Biking the Pacific Northwest San Juan Islands – Part 2

June 2022

Our trip leaders were Paul & McKenna with Nina providing support, as our group of bike riders were 25 people strong. There was a surprisingly large contingent from Florida, 10 in all, including us, and well as 7 from California, and others sprinkled from around the Midwest and South. After checking the sizing of our assigned bicycles, we immediately set off on a 22-mile bike ride over relatively flat farming terrain, but in a rainstorm that soaked us to the skin. Upon returning to our suite, we took advantage of every source of heat to dry our shoes and clothes while we prepared for dinner at a local restaurant – Nell Thorn’s. Dinner that night was spectacular with the owner talking us through the night’s fare and the wine flowing freely. Our dinners of Halibut and Morel & Truffle Pasta exceeded even our highest expectations before returning to our hotel for a few games of cards and packing to check-out in the morning.

A Local Crabbing Boat in the fishing village of La Conner
Nina, McKenna, and Paul – The Backroads Team

Monday morning, we checked out, delivered our luggage to the Backroads Leaders, and walked to breakfast at the Thorn & Oyster Restaurant, before boarding our bicycles for the day’s ride. Today, we would bike 26-miles to Anacortes, past the refinery and over trestle bridges, to lunch in the park next to their Maritime Museum and marina. The Monday weather was fantastic with temperatures in the 50’s & 60’s with very little wind. After lunch, we strolled through the marina observing the lines of locals buying fresh-caught salmon, scallops, and halibut, before boarding our bicycles once again for the short 8-mile ride through the hills to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal. The ferry would take us from the mainland to Orcas Island – the second-largest island in the San Juan Archipelago. Backroads collected our bikes and provided an assortment of drinks and snacks as we enjoyed the 90-minute ferry ride that first stopped at Shaw Island before arriving at Orcas Village located at the southern end of the middle peninsula on Orcas Island. Orcas Island is shaped a bit like an upside-down “W”, and we would be exploring the island from a location near the north end of the Island. Upon arriving, we were shuttled to the Outlook Hotel in the village of Eastsound. Again, we had an excellent room with a fireplace overlooking the East Sound and its near shore “Indian Island”. We used the remaining afternoon to clean-up and explore the town’s small commercial center, although most stores closed at 5pm. That night we enjoyed appetizers and dinner at the hotel before taking a stroll through their lovely gardens and around town.

Travel Map among San Juan Islands. Yellow stars – Hotel stays; Blue star – Orcas; Green star – Kayaking in Roche Harbor

Tuesday was another wonderful day, and, after arising early, we took an exploratory stroll along the waterfront. It was low tide, and many small crabs were left hiding under estuary rocks and the beach was awash in local kelp and seaweed. After a generous breakfast at the hotel’s New Leaf Café, we rode our bikes a short 5-miles along the Eastern Peninsula to Moran State Park – the 4th largest state park in Washington and land that preserved the ~300-year-old-growth forest from the extensive logging the island saw in the 19th & 20th Century. It originally was the estate of Seattle mayor and shipbuilder Robert Moran who moved there for health reasons. It also includes Mt. Constitution, the highest point among the Sam Juan Islands at 2409ft elevation. Along the way, a large buck and 2 other deer crossed our paths, but the ~500ft climb required effort. Unfortunately, the road and hiking trails to the summit were all closed for repair from the winter, so we took the occasion to hike the ~4-mile trail around Mountain Lake through the forest of huge Douglas firs and Red Cedars. After the hike, we returned to Cascade Lake Campgrounds for a picnic lunch before hiking the shorter 2-miles around Cascade Lake. Along the way, we were lucky to come upon a Bald Eagle sitting right above us looking for a fish to capture. After our hike, we boarded our bicycles and headed 6-miles north to the coast at Matia Viewpoint where we could look back to the mainland for a clear view of Mt. Baker covered in snow. Mt. Baker is a glacier-covered volcano in the Cascade range that towers 10,781ft high. It was then just a short 2-mile ride back to the Outlook Inn, where we had time to shop while the stores were open before meeting for dinner at the Madrona Bar and Grill where we enjoyed steak and Cioppino, (Italian Seafood Stew).

