Motorcycle camping San Juan Islands

 

It’s an hour after we planned to be out the door. That’s okay, because we’re heading for the San Juan Islands and it just isn’t island-like to be on time. It’s all about chilling out. Fretting over the little things would hinder a perfect trip.

We made the short trip from Seattle north on I-5 and west on State Route 20 to Anacortes (Google map of route). Before riding through town to the Washington State Ferry terminal we decide to make a pit stop and fill up the gas tank on the motorcycle. I’ve learned to fill up the tank before getting stuck paying “island” prices for fuel. The more than five gallons in our Suzuki V-Strom should be enough.

Waiting at the Anacortes ferry terminal ahead of all the cars.The ferry terminal is a few miles west of downtown Anacortes. The route is fully signed and easy to navigate. We pull up to the ticket counter and purchase fare for one motorcycle and one passenger for $30.30 and pull to the front of the ferry line. The motorcycle preference on Washington State Ferries is the coolest advantage of riding vs. driving. We’re among the first vehicles on and off the ferry.

After parking on the ferry we march up to the cafeteria and order one hot chocolate for Monica and a coffee for me. Let the relaxing begin. It takes just short of an hour to cross the waters from Anacortes to Orcas.

We found a window seat to enjoy our drinks and the view of the islands as they pass. Riding the ferry is a romantic experience. Inside the cabin is a warm comfy spot to begin unwinding from the daily grind. Stepping outside is a bit cooler (plan to wear a light jacket) but affords your senses to absorb the scenery and experience the fresh air.

Our view as we ferry through the San Juan Islands

Our view as we ferry through the San Juan Islands

The San Juan Archipelago includes two groups of islands split along the U.S./Canada border with the San Juan Islands to the south and the Gulf Islands north of the border. The San Juan Islands include 172 islands. The Washington ferry system brings you to four of the largest islands from the Anacortes terminal including: Lopez, Orcas, Shaw and San Juan islands. All of which are great quick get-a-ways from the Seattle area. We rode our motorcycle, but the trip can be enjoyed by car, bicycle and even by foot using the shuttle and taxi services offered on the San Juan Islands.

All of the islands offer great outdoor activities including sea kayaking, whale watching, hiking, and tours by bus, boat and plane. The Olympic Mountains create a rain shadow over the islands. The temperatures range from an average low of 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to summertime highs of 70-80 degrees. The climate is great for year-round recreation and camping.

We arrived at and rode straight through the town of Orcas. The island roads twist to and from as we pass small farms, art boutiques, freshwater lakes and saltwater bays. It takes 25 minutes to cross 14 miles of land to reach Moran State Park. We pull up to the ranger office to check on our pre-purchased campsite at Midway Campground.

The online reservation system is nice. It does take some getting used to, but it added a little certainty that we’d have a place to pitch our tent upon arrival at Moran State Park.

Moran State Park has more than 5,200 acres of scenic beauty that is best enjoyed by riding the few twisty roads and hiking the 38 miles of foot trails. The park has an abundance of wildlife, including an active population of deer that requires you to mind the posted speed limit and keep a watchful eye.

Campfire wood loaded up on the rack of the V-Strom

Campfire wood loaded up on the rack of the V-Strom

Within 20 minutes of being in camp, the bike was unloaded, the tent was set up and we were ready to gather firewood. We got into camp around 2 p.m. and wanted to look around. Before taking a hike, I thought it would be a good idea to get our firewood ready before being hungry for dinner. I rode the V-Strom up to the ranger station and bought a bundle of wood with seven small logs for $5. After sighing and accepting the cost of firewood I loaded it up on the bike’s luggage rack and delivered it to the fire pit.

View of Cascade Lake in Moran State Park, Orcas Island

View of Cascade Lake in Moran State Park, Orcas Island

Camp is set up and we’re ready to march across the street to the Cascade Lake hiking trail. The trail is an easy 2.7 miles long with only minor elevation gains. Surrounded by Douglas fir and other trees that gracefully hang over the shoreline. The tree-lined lake is simply gorgeous with surrounding hills towering overhead. There is a footbridge on the west side of the lake dividing it from the Rosario Lagoon. This is a great spot to take a leap off the bridge and enjoy the cool waters below. The hike was just what we needed to stretch our legs. Shadows cast from the falling sun continued their clockwise travel pointed further and further to the east. It was time to get back to camp and rest.

We pulled out a deck of cards when we arrived back at camp. Nearly two hours passed by without notice. We were in the moment and fully relaxed. Just as a card was laid down a mink passed through our campsite. I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to get a photo. The missed photo-op trained me to be ready for future animal life. Good thing as a short while later a young white tailed doe walked through camp. She was too busy snacking on the foliage to be concerned with my attempt at photos.

