Top Biking Experiences in the San Juan Islands
Three islands offer very different—and fantastic—biking experiences
Each of the San Juan Islands—Lopez, Orcas and San Juan—have very different terrain, landscapes, and vistas, so it's best to get an idea of what each island is like for your level of expertise and particular interests as you plan your bicycling adventures.
If you start out on Lopez Island, the least hilly of the San Juans (but by no means flat), you can cycle the entire island in a day. If you follow the main road around the island you will enjoy water views at the north and south ends, and there are plenty of stop-offs for picnics, wildlife viewing or short hikes. You’ll also pass plenty of farmland, marshlands and other natural areas—if you’re here in the late summer bring a bowl and pick blackberries in various spots along the roadside.
From the ferry landing, Lopez Village is 4.3 miles, and along the way, you'll pass Lopez Island Vineyards, Odlin County Park, and the unique Whispers of Nature herbal labyrinth you can walk through, where the only sounds are the bumble bees buzzing through lavender, and goats chatting at a nearby farm.
For a quick side-trip on the way to the Village, take a left onto Port Stanley Road (at the Odlin Park intersection), and head to the east side of the island, where you'll find Spencer Spit State Park, so called because of the lagoon-enclosing sand spit on which it rests.
In the Village, you can stock up on picnic supplies and stop by the Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce for a detailed map of suggested routes. As you head out and explore the island, keep safety in mind and make sure to watch out for blind corners and narrow shoulders that are common on island roads.
Don’t miss Shark Reef Sanctuary on the west side of the island, where a 10-minute hike through a forest will lead to large rocky bluffs where you’ll get spectacular views over the water to the Olympic Mountains and San Juan Island. You may also experience a seal (and perhaps sea lion and otter) sighting—just be sure to follow the path along the bluff to the left.
One of the prettiest areas on Lopez Island is Agate Beach County Park in the southwestern part of the island, with a lovely beach and rocky bluffs and islands in the distance.
San Juan Island
San Juan Island is more challenging. You can also circumnavigate this island in a day—the loop and two scenic legs are about 43 miles—but there are enough places of interest along the way that you might want to plan for a couple of days so you can explore the beautiful parks, beaches, and attractions along the way. There are some substantial hills, and many roads with very narrow shoulders, so plan ahead and make sure you keep safety in mind.
This island offers a great 35-mile loop so you can explore without repeating your routes. Head out of Friday Harbor on Roche Harbor Road, and enjoy a ride to San Juan Vineyards, where you can take a break for a picnic and sample the winery’s wares or buy them by the glass.
But don’t tarry too long because you’ve still got the 6-mile ride to Roche Harbor Resort. You can explore this historic village by bike or foot, as well as the nearby San Juan Islands Sculpture Park—a beautiful 20-acre park you'll pass on the way into Roche Harbor, with more than 125 works of art on the shore of Westcott Bay.
Head south about from Roche Harbor about 7.6 miles to English Camp (American Camp is on the south end of the island), and each is famous for the Pig War “Crisis” of 1859-1872. Both National Historical Park locations offer information on this historic event, and each offers some beautiful views and picnic spots, although there are a couple of tough hills to get to both.
One mile down the road from English Camp, stop at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm & Country Store to see a herd of multi-colored alpacas (who are shorn once a year) and shop for products made from their super soft hair.
About 6.8 miles down West Side Road, Lime Kiln Point State Park, a.k.a. Whale Watch Park, is another must-see spot, so stop off for a picnic, and look for orca whales in the open waters and visit the seasonal interpretative center which offers information on orcas and a history of the lime kilns and the nearby lighthouse. Take a 3.8-mile jog over to Pelindaba Lavender Farm on Wold Road during summer, where you'll find the calming views (and wonderful scents) of rows of lavender, and over 250 lavender products in the aromatic store. Picnic tables are also available.
To see American Camp, keep heading towards Friday Harbor on Bailer Hill Road, take a left on Douglas and a right on Cattle Point Road, which leads you to South Beach, the longest public beach in the islands, with views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains. Jakle's Lagoon, and the Cattle Point Lighthouse.
Head back up Cattle Point Road, which becomes Argyle Street, which leads back into Friday Harbor (about 9.7 miles).
Orcas Island is fit for experienced cyclists, as the roads are narrow and winding, with frequent steep grades and few shoulders. If you really want to push yourself, head for the top of Mount Constitution. It will exhaust you, but views from the top of the surrounding area will take away any breath you have left.
If you start from the ferry landing, it is a 9-mile, quite hilly ride to Eastsound, the main village on Orcas Island, right in the center of the island, at the head of East Sound (yes, the town and the water have different spellings). From here you can enjoy a short and easy (compared to the rest of Orcas) loop of six miles out to North Beach, Buckhorn Beach and Crescent Beach.
On the way to Eastsound, you can travel through some beautiful farmland at the base of Turtleback Mountain along Crow Valley Road. Stop to take a hike up the mountain, or stop by Crow Valley School Museum on Crow Valley Road, or a little further afield to Orcas Island Pottery off West Beach Road to view ceramics and sometimes even potters at work.
To the southeast of Eastsound, you'll hit some challenging hills on the way to Moran State Park, passing alongside Cascade Lake, which offers some fabulous views. You’ll be able to cool off under the canopy of the forest’s trees or take a quick swim. During part of the year, trails are open for mountain biking.
For the expert, intrepid cyclist, try Mount Constitution—all 2,409 feet of it. You can take the five-mile ride to the top by following a small, paved switchback road that sometimes gets as steep as a 15-percent grade. When you see the views from the top of the mountain and enjoy the ride down, all the effort will be worth it.
Continue south of the park to Olga, a sleepy hamlet where you can visit Orcas Island Artworks, the Catkin Cafe, and Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, where you can shuck an oyster and rest your weary legs by the water.
Slightly further south is the 80-acre Obstruction Pass State Park. Leave your bikes for a while and enjoy some hiking—or just leave them temporarily to follow the half-mile trail to the beach, which is one of the island’s best.
Continue on to Doe Bay, and you’ll notice there’s less traffic on the roads, but still will encounter hills and blind corners. Here you’ll find the charming Doe Bay Cafe, which appears to sit on top of the water and offers not only great views but also an exciting selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes. There are also cabins, yurts, and camping if you choose to spend the night.
If you have questions, feel free to call our office for the easiest routes or more ideas at (360)-378-9551, ext. 1.
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