Take in Lopez Island’s Stunning Views on Two Wheels Instead of Four

Soak in the rural beauty of this small island from the seat of a bike
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

This article appears in print in the October 2018 issue, as part of the Scenic Fall Road Trips cover story. Click here to subscribe.

On one of Lopez Island’s backroads is a green street sign with the words “Less Travelled Rd.” It succinctly sums up one of the big reasons to come to the smallest of the three most visited San Juan Islands. 

Those who travel here for whale watching or kayaking or beachcombing, all popular activities, may miss one of the biggest pleasures: the quiet beauty of rolling hills covered with acres of farms. In the middle of Lopez Island, forested properties that dominate the perimeter give way to open farmland, where sheep graze, bales of hay await collecting, hawks circle overhead looking for their next meal, and small signs point the way down long gravel driveways to farm stands. The best way to soak in this quiet beauty, I’ve found, is from the saddle of a bicycle.

Stop at Spencer Spit State Park for some waterside sights. Photograph by Joan Lindell Olsen 

Lopez is known as the most bike-friendly of the San Juan Islands. While some cycling guides tout it as “flat,” that’s more than a slight exaggeration. It may not have the elevation of the other islands, but you can expect to get a workout on some of the roads, especially the one that comes up from the ferry dock. Don’t let it discourage you. Islanders are friendly to cyclists, the traffic is generally thin—especially when the summer crowds leave—and there’s no shame in bringing your electric bike, or renting one. Village Cycles even delivers rental bikes to the ferry dock.

You can usually find a map of the island on the ferry—or download one on your phone before you set out—but it’s hard to make a wrong turn. It’s a small island. For farm vistas, a route that takes you from Ferry Road to Port Stanley Road makes it easy to detour on Bakerview Road to Spencer Spit State Park, where you can drink in those water views before heading inland. Return to Port Stanley Road to continue, eventually taking a right onto Hummel Lake Road, and you’ll traverse the island past those farmlands and wind up in Lopez Village.

Farms dominate inner Lopez Island. Photograph by Bill Evans Photography. 

This tiny gathering of shops and restaurants is a great place for a lunch break. Some restaurants close or have very limited hours after the high season (and many are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). 

But among those you can expect to be open are the excellent Setsunai Noodle Bar and the community gathering spot Holly B’s Bakery—the latter is the perfect spot to pick up a cookie or cinnamon roll to tuck into your pannier for the ferry ride home. If you wind up spending the night on the island—or return on a very late ferry—book a reservation at acclaimed restaurant Ursa Minor, where the chef is dedicated to serving the foods raised on those farms you’ll cycle by. 

Fueled again, head out to explore farther. How far you go usually depends on the ferry schedule and whether you’re on a day trip or plan to spend the night. Head back to the island’s center for more farm views or go south on the shore-hugging Fisherman Bay Road, with its pristine bay view. Detour to Shark Reef Sanctuary where you can perch on a rock high above the water and gaze out toward San Juan Island. The point here isn’t to rack up the miles, but to take it slow and take it all in. After all, as they say, you’re on island time. 

Photograph by George Willis. Sailboats along the Lopez Village shoreline

Getting there
Take a Washington state ferry from Anacortes, about one and a half hours north of Seattle. The ferry ride to Lopez Island is about 45 minutes. If you ride your bike onto the ferry, you’ll pay the passenger fare of $13.50 plus a $4 surcharge for your bike. No reservation is needed.

Scenic drive staff favorites
“A leisurely drive along Vashon Island’s country roads is one of my favorite scenic trips; it feels a world away from the hustle of city life. From the ferry ride to the rural farm stands and animals, wineries, cideries and quaint little shops you’ll drive by, it’s hard to believe this bucolic slice of heaven—I call it my happy place—is smack in the heart of King County.” Gwendolyn Elliott senior editor

Don’t Miss
Savor the San Juans, a seasonal (through November 10) celebration of farms, food and film, has events throughout the San Juan Islands. Find details at visitsanjuans.com/savor.

Coordinates

Where to eat
Holly B’s Bakery, 211 Lopez Road; 360.622.8133 
Setsunai Noodle Bar, 45 Eads Lane; 360.298.9052
Ursa Minor, 210 Lopez Road; 360.622.2730

What to do
Shark Reef Sanctuary, Shark Reef Road; 360.378.8420
Spencer Spit State Park, 521 Bakerview Road; 360.468.2251
Village Cycles, 214 Lopez Road; 360.468.4013
Washington state ferry informationwsdot.wa.gov/ferries

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