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Which of the San Juan Islands is best for kids?

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Which of the San Juan Islands is best for kids?

Old 07-20-23, 03:19 PM
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Which of the San Juan Islands is best for kids?

My wife is planning on visiting a friend and wants to ride a ferry to one of the San Juan Islands. She wants me and my son to bring our bicycles and go riding while they shop. It looks like the two close Islands will be Orcas and San Juan. Which of those two islands has the safest roads for cyclists? I would prefer wide shoulders for my son since he hasn't done a lot of road riding He's likely good for 15 to 20 miles.
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Old 07-20-23, 05:18 PM
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I guess you don't know the San Juan Islands.

First - are you going to have a car with you or just bikes?
Because reservations are essential - and hard to come by - if you want to take a car on the ferry.
Not to mention that finding a place to park on the busier islands can be an issue.

Second - shopping and quiet riding do not occur on the same island.
The busy islands have cute little boutiques, the quiet islands have minimal services.

Third - shoulders are largely nonexistent on the islands.
And nearly all the islands have some pretty steep hills.

By island with ferry service:
San Juan - party island, lots of roads, lots of hills, moderate traffic
Orcas - some pretty fancy resorts, big hills, fewer roads plus traffic.
Lopez - magical island with quiet roads, store & cafe in the village, light traffic
Shaw - super quiet, few roads, no stores, camping and outdoor activities
(Nuns used to meet the incoming ferries and tie them down to the dock at Shaw.)

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is right at the ferry dock.
It could be possible to:
a) Leave your car at Anacortes.
b) The boys take their bikes to Lopez and ride
c) The girls take the ferry on to Friday Harbor and shop
d) Meet back up at Friday Harbor.

Inter-island ferry rides are free.
And there are more return boats from San Juan than from Lopez.

I would not recommend inexperienced young riders riding San Juan or Orcas.

PS - Then again, the girls can also take bikes, ride to Lopez Village, and have a relaxing afternoon.
PPS - Lodging is practically impossible to find on the islands in the summer, esp. summer weekends.

Pic - MacKaye Harbor on Lopez
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Old 07-20-23, 05:47 PM
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Originally Posted by jamawani
I guess you don't know the San Juan Islands.

First - are you going to have a car with you or just bikes?
Second - shopping and quiet riding do not occur on the same island.
The busy islands have cute little boutiques, the quiet islands have minimal services.
Third - shoulders are largely nonexistent on the islands.
And nearly all the islands have some pretty steep hills.

I would not recommend inexperienced young riders riding San Juan or Orcas.
Thanks for the information. The last time I was on the islands was over 30 years ago. At that time, I remember very little shoulder width, but light traffic. I didn't want to say too much to my wife until I learned a bit more, but I was expecting to read exactly what you've posted. I remember Orcas Island being a bit hillier than San Juan Island, but I don't remember either being an especially great place for a beginning cyclist. My son is 15, but he hasn't done much riding on busy roadways. We usually drive to a spot with low traffic, take rails to trails, or mountain bike trails. He has a mountain bike, so trails and gravel would be an option. I don't remember any trails or gravel roads near either ferry landing though. My wife's friend lives on Whidbey Island so we'd be leaving the vehicle on Whidbey Island and would not have a vehicle with us to drive to a better location to start a ride. I didn't want to tell her it's not a great idea before doing some research.

Since my wife knows my son and I aren't going to want to tag along as they wander through shops, she was thinking this would be a good plan. From what I saw on Google Earth, the area around the ferry landing on San Juan Island looks very busy. Orcas looks a little less busy, but I didn't see any great routes to take to get away from the ferry landing.

I suggested she and her friend go without us while my son and I go find a nice quiet spot to take the kayaks off of Whidbey Island, but she has her heart set on my son taking a ferry ride to an island.

I appreciate your input and also anyone else that would like to chime in.
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Old 07-20-23, 06:13 PM
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I did a ride on Orcas a few years ago. 53 miles 5800 feet of elevation gain and not one single shoulder to ride on.

