bicycle touring the pacific coast highway
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Bicycle Touring the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) of the United States, also known as US-101, runs from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA. The route is popular among both road-trippers and bicycle tourists due to its beautiful landscapes and vibrant cities. Bicycle touring the Pacific Coast Highway is a bucket list item for many bicycle travelers. The scenery is legendary and includes about every ecosystem you can think of – rain forests, tide pools, rocky coastline, and harsh deserts in southern California.

We rode a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway – Seattle to Redwoods National Park – in May of 2021. We opted to ride the Olympic Discovery Trail rather than US-101 on the Olympic Peninsula and took some detours from the main highway along the Oregon Coast. We had a fantastic time along the coast and appreciated the cycling infrastructure available along the route.

pacific coast highway
Coastal views on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Route

northern pacific coast highway map
Overview of our route through the northern section of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Download the GPX track of our route down the Pacific Coast.

Stats Overview:

Time frame: May 5 – May 27, 2021

World Bicycle Tour Days: 1-23

Miles: 865

It is best to ride the PCH from north to south because you’ll have a better view of the coast, and the shoulders going in this direction are more generous. This is the direction recommended by cycle tourism groups, and in some places the highway developers have actually designed the road to have larger shoulders to accommodate north-south bicycle tourists.

bicycle touring the pacific coast highway
Taking in the view at a pullout on the Pacific Coast Highway. Safety vests recommended.

Olympic Discovery Trail

The ODT is a 135-mile multi-use trail that runs between Port Townsend and La Push. We didn’t go all the way to La Push, but we rode the majority of the trail and were blow away by the scenery and quality of the route. A significant portion of the ODT is on bikes/pedestrians-only paths and the rest is on pleasant, low traffic roads.

olympic discovery trail
Coastal section of bike path on the ODT.
bicycle touring the olympic discovery trail
Mossy trees on the ODT.

In general, it doesn’t get much better than a bike path, and when that bike path winds through fairy-tale moss forests full of creaky old growth trees, we’re pretty much in heaven. We also got to ride a recently completed section of trail along Crescent Lake, which was wonderful.

bike path on lake crescent washington
Bike path next to Crescent Lake.
bicycle touring the olympic discovery trail
Low traffic road on the ODT.

There are numerous state and county park campgrounds to choose from along the route, most of which have hiker/biker sites that you don’t need to reserve in advance. Since we were in a group we chose not to wild camp, though it would be possible if you’re discreet. The coastal areas of the PNW are fairly developed and there isn’t a ton of public land, so choose your spots wisely.

campsite on the olympic discovery trail
Marcus at a campsite on the ODT.
bicycle touring the pacific northwest
Snack stop in Joyce, WA.

US-101

After riding the Olympic Peninsula, we headed south along the Pacific Coast Highway. The traffic was intense at times, but overall it wasn’t as bad as we expected. Especially along the Oregon Coast, there are frequent detours to take from the main road. This cycling guide for the Oregon Coast is a great resource put together by the Oregon Department of Transportation. It maps out all the detours from US-101 and labels hiker/biker campsites and other amenities. 

bridge on the pacific coast highway
Bridge on the PCH in Washington.

The scenery along the coast is stunning and well worth dealing with the cars…and the logging trucks. Drivers in this area seemed accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists and were usually courteous, and most sections of the road have a decent shoulder.

bicycle touring the pacific coast highway
Jenny with a logging truck passing by.
oregon coast scenery
Cliffs on the Oregon Coast.
seals on the oregon coast
Spot the sea lions!
light house on the pacific coast highway
Lighthouse on the PCH.
oregon coast
Coastal scenery never got old.

The coastline is rugged and rocky, with tall formations jutting out of the sea not far from the shore. The Oregon coast is a fantastic area to explore tide pools and the colorful life forms that inhabit them. We found a great spot in Yachats to park our bikes and walk around the coast during low tide. We saw starfish, anemones, barnacles, urchins, and lots more.

tide pooling in yachats
Trying to avoid stepping on barnacles while exploring the tide pools in Yachats.
starfish in a tide pool in oregon
Glamor shot of a starfish.
anemone in a tide pool
Anemone close-up.
oregon coast bicycle touring
Taking a break at a nice spot on the Oregon Coast.

We continued to stay in state and county parks along the PCH, most of which had hiker/biker sites. Keep in mind that Forest Service campgrounds often do NOT have this option and could be full during high season, so plan accordingly.

pacific coast highway
Stark transition from tall cliffs to coastal sand dunes. The sand dunes are very popular with ATVs, and most of the campsites in this area were Forest Service so didn’t have hiker/biker sites.

We went as far south as Redwoods National Park, where we took a rest day and hiked to Fern Canyon. After exploring the redwoods, we turned east via Bald Hills Road and connected to Klamath Falls to start the Oregon Outback bikepacking route.

fern canyon in redwoods national park
Hiking in Fern Canyon.

Accommodation on the Pacific Coast Highway

We mostly camped in state and county campgrounds, which ranged from $18-$22 per night as of 2021. We stayed in a couple of hiker/biker campsites, but since there were three of us it was usually cheaper to just pay for a full site. The campsites were pretty frequent along the route, though we sometimes had to go a couple miles off the road to reach them.

beach on the pacific coast
Lots of campsites had direct beach access and beautiful views.
hiker/biker campsite in washington
Yard sale at the hiker/biker site at Dungeness State Recreation Area.

We stayed in hotels when we wanted a break from camping or were going through a cool town we wanted to explore. We also stayed with a couple different Warmshowers hosts, which was a fantastic experience. On one occasion, our extremely kind and trusting hosts left us with chicken enchiladas and margaritas while they went on a dinner date with some friends. Good people do exist in this world.

warmshowers in california
Our Warmshowers host in Crescent City, CA had a very nice collection of animals, and a private grove of Redwoods.
waterfront in astoria, or
We got a hotel in Astoria to explore the town and its waterfront.
waterfront in astoria
Astoria waterfront on a gloomy day.

Food and Water

Grocery stores are plentiful along the Pacific Coast, and we usually only carried one day’s worth of food at a time. Sometimes we had to resupply at small convenience stores, but they usually had everything we needed. We had a weak spot for drive-through espresso shops and would frequent those when we needed an energy boost. We filled up water from campgrounds or convenience store soda fountains.

drive through espresson on the pch
One of our many drive through espresso stops.

Final Thoughts

Bicycle touring the Pacific Coast Highway is an incredible way to experience the scenery of the west coast. The traffic can sometimes be challenging, but there are plentiful detours from the main road that enable you to have a respite from the vehicle noise. The scenery is spectacular and well worth sharing the road. We definitely want to return at some point to ride further south!

bicycle touring the oregon coast

Bicycle Touring the Pacific Coast Highway Video:

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