The Pacific Coast Bicycle route spans from Vancouver in Canada to the Mexican Border. The route was put together by the Adventure Cyclist Association and is a total of 1,848miles passing through 3 US States. Most cyclists take between 4-10 weeks to complete the entire section – the Association told me 6 weeks is considered an average time frame.
So I did this route a little differently because I didn’t cycle it, I kick-scooted it. Apart from the mode of transport, logistics and experience were pretty similar. So I wanted to share this guide with all my top tips for cycling the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route…or scooting, or elipti-going or whatever wheeled transport you decide to use!
A few handy logistics
Lets start with the basics….
When to cycle the Pacific Coast
We travelled distances of 50-85km a day, although of course, experienced cyclists can do further. It took us a total 80 days to do the entire route, including rest days. In the big cities we’d try to take 2 days to see the place and then as a general rule would take a day off every 5 or 6 days.
We left Vancouver heading southbound on the 17th May. Oregon had some cold and rainy days. By the time we reached California in July it was very hot!!
We were mostly using the official Pacific Coast Bicycle Route as a guideline. We bought the adventure cycle route via the website and loaded this on to our phone. For the sections where we decided to take an alternative route, we would simply use the cycling option on Google Maps.
What to pack for the Pacific Coast
You can see the full kit list of items we took here. Between us, we had just 27 litres (including a small hydration rucksack) so were packing very light. We never carried more than 2 days worth of food, utilising roadside cafes and restaurants. This worked out more expensive but meant that we didn’t need to carry a stove.
Where to stay
We worked out accommodation as we went, usually planning about a week or 2 in advance. About half the time we used campsites. The other half we stayed with Warm Showers hosts (using the phone app to find and contact them). About every 10 days or so we would book in somewhere for a break. We found the Motels really expensive (usually $80-100 for 2 in a double) so mostly used Airbnb which was brilliant – (click here for £25 off your first booking).
If we got really stuck we also sometimes asked strangers if we could camp in their yard. This had about a 50% success rate! I think in total we stayed in 4 peoples yards.
To make immigration smoother it is worth having a few places booked en route as they like to see proof that you have at least some plan and somewhere to stay.
How much does it cost to do the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route
We spent an average of $50 per day for 2 people…this doesn’t include gear (we had almost everything already), flights ($900 each return from UK to Vancouver. We also got the train back from San Diego to Vancouver which cost around $150 each) or insurance ($150 each). Most of this was on food which could definitely be done cheaper if you bring a stove and prepare your own meals rather than eating out. We’d been saving up credit card points before this trip which meant we got a few nights free in hotels along the way. Plus used this code to get a discount on Airbnb.
We saved a huge amount on accommodation because we were hosted so much by Warm Showers hosts who would also often feed us. Because we were doing an unusual trip (on scooters) and for charity, we probably experienced more generosity than most would.
Top tips for the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route
There’s very little I would change about the journey I took but I wanted to share some tips that I wish I’d known in advance.
Changing the route is fine
We made a decision to miss part of the Oregon coastline because we really wanted to see Portland. It meant that rather than heading straight to the coast following Seattle, we stayed inland, turning West only after Corvallis (which turned out to be one of our favourite towns on the whole trip).
Everyone kept telling us we’d made a mistake because the Oregon coastline was so spectacular. But we still got to see a good chunk of it, plus we got to see some more unusual rarely visited towns and travelled through gorgeous quiet forests (on the 154) which was one of the highlights of the trip.
We had to change the route again because of a mudslide in Big Sur which forced us inland for a section. Sure we missed out on some coastline….but this route has a LOT of coastline and good views. There are also nice experiences to be had inland a few miles where cycle tourers don’t usually go and the roads are quieter. I wouldn’t change a thing with the route we did and wouldn’t worry about listening to all the things people tell you-you’ll be missing…..everyone just wants to give you advice!
Make the most of your days off
You pass some really fantastic places on the Pacific Bicycle Route and it’s a shame not to stop and take them in. All the cities had fun things on offer and I appreciated the touring more after a day away from it sightseeing or in a theme park.
The hiker/biker rule (and watching your stuff)
State parks have to let you camp if you arrive on foot or bike – even if they’re full! Usually, the hiker/biker rate to camp is between $5-10 per person which makes it great value. We also found a lot of RV parks willing to take us even if they didn’t advertise camping….just give them a call in advance if you aren’t sure.
Theft is a real problem in campsites. A woman a couple of weeks ahead of us had everything stolen, including her locked bike and pitched tent, when she went for a swim in the sea. Keep your stuff with you and locked and don’t pitch your tent unless you are planning to stay with it (or if there are friendly neighbours you trust to guard it).
Warm showers = amazing!
I was reluctant to use Warm Showers at first but it was amazing. We met the most wonderful people through this community and it really made our journey more comfortable. It helps with Warm Showers to organise a week or 2 in advance so people can plan you staying. We also noted that sometimes there appeared to be hosts on the website who didn’t show on the app…so it’s worth checking both options if you are stuck for accommodation in an area.
Know what to be cautious of
You don’t need to worry about bears. We actually did have a close encounter with one but he was more spooked by us than us of him. Racoons are more of a pest in campsites so make sure you keep all your food with you in the tent, hanging from a tree or in a bear box if it is provided.
Compared to Europe we found the drivers generally not great….they are clearly not used to driving with cyclists. We had lots of people overtaking really close rather than waiting for a clear space to pass. Even when we were taking the centre of the road (if there was no hard shoulder) we’d still get cars trying to squeeze by. Keep visible….we had flashing lights on all the time we were on the road.
The worst though was we found some drivers really aggressive and angry towards cyclists. They would honk their horn or wind down their window and yell at you as they drive by fast in the hope of scaring you. After this happened to us a couple of times I asked other cyclists and all of them reported similar incidents. It didn’t happen often but every time it made me jump and wasn’t very pleasant. It’s just worth being aware of.
Don’t miss out on Tijuana
Loads of people told us not to go into Tijuana when we reached the border. We found the crossing really easy (we had to wait about 40 mins to get back into the US which was the most annoying part) and the town a little rough but definitely worth visiting for a celebratory taco and tequila shot!
Take a reusable cup, straw and spoon
You can’t ignore the plastic pollution in the States. The roadside is littered with McDonalds and Starbucks cups, straws and plastic spoons. So rather than contributing to the problem, bring a reusable set with you to do your bit for the planet. A lot of the drinks have free refills so you can then even take a cup full away with you to have on the road.
Get the Amtrak back
It was cheaper to get a return flight from the same location, Vancouver. Rather than getting an internal flight, we decided to be more adventurous (and environmentally friendly) and to get the Amtrak train instead. It was BRILLIANT!!! The journey took a day and a half but I loved every second. The views were great and the reclining seats really comfortable (even in economy). They have a viewing deck and we even spotted some of the places we’d scooted past. It was a great way to end the trip!