The islands are generally pretty nice for experienced cyclists interested in a challenging ride. The car drivers are even generally polite on account of the low stress life-style and lack of alternate routes you could choose, even if you wanted too. But, it's not a place for kids & there isn't much to bike to but the occasional beach for which to enjoy a picnic.

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Old 07-20-23, 06:30 PM
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My wife has found out her friend wants to take the ferry to Port Townsend. I am stoked. This should work out so much better for my son and I. Doesn't the Olympic Discovery Trail pass right by there? I plan to look it up on Google Maps of course, but I appreciate input from those of you who have been there recently...


Edit: It appears there are some issues with the Port Townsend section of the Discovery Trail. One suggested option is to take the bus to bypass a busy section of paved highway.
It seems the Larry Scott Memorial trail is a section of the Olympic Discovery Trail that should be easily accessed from the ferry that travels 7.3 miles. I assume the busy section is after that 7.3 mile trail. I'm guessing between using that trail and some possible side routes, my son and I should be able to keep busy while the women shop. 😃

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Old 07-20-23, 06:33 PM
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I just got back literally from San juan island. there was never an issue riding the ferry over or with parking. we went two days in a row. I did not think there was any parting going on. pretty laid back. good food and if you don't have your bikes take the trolly around the island.
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Old 07-21-23, 08:11 PM
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Originally Posted by jadmt
I just got back literally from San juan island. there was never an issue riding the ferry over or with parking. we went two days in a row. I did not think there was any parting going on. pretty laid back. good food and if you don't have your bikes take the trolly around the island.
YMMV

Washington State Ferries and the San Juan Tourism Board both strongly suggest advance reservations and warn about long waits without.
I have seen the car line at Anacortes snaking back all the way to Hwy 20. You were fortunate.
Cyclists and pedestrians can hop on any ferry, but with a car it is a different ball game.
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Old 07-24-23, 04:47 PM
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Originally Posted by mtnbud
It appears there are some issues with the Port Townsend section of the Discovery Trail. One suggested option is to take the bus to bypass a busy section of paved highway.
It seems the Larry Scott Memorial trail is a section of the Olympic Discovery Trail that should be easily accessed from the ferry that travels 7.3 miles. I assume the busy section is after that 7.3 mile trail. I'm guessing between using that trail and some possible side routes, my son and I should be able to keep busy while the women shop. 😃
I rode this back in May on my coast tour. You are correct that the highway section is after the Larry Scott trail. Right off the ferry dock you'll be on a normal town road. I don't recall if it had a bike lane or was just sharrows, but it was pretty chill either way. It is only a mile or two until you pickup the Larry Scott, which is a dedicated hiker/biker trail.

The highway section that connects the Larry Scott to the ODT does not have a shoulder, and did have the occasional logging truck, but at least when I was on it it was not very busy. It might still be fine for a young rider. I expect it depends on the time of day. If you do want to head further south but don't like the look of the highway when you get to it, there's another road bypass option slightly west.

Before I left on my tour I made a $13 donation to the Peninsula Trails Coalition and they mailed me a set of good maps that covered the Larry Scott trail, ODT, and the couple options to connect them.
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Old 07-27-23, 09:17 PM
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Originally Posted by pigmonkey
I rode this back in May on my coast tour. You are correct that the highway section is after the Larry Scott trail. Right off the ferry dock you'll be on a normal town road. I don't recall if it had a bike lane or was just sharrows, but it was pretty chill either way. It is only a mile or two until you pickup the Larry Scott, which is a dedicated hiker/biker trail.

The highway section that connects the Larry Scott to the ODT does not have a shoulder, and did have the occasional logging truck, but at least when I was on it it was not very busy. It might still be fine for a young rider. I expect it depends on the time of day. If you do want to head further south but don't like the look of the highway when you get to it, there's another road bypass option slightly west.

Before I left on my tour I made a $13 donation to the Peninsula Trails Coalition and they mailed me a set of good maps that covered the Larry Scott trail, ODT, and the couple options to connect them.
Thanks for the info! I'll hopefully get the chance to ride the whole ODT someday .
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