We cycled a section of the Pacific Coast Route (from Seattle to San Fransisco) in May 2019 and would like to share our thoughts on it. Overall, we loved our bicycle touring adventure along the West Coast of the United States, but we think it had some downsides too.
Varied, beautiful scenery
A stunning, rough coast line with rocks, boulders, beaches, and fascinating tide pools. Lush forests including the majestic redwood trees. We were pleasantly surprised to see that nature was clean too – little to no trash, and clear water.
Depending on the season, you’re likely to see squirrels, eagles, seals, sea lions, elephant seals, deer, elk, raccoons, maybe some whales, and very unlikely, a bear or cougar.
Most of the State Parks are great, especially the ones in Oregon. It’s a privilege that most offer affordable so-called hiker / biker sites, usually around 7 dollars per person per night. The parks have the right amount of facilities: nearly all have picnic tables, a flushing toilet, hot shower, and water taps. Some have food lockers, and the ones in Oregon even have USB chargers in them for cyclists. A few park locations are great, having beach access or cool hiking options, but most of them are quite close to the highway, which we didn’t like so much.
We met some incredible people along the way. We were hosted by wonderful people, a couple of nights via Warmshowers, and other times by people we ran into. We’ve also met other bike tourists from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. itself, and spent some time together.
You’ll be able to find plenty of facilities along the way: state parks, commercial campsites, hotels, motels, restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores. You can generally be safe with just filling up your two water bottles and carry food for for 1 or 2 days.
The route is mostly on Highway 101 and Highway 1. Honestly, we found a few sections to be dangerous (especially in the beginning in Washington, and some bridges and tunnels) and some unpleasant to cycle. Sometimes, we thought to ourselves “they call this a bicycle route!?” while double checking our maps and GPS and seeing that we were actually right on course. Maybe this isn’t fair to say, as our primary point of reference is that of the Netherlands – the country with the best and safest cycling infrastructure in the world. On the other hand, we have also bicycle toured in Belgium, Germany, France, Latvia, and Morocco, and all these routes were much more quiet and safe in our opinion. You can probably find routes with less motorized traffic in the U.S., such as the Great Divide, which we initially wanted to cycle (but that wasn’t possible in May due to snow on the mountains). I must note that other cyclists we met weren’t as negative about the traffic / road safety. Luckily, the sufficiently quiet, safe, and thus enjoyable sections for us eventually overshadowed the bad ones. The state of Oregon was the most pleasant to cycle and seemed to be ahead of Washington and California in terms of facilities for and awareness of cyclists on the road.
Coming from the Netherlands, we found the U.S. to be expensive. Other Europeans we met, agreed. Groceries (at big and small shops) often added up to 3 or 4 times the amount we would pay in the Netherlands. An example of a basket in the U.S. versus the Netherlands:
- Loaf of whole grain bread: $4 versus $1.
- Oats (400 grams): $4 versus $0,60
- Peanut butter: $3 versus $1.
- Can of vegetables: $2 versus $1.
- Floret of broccoli: $3 vs $1.
Do we recommend it?
It depends. If you’re okay with cycling a route that will have motorized traffic passing you most of the time, and you think the good aspects (outlined above) will outweigh the bad, you should do it!
Note that we cycled in May. This is considered to be a bit ahead of the main summer season. There will supposedly be (even) more traffic, such as big RV’s and campers on the road in the main season. Also, we always had plenty of space at the hiker biker sites at State Parks. Sometimes we were the only ones, sometimes with maybe 1, 2, 3 or 4 others. In the main season the hiker biker sites will be more busy, and hopefully more cozy!