Cycling on the Washington State Ferries

So I realized I have mentioned more than one ride I have taken which involved a Washington State Ferry.


I take them for granted, as I have been taking my bike on them for years.  However, then I remembered the rookie mistakes I did the first time I used them  Since I have a long drive today, I thought I’d give a short post.

First off, why do we have ferries?  If you ever look at a map of Washington State, you will see the western part of the state has a huge body of water called Puget Sound.  To help get people across this body of water, Washington state has the largest passenger and automobile ferry fleet in the United States and the third largest in the world by fleet size. The service is also the largest in the world based on the number of vehicles carried, having carried 11 million annually.  The fleet services the Olympic Peninsula, Vashon Island, and the San Juan Islands, to name a few routes.  

The ferry system welcomes cyclists on board, and actually makes it quite easy on us, but there are a few rules.

Tip #1:  You do NOT have to wait in the LONG line of cars to get your ticket.  We walk up to the passenger ticket window.  There is an extra dollar surcharge for the bike, but it is still MUCH cheaper than a car.

Tip  #2:  We load with the cars.  There will always be a bike assembly area, near the motorcycles.  The best part is we load before any other vehicle.  If you are there and have a ticket prior to loading, a ferry worker will yell “CYCLIST BOARD” and you will ride on first.

This is nice as you can park the bike, and get upstairs and get a prime spot or food before the unwashed masses in the cares show up.

Tip #3 This is not how you stow your bike on the ferry (Except for the Chilly Hilly!)


Instead look for a piece of rope and the bike parking sign. (As an aside, i always carry about 3 or 4 feet of rope just in case the rope is gone, or I need to make my own spot on a busy weekend day) image

I tie the rope to my stem with a couple of twists and then a simple slip knot.  Give it  yank to make sure it is secure.  Most of the time, the bike will be on a steep slope, I position a pedal against the part of the ferry the rope is attached to in order to steady it.

Tip #4  Go upstairs and see the view, it is gorgeous!  I have never heard of a bike being bothered.

Tip #5  Get to your bike a bit early.  When i see the dock getting close I go down.  Not only are we the first ones on, we are the first off!  Untie the bike and roll it down to the front.  They will tell you when it is time to leave.  Remember to hug the right of the lane though, as the cars will be coming soon!

Tip #6  Bikes and passengers only pay on the one side for most routes.  I have never been on the San Juan Ferries, but for the one’s out of Seattle and Tacoma, you pay on the Seattle side.  Cars pay going both ways, but again, when you get to the dock, bypass the cars and look for the place the bikes are gathering.

Combining a ferry ride and a bike is a blast.  I bring a book and my camera every time.  On really nice days I go up on the sun deck and soak in the rays, on colder days I snag a window seat.  I have also brought a book or my biking journal.  You can also take a last look at your route on the way over!

The ferry lets me get to places in less than an hour, that would take 2-5 to drive to.  I am working out a route from my house to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, up to Port Townsend to catch the ferry from there to Coupeville on Whidbey Island, over the Deception Pass bridge, and then home.  THAT will yield some beautiful pics!

If you get the chance to ride here, work a ferry route into your schedule, you will NOT be disappointed.  Hope my tips help as well!

4 thoughts on “Cycling on the Washington State Ferries

  1. Great post. I like your tip about using a small rope to secure your bike. I’m going to do that next time I take a ferry.

    I live in Seattle, and I’m sure you know what a gorgeous place it is to ride. (I used to do a weekly ride, anywhere from 30 to 50 miles depending on how I felt and what other obligations I had, down Lake Washington Boulevard, to Seward Park, sometimes around the bottom half the lake and home over the I-90 trail, sometimes over Beacon Hill…) And I felt a little bit uncomfortable having my bike “carried” by other forms of transportation, so I always rode from my apartment back to my apartment. After several years, I’d covered most of the roads in Seattle, and got bored with them. I started driving my bike to other places, and occasionally taking a ferry (le tour de Vashon, for example) and my enjoyment of cycling is as good as it’s ever been.

    I tell people that solo rides are great, and that traveling with a bike to enjoy scenic rides is one of the best things a cyclist can do. Looks like you already know these secrets. 🙂

    1. I used to love in Federal Way, this allowed me to build my own century, Fed way to point Defiance, take the ferry to Vashon, do the loop on the island, then home!

      I agree, having the bike lets you see SO much more! The Oregon Coast by bike is killer!

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