Bicycle Adventures San Juan Islands Family Camping Tour

My family (me, my wife, and 13-year-old daughter) spent the beginning of this week on a family tour of the San Juan Islands run by Bicycle Adventures.

This is our second tour with Bicycle Adventures – two years ago we did their Columbia River Gorge Family Tour, and had a great time. If you have an active family I heartily recommend any of their family tours – you don’t need to be a cyclist to have a lot of fun.

This one was to be a bit different, simply because it was a *camping* tour. Now, as a rule, the Gunnersons do not camp. Both my wife and I have had plenty of camping experiences in our childhoods, which I will summarize as “take a long trip to get there, set up the tent, eat some camp food, get lots of mosquito bites, and ultimately wake up in a wet sleeping bag from the rain”.

But in this case it’s “camping light” – we *did* sleep in a tent, but there was real plumbing to be had and we didn’t have to do any cooking, so, we decided to bend the rules in this case.

All the Bicycle adventures tours are multi-sport tours – which means that you do something other than riding your bicycle. For the family tours, you spend less time riding and the rides are pretty short – which means that you don’t have to be a cyclist to do one (though if you are a cyclist, you can get in a few extra miles here and there, but don’t expect to get 50 mile days on the family tour).

This trip we ended up with 8 adults and 6 kids, and 3 guides, which is a fairly big trip for BA, but small enough that you can fit in one van and actually get to know the other people on the group.

The other thing to note is that while you pay a fair amount ahead of time, you don’t pay for anything during the tour. Meals are paid for, ice cream at the end of rides, ferry fares, etc. That lets you focus on relaxing…

So, here’s what we did:


Sunday the group met at the Anacortes marina. We drove, but some of the other families (from New York, Austin, and Palo Alto) were picked up at their Seattle hotels. We rode to the Guemes Island ferry, took it across, and then got lunch at the General Store there. After lunch, we rode around the island a bit – a way for the guests to get used to cycling again, and for the guides to get the feel of the group. Six of the kids were on their own bikes, with the youngest two on trailercycles. The three of us were the only ones that brought our bikes (my Madone, my wife’s new Trek 5000 WSD, and my daughter’s specialized) – the rest rented them.

At the midpoint the group split – the three of us went and did the northwest side of the island, and the rest rode straight back, to catch the ferry.

Ferry rides are a fact of life in the San Juans, and you are sometime constrained by having to race to get to a specific ferry. It’s like the weather – you just learn to accept it.

So… We caught the ferry back to Anacortes, and then rode across town (perhaps 3 miles) to the Anacortes ferry, and then went on with our bikes. After about 40 minutes, we arrived at Lopez Island, our base for the next 4 days. But first, we had to ride up from the ferry dock. Lopez is one of the flattest islands, but it’s still an island, and you have to get up from the water. That took us to Lopez Farm Cottages, where we would camp.

As is typical of BA trips, the area was ready for us, with our REI tents already set up, and snacks set out in the shelter (chips, salsa, beer, etc.). A nice dinner of barbecued tri-tip finished off the day.


Monday is spent cycling around Lopez island, visiting Spencer Spit State Park, Agate Beach State Park (for lunch), Shark Reef Sanctuary (for nice views on the hot side of the island, and a view of some stellar sea lions on nice days), and then Lopez Village for ice cream, and finally back to the campsite. That’s about 30 miles total, which may seem like a long distance if you aren’t a cyclist, but you have a long time to do it, and everybody in the group finished nicely. The traffic is fairly sparse and well behaved, though some of the road surface is chipseal (tar with gravel tossed on top of it and then rolled in), which makes it a bit rough and slow at times on a road bike. If you’re on one of the rental bikes, you won’t notice the roughness though it will make things a bit more slowly.  Dinner was pork chops and corn on the cob.


Tuesday is a day spent on the water. The group gets on the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan island, where we took a whale watching tour around the island. We saw a small number of Orcas close up, and a whole lot of other whale-watching boats. After we got back in Friday harbor, we took the ferry back to Lopez for a dinner of sockeye salmon.


Wednesday we… surprise! got on a ferry to travel to Orcas island, to journey to Moran State Park and climb Mt. Constitution. On our feet. We ended up with a hike of about 4.5 miles with about 2400 feet of elevation gain. The climb is well worth it, with sweeping views of the whole region from the tower at the top. If you want some pain, you can ride your bike to the top, and I understand that they allow car drivers to just drive up with it.

We had to catch an early ferry back (inter-island ferries have very sporadic schedules), and got back to the campsite at around 4PM. I headed out for a bit of training in the heat. The island is a lot nicer at normal speeds – the chipseal is less jarring with less weight on the saddle, and there is a nice selection of rolling hills to stretch your legs on. I ended up doing about 20 miles in the heat (my polar said the peak heat was 112 degrees).


Thursday was our last day – we got up, packed up, and headed to spencer spit to go sea kayaking. We had an nice time exploring the area around the park on the kayaks, then ferried back to Anacortes to come home.


Overall, a very enjoyable trip with a great group of people. Having a full itenerary and not having to pay for anything means that all you have to worry about is filling your water bottles and putting on sunscreen.

Definitely recommended.

So, what do you think ?