Lopez Island Tour

Pastoral and people-friendly, expect the passing traffic to wave a greeting.

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Without as much traffic as Orcas or San Juan Island, Lopez is heaven to cyclists both because of fewer cars but also because it is relatively level. Riders can plan a 20-mile to a 40-mile loop on the island — just perfect for a day trip. And the island also boasts one of the nicest campgrounds in the San Juan chain at Spencer Spit.

History

 
A British reorganization of Admiralty charts in 1847 named this island after Gonzalo López de Haro, one of the officers in the Spanish 1791 expedition through the islands.  The islands had been occupied for years by Coastal Salish, a collection of tribes that includes the Snohomish, Lummi and Tulalip. 
 
It wasn’t until 1850, after the gold rush in California that white settlers began to arrive.  One of the first was Hiram E. Hutchinson, who helped local tribes fend off raids from Haida slavers from the north, and then married a Tlingit woman.  Additional homesteaders would arrive after the American Civil War, turning Lopez and the other islands into a provisioner of fruit, fish, beef, mutton and timber for passing ship traffic.
 
Two salmon canneries processed more than 1 million fish annually at Richardson on the south end of Lopez Island (with a third major cannery in Friday Harbor).  The Richardson canneries operated for eight years until shortly after World War I and at their peak employed 400 people.  The canneries, fuel dock and general store made Richardson an active port.  In 1985 the Lundy’s General Store was named to the National Historic Registry but would burn down five years later.  Today only the Richardson commercial fuel dock remains.  Friday Harbor’s cannery would last until the 1950s before closing.

Car ferries began operating in the 1920s through the San Juans.  The Black Ball Line would buy the initial ferry company and add service to Lopez Island in 1926, landing at the northern tip, as the ferry does today.  In 1951, the state’s new Washington Ferries would acquire Black Ball and maintain service to the same four islands served today.

  

Places to visit

 
The major decision facing visitors who want to tour the whole island is whether to do it clockwise or counterclockwise?  If you’re hungry, do it counterclockwise because Lopez Village is where most of the facilities are located and it is only four miles from the ferry.
 

Lopez resident near the village

This tour takes you through Lopez Village first but links to clockwise trip, which starts in farmland, are included too. 

 
Cyclists will start the first ½ mile riding uphill, then continue downhill for the next 1.6 miles on Ferry Road.  Turn right on Fisherman Bay Road for ½ mile (the main road down the west side is one of the busiest) but continue strait at Military Road to get away from vehicle traffic.  Military Road will turn left and become Lopez Road, going straight into the village.

 

 

 

Lopez Village

It’s been a tough four miles: time for a latté.  The village has a bakery, bar, several cafés and now — two supermarkets, with the opening of a large new store in April 2010.  Also in the village are the library and the Lopez Island Historical Museum, open in the afternoons during the summer.  On Saturdays during the summer, the farmer’s market is also in the village.
 

Kenmore Air flight splashes down at Fisherman Bay 

 
Lopez Island Historical Museum (opens late April for summer)
Hours: noon – 4 p.m.
Weeks Road in Lopez Village
 

Lopez Historical Museum in Lopez Village 

 
Leaving Lopez Village you’ll go south on Fisherman Bay Road, passing one of the island’s bike shops and the Lopez Islander Bay Resort, the main hotel on the island.  The Galley, a restaurant which frequently has a band in the evening, is next do on Fisherman Bay Road.  After about two miles, turn right on Bayshore Drive.  This two-mile long road follows the sandspit around Fisherman Bay harbor, with views of Friday Harbor to the west from Otis Perkins Park and a view of the narrow bay entrance at The Spit Preserve.

 

Shark Reef Sanctuary

From Lopez Village to Shark Reef is about five miles.  Traffic is lighter on this portion of Fisherman Bay Road but turn west at Airport Road to avoid it entirely.  Lopez Airport has a 2,900’ runway for light planes and the Lopez Golf Club is next to the landing field.  Like all island golf courses the greens are watered but fairways are brown in the summer.

The Shark Reef Wildlife Sanctuary is a county park near the end of Shark Reef Road and has one of the few old growth timber stands on the island.  The park looks out over Cattle Point on San Juan Island to the west.  On Deadman Island and other rocks immediately offshore dozens of sea lions sun themselves on the rocks.

Leaving Shark Reef you’ll go east on Burt Road, which has a beautiful vista of Davis Bay.

 

Center Church and Union Cemetery

The oldest church and cemetery on the island are on Davis Bay Road, 1 mile north of Burt Road.  The son of the first white settler, Millard Hutchinson, is buried in Union Cemetery along with many of the other early homesteaders on the island.  The cemetery is next to Center Church, built in 1887, and a popular location for weddings and Christmas concerts.  Also on Davis Bay Road is the James Ernest Davis House, a large farmhouse built in 1913-14.

After this jog up Davis Bay Road, return to Burt Road and continue until it ends at Richardson Road. 

You’ll pass property owned by the Tulalip Tribe on the way to Richardson, once a bustling port but now only a commercial fuel dock.

 

Agate Beach

From Richardson, continue east (right) along Vista Road, then right on Mud Bay Road.  Just past the turnoff to Mackaye Harbor Road is the Islandale Store, one of the few stores outside Lopez Village.  The store has a deli where you can order sandwiches. 

It is about 1.5 miles from the store to Agate Beach, a public beach and picnic area. On the way you’ll pass Barlow Bay, once home to commercial fishing boats.  The agates on this beach are volcanic quartz that has been smoothed by water.    

Cyclists have a choice on the return: turn right on Aleck Bay Road (which adds 3 miles to the ride) or continue back to Mud Bay Road for the return trip north. 

