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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bikers' Guide to the San Juan Islands, Washington | Lopez, Orca and San Juan Islands

By Megan Maxwell 

The San Juan Islands reside just off of the Northwest coast of Washington. With an accessible ferry system and plenty of campsites, they are a fantastic place to go on a bike tour. My mom and I spent five days biking the islands last June.

Orca Island Biking
View from Mt. Constitution on Orca Island
  How to get there: We took the ferry to Lopez Island from Anacortes. Since it’s a form of public transportation, it was reasonably priced. We paid $15 each for us and our bicycles. There is only a fee for getting off of the mainland. The ferries between the islands, and the ride back are free. During one of our rides, we were lucky enough to see three baby Orca whales playing in the water right beside the boat.

 It’s a good idea to grab a schedule of the ferry times because they only come a few times a day.

  How to get around: It is a good idea to buy a proper road map for the islands because cell service is spotty and we couldn’t rely on GPS alone. There are also usually free tourist maps you can pick up that show the local attractions. There are not very many roads to choose from, so it is hard to get lost. The intersections are well marked with signs. Store your map in you under-seat saddle bag for easy access.

Orca Island
outside of Orca Village
  Where to stay: The islands do have state park camping, so you can keep costs low. We usually only paid $10 a night for camping. There are also private campgrounds. My favorite was Odlin Campsite on Lopez Island because it was right by the water, and we fell asleep to the sound of waves. The most we paid for a campsite was $35 at a resort on San Juan Island. There was cheaper camping available, but we didn’t want to bike 18 miles to get to it.

 There are also hotels available if you want to pay for island tourist accommodations.

  Where to eat: Orca Island has a fully stocked grocery store, but that was about it. Load up on meals and snacks before you take the ferry over, and plan on a resupply on Orca Island. The islands all have restaurants and cafes to eat at, but they are spread out so it’s a good idea to have plenty of snacks. I would recommend bringing a camp stove to cook breakfast a dinner on, because the restaurants tend to be several miles away from the campsites.

  Which islands to go to: The public transit ferry route only goes to four islands. Since we were only there for five days, we opted to just bike three of them in order to fully enjoy the experience. We biked Lopez Island, Orca Island, and San Juan Island, skipping Shaw Island. My favorite was Orca Island, although it was the most mountainous. While here, we took a day off at Moran State Park and hiked up Mt. Constitution. Orca Village had all the amenities we could hope for, and it halfway between the state park and the ferry landing. Lopez Island was the most quiet, which I enjoyed. There was a tiny village with a few restaurants and shops. The campsite was empty other than us. Bring plenty of food with you to this island because there’s no grocery store. San Juan Island was the most touristy. Friday Harbor was full of restaurants and attractions. It seemed to be the hub of the islands.