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.
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
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.
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.
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
Dining and Accommodations
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.
As with all of the islands, there are several number of bed & breakfast choices.
How to get there
The state ferry runs to three other large islands in the San Juan chain: