Lopez Island by Bike

A rural expanse framed by 63 miles of rugged Pacific Northwest coastline in the San Juan chain, Washington State’s Lopez Island is big with back-to-the-landers, software moguls, and artists looking for tranquillity amid the giant fir trees.

Its position in the rain shadow (that’s Pacific Northwest-speak for sunnier than Seattle), relatively flat terrain, and a rep for friendly locals—yes, they’re waving at you, perfect stranger—make it ideal for cycling. So ditch the car on the mainland, hop a ferry or seaplane, and take a spin on two wheels. Here’s how to do it.

> Get Centered: Didn’t bring your own ride? Reserve a rental with Village Cycles, which will drop off a bike for you at the ferry landing.

Warm up with a two-mile pedal south to medicinal herb farm Whispers of Nature to walk its labyrinth, clearing your mind of mainland worries and tuning in to the island’s neo-hippie vibe.

Visit Shark Reef Sanctuary on the west side of Lopez Island. (Photograph by Greg Vaughn, Alamy)
Visit Shark Reef Sanctuary on the west side of Lopez Island. (Photograph by Greg Vaughn, Alamy)

> Local Largesse: Once you reach Lopez Village, follow your nose to Holly B’s Bakery for a marionberry scone. On Saturdays, the farmers market showcases the island’s generous bounty, from Barn Owl Bakery’s wood-fired, organic bread to Papa George’s sockeye salmon, caught locally by reef netting, a fishing technique developed by the indigenous Coast Salish.

Duck into the tasting room at Lopez Island Vineyards for a nip of the coveted island-grown organic wines such as the floral Madeleine Angevine, a grape that originated in the Loire Valley. Enjoy a languid lunch (or dinner) of Shoal Bay clams and chorizo at the Bay Café, overlooking Fisherman’s Bay.

> Art Fix: The island has a thriving community of artists, some of whom sell their work at the farmers market, like ceramicist Nancy Bingham’s pottery hand-painted with nature scenes inspired by the Northwest.

Find more art and get the scoop on which studios on the island are open at Chimera Gallery, a cooperative of local artists that includes glassblowers and botanical illustrators.

> Soak Up the Scenery: A long ride due south is rewarded by quintessential Pacific Northwest seascapes. At Shark Reef Sanctuary, trace the wooded path on foot to a rocky shore where harbor seals and sea lions lounge in a backdrop of San Juan Channel and Cattle Point Lighthouse.

This piece, reported by Margaret Loftus, first appeared in the May 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.


  1. Linda Hudson
    Lopez Island, WA
    June 24, 2015, 8:13 pm

    OK, where is his helmet? I fell off my bike on Lopez Island two months ago and the left side of my helmet was shaved off in the fall…..guess what my scalp/head would have looked like without my helmet???? A bloooooody mess!

  2. Abi
    June 22, 2015, 3:05 pm

    Ah, how I’d love to hit two wheels and the open road as shown in that pic. I will be soon – til then, work!