New guidebook charts coastal charms, including Southwest Washington

Guest contributor and Cascade Ride Leader Bill Thorness explains how sandy beaches, craggy sea stacks and towering redwoods inspire a cycling adventure like no other. Photos courtesy of Bill Thorness.This story first appeared in the October Pedal Washington

The smooth ribbon of asphalt disappears in a sea of waist-high beach grass, marked only by trailheads emblazoned with archways bearing the date 1805. Set your wheels on the six-mile-long Trail of Discovery and feel yourself floating along the undulating beach breeze. 

If that sounds like an ideal cycling vacation destination, plan to pack your panniers next summer for a trip to southwest Washington. Get your bike loaded for camping, and use ferry, bus and rail to quicken the trip. It’s an achievable adventure cycling outing, and part of the popular Pacific Coast bike route.

Getting to that relaxing Long Beach Peninsula trail is as much about the journey as the destination. In this case, it’s three to five days of cycling fun, plus beach days.

In my new book Cycling the Pacific Coast: The Complete Guide, Canada to Mexico, you get turn-by-turn guidance, maps and insights for this section and the entire 1,900-mile route, plus a dozen side-trip explorations. Released this month by Mountaineers Books, it replaces the long-lived Bicycling the Pacific Coast. 

Briefly, I’ll recap my suggested route to Long Beach, with one caveat: it does not take you around the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve featured that ride as an alternate route in the book, but my preferred route heads southwest from the southern tip of Hood Canal.

Two choices get you into rural southwest Washington: ferry to Bremerton or Amtrak to Centralia. From either transit point, cycle to tiny Elma, where a lush lawn for your tent awaits at the Elma RV Park. Bremerton to Elma is a pretty long ride, so you might make your first overnight at Belfair State Park, which has an inexpensive hiker-biker camp. If you’re a veteran long-hauler or you break the day at Belfair, you can also travel a few miles beyond Elma to the hiker-biker camp at Lake Sylvia State Park. 

Strike out west from Elma along the quiet old highway to Montesano, then jump on the not-quiet Highway 101 to Raymond. If you’re energetic, take a detour to Aberdeen and see Kurt Cobain Park on the grungy banks of the Wishkah River. 

Steel silhouette sculptures enliven the logging town of Raymond, which also hosts the west end of the developing Willapa Hills Trail. Tonight’s campground is just beyond at Bruceport County Park, on a wooded hillside above Willapa Bay.

Explore the bay on the long, open road of 101 on your ride into Long Beach the next day. It’s light on services but heavy on scenery and wildlife. And the road has a consistent, painted shoulder for safe cycling.

Long Beach and its neighboring towns deliver a classic ocean-beach holiday. They also offer plenty of motel and B&B choices, or you can hit the hiker-biker camp at Cape Disappointment State Park, near the southern tip of the peninsula. This is the northernmost point of exploration for Lewis and Clark’s 1805 Voyage of Discovery, hence the trail name and the excellent interpretive center in the park.

You might be tempted to retrace your route, but here’s another idea: cycle a few more miles into Astoria, Oregon and pick up bus service to Portland, and from there, Amtrak Cascades to Seattle. It’s a short ride into Astoria, and you get to tackle the four-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge across the wide mouth of the Columbia River. 

Plan to chart your own trail of discovery through southwest Washington next summer. And if you’re really ambitious and have a couple of months free, try the entire Pacific Coast route. There’s a brand new book out there to help guide your way.

Bill Thorness is the author of five books, including Biking Puget Sound, now in its second edition, also from Mountaineers Books. He is a ride leader with Cascade and a ride ambassador for Ride with GPS.

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