 

Spencer Spit State Park

The return trip takes Mud Bay Road to Center Road, climbing to one of the highest points of the island at the Lopez Island school campus.  On a warm day, temperatures can rise from 70o F (21o C) near the water to 90o F (32o C) by the time that you arrive at the school. 

Take a right on Schoolhouse Road.  At the end of Schoolhouse Road is Lopez Hill Road and a 400-acre hiking and mountain biking park.

The rest of the ride north to Spencer Spit is through farm land.  At Hummel Lake Road you’re within ¼ mile of the lake, a public park just west of Port Stanley Road and is stocked for fishermen.

Spencer Spit State Park is off Baker View Road (a right turn from Port Stanley Road).  The park has 37 campsites, some among tall Douglas firs and a half-dozen along the beach.  The park is known for its sandspit that stretches out to the east, coming within about 100 yards of the steep-sided Frost Island.  The water between the spit and the island is deep enough to allow power boats to pass at high tide.  After Labor Day the park empties out.  A recent mid-September trip had only about six of the campsites occupied, despite stunning late summer weather.

At low tide, the spit is an excellent clamming area.  In the evening pleasure boats are anchored on both sides of the spit and the park has a dozen mooring buoys for boaters.  The picnic shelter at the base of the hill is part of the old Spencer family home.  The Spencer family owned this land until it was acquired by the Washington state park system in 1967.

 

Port Stanley Schoolhouse

Leaving Spencer Spit, turn right and follow Port Stanley Road for about one mile to the Port Stanley Schoolhouse.

The building was constructed in 1889 as a community hall, then converted to a school in 1917.  When all schools on the island were consolidated in 1941 to the present location at the center of Lopez Island, the school was abandoned.  The county historical society restored it in 2003.

 

Odlin County Park

We skipped this part at the start of the trip because it is only 2 miles from the ferry but it is a nice place to visit on a day trip if there is time before your ferry leaves.  As you return to the ferry dock on Port Stanley Road, Odlin is near the intersection with Ferry Road. 

If you’re planning to camp, the park is part of the county system and has 30 spaces for tent camping.  Reservations are recommended for summer camping.

 

Festivals and Fairs

 

Farmers Market (Saturdays)
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Lopez Village

 

Tour de Lopez Bike Tour (April)

 

4th of July Parade/Barbecue/Fireworks

 

“Tree” Lighting (Thanksgiving Weekend)

 

 

 

Dining and Accommodations

 

Lodging

 

We’ve mentioned the two parks with camping.  There is also camping (and five cottages) at Lopez Farm, located at the intersection of Fisherman’s Bay Road and Military Road.

Lopez Farm Cottages
(800) 440-3556

http://www.lopezfarmcottages.com/

The “large” hotel on the island is Lopez Islander Resort, with 30 rooms.  And it has a swimming pool.
Lopez Islander Bay Resort
(360) 468-2233 

 

As with all of the islands, there are several number of bed & breakfast choices. 

Lopez Chamber of Commerce
Bed & Breakfast Directory

http://www.lopezisland.com/directory.php?c=lodg&s=bnb

 

Restaurants

 
Lopez Chamber of Commerce
Restaurant Directory

http://www.lopezisland.com/directory.php?c=rest&s=rest

 

 

How to get there

 

Lopez Island

 
The Washington state ferry system is the public highway for the islands, leaving Anacortes for Shaw, Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands.  In addition, one ferry a day makes the trip to Vancouver Island.  Passengers (and vehicles) pay only for the west-bound trip.
 
In order to guarantee space for travelers, the state ferry system has a quota for the minimum number of vehicles that can load for the eastbound trip to Anacortes.
 
Schedules change for each season.  Reservations are taken ONLY for the international ferry to Vancouver Island.  During non-peak hours, passengers often arrive 30 minutes before sailing but it is wise to check the Anacortes terminal website or one of the ferrycams operated by the state to see if lines are longer, which they often are on weekends.   Parking is also available at Anacortes for walk-on and bike passengers.
 
Kenmore Air is a float plane service that provides air transportation between Seattle and three of the largest islands.  At Lopez Island the float planes land at the Islander Resort on Fisherman’s Bay.
 
San Juan Airlines also operates Cessna Stationair planes to the airports at Friday Harbor, Lopez Island, Eastsound (on Orcas Island) and Roche Harbor.

 

For access to the smaller islands, boats can be chartered in Anacortes.  Those interested in chartering should inquire in detail about reef areas, which are abundant around the islands.  Captains should also be equipped with tide charts, as at their peak some areas like Cattle Point (between Lopez and San Juan Island) have a tidal current of 8 knots or more.
 
Anacortes Yacht Charter

http://www.ayc.com/

ABC Yacht Charter 

 

 

Nearby attractions

 

The state ferry runs to three other large islands in the San Juan chain:

Orcas Island

San Juan Island

Shaw Island

 

 

References

 

Afoot & Afloat: The San Juan Islands
Marge & Ted Mueller, Mountaineers Books, 2008

http://www.mountaineersbooks.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1244

 

Lopez Bicycle Works Map

 

Lopez Chamber of Commerce
“Lopez Map & Guide,” 2009-2010

http://www.lopezisland.com/files/CofCmap09.pdf

 

Seattle Bicycle Club
“Lopez Island Bike Scenic: 37 miles,” 2009 (counterclockwise)

http://www.seattlebiketours.org/members/maps/lopez_island_scenic_37.pdf

 

Google Books
“A Falcon Guide to the San Juan Islands,” p. 145 (clockwise)

http://books.google.com/books?id=lukAbwMf1soC&lpg=PA149&ots=3kpmN_C2NJ&dq=%22lopez%20island%22%20davis%20bay%20road&pg=PA145#v=onepage&q=%22lopez%20island%22%20davis%20bay%20road&f=false

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last edited: 9/30/2011