Bikepack the San Juans

The word is out that bike packing in the San Juans is a thing, and the rumors of its casual beauty and easy exploring are true. However, all the beta for where to ride, stay, eat, and explore is quite scattered, so this is an effort to aggregate what we prepared for, learned along the way, and plan on changing in the future. Thanks to Wild Rye we had amazing clothing that kept us warm, cool, and comfortable when we were riding and relaxing…

Keep reading for an in-depth and informative deep dive into Alana & Kathleen’s 2023 San Juan adventure!

After a decade of friendship, cultivated during grad school at BGI, KP and I wanted to rally together for an adventure. Please, consider us semi-rad cyclists - we’re not out here crushing FKTs, but we want to get after it and have fun doing so. I had been rehabbing an L5 back-injury and hadn’t touched my mountain bike in over a year, but I missed my time on two-wheels and felt solid on my gravel bike. Since KP had already laid some groundwork exploring Lopez Island and was curious for more, we decided to map out 4 days biking in the San Juans islands and see what could happen. 

Our main goals were to have fun, explore new areas, and learn as much as we can for future trips in the San Juans. 

Below is what we did, what we packed, additional intel, and what we plan to do differently in 2024. Some big take-aways:

  • BE FLEXIBLE. You’re at the whim of inter-island ferries that cancel at the last minute - and even if you are signed up for their app notifications, you may not have cell service to receive them. Don’t get bummed out if you’re only biking 15 miles that day, or having to make coffee in the harbor parking lot
  • Pack light and spend more on food & lodging OR carry more weight camping and cooking and spend less - we did a mix of both.
    • Ferries, Food, Gas, and Lodging for 4 days roughly came to $600/ea
    • Even if you’re on a tighter budget, try to patronize a few restaurants and local businesses - as a small community, your dollars count!




  • MORNING - Drive to Port Townsend  
    • 8:30am Puget Sound Express >> Friday Harbor
    • TRANSPORTATION BETA: We opted to take a whale watching charter boat that allowed one-way rides instead of driving to Anacortes, WA to take the main ferry. While it cost more than a normal ferry, you save on gas driving to Port Townsend and money on free (safe) overnight parking for your vehicle. The arrival to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island is variable, so be flexible with your afternoon route, 
      • because the best part is - YOU MAY GET TO SEE WHALES - in which your ride to the islands may take longer than expected. Note: Be sure to arrive before they call boarding to load your bikes on before the rest of the passengers, and wash down your bike when you get to the island to rid your drive train of any salt water. 
      • LUNCH at Downriggers = easy eats. But next time we’ll plan on packing our lunches ahead of time to have on the boat ride so we can get biking as soon as we land on the island. 
      • BIKE to Cattle Point Lighthouse
        • We had completely different plans in mind, but scrapped them when we were recommended to go here - and we’re glad we did! It’s a beautiful ride along some historic landmarks to the southernmost tip of San Juan Island. A touch of gravel, but primarily pavement. 
      • Dinner at Duck Soup 
        • One of most notable restaurants on San Juan Island, this is worth every star it’s been given. It’s worth packing a nice outfit, light sandals, and heck, even some lipstick, so you can roll-up refreshed and match the classy cocktails they serve. Eat all the food. 
      • NIGHT: Lakedale Resort in Canvas Cabin
        • Notes for the future - BASE CAMP HERE FOR MULTIPLE NIGHTS. It’s a little slice of summer camp paradise where you can either camp out, stay in a canvas cabin (our choice), or book a full cabin. Your stay comes with a continental breakfast that even this gluten & dairy free duo were able to feast on, and showers to start/end the day refreshed. If it’s hot, swim in the lake. If you’re cool, tiedye some tee’s with the kids. Next year we may have a gang large enough to warrant a cabin rental. Book WELL in advance and bring ear-plugs in case there’s a wedding… or keep that cute romper on that you wore at dinner and crash the dance flo


  • MORNING: Ferry >> Lopez 
    • Cynthia’s Bistro - more our kinda vibe as a mom and pop cafe. Definitely check out the antique shop next door, and the salt shop across the street
  • DAY: Bike the north end of the Island
    • Ice Cream at Lopez Creamery
    • Lopez is definitely the quietest of the three larger islands and every single person that drove past us shot us a smile and a wave. People are silly nice here and I’d love to just spend more time biking this entire island.
  • NIGHT: Spencer Spit on Lopez Island - Picnic on the Beach
    • There are great sites down near the rocky beach specifically for cyclists. But it can get confusing on their term “walk-in” sites which do not mean “first-come-first-serve”. It just means you can’t park your car next to where you camp. Still, if you can’t reserve a spot on the beach, the camping spots up above feel more secluded from each other than we would have guessed. Group Site 6 looks cool too with a small lean-to with covered bunk bed platforms!
    • Nothing like a charcuterie board dinner to wrap up day two. Cheers!



