Seattle to Key Peninsula
The state ferries that cross Puget Sound can be a quick and affordable way for bicyclists to escape the urban sprawl and enjoy a rural retreat. Although these ferry rides are relatively short, I always feel as though they deposit me on a faraway shore, with all my cares and worries left behind.
Short rides aboard the Washington State Ferries can whisk cyclists from the urban Seattle sprawl to wonderfully bucolic settings.
Recently I rode down to the Seattle Ferry Terminal to begin an overnight bicycle tour to the Key Peninsula, a rather isolated part of the lower Kitsap Peninsula. How isolated? A barista I spoke with near the town of Home said she'd lived there 32 years and was still considered a newcomer.
I would be gone only 30 hours, but feel like I'd been away for a week by the time I returned home.
My destination was Joemma Beach State Park, a 112-acre getaway on the briney Puget Sound. It's named for Joe and Emma Smith, who lived there until 1932.
That's me at one of the primitive campsites overlooking the sound.
The ferry terminal is a 12-mile ride from my home, and the park is a 34-mile ride south from the ferry landing at Bremerton. Instead of returning on the same route, I would veer eastward the next day to the Southworth ferry, which lands in West Seattle. The route to Southworth was 33 miles; the ride back home, 25 miles.
Some of the roads I pedaled on had generous shoulders, like Kitsap Bicycle Route 25.
Because I got a late start, I missed the 1:30 p.m. ferry by minutes. The next arrived at 3 p.m. for the one-hour crossing. I used the time to grab a sandwich and hang out in the sun, a rare commodity in Seattle this past spring and summer.
I arrived in Bremerton at 4 p.m. -- rush hour in this town that's home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Although there are naval exhibits and historic homes to visit in Bremerton, I was in a hurry to get out of there as it was already getting late. Another cyclist who was on my ferry helped guide me through town and send me on my way.
A 15-minute ride put me on a busy highway -- South Charleston Boulevard -- but it had a decent shoulder. That later merged with Route 3, another busy highway with a shoulder.
These were not the recommended roads that I found by Googling my route, but in my haste I had missed a couple of turns that would have put me on less stressful side roads.
At the base of Sinclair Inlet I did find one of the side roads I'd been looking for, and had clear sailing all the way south. These are all rural roads, with and without shoulders. They probably carry most of their traffic in the morning and evening commute hours.
The route took me past some water views at Vaughn, Glen Cove, and Home, but most of the time I rode through farmland or forest.
I arrived at the little-used Joemma Beach State Park at 7 p.m., and pitched my tent in one of the primitive sites overlooking the water. Pit toilets and water are the only other amenities at the park (you'll want to ask the camp host for directions to these primitive sites, as they're the most scenic).
There's a wonderful beach here, and the views across the water are stunning. My son, who works at a nearby camp, told me there's an island out there that you can see only when it's foggy, because in clear conditions it blends in with a larger island behind it.
Fishermen use the long pier, although they weren't very active on this night.
I left in the morning, after surveying the beach at low tide, and retraced my route to Glen Cove, where I veered northeast to reach Southworth. The rural roads were even more bike friendly here, and I stumbled across Kitsap Bicycle Route 25 for awhile.
Instead of following my Google recommendations all the way to the ferry, I stayed on Sedgewick Road. As soon as it crossed Route 16, it climbed a series of rollercoaster hills that continued non-stop to the ferry. I have no idea whether the recommended route would have been as difficult, but I suspect it might have been.
Once again I just missed the ferry, so I rode over to the town of Southworth to look around, and then returned.
The ferry took me to West Seattle, where I followed the shoreline all the way around (most of it is the Alki Beach bike trail), picked my way across the Duwamish Bridge, then discovered the new Alaskan Way bike trail that delivered me to the vicinity of the International District and my route home.
I've included links to my maps below. Let me repeat -- the route through Bremerton was difficult to follow and very busy at rush hour. It may be easier at other times of the day. Some of the two-lane roads do not have shoulders, which can be a problem near Bremerton and Port Orchard. Otherwise, I felt I had plenty of space.
The terrain is rugged north of Vaughn, and there are a few stiff climbs approaching the Southworth Ferry on Day 2.
My road bike isn't built to carry a lot of gear, so I used a Yakima trailer. I loaded it with a tent, sleeping bag, inflatable pillow, and Therm-a-Rest pad.
I also had a change of clothes for the return trip, a butane camp stove, a small pot, and a metal coffee cup that doubled as a bowl. I also carried a spare pair of shoes and full raingear (and a book).
That's traveling light for me.
See also West Sound Cycling Club, which covers Kitsap County.
Some other great trips in the region:
Favorite local bike shop: Peterson's Bicycle Shop in Renton