The glorious scenery of Western Washington is shrouded in a blanket of temperate marine clouds for several months per year. Many of us riders keep our wheels turning throughout the year, despite it feeling like you’re riding through the vegetable section at the grocery store — the constant mist keeps us fresh.
When the sun begins to burn through our winter blanket, riders are very eager to hit the road. The lingering snow in the Cascade mountains and foothills pushes adventures to the lower elevations. For this reason, one of my favorite spring-time rides is out on the island, Whidbey Island.
Whidbey Island sits just off the mainland in the waters of the Puget Sound. It basically runs longitudinally, with the main roads going North-South. The Seattle-metro area sprawls to the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry that serves Whidbey Island. For our most recent Whidbey Island road trip, we decided to start to the north and ride south.
Our ride actually starts near the Snohomish and Skagit county line. There are a handful of non-freeway routes that will get you up to the starting point in Conway and on to Fir Island Road. Fir Island Road slices through lush Skagit Valley farmland dividing it up into sections of land held above water by a vast system of dikes. The fertile land produces many cash crops, such as tulips, iris, potatoes and more. The flowers are particularly popular with tourists during the Skagit Valley Tulip festival held in April every year.
Fir Island turns into Best Road as it climbs up a small hill. As it drops down again, turn onto Chilberg Road toward the historic town of La Conner. The town has many food and retail options. We take the very first left turn onto Maple Avenue to circumvent the busy business core. Rainbow Bridge soon arches gracefully over the Swinomish Channel that once carried steamboats north from Seattle and on to Bellingham. On the other side of the bridge we ride through the Swinomish Reservation and almost immediately turn left onto Snee Oosh Road. Now firmly on Fidalgo Island, the road provides beautiful views over the waters of Simlik Bay before connecting with Reservation Road to continue north where we follow Washington State Route 20.
We aren’t ready to turn toward Whidbey Island just yet so we ride past the intersection for SR20 and Deception Pass Road. Instead, we head to the round-a-bout in Anacortes and follow it all the way around to Commercial Avenue.
We wind through the neighborhood to H Avenue and Heart Lake Road. This road takes us through the incredible park known as the Anacortes Community Forest Lands.
According to a Wikipedia article, the area was once a city revenue source from logging, the local community banned together in the 1990’s to stop logging operations and create multi-purpose trails for hiking, horse and motorized use. Within the 1,500-acre ACFL park is Mt Erie. At 1,273-feet, Mt. Erie is the highest point on Fidalgo Island. Riding up the paved and twisting road to the top opens an incredible view of the San Juan Islands, Cascade Mountains, Mount Baker and even the Olympic Mountains on particularly clear days. After taking in the views, which includes Whidbey Island to the South, we fire up the Suzuki V-Strom 650 and stroll back down the hill to Heart Lake Road and continue South. At the “Y” intersection, keep the left and Campbell Lake Road will connect with SR20, Deception Pass Road.
Originally, explorers thought that Whidbey Island was a peninsula. Explorers make mistakes and the small passage of Deception Pass is aptly named for it’s trickery of the famous Vancouver Expedition. Lucky us motorcyclists, the Deception Pass Bridge carries road-goers 180 feet above the turbulent tidal waters below. We ride slowly along the nearly quarter-mile long bridge expanse to soak in the views as we cross. At the intersection past the bridge is the entrance to Deception Pass State Park. A Washington State Discover Pass is required to enter. The gate keepers insisted that we hang our pass on the bike or risk a $99 ticket. It wasn’t the best welcome to a paying customer. We feel unwelcome at Deception Pass State Park and leave.
Now officially on the island, there is one main route north to south comprised of two roads, SR20 and SR525. These roads are busy. There are many side roads that provide a more scenic experience. We trodded off along the northwest portion of the island before arriving to Oak Harbor. The map below shows the actual route, but I highly suggest putting the map away. You’re on an island. You’re not going to get lost, but attempting to is the beauty of being on Whidbey Island.
We find ourselves on Dike Road by accident. To the west, the buzzing traffic of SR20 was visible. It looked hectic, but was well camouflaged by the views of the water trapped by the dike and surrounding grassy field. My head turns to the east jus as my wife chimes in in over the wireless intercom, “Look there’s a Bald Eagle perched right over there.” Just 100 yards into the tidelands was the large bird feasting on young minnow-sized fish. Nature and wildlife is abundant on the island. All you have to do is let the beaten path sink into the camouflage, slow down and enjoy it.
My #1 pillion and I take turns calling the preferred direction of travel at each intersection. We run into several dead ends. Some were well forested, while others developed communities. Most dished up scenic views of what makes the island life so enticing.
Eventually our somewhat random calling of directions brings us to downtown Oak Harbor. We walk the main strip, grabbing ice cream at Popsies (http://www.popsies.com) and coffee at Whidbey Island Coffee as we meander in and out of seas of antiques, gifts and Paint Your World — a great little store where you paint your own pottery.
After the caffeine and sugar sink in, we mount the V-Strom and continue south. Without giving away too many mapped constrictions, I suggest you zig to the numerous state parks while you zag to the little towns that dot the island. Just be aware of the state park gate keepers as they aren’t friendly to motorcyclists. The views are worth dealing with their poor service.
If at any point you need to get home, then SR20 or SR525 will get you on the way. Our next trip to Whidbey Island will likely include a tent. The island can easily be zoomed through and looped with I-5 for road trips out of Seattle. A tent or bed and breakfast would enhance the experience.
A few interesting stops on Whidbey Island include:
- Useless Bay Coffee in Langley
- Meerkerk Gardens just south of Greenbank
- Greenbank Farm, which is a former farm and Chateau Ste. Michelle-owned winery that is now art galleries, café, trails and more.
The town of Clinton is the final stop on Whidbey Island. From here, the ferry crosses over to Mukilteo. As traffic builds the hustle and bustle is hard to escape. The Tin Fish is where I often go for incredible fish tacos while I sit on the patio and let the mainland sink in. It is my personal hyperbaric chamber that helps me safely handle the mainland pressures.