  • MORNING: Ferry >> Orcas 
    • TIP: have the ferry app downloaded your phone with alerts that notify cancellations or delays.
  • DAY: Bike to Eastsound
    • Orcas Island is definitely the busiest and steepest island of the bunch (Uff Da Hill Road greets you after a long climb - I’m not joking), but it wasn’t anything compared to biking in a city. I’ve heard rumors of some gravel roads that you can use as alternatives if your bike can handle it, which we’re going to explore next time, but this map gives good route recommendations on how to navigate the busiest island. Next time we’d like to make it all the way to Doe Bay, timing it around one of their summer concerts. Theoretically in 2024 there’ll be a shuttle if you want to bike around the island one way and shuttle back to save on time/energy.
    • BEACH - we found a small trail to a little public beach that was precious and waited for our friend to pick us up. 
  • DRINKS: New Leaf Cafe
    • Had we not planned to cook dinner at our friend's house that night, New Leaf would have been an easy choice - their cocktails were perfect! Orcas Island also has most of the notable eateries in the San Juans, but most of them are closed Mon/Tue.
  • NIGHT: Crane Island
    • We had the supreme pleasure of staying on Crane Island - one of San Juan’s smallest residential areas, by the luck of our friend Ben who lives there. Needless to say - try to find a friend who lives on Crane who will host you as well - it’s its own kind of sanctuary. (Thanks Ben!)


    • Crane Island >> Friday Harbor - 
      • Thanks to Ben we got a direct ride back to Friday Harbor. If you’re planning on this w/o a Ben in your friend-pile, know that you’d have to go through Deer Harbor on Orcas to get to Friday Harbor first.
    • Waiting for the Boat back to mainland… let’s eat some more!
      • The Market Chef - We found our favorite restaurant on Orcas on our last day. It’s the pantry you wish you had at home, with delicious, seasonal, fresh ingredients. With a beautiful array of snacks and gifts, you can grab some goodies for the boat ride back and goodies to remember the trip by. 
    • 12:30pm Puget Sound Express >> Port Townsend 
      • The PSE departs between 1pm and 3pm back to Port Townsend and they will call to tell you when specifically the day of, since it depends on their whale watching success earlier that morning.
    Like the way in, it’s hard to know how long it’s going to take you to get back to Port Townsend, since you’re at the whim of the whale sightings. Don’t make any hard and fast plans that night in Port Townsend - or anywhere else for that matter - and bring food/snacks with you so you’re not hangry at your friends when you finally get back to the mainland. We didn’t get into Port Townsend until 5:30 that evening.  



    Our mileage may have been lower than what we anticipated, but we learned SO MUCH, and had a great time biking, relaxing, and adapting together. We’ll definitely be planning a 2024 trip for the same time of year, as the heat is tapering off and the blackberries are nice and ripe. We know that we’d like to add a few more days, and possibly camp/lodging for multiple nights at just two places, which would allow us to explore more without the full weight of our gear, and be less at the mercy of inter island ferry cancellations.


    Gear, Ferries, Island Food, Camping, Lodging, and Stuff.

    --Sign up for ferry alerts ahead of time via WSDOT APP--



    • Orcas Island Shuttle - Coming 2024
    • Orcas Island Taxi - 360.376.8294
    • Eats
      • New Leaf - Eastsound - OPEN on Mon
      • Doe Bay - OPEN on Mon
      • Kingfish  - Westsound - Closed Sun/Mon
      • Houlme - Eastsound - Closed Mon/Tue
      • The Barnacle - Eastsound - Closed Mon/Tues
      • Maita - Eastsound - Closed Mon/Tue
      • Buck Bay Shellfish Farm - Closed Mon


    • Eat: Duck Soup, Cynthia’s, Market Chef
    • Stay: Lakedale Resort - 30 min bike from Friday Harbor
    • San Juan County Park - open bike camping - Closer to Lime Kiln whale watching beach


    GROUP GEAR - A full list of gear that we found useful

    Specifically, what I liked having with me:

    PERSONAL GEAR - I had more than this, but this is the gear I love especially

      • Bike: Kona Rove - I’ve ridden 50mi of gravel, 100mi of road, and everything in between on this bike. It was a champ loaded up on this trip!
      • Bib: WILD RYE Baddie Bib
      Bike Shorts: WILD RYE Freda “7 Shorts - I wear these hiking too. As a curvy 
        size 6/8, these fit the booty so well!
      • Camp Shorts: WILD RYE Apres Shorts - also my summer uniform.
      • Shirt: WILD RYE Mackay Crop - My favorite color of blue. FYI, it runs large
      • Tank: WILD RYE Keller Crop Tank - I layered this with the bibs and loved the kit
      • Sunshirt: WILD RYE Sawyer Sunshirt - I wear this piece so much day to day that it is either on my drying rack or in the dirty pile. It never goes unused enough to get folded.
      • Puffy: Snow Peak Insulated Shirt - for a warmer trip, it was nice to have this layer that could be worn to a restaurant without looking so techy
      • Dress-Up: Patagonia Fleetwith Romper - packs small, doesn’t wrinkle. Both KP and I’s go-to
      • Hand towel/Towel: Nomadix Mini-Towel and WILD RYE Camp Towel
      • Sunnies: Ombraz - FINALLY - something that doesn’t hurt your temples after hours under a helmet.
      • Mug & Plateware: Snowpeak Ti-Mug, Spork, and Bowl.
      • Pack-pillow. My HEST Pillow wouldn’t fit on my bike, but the Nemo is great for how small it packs down!
      • Sleeping bag/pad: I haven’t perfected this yet - I’ll take recommendations!
      • Stuff Sacks: Allmansright is a BIPOC owned outdoor company out of NY that makes durable, lightweight gear in great colors so you can stay organized and support an awesome company.
      • Nice things to have handy: 
        • Small hand sanitizer
        • Mini-Towel
        • Snacks: Trail Butter snacks are SO good and Verb Energy Bars for when you need protein and caffeine all in one
        • Mini cam or tension/voile straps
        • Mini bungee cords
      Written by Alana Kambury

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