Blonsky: A non-definitive guide to bike overnighters within an hour(ish) of Seattle

EDITOR’S NOTE: Marley originally posted this great beginner’s guide to bike camping trips near Seattle on her blog. Bike camping season started early this year thanks to a very warm winter. Adventure is closer to home than you think.

IMG_4526A year ago, I’d never gone bike camping. My first bike overnighter was in May 2015. Since then I’ve more than made up for lost time, with over 20 trips under my belt.

Most of these trips have been “S24O” outings, a fancy term for a trip that takes fewer than 24 hours (“Sub 24-hour Overnight”). S24Os are perfect. You get to sleep outside, ride your bike and still be back for weekend fun (or responsibilities.)

My personal preference is to pack up Thursday night and ride my loaded bike into work on Friday morning. I’ll then ride directly to the ferry after work, saving valuable time and daylight. One bonus to being on a bike is you never have to wait in line, so even on the busiest days of the year you get onboard. Bikes are the best!

Living in Seattle, I am incredibly lucky. The Washington State ferries that depart from downtown open a world of camping to people on bikes. Within an hour or two biking there are at least five campgrounds. Expand your riding to two and a half hours, and you’ve got at least four more campgrounds. I’ve been to all of these except one (I’m leading a trip there in June), and here are my personal experiences, recommendations and tips for each.

This is totally unofficial and non-definitive, so it’s a good idea to do some of your own research in advance. RidewithGPS, Google Maps (bike layer), and the Washington State Gazateer are all super handy when planning. In all honesty though, none of these campsites are very far off the beaten path, so you can just plug it into your phone and go.

And now, tips, tricks, and recommendations for each:

Illahee State Park

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The ultimate in urban pleasure spots. This hidden gem is only 3.8 miles from the Bremerton Ferry Terminal, albeit mainly uphill. However, with an elevation gain of only 358 ft, it’s basically like climbing Capitol Hill, just on a more rural road. The ride to this park takes you past a few bakeries, one grocery store, a sports bar, and a brewery, so if you’re feeling adventurous, you could leave your stove and food at home and just eat the local food.

Pro-tip for this park: The hiker-biker sites are a little sparse, without even a picnic table or fire ring. From May 15-September, I’d recommend reserving a site if you know you’re coming here. The rest of the year, you can’t make reservations, but it’s not too busy. Once you set up camp and unload your bicycle, make your way down the big hill to the beach. Take a beer and snacks, as there’s a long pier with picnic tables that has a perfect view of Mount Rainier to watch the sunset from.
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Manchester State Park

IMG_7507IMG_7471This park is also super close to Seattle, as the crow flies and is especially convenient if you live in West Seattle. To get here, take the Fauntleroy to Southworth ferry. My favorite way to get here is to pedal out from downtown around Alki, all the way around through Lincoln Park. It adds a few miles on instead of going across West Seattle, but it’s flat, low traffic, and beautiful.

Once you make it to Southworth, the only place to stock up on beer and snacks is a little convenience store on your right as you get off the ferry. The ride from the ferry to Manchester is a relatively flat, low traffic 8 miles. Be sure to stay to the right every chance you get, especially on Yukon Harbor Drive and Colchester, otherwise you’ll be climbing an unnecessary hill. Here’s my RidewithGPS route with a fun little shortcut along the water: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/12618646

The hiker biker sites at Manchester are pretty sweet, but no fire rings. During the off season, you’ll have no problem getting a regular site, but during peak season, if you want to have a fire, be sure to make a reservation.

After you unload your stuff and set up camp, take your bike down to the beach, as there’s some fun single track riding and/or hiking and cool exploration of old historic sites. Definitely a great park with beautiful views.

There’s also a great little pub in Manchester that serves stellar pizza and if memory serves, has $4 beer/shot combination. Not a bad detour on your way into the park.

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Kitsap Memorial State Park

IMG_5155This park is a little bit further out there at 18 miles from the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal, but still totally do-able for a quick overnighter. The ride isn’t my favorite for most of it, as you’ll be on the shoulder of busy roads until Big Valley Road. In my experience, cars tend to pass with care, but perhaps not the best for a novice.  Big Valley Road is MAGICAL and makes the whole ride worth it.

This is another ride where you don’t really need to pack food if you don’t want to, as there’s the greatest grocery store in the world on the way. Central Market in Paulsbo is directly on the route and holy cow- you can get anything there! Seriously, anything. There’s also a rad little local bar just outside the park that has great oysters and they’re really welcoming of bike tourists.

