Biking with Kids in the San Juan Islands

by valerie

The recent warm, dry weather here in Seattle is a delightful taste of summer’s imminent arrival. Although there’s a mass surge of people seeking outdoor adventure, and camping/cabin reservations can be hard to come by on short notice, there are some creative ways to get out and enjoy mother natures bounty for those spontaneous planners (me!). For us, one of those ways is a bike trip to the majestic San Juan Islands, tucked between Anacortes, WA and Victoria, B.C.

Obviously, if you’re travelling with children, the biking aspect will be different depending on the age and ability of your little biker(s). With both my kids capable of staying upright on two wheels and safely navigating road shoulder biking, Lopez Island is the perfect place to burn some rubber. With kids in tow, this type of adventure CAN be had, modified to suit your situation.


For the biker, walking on to the ferry is the way to go. This gives you the freedom to stay at hike/biker campsites (no reservations needed) on the Islands, as well as the enjoyment of adventuring on your own pedal power.

Driving your car onto the ferry is also a very acceptable method of transport. And sometimes a more cost-effective one. Frustratingly, the cost to park your car at the Anacortes dock for more than 3 days is higher than just driving your car onto the ferry. I really do hope that the ferry system recognizes that to incentivize walk-on traffic, the cost of longer-term parking should be re-evaluated.

Once you are on the islands, you can use your pedal-power to island hop! As a biker, it’s very fun and satisfying to be the first to load onto the ferry and disembark on arrival!

Biking along main road Lopez Island


Note: although Lopez is advertised as the most bike-friendly island within the archipelago (more flat terrain), there’s still a noticeable 1-mile long grade from the ferry dock to where the road starts to level out. My 9-year old handled it just fine, but it almost wiped out one of the teens….and that’s where the promise of hammock naps come into play.


Camping is our preferred method. There’s either Spencer Spit State Parker (larger) or Odlin County Park (smaller). Odlin is where we always stay and I’m in love with it. I like the smaller crowds. And it’s closer to both the ferry dock and Lopez Village. Win! But at Spencer Spit you can rent Kayaks and enjoy time on the water – so there’s that. Either way, I suppose it’s a win.


We tend to prep and eat most of our food at the campground, and can easily stock up on groceries by visiting the supermarket in Lopez Village. This allows for two important things: (1) your gear load coming over by ferry is lighter and (2) it creates a perfectly reasonable excuse to grab more chocolate and marshmallows on your supply trip to the store…

Another great option, most notably in summer, is stocking up on daily food needs by biking to local farmers markets!

Our fav restaurants on Lopez (L) and San Juan Islands (SJ):


Our favorite Lopez nature points:

Shark Reef Sanctuary

Climbing trees along the bluff at Shark Reef. Journey down to the water to enjoy the micro marine life, listen for seals, and keep eyes open for Orcas! The undercurrent here is fast, so please take caution not to swim or fall into the water.

Iceberg Point

Iceberg Point on San Juan's Lopez Island
Iceberg Point is harder to reach by bike for kids, recommendation is to drive. This camera phone shot doesn’t do it justice – it’s a breathtaking location. Keep your eyes open for seals and Orcas, and take extra care when walking near the bluffs – the rocks break off easily, and the water’s under-current is strong!


Spencer Spit State Park

Need More Support?

Do you need more support to prepare yourself and/or your little ones for a successful bike trip? Check out your local bike repair shop ~ staff working there tend to be motivated and inspired bike lovers. My personal recommendation for local Seattle folks is Bike Works, in the Columbia City neighborhood. This is a non-profit bike shop (sales and repair), with all profits going towards year-round youth programs and advocacy. Both of my children have become competent, capable riders through their programs, and by purchasing our bikes here, that money goes back into supporting those very same programs. Community-centered business at it’s best!

If your kids are still quite young and you want to set the stage for future bike trips, here’s some great info on how to choose the right bike for your budding adventurer!

What’s next?

My challenge for this summer will be expanding our reach to neighboring islands, and finding ways to coordinate a bike trip with our new doggie! Stay tuned, and wish me luck! Please comment if you have any advice on biking with dogs or funny stories to share!

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