Xtracycle Bike Camping (with Kids)

Lopez Island Campsite

For those of you who were wondering, no, the heat wave hasn’t lasted three weeks. We’ve just been lazy bloggers of late!

We recently returned from a fantastic short bike camping trip with our kids. Tim and I haven’t been bike touring in 15 years. Not sure why, I guess we just haven’t made it a priority. Our kids are now old enough to carry some of their own weight (both on and off the bike) so we decided to give it a whirl.

Huge success.

Our destination:  Lopez island in the San Juan Islands, a classic Northwest bike tour. The San Juan Islands are touring gems, and for good reason. Scenery is beautiful, the ferries make it fun and convenient to shuttle between the islands, people are friendly, and if you choose the right islands and the right route, the hills aren’t too bad.  Best of all, once you’ve unloaded from the ferry and lets the high-speed hordes roar past, you’re free to roam on relatively traffic-free roads.

Before we left, Tim outfitted the eight-year-old’s bike with a rack and borrowed  panniers, allowing her to carry her own sleeping bag, thermarest and clothes. She relished the responsibility of being in charge of her stuff and riding her own bike.

Though he tried to convince us otherwise, the six-year-old is not quite old enough to pilot his bike for longer distances. While he does great in the city, he gets distracted quite easily so we didn’t think he was ready to tackle bike touring. Maybe next summer. (By the way, even though he’s convinced it’s totally not fair that he had to ride on the snapdeck, the parents  are sure we made the right decision. So there.)

Anderson's General Store, Guemes IslandWe started the trip on lovely Guemes Island, a small island just an 8-minute ferry ride from Anacortes. Tim’s friend, Charlotte, operates her family’s restaurant and  General Store there. We spent a night at her house, enjoying island hospitality, and catching up with an old friend.

We also relished the opportunity to sample all three meals at the Cafe.  Compliments to chef Yo, it was all so yummy!

The next day, we left our t(rusty) van parked and took the ferry back to Anacortes where we set out on our bikes for the San Juan Island ferry, a long-feeling 3.5 mile ride from the Guemes ferry. This was the hairiest part of the trip. The road to the ferry lacks much shoulder and the traffic is fast and frantic. Everyone is zipping by with little space to spare, either late for something and/or eager to get to and wait in a 2+ hour ferry line). Luckily the 8-year-old is traffic savvy. We sandwiched her between our two longbikes and plugged through the frenzy at a relatively steady pace.

The ferry lines to the San Juans can be out of hand if traveling by car. I’ve heard  to 2-3 hours waits are common in summer, and sometimes longer.  No worries on a bike, the perfect island mode of transport. We arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled departure, zipped into the ticket office, paid our fares, made our way to the bike loading area, and still walked on the ferry with time to spare.  Bike Line at the Ferry[editorial from Tim: I still think the bike surcharge is a joke. It’s almost like they want you to drive. We could have ferried another 4000lbs of car for just $8.50 more ($54.70 for two adults, two youth, and three bike surcharges vs. $63.20 for two adults, two youth, and a 20′ or under big fat stinky car loaded with as many bikes on it as it can carry)].

Once up the mega hill from ferry terminal, it was mostly flat or downhill to our campsite (and around the island).

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in a beachfront site at Odlin County Park . We took in beautiful sunsets, played on the beach, combed for sea creatures during low tide, and even took a few “hikes” through the park. All in all, a great family adventure.

Things to remember for our next trip:

Bring better food. We haven’t been backpacking or bike touring in so long, we forgot how to pack good food that doesn’t weigh much. It wasn’t terrible, just uninspired.

Boxed wine is your friend. Who wants to deal with a heavy bottle or two?  Charlotte recommended a few different varieties that she carries in the store. Not bad at all (though we should have bought two).


Camper Bike, a functioning sculptural piece, http://www.kevincyr.net

Stuff will smother you. Avoid bringing too much stuff or you’ll quickly start to feel like this guy with the bike RV:

I think we did pretty good in the stuff category. We aren’t lightweight campers by any means, but our stuff didn’t overwhelm us either.

All in all, I’d say it was a success. No one got mad, the kids were troopers, and they really enjoyed the trip. We can’t wait to go again!

We’d love to hear any tips from experienced family bike campers. If you have any advice, please leave a comment!

More photos here.

– Anne


7 responses to “Xtracycle Bike Camping (with Kids)

  1. Hey Tim and Anne,
    Great to read about your latest adventure…you guys have to help set me up with an xtracycle, I’m sick and tired of buzzing to the grocery store when I should be riding but need more than a backpack to haul food- lame excuse, but I’d love to bring some of this to the south end- I know it’s possible!!!

    • Hey Karin, That’s good to hear! We’ll help you get set up. Maybe you should all come up for a BBQ and try out our bikes!

  2. sounds like a great trip! We did some bike camping on Bainbridge earlier this summer, though the group also had a sag wagon along as there were small babies accompanying us. It was fun though, and the kids had a great time. We had the bike train: bike + trail-a-bike + trailer. How do you put your xtracycles on the van?

    • Hey George – I’m impressed that you went bike camping with your little ones.

      Tim promises to do a post about the Xtracycle carrying bike rack soon! It’s not pretty but it works.

  3. Tim I could not agree more! The ferry fees for cycles are ludricious! We were stunned the last time we went to Orcas. On the plus side, you don’t have to get in line 2-3 hours ahead of time.

  4. My 7 year old daughter and I are doing an X camping trip on Wednesday – it’s a 24 mile trip out to Twin Harbors State Park in Westport, WA. I’m a bit nervous for hauling all the stuff and for the highway that everyone says scary stuff about. But I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

    We live in Hoquiam, WA – so if you ever head out to the coast let us know. I have an X and my husband a Kona Ute. We’d love to ride with another family.

  5. Pingback: Part 1: Bike camping at Parc de Plaisance – Getting there from Ottawa | Modal Mom

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