Cycling Washington’s San Juan Islands is a great way to get started on independent cycle touring. Base your tour from one island and take advantage of the free ferry rides for cyclists between islands.
We cut our cycle touring teeth on a self supported Juan islands cycle tour a few years ago. Once we learned the ferry ride between the Puget Sound islands is free for bicyclists, we decided to base our cycle tour on Lopez Island. So instead of packing up our kit each day, we found a wonderful private campground about three miles from the ferry terminal, set up a base camp, and staged our unencumbered daily rides from there. It worked out beautifully.
To get to the San Juan Islands from Anacortes in July like we did, you’ll pay the normal passenger fare plus a $4 peak season surcharge. The peak season runs from May 1st through September 30th. Bicyclists, like passengers, pay westbound only, so even if you spend all you money on souvenirs, you’ll be able to get back to the mainland.
It’s true; cyclists ride Washington State’s inter-island ferries for free. But you still have to pay to get to the San Juan Islands
If you’re hardier souls than we are, the off-season surcharge is only $2 between October 1 and April 30. For two bucks, take advantage of the nice weather, because there’s another advantage for gentle cyclists, we get to skip to the front of the line. If you arrive at least 20 minutes prior to departure time, you get to board at the beginning of the loading process.
If you’re heading over to the islands on Friday evening or Saturday morning, this totally permitted queue jumping can save you hours of waiting around time. Just remember if you’re late you’ll have to wait until the very end of the loading process and you might not be able to go to your desired destination.
Loading is not a problem. All you have to do is walk your bike onto the ferry. Head to the bow and secure your bike to the rail (a tight bungee cord is perfect). Getting off is pretty much the same, walk your bike to shore, hop on, and off you go. But you might want to wait to let the vehicle traffic clear out. We did that. I t only takes a few minutes and we spent the time people watching.
Another trick we took advantage of was to go against the weekend flow. We crossed over to Lopez on Sunday evening when there were only a handful of people traveling westbound, spent five days cycling relatively traffic free roads, returning to a nearly deserted campground with no one ahead of us for the showers. On Friday morning, we crossed back to Anacortes watching what seemed like all of Seattle trying to get to the islands.
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Jamie Wyant is a retired American living in Spain. After a multifaceted career ranging from ecosystem science to digital marketing, he moved to Valencia in 2017 with his wife, Susan, and their senior pets. He writes about the joys and tribulations of living overseas. Jamie also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net