Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cycling and Camping in the San Juan Islands

Now is the time to start planning some memorable cycling events for the upcoming season. I always enjoy the spontaneity of hopping on the bike with friends, family, or just by myself. But I also like strapping the bikes on the back of the car and going somewhere far away. That takes some planning. Whatever kind of trip or outing I choose, it has to work for our whole family. Not all of us are avid cyclists, so I have to keep that in mind. I need to be thinking about places where cycling is friendly to an eclectic group. Short trips with great scenery for those who want a short time on the saddle, and some rewarding longer rides for those of us who need to go for the mileage.

One of those destination hot-spots has to be the San Juan Islands. I took my sons there in the Summer of 2006, and a larger group of relatives in the summer of 2007. The camping, scenery, activities, and riding opportunities make this spot one of the best cycling destinations in the Pacific Northwest. If you're up for a little bit of adventure, leave the car in Anacortes and carry your gear on the bikes. You can camp on the major islands, or find some amazing Bed & Breakfasts for creature comforts along the way.

The boys and I "roughed it" for 5 days camping and cycling on the islands. The amenities at most campgrounds were generous, and at every turn we were surrounded with amazing beauty. I highly recommend this to cyclists looking for a fun and rewarding destination.

Top 5 Highlights of the trip:
5.  An early morning ride through a stand of old-growth cedars and firs up Mt. Constitution...and a heart-pounding descent that requires some nerve and some really great brakes.
4.  Riding into Roche Harbor, getting off the bikes for a sea-kayaking excursion.
3.  Body noises around the campfire after dad's gourmet Chef Boyardee dinner. My apologies to the camp manager.
2.  The hospitality from everybody who lives on Lopez Island.
1.  Sharing the time exclusively with my sons, who still talk about this trip as one of their favorites.

1. Do some planning. Island-hopping on the ferry system is relatively inexpensive, as are the overnight fees at the campgrounds.  The trick is to plan the trip out in advance, reserve the campsites before you go, and do your research on the ferry schedule.  
2. Give each island some time. Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez each have their own personality and you'll want to give yourself time to enjoy them.  I'd suggest a minimum of 1 1/2 to 2 days each.
3. Ferries attract lots of cars. You will have more fun on the roads if you're not competing with ferry traffic.  Bikes unoad off the ferries first, but then the cars come behind you.  No harm in letting the cars zoom ahead, so you're not hugging the shoulder for the first few miles.
4. Not all islands are the same. Lopez would be the most accessible to a variety of riders because it's most level and the traffic is pretty bike-friendly. San Juan comes in second, with the caveat that there are more hills and traffic. Orcas is a wonderful island, but it's pretty hilly and the ferry traffic can be unnerving--I recommend some contingency plans for short-distance riders.


Troy Olson said...

Hey, Tricia just passed along the link here -- I must say that this is very well done and I'm quite impressed! You have now made my blog reading list, so congratulations.

WilderMiss said...

Hi Kelly,

I'm planning a bike trip to San Juan island this summer and was wondering if you could recoment your favorite camp site on the main island?

We'll be a group of 6 or so - half riders and half drivers. Some haven't done much camping so clean bathrooms and showers are a priority to them.

I, on the other hand want to show off my beautiful corner of the eath to these visitors so beautiful views are important to me.

Any recomendations?