Fay Bainbridge Park Offers Magical Escape from the City.
We love biking around Seattle, from a 10-minute ride to the playground to an hour-long trek to the beach. And biking to camping is one of our favorite family outings, especially to Fay Bainbridge Park. It takes longer than our usual jaunts but it is worth it. Plus sandwiching a ferry trip between two short bike rides makes for a magical escape from the city.
Our trips have included many types of families, from experienced cycling campers to newbies with rental bikes and borrowed gear. We recommend cargo bikes that carry multiple people and bulky gear. While they don’t fit on buses or trains, they are welcome on Washington’s ferries. And Pier 52/Coleman Dock, where the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry departs, is easily accessed from anywhere in Seattle.
Riding the ferry with a bike is easy — you simply pedal onto the boat, which is a blast. If you’re early enough, you load before the cars and park your bike at the front of the ferry. Otherwise you load after the cars. And unlike driving onto the ferry, there’s always room for bikes!
The 35-minute crossing allows plenty of time to head upstairs for snacks, potty breaks and to check if you’ve forgotten anything and need to stop at a grocery store in Winslow.
Upon docking, it’s seven miles from the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal to Fay Bainbridge. There are two main routes to the campground: the scenic route and the highway route. The scenic route is beautiful, especially rounding the bend on Manitou Beach Drive and catching a view of downtown Seattle. But the scenic route is hilly. Once I realized the highway is fine for big, slow bikes, I haven’t been back for the scenery. Granted, cars travel at faster speeds on the highway, but the shoulder is wide and people on Bainbridge Island are used to driving around cyclists.
After conquering the ride to Fay, you reach paradise! There’s a driftwood-strewn beach, a play structure, amazing views and the feeling of being far from the city. It’s a joy to unload and unwind. The kids rush straight for the beach. Low tide is the best thing ever, but at any tide level the driftwood proves playground enough — enormous sun-bleached logs are pirate ships, and big sticks are quickly built into structures satisfying kids’ imaginations.
Cargo bikes (versus road bikes) work best as they can carry both kids and camping gear. Also try bike trailers, trailer bikes (attached half-bikes where kids sit and pedal), and adult/kid tandem bikes. The Familybike Seattle Rental Fleet (see resources above right) is an invaluable resource for bike camping.
Eating lunch straight off the ferry is a good way to take care of one meal while kick-starting the “island vacation” vibe. Also good — Westside Pizza delivers to Fay Bainbridge Park! Mixing camping with the comforts of the city is slightly silly and extremely tasty.
HOW TO PAY FOR THE FERRY
Leaving Seattle: Ride past the waiting cars in the bike lane on the right. If you have an ORCA card, swipe it. Otherwise, join the right-hand car lane near the tollbooth. If you’re using ORCA and traveling with children aged six or older, you’ll need to pay for them separately at the closest tollbooth. Sometimes the cashier will want to add an excess fee for a large bike, but this rarely seems to be the case. Leaving Bainbridge: This is the free direction! Take the bike lane on the right to the staging area until instructed to load.
HOW TO PAY FOR CAMPSITES
Spaces are not reserved ahead of time so use the pay station by the south bathrooms upon arrival. The fee is $7 per person, but sometimes the camp host asks us to pay $7 per bike, making the kids free. This is at the camp host’s discretion so check first.
WHEN TO GO
➤ Saturday nights in August feature a wonderful owl show.
➤ Squeaky Wheel’s Bike for Pie (August 7) is fun to coincide with.
➤ If you use the Elliott Bay Trail, avoid Hempfest weekend (August 19-21) because you’ll have to detour around Myrtle Edwards Park.
➤ There is no tree cover at the hiker/biker sites so it can be hot.