One of many Bald Eagles spotted in the San Juan Islands

Wednesday we would explore the other two peninsulas of Orcas Island located to the west. Again, we explored the beach in the morning before taking breakfast at the hotel, checking out, and beginning our 12-mile ride to Deer Harbor, the southwestern most town on the island. Along the way, we stopped and shopped at Orcas Island Pottery, a unique, locally made collection of pottery items with a tremendous view of the water and islands west to Canada. Deer Harbor was a quaint, working fishing village with numerous commercial and recreational ships. From Deer Harbor, we retraced part of our route and rode the 6 additional miles to Orcas Village. At Orcas Village, we surrendered our bicycles, changed clothes, and enjoyed a lovely outdoor lunch at the Orcas Hotel of BBQ Chicken & Salmon with grilled veggies. After lunch, we boarded the “Squito” Whale Watching boat to go in search of Orcas! Latest intel put a Biggs Pod, (“Biggs Pods” are pods of Orcas that are transient to the area, as opposed to “Resident Pods” that stay in the area year-round), near the U.S. – Canadian Border by the island of Patos. We take the 90-minute ride north, spotting the occasional Harbor Seal and porpoise, until we reach the southern shores of Patos where 3-4 Whale Watching vessels are cruising west-to-east a few hundred yards off from the Orcas pod that is cruising the island’s shores. Out Naturalist aboard identifies the pod as the T123 family of five with the ~37-year-old mother, (“Sidney), a mature 22-year-old mature juvenile male, (“Stanley”), and 3 younger juveniles ranging from 4-16 years old. We follow along at distance for about an hour before we need to return to Friday Town Harbor on the southern end of San Juan Island, our next destination. Along the way back, we cruise by Flattop Island – a flattish rock outcrop covered with Harbor Seals remaining safe onshore during the day. We then travelled past a couple of resident eagle nests on San Juan Island before docking at Friday Town Harbor and walking a short distance to the Harbor House Hotel, our location for the next two nights. That night dinner was on our own, so we shopped at the local grocery deli and relaxed at the hotel playing cards, eating, and drinking wine.

The T123 Biggs Orcas Pod
Stanley & Sidney of the T123 Orca Family spotted at Patos Island near the Canadian Border
Harbor Seals at Flattop Island

Thursday morning brought back the light rain, but after breakfast at the hotel, we biked 20-miles to Lime Kiln Point State Park on the western side of the island, stopping along the way at a Lavender Farm where we get warm, and taste lavender tea, lavender chocolate, lavender chutney, and lavender honey. At Lime Kiln State Park, the 1860’s lime kilns used for making lime for mortar, are renovated, and the coastal park still houses the 1919 Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse and a coastal whale observation overlook. From the State Park, we load our cold selves and our wet bikes and shuttle back to the hotel for a shower and a “picnic” in the hotel and ready ourselves for an afternoon of kayaking in the rain. We shuttle over to Roche Harbor at the north end of the island where we climb into our 2-person sea kayaks and begin our 2-hour paddling journey to Pearl Island and Posey Island Marine State Park – a small island state park that boasts only 2 campsites that can be reserved for $12 per night each. However, motorized boats are not allowed to beach there! After sampling a bit of fresh Pacific Bull Kelp, we kayak over to McCracken Point where we saw two occupied eagle’s nests. Then we paddled along the other side of Pearl Island and back to Roche Harbor before we exited the kayaks and took our soggy selves back to the hotel for a good hot shower. That evening, it was time for a bit of “Happy Hour” and our final “Farewell Dinner”.

Julie & Rocky in their Sea Kayak
Our Backroads Kayaking Group

Friday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, and climbed aboard our bicycles for the last time. The weather was spectacular, and the morning would be an enjoyable 11-mile ride past the airport and golf course, and along the Pear Point Loop and its lovely homes. Back at the hotel, we showered, packed our bags, checked out and walked to the ferry terminal where we shopped and drank coffee. Because of early morning fog, the ferry to Anacortes was running ~1-hour late, but we ate lunch onboard and arrived in plenty of time to say our goodbyes and shuttle back to La Conner to load up our car. From La Conner, we drove to the airport Hampton in Seattle as the rain began to fall yet again. After checking into the hotel, we turned in the car, walked to quick food stop, and prepared for our early morning flights.

The Outside Wall at the Killer Whale Museum in Friday Harbor

Saturday morning, it was up at 3:45am, hotel shuttle to the airport, flight check-in, and breakfast at the lounge before catching our 6:45am flight back through Chicago and onto Washington Reagan Airport. The end of a fantastic biking trip through the U.S. Northwest San Juan Islands.