Shaw Island – Wikimedia

If you really want to leave it all behind for a night or two, you can hardly do better than Shaw Island.  The least populous and least-visited among ferry-served San Juan Islands, Shaw is a quiet, wooded treasure.  The island has only one commercial establishment, the Shaw General Store, famously operated by nuns until just a few years ago.  San Juan County Parks operates the lone public campground, charging $12-$16 per night for one of 11 tent sites.  The campsites rest on a cliff above a sandy, south-facing beach with great views of San Juan, Canoe, and Lopez Islands.

If you strap on a backpack with a small tent, or better yet take a bicycle, you can have an easy car-free loop, 2 nights of quiet camping, a late lunch in Friday Harbor, and a scenic cruise back to Seattle…while still arriving back in Seattle for a full night’s sleep before work Monday morning.  Here’s a sample itinerary, below the jump.

Caution:  Neither Skagit nor Island Transit offer Sunday service, so the suggested itinerary is the best way to do this on a full weekend.  Though avoiding the Clipper and doing an out-and-back is possible, connections between WSF, Skagit Transit, and Amtrak are difficult and inconvenient on Saturdays.

Previous Entries in this Series:

Wallace Falls

Whidbey Island Loop

14 Replies to “Transit Hikes: Shaw Island and Friday Harbor”

  1. I visited the islands over the 4th holiday and took the Amtrak bus up to Mt. Vernon and met my island friends there. But on the way back, I took WSF ->SKAT ->ISLAND TRANSIT -> Greyhound back to Seattle.

  2. Another alternative would be to take bike on the Victoria Clipper to Friday Harbor (summers only unfortunately) from there inter-island service is free).
    Wish there was still Greyhound service between Seattle and Anacortes like there was in the early ’90s when I was able to do a loop to visit the islands without a car (Seattle-Anacortes-Lopez-Friday Harbor-Victoria-Port Angeles-Seattle).

  3. The connections make be a bit nervous. What happens if the 90x is more than 10 minutes late getting into Mt. Vernon? What if the Island transit 411 arrives at March point more than 5 minutes late? And, if you do this with a bike, what happens if a bus won’t let you on because the racks are full?

    Because of all these what-if’s and the possibility of being left stranded at several points during the route, the only way I can realistically foresee myself ever taking this trip is if I took Amtrak to Mt. Vernon with a bike (reserving the rack space in advance), replaced all the bus segments with bike rides, pulled all the camping equipment in a trailer, and returned on the Victoria clipper (again reserving the spot for the bike in advance). This could still be a very nice trip, although it would require a much greater fitness level than the trip originally posted.

    1. I found the SKAT and Island Transit connections to be flawless however that was on a Tuesday after a holiday. Well utilized btw. The part of the trip that was most unreliable was Greyhound arrived 90 minutes late. So my wait time in Mt. Vernon was rather long — over 4 hours.

    2. I have never missed a Skagit or Island Transit connection in the 10 or so trips I’ve taken.

      1. I think the main thing if one is to attempt this, is to never depend on catching the last bus or ferry of the day without a huge time cushion. Skagit transit may be, for the most part reliable, but I’d feel uncomfortable depending on any motor vehicle, including a private car, to make it from Everett to Mt. Vernon within 10 minutes of the normal estimated time, if the consequences of being late were having to spend the night on the side of the road. All it takes is one traffic accident or construction delay and you’re toast.

        Similarly, a small transit agency like Skagit is unlikely to be able to afford the redundancy that a big-city transit agency can have. For example, with King County Metro, if a bus driver fails to show up to work, another driver takes his place, with no effect on passengers. With a small, rural transit agency, a bus driver not showing up means you arrive at the bus stop and wait…and wait…and wait…until you either give up or the next bus arrives hours later. And of course, there’s no such thing as OneBusAway telling you that your bus isn’t going to be coming.

        I realize the fear-of-missed-connection problem is a major problem for rural transit agencies and has a significant effect on people’s willingness to ride them. For example, Olympic Bus Lines operates a $37-per-person one seat ride from Kingston to Port Townsend. Kitsap/Jefferson transit can do the same trip for around $2 in not that much more time. But the public transit option leaves you stuck in Poulsbo for hours, or possibly even overnight, if anything goes wrong. While, with the commercial bus, even if you get delayed, you may arrive 15-20 minutes late, but you know you are going to get there and you know you won’t be camping on the side of the road. Thus, the $35 premium is essentially like buying insurance against the possibility of a missed connection. The fact that a for-profit commercial bus company can operate this route is proof that the $35 insurance premium is something that the market is definitely willing to pay.

      2. Rural areas don’t tend to have traffic jams, so that’s one of the main sources of delay eliminated.

    1. I can’t seem to find the reply button for the original post, so sorry for latching on to your post(county and municipal campsites – I always love to learn about new ones).

      This series is a wonderful idea! I love hearing about everyone’s adventures in transit/hiking/biking. Thank you for your detailed and road-tested report, Zach Shaner. Thanks to everyone for the extra tips and good questions.

      Long-distance transit afficionados are not just limited to young, fearless fellows. Check out these two awesome women:
      Hats off to you, ladies.

      Thanks to a new transit connection in the Fraser Valley, bus-packing is now a go in B.C.

      Not very frequent, but it really opens up some possibilities, like enjoying Harrison Hotsprings or camping at Cultus Lake.

      I would highly recommend bypassing the Peace Arch border crossing and metro Vancouver by taking WTA’s 71X to the Sumas/Aldergrove crossing and then CFV Transit Rt. 2 to Bourqin Exchange, where you can catch the Aldergrove/Abbotsford connector.

      You can make some use of transfers on the Canadian side, making this a fairly cheap journey.

      WTA link:
      CFV Transit link:

      I’ve only caught on to this recently, so I haven’t roadtested it myself.

    2. @Grant: Correct–Odlin County Park is about a mile from the ferry landing. It’s a great park too, with campsites right on the beach.

      Lopez Village is approximately 4 miles from the ferry landing. It’s an easy walk or bike ride. Or try hitchhiking–islanders are pretty friendly and you’ll probably get a ride! Lopez Island is a great destination for a car-free trip.

      Thanks so much for this series, can’t wait to see more!

  4. Fold’able bicycles like “Bike Friday” can be carry on luggage to the Victoria Clipper for free. That cuts the cost a bit.

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