The Pacific Coast Bike Route
Considered one of the most scenic biking trails anywhere in the world, the Pacific Coast Bike Route is a must-do itinerary on any biker’s bucket list. Starting from Canada, just across the border from the United States, it spans over 1700 miles of stunning scenery on the Western Coast.
One can easily cover about 50 miles a day but will still require about 40 days to finish this route – the reward is a once-in-a-lifetime experience across quaint towns, stunning beaches, historic lighthouses, and museums, National and State Parks, national monuments, and a fecund wildlife, quintessential of the majestic western coast.
The Pacific Coast Route begins in the picturesque city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Before long, the trail leaves behind the busy suburbs and enters the lush green farmlands in the outskirts of the city.
It trails the Canadian coast only too briefly, before crossing the international border, and entering the United States at Blaine, this time traversing through the green rural farms and paddocks of Washington.
The route then crosses the straits of Deception Pass, to enter Whidbey Island (Deception pass being so named as eminent expeditioner, George Vancouver, was ‘deceived’ to believe that Whidbey Island was actually a peninsula).
The island is home to a large US naval base, where you can see test jets flying and performing their acrobatics. A scenic ferry takes you through the sounds of the Pacific, back to the mainland to Port Townsend.
Here, you’ll enter the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic National Park – the last of the wilderness of the continent that was explored only as late as the 1900s. The route is strewn with small cozy towns, while frequently kissing the Pacific coast until you reach Bremerton, where if interested, you can take a ferry to the cosmopolitan Seattle – the largest city in the Pacific northwest.
Take in your share of skyscrapers, tick the iconic Space Needle, besides checking out Capitol Hill, Queen Anne Hill, Columbia Center and of course, downtown Seattle. Outside the city, forest plantations will remind you of the massive timber trade that helped the city build its economic foundations towards the end of the 19th century.
Further south, at Castle Rock, you can opt for yet another detour – of only five miles – to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Centre. Located in the Cascade Range, Mount St. Helens is an active volcano, forming a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and most notorious for its catastrophic eruption in 1980, the deadliest in US history.
Soon, you will reach the Columbia river, crossing which will land you in yet another geographically diverse state – Oregon. The route continues along the coast for miles and provides an endless roll of scenery to feast on – rocky headlands and outcrops, pristine white lighthouses, strings of blonde beaches, rockpools, and blowholes providing for a spectacular part of the route.
Keep an eye out for the migrating humpback whales or for the denizen sea lions that bask in the rocks and bark in glee. If time permits, you can even take detours and pit-stops at national parks such as the Umpqua National Forest, the Siuslaw National Forest, and the Rogue River National Forest.
Small towns dot the route thus ensuring you are never far from the comforts of civilization. Nonetheless, the Oregon Coast is much sought after by tourists, and can seem overcrowded in the small towns during the peak tourist season from spring to fall.
Leaving behind Oregon, you will enter California – the Golden State. As you enter the state and cross Crescent City, be prepared to be dwarfed by the enormous redwoods – the giants in the botanical kingdom, and among the tallest in the world!
Enjoy this stretch as you bike through inside the trees – and don’t be amazed to see other travelers do the same in their cars. This is giant redwood country and it humbles every passer-by. Near Orick, be on the lookout for elks that call this place home.
The route moves southward, trailing the Pacific, and inviting you for a carefree swim in its waters. Further south lie a string of towns – Garberville, famous for camping in the Humboldt Redwoods, Point Arena, with its delectable lighthouse, Fort Ross, a former Russian fur trade outpost and the southernmost outpost of Russia in the continent at a time when it owned Alaska, and Point Arena – a birdwatcher’s paradise and home to over 45% of the bird species in all of North America.
This is when you enter San Francisco and feel privileged as you pedal your way through the iconic Golden Gate bridge. While here, do visit the Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island, Lombard Street, or just enjoy a cup of freshly roasted coffee in Union Square.
Further south lies the stunning Half Moon Bay, famous for its cliffside jaw-dropping views, and the Ano Nuevo State Park, world famous for its elephant seals. The trail moves on to the old-worldly charm that is Santa Cruz, with its historic roller coaster, the Big Dipper. Cycling on, the route will pass through the scenic Monterey Bay with its charming seaside villages, such as Carmel-by-the-sea, where you can spend days exploring the cost, whale watching, kayaking, and sailing.
The fun continues as you move to Big Sur – yet another jewel of the Pacific. Do not forget to take a selfie near the famous Bixby Bridge – one of the tallest single-span, concrete bridges in the world and perhaps the most photographed of all bridges on the West Coast. Big Sur has its own rustic, bohemian vibes that sets it apart from other towns on the coast.
Visit the Pfeiffer Beach, the Point Sur State Historic Park, Ragged Point, the Esalen Hot springs and the McWay Falls for inevitably one of the most charming parts of the route. Further down the coast lies the gorgeous San Simeon with its popular Moonstone Beach and the Piedras Blancas Elephant seal rookery.
Not far away lies the Clam Capital of the World – San Luis Obispo, yet another classic Californian beach town that urges you to take a break, go for a splash and let your hair down. If you want to visit the most bizarre part of the route, this is it – in Bubblegum Alley, a 70-foot alley lined with chewing gum – and yes, don’t forget to leave your mark behind!
Next comes Santa Barbara with its famous zoo, botanical gardens, and historical museum. Beyond the city lies Oxnard town, famous for its pier, classic Californian surfing beaches, and spectacular sunsets.
Further south starts Malibu – with its incredibly congested roads, luxury restaurants and hundreds of palatial houses tucked away into the hillsides or overlooking the beaches. Here starts the northern end of the Los Angeles megapolis or LA – the second most populous city of the US.
At LA, you can spend some time visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Sunset Boulevard, the Santa Monica pier, and Rodeo Drive. Yes, and don’t forget to check out the awesome views of the ‘Hollywood’ sign from Griffith observatory.
Or you can just ignore the cosmopolitan city and stick to the coast to Long Beach where you can enjoy the sea breeze and the Art Museum housed in a late 19th century mansion. The route continues through to Dana point Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach with some incredibly scenic though urbanised roads.
You will ride through some beautiful urban bike paths as you leave behind the suburbs of San Diego, and embark on the last stretch of the Coastal Route. Head off to Coronado Island from San Diego on the Coronado Ferry that leaves from the Broadway Pier.
Enjoy the blues of the San Diego Bay as you get impressed by the soaring sweep of the San Diego – Coronado bridge, yet another distinctive landmark of the region. Once in the island, you can cycle through its quaint neighborhoods and the bayside shore for more gorgeous views of the Port, the Big Bay, the city skyline besides the green park grounds of Coronado.
You have to continue down the Silver Strand Bikeway that follows State Route 75 all the way down to the southern end of the San Diego Bay. The route ends a bit further to the south at the Border Field State Park, just next to the Mexican Border, thus completing what would definitely be one of the most epic cycling trails in the country.
Flora, fauna, history, archaeology, and of course spectacular geography – the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route has it all! Given heavy traffic, especially during peak tourist seasons, on the national and state highways on this route, immense caution and patience is suggested. That said, the rewards from this journey are epic, definitely making it one of the most memorable cycle trips you will ever embark on.
Huge thanks to Adventure Cycling for keeping tabs on this route and providing detailed maps including camping spots and great places to stop for a bite. You can find their detailed maps here.