Hiker biker sites here are wonderful- totally separated from the rest of the campers, have tables and fire rings.

When you go, pack your dinner supplies and walk past the play structure, down the path to the beach. The view is unbeatable. Don’t take my word for it though- go see it yourself. And seriously, take Big Valley Road. #roadslikethese was made for that road.

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Green Mountain Horse Camp

IMG_4115Shared recreational area with horse campers, this is probably the most difficult ride that I’ve listed. Bring a bike that can handle a gravel climb. And get ready to climb. The ride is basically flat until you get to the mountain, and then you go up. And up. And up. Technically it’s only 12.7 miles and 1500 feet of climbing, but it took me 3ish hours. (I’m kind of slow though, and I got a bit lost.)

Water is not potable, so bring a filter.  The view from the top is stellar and it’s the 2nd highest peak on the Kitsap Peninsula at 1,639 feet. Worth the extra effort to get to the top once you unload camp supplies.

Note: this is a shared camp with horse campers, so be respectful of them.

There’s a grocery store along the way, as well as a few convenience store, and a great swimming hole at Wildcat Lake, so bring your swimmies!

Fay Bainbridge Park

IMG_4511Fay is probably my least favorite camping spot, but people seem to love it, as it’s easy to get to, a quick ferry ride, and you can see Seattle. At 6.9 miles, it’s an easy ride too. It’s not my favorite because I feel like I’m camping in a Walmart parking lot.

The hiker biker sites are basically just along the parking lot- they just don’t feel very special to me. But, if it’s your thing, cool. I know you can get pizza delivered here, so that’s cool?

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Branching out further

Going out a bit further, there are even more options for camping, including Scenic Beach State Park, Twanoh State Park, Tolt MacDonald, and Iron Horse Park. I love these too, and have gone to a few of them for S24O, but sometimes those are better for longer trips.

So many options, and so many great weekends coming up to take advantage of these parks. Remember as you head out to practice Leave No Trace principles and to be good stewards of our awesome resources.

About Marley Blonsky

Marley Blonsky is an adventure-loving, everyday bike rider who's lived in Seattle for 12 years. She's passionate about making biking fun, safe and accessible for all, and is on the board of The Bikery.
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12 Responses to Blonsky: A non-definitive guide to bike overnighters within an hour(ish) of Seattle

  1. Tom Fucoloro says:

    Thanks for this post, Marley! I can’t believe I haven’t been to Illahee State Park yet. Must fix that immediately :-)

  2. ronp says:

    Great post, psyched to try these trips out! Thanks!

  3. Mark says:

    There are empty lots everywhere. Wildcat camp it.

  4. KEven says:

    Also, Kent Kangley Park in east King County. Very urban ride to get there, but once out of Kent and up the climb, it gets downright bucolic.

  5. Keven says:

    Kent Kangley in east King County is a good one too. It was about 50 miles each way from Greenwood. Once you climb out of Kent, it gets nice and green. There is a small store to stock up on Rainier and goodies nearby. Also a tavern.

  6. RM says:

    Penrose Point Park is another nice one. Bike down to Fauntleroy ferry then head south. The highways and side roads are pretty nice with the wide shoulders.

  7. FraidyCat says:

    Thanks for this list! Can anyone comment about the road conditions for cycling with a small child in a seat or trailer on these routes? I’ve done Fay Bainbridge with the little guy on the bike, but those roads felt a little too narrow/fast for my liking. I’m particularly intrigued by Manchester, but can’t get a good sense of the road conditions from Google Maps.

    • I’d recommend Manchester State Park for family bikers. I think it has the lowest traffic roads and is the flattest ride, plus, you can shorten the distance by taking the C line bus from downtown to West Seattle (and back) if your bike is bus compatible.

  8. Gene Bisbee says:

    Further afield, at least from Green Lake, is Tolt-MacDonald County Park in Carnation. Most of the route is on trails — Burke–Gilman, Sammamish River, East Lake Sammamish, and Issaquah – Preston, and part of Preston-Snoqualmie — with a short stretch on busy Preston-Fall City Road. From Fall City, the remainder of the ride is on quiet farm roads. A short cut uses 202 out of Redmond (with a climb over Tolt Hill).

    Re: Kanaskat-Palmer State Park … You can use the Cedar River Trail to cover a good part of the distance.

  9. CM says:

    Thanks for the great tip about taking your dinner to the beach at Kitsap Memorial State Park. Did just that this weekend and enjoyed a spectacular sunset! Love the hiker/biker sites there too.

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