bike camping, bike touring

Skagit San Juan Islands 2019 Tour Review

By Evan Derickson (with some mods by me) https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42838685

Hello all. It’s been a few days since Emee and I returned from our week long excursion to the Puget Sound. It was overall a decent trip! I always love going to the Skagit Valley and the San Juan Islands and this time didn’t disappoint.

Observations:

  • We did less riding and camping than I had planned. The trip became a hybrid bike tour/just travel with bikes thing. That’s perfectly OK.
  • We only camped for two nights, both at Odlin County Park. It’s become a running theme for a tour I plan around camping to feature very little of it. Then it just feels like we’re hauling around all this camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, stove) for not much. I’d like to plan another “inn-to-inn” tour up this way (like I did in 2015) so we could travel a lot lighter.
  • As for camping, one of the big reasons I chose the San Juan Islands for the trip was that we were traveling over the extended Independence Day holiday weekend, when lodging would be at a premium and space could be non-existent. The Islands have a number of county parks with hiker/biker sites and no turn away policies (and yes, I checked.*) So we were guaranteed something. And being a cyclist or pedestrian on the ferries means you’ll get on the next ferry, no matter what. I can’t imagine taking a car on the ferry during the busy holiday weekend if you hadn’t made reservations months in advance.
  • The weather was cooler and damper than expected. The Northwest has been under the influence of a low the past couple weeks, meaning chances of rain and cooler temps. Can’t complain much, anything to push back the fire season…

And now for how the trip played out…

Wednesday July 3, 2019: We took Amtrak north to Mount Vernon and spent the night at a cute li’l Airbnb about a mile from the train station.

Getting on the train.

Thursday July 4, 2019: This was the day of riding from Mt Vernon to Anacortes, ferry across to Lopez Island, and then ride a short mile to Odlin County Park to camp. This was our longest day of riding, about 25 miles total. The ride across the flatlands of the Skagit Valley is pretty pleasant, so long as you are off the main roads (SR 20) and not riding into a headwind. (Note: We did use 20 for a couple miles, esp. to get over the Swinomish Channel.) The ride into Anacortes features several miles of rail-trail.

We got to Odlin around 6 PM. The regular hiker/biker sites were full, but we had the option of camping in the overflow field or in a regular (car-camping) spot. Apparently a couple folks had left early. We opted for the regular spot! We had a lovely fire and chilled by the beach for a bit.

Friday July 5, 2019: Our Lopez Island day. We didn’t do much other than hang out at camp and ride the three miles (one way) into Lopez Village for food and libations.** We had to switch campsites, but lucked into a beachside car-camping spot. Nice! We even got a bit of sunset and watched a harbor seal in the water.

Saturday July 6, 2019: We packed up our camp and rode back to the ferry. We passed a mile of waiting traffic. Apparently a ferry went out of service, creating quite a back log for the car folks. But no worries for cyclists and pedestrians!*** It was about a fifty minute ride to Friday Harbor, the town on San Juan Island.

We had originally planned to camp at the county campground on the opposite end of the island, but we decided to stay inside and be close to town instead. We managed to find an Airbnb at short notice. The place was mediocre and overpriced, but was just blocks from the ferry dock, so score on that!

Sunday July 7, 2019: We rolled down to the ferry to catch the 11 AM back to Anacortes. Seems like everyone was getting onto this ferry, as the holiday weekend was coming to a close. But not for us! We stayed in Anacortes for the night at a nice hotel downtown that featured a great rooftop bar. Anacortes has a cute downtown and we strolled down it, checking out the shop’s windows.

Monday July 8, 2019: We rode 15 miles from Anacortes to just a couple miles outside of downtown Mount Vernon, where we spent the night in an Airbnb.

Tuesday July 9, 2019: Back home via Amtrak.

Now I just need another excuse to get back up this way…

*Note that I said “county” parks. This means Odlin, Shaw, and San Juan county parks. I cannot speak for the two state parks (Moran and Spencer Spit) and their no turn-away policies. Though I will note that the two state parks do have hiker/biker sites.

**Pro tip: The stores in Lopez Village close real early, even the grocery store.

***Pro tip: If you haven’t figured out by now, don’t bring your car on the ferry to the San Juan Islands. Take Amtrak to Mount Vernon and bus or bike to the terminal. Or park your car in the Anacortes terminal parking lot, and then bike/walk on the islands. Parking at the terminal is cheaper than taking the car along.

4 thoughts on “Skagit San Juan Islands 2019 Tour Review”

  1. If you make reservations and if none of the ferries break down its not too bad going on in the summer but back before the reservation system kicked in you could (and I did) spend hours waiting for ferries hoping you might actually get one one so if you can walk or bike its a great way to go. San Juan is probably the best for that as the town is right there when you step off the ferry. This may be the first summer in about 30 years I don’t get to Orcas at some point during the summer.

    1. Yeah, the key is “if none of the ferries break down”. I know that leaving Lopez some drivers were sitting for hours, not sure when they’d be able to board.

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