Roasting brats over an open fire

Roasting brats over an open fire

The fire was burning. Brats were on the menu for the night. Apparently, expensive firewood doesn’t equal good-burning wood. It took a good amount of effort to get a good fire burning. We ate caveman style and enjoyed dinner and s’mores for dessert.

After dinner I devised a means to keep the campsite locksmiths, a.k.a. raccoons, out of our food. We kept all of the food in the top case of the motorcycle. At night I strung the case up between two trees. Out of reach and out of mind, the intelligent food thieves would move on to the next campsite. The top case worked great as a camp kitchen. Unlocking it from the bike and simply placing it on the picnic table allowed easy access for cooking.

Mount Constitution lookout tower; currently closed for repairs.

Mount Constitution lookout tower; currently closed for repairs.

After making a pot of coffee and eating our fire-roasted Spam bagelwiches we were ready to begin day two on Orcas Island and Moran State Park. We rode the motorcycle up to the top of Mount Constitution. At 2,409 feet, this is the highest point in the San Juan Islands. At the summit stands a stone lookout tower with a 360-degree view of the surrounding islands out as far as the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascades Mountains to the East. A strategic spot indeed. The exact reason why battles such as the Pig War broke out in this region as the USA claimed its stake. The castle-like tower is currently closed for repairs, but the summit still provides spectacular views. Making the scenic route to Orcas Island is worth it for this view alone.

The beautiful view from the summit of Mount Constitution. This view alone is worth a trip to Orcas Island.

The beautiful view from the summit of Mount Constitution. This view alone is worth a trip to Orcas Island.

We ride back down the steeply graded road with hairpin turns and corner viewpoints. Towards the bottom we head west to Mountain Lake. Monica and I enjoy a four-mile hike around the lake. This is another easy trail to hike. There are trails from easy to very challenging within the park. We decided to stretch our legs on the easy hikes and enjoy the scenic rides on the motorcycle to the viewpoints along the challenging routes.

The afternoon is spent walking around the bustling tourist town of Eastsound. A must see shop in town is Darvill’s bookstore. I could spend a whole day in this rare print shop. There are many treats to be found here while sampling their fine coffee.

We head back to camp early, as we’re tired from a long day of explorations. After eating hot dogs and s’mores (with Reese’s peanut butter cups this time) we grab our books and read under the lantern in the tent and fall asleep.

Day three is spent checking out the shops that we missed in Eastsound on day two and heading back up Horseshoe Highway to the ferry terminal in Orcas. We arrive at the docks early and check out the shops and touring companies in Orcas. We enjoyed a very tasty ice cream cone from a street stand in Orcas. They served up locally made Lopez Creamery ice cream. It was a little expensive at $5 a cone, but it was very good ice cream. Our ferry is due to leave in a few minutes so we ride the bike to the front of the line of cars waiting to board. Our 15-minute wait for the ferry turns into well over an hour as the ferry is delayed near Anacortes. We meet several other motorcycle riders and chat about our experiences on the island. Everyone was pleased with the experience. One group of riders included grandpa, grandma and grandson who rode up from San Diego, California. G-pa rode a beautiful pearl white BMW K100RS and G-son rode an early ‘70s Triumph Bonneville. That’s a long trip on that old bike, but he’s doing what it was made to do, ride many miles in style. Another gentleman rode a newer Ural with a sidecar. He suggested that we check the make out because we had so much stuff strapped to the bike that we needed the convenience of the side hack. We might have to consider such a machine down the line. For now, the Suzuki V-Strom is tops in my book.

Stop at Bob's Chowder Bar in Anacotes for a great meal on the road

Stop at Bob's Chowder Bar in Anacotes for a great meal on the road

We board the ferry and hitch a ride back to Anacortes. We were planning to eat dinner at home, but the late ferry pushed us to grab a bite in Anacortes. Bob’s Chowder Bar and BBQ Salmon was the perfect place to stop on the main drag through town. The outdoor eating fit perfect with our mood. Indoor eating space is limited, but there if needed. The food was very affordable and pretty damn good. I enjoyed the sublime BBQ beef ribs and Monica had the creamy and delicious clam chowder. I highly recommend Bob’s Chowder Bar in Anacortes.

This is a great trip to add to the middle of the La Conner/Whidbey Island route from my previous article. With a full tummy we take the back roads from Anacortes through La Conner back to Everett. We feel fulfilled after completing our three-day motorcycle camping trip. It was a fantastic ride along more of the best scenic routes in Washington.

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