Bike routes and travel tips from Vancouver, BC to Portland, OR
July 14, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on bike routes and bike-on-train travel tips from Vancouver, BC to Portland, OR

My wife and I are hoping to visit the west coast in august, and also hoping to get in a bit of biking.

The current plan involves driving to Vancouver, riding our bikes [and either camping or hosteling along the way] to Portland, visiting there for a little bit, and then taking Amtrak back to Vancouver.

We have enough time to either go a direct-ish route or to go along the coast if that is amazing. What I don't know includes:
-wind/rain/etc for that region in august
-bike routes with either lower traffic, wider shoulders, or both
-how to take a bicycle on Amtrak
-marvellous things to see on the way

I know there is a race [Seattle to Portland] and the route for that is published. Is that a nice route, or just a fast one? Is going around Olympic National Park the right thing to do?

Leaving from Victoria is equally feasible.
posted by Acari to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is also a ride from Seattle to Vancouver called RSVP. You may want to look into that route as well.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:07 PM on July 14, 2011

The STP route is a pretty nice route - obviously it doesn't go down the coast, but the STP route also has the advantage of not being insanely hilly. There's one big stretch of loooooooong hill a little more than half way down, but other than that it's mostly rolling hills which aren't too bad. It's a lovely ride, too, scenic in a not-coasty way and you roll through lots of little towns so there's plenty of places to stop if you feel like a quick rest break.

I'm not as familiar with the Washington coast, but the Oregon coast is beautiful for riding. Highway 101 has pretty narrow shoulders and in August will be pretty heavily trafficked, though, so if that isn't your cup of tea you might want to give it a miss.
posted by pdb at 3:08 PM on July 14, 2011

To make sure you and your bike get on board, get to the train station early and communicate with all available Amtrak staff at all times. You'll need to remove any panniers from the bike and carry them with you into the train, so have bags that are portable.

Going through Victoria and NW Washington would be beautiful, albeit a somewhat longer trip. You could take a ferry from north Vancouver to Nanaimo, and bike from there to Victoria and ferry to Port Angeles. You could bike down Rt. 101 towards Olympia, or take the 101 to 104, to the 3, and the Bainbridge Island ferry to Seattle. You'd bypass rail this way, as well as two-lane highways. Shoulders are fairly wide on the 101, up until it splits off to the 104.

If you go south from Vancouver through Bellingham, you could bike on Chuckanut Drive and work your way south through Deception Pass and Whidbey Island, then south through Everett towards Seattle. Good bike routes through here, as well as amazing views.

I haven't done the STP yet, can't say much about that.

The summer here in Seattle has been a bit weird. You should have nice weather in August, though, relatively cool and sunny.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:11 PM on July 14, 2011

Good advice above. One note for trains, make sure you purchase tickets for the Amtrak Cascades rather than the Coast Starlight. The former has bike hooks in a baggage car, while the latter requires you to box your bike. When you purchase your Amtrak tickets you can purchase bike accommodations for $5. The Coast Starlight is also routinely delayed due to having a bajillion miles to travel before getting to Portland, while the Cascades starts in Eugene.

If you can go mid-week there's a lot to recommend 101 along the coast, it's supremely beautiful and has lots of options for camping. If you are going inland, the RSVP route is good but perhaps not optimal, this detour route is less hilly and has a similar traffic profile. The STP route is relatively direct and flat with a few annoying parts - mostly caused by urban sprawl and the supremely inconvenient location of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Once you get past that though it's quite pleasant, rolling hills and rural communities. One optimization that works better for a couple folks than a giant STP horde is to take the South leg of the Interurban Trail once you get to Tukwila.

If you've got time in Portland and you're not sick of biking when you get there, I highly recommend a ride up the Columbia River Gorge along the Historic Columbia River Highway. ODOT put together an awesome map.
posted by lantius at 4:23 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We can definitely travel no weekdays, so the 101 sounds excellent.

So for the moment, it sounds like -
chuckanut, deception pass, then onto the mainland for the 101 at port townsend, then 101 down to aberdeen, then wiggle through the stp route to portland, maybe.

But there's lots of links here that I haven't looked through yet - thanks for the advice!

Especially about the train!
posted by Acari at 5:32 PM on July 14, 2011

First off, welcome to Port Townsend. Enjoy.

Aberdeen is pretty far out of the way with little reward. Were you planning 101 out to Port Angeles and then down the west end to Aberdeen? Or down Hood Canal?
posted by humboldt32 at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2011

Response by poster: I didn't even see that there was a road by Hood Canal. Is the fact that Olympic Highway gets a name a pretty good indication that it is awesome? I would guess so.
posted by Acari at 11:00 PM on July 14, 2011

Re: "gets a name"

I-80 through the Bonneville Salt Flats probably has a name too. Soooo...

101 on the west end is really quite dismal. It's a lot of clear cuts, very desolate and isolated. Only a small stretch fronts the ocean and almost none of it is in the Olympic National Park. The Hood Canal route is much more scenic with pretty good shoulders, but lots of traffic in the summer and lots of tight spots.

It's a tough call wether to avoid coming out to the peninsula entirely or not. Feel free to PM me for more detail. I'll also watch this thread.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:41 AM on July 15, 2011

Two good resources: Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast bike route maps and Bicycling the Pacific Coast book. The Pacific Coast is a very popular bike route and most people on the route use one or both of these. I like the Adventure Cycling maps myself (more detail). It is well worth it to follow the maps down back roads rather than getting stuck on the side of the highway. In my experience, Highway 101 is not much fun in the summer, even on the weekdays (we just finished biking from Seattle to SF last week). Following the Adventure Cycling route, the ride from Bremerton (on the opposite side of Puget Sound from Seattle) to the Columbia River was not too heavily trafficked and quite pleasant. I think you could follow the STP route once you hit the Columbia. The Oregon Coast is quite nice but is a fair bit out of your way (and the nicest part is further south anyways). Of course, this route wouldn't take you along the coast much at all, so if biking near the ocean is important to you, then you might want to make the tradeoff for a less desirable route nearer the ocean.

Rain is always a possibility. As far as wind, you should be fine (prevailing winds are from the north).
posted by ssg at 3:28 PM on July 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks again to everyone!

We ended going through bellingham, down chuckanut, across deception pass and then taking the ferry to port townsend. From there we got a bike route map from a local bike shop, which helped a lot, and went down hood canal, through shelton and olympia, and then eventually found ourselves on the stp route which had super-helpful arrows painted on the road so we didn't even bother looking at maps most of the time.

No flat tires, no major malfunctions, no crashes.

We took 8 days to get there, though we'd planned on something like 11-14. We took a million snack breaks and didn't push hard [except when forced to by terrain].

Chuckanut, whidbey/fidalgo islands, and hood canal were the prettiest parts.

We got to spend most of a week in portland at the end, being lazy, drinking many beers [Bailey's Taproom[?] was an excellent place to find!], and having tasty meals. The train back was exactly as described, though they only had bike hooks for one of us [I brought a folding bike, so no big deal].

A success, thanks in no small part to your suggestions.

[but whoever didn't remind me to bring our PADI cards...]
posted by Acari at 9:42 AM on September 7, 2011

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