, the ferry dock and some other businesses were 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 was in my plans for a possible future venue.

July 4th Parade

I had been forewarned that Orcas was the “hilliest” island and the information certainly held true. I rode the hills out to the village of Eastsound where I found myself in the midst of their July 4th parade!

On arrival in Eastsound, I found that 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 supplies I needed for later then headed out to Moran State Park. And more hills! I arrived at the park and paid my dues for a hiker/biker spot, after confirming that there were picnic tables available at the hiker/biker camping area.

Moran State Park is very large, but surprisingly it 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, unhitched and locked the BOB trailer up. Now with an empty bike, I could take an exhilarating ride up to the highest point in the Islands, Mount Constitution at over 2400ft elevation. 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 so 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 a speedy ride back down the switchbacks, which was absolutely hair-raising. I quickly passed the campground then 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 nearby that a tent (with numerous duct tape patches) was pitched in. I replied that I hadn’t and he then chatted for a while warning me about leaving any food on the picnic tables, as the local thieves were the crows, deer and raccoons! “At least there are no predators on the islands,” I thought to myself!

A short while after the ranger left, my neighbour showed up – the guy the ranger was asking about – and I wasn’t impressed! He was kind of down and out and didn’t look like a regular hiker or touring cyclist, in fact he had no bike or hiking equipment. After a little while, he came over for a chat and basically seemed okay. 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 cooking dinner. After cleaning up, I lay down in the tent and read some more, meanwhile hearing my neighbour making a fire. I suppose that I must of dozed off but later woke up in the dark to hear the crackling, and see the glow of his campfire. And voices, chatting and mumbling, loud and soft, so I assumed that the guy had visitors, as the all voices sounded different. I fell asleep again eventually, but kept waking up through the night to hear the same commotion.

Day 3

Early in the morning, I awoke to still hear voices and looked out from my tent, I saw the guy sitting by himself, 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 Harbor on San Juan Island, with lots of time to spare before my ferry sailing back to Sidney was scheduled to leave. I made good use of this time by leaving the BOB trailer locked up 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 actually didn’t have enough time to make a loop of the island, so I returned back to the ferry dock of Friday Harbor.

Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor is always a busy place and a favourite stopover for many tourists and boaters. 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 there!

My ferry ride home soon arrived and I left the United States for a relaxing sail 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 – to perhaps set up a “base camp” at one of the campgrounds on San Juan Island, and seeing as ferry travel for pedestrians and cyclists is free between Shaw, Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands, one could take advantage of the free ferry sailings then just day-trip to the other islands, without the burden of all of a touring cyclist’s baggage.
Whichever way one prefers, the San Juan Islands are a fabulous destination!