The Pacific Coast Bicycle route spans from Vancouver in Canada to the Mexican Border, covering a total of 1,848miles. If you are thinking of cycling the pacific coast route you can expect endless coastline – from rugged rocky Oregon to clear blue LA beaches – ancient forests and a lot of fun sights to see along the way. I wanted to put this guide together with all my advice and top tips having completed this trail.
So I did this route a little differently! Each year I try to take on a new adventure and the Pacific Coast Bike Trail offered me my biggest challenge yet. As I was doing the challenge for charity and wanted to really test myself, I opted to travel on a kick-scooter rather than a bike – my husband joined me for the adventure! We started in Vancouver, Canada, ending our jounrey by crossing the border into Tijuana, Mexico.Kick-scooters function pretty similarly to a bike – 2 wheels and panniers – but are just a little slower. Logistics and experience were pretty similar. If you need any convincing to take on this bike tour, just check out the views we got from a few days shooting on a drone camera…. https://www.facebook.com/BexBand/videos/495380521273640/
Before we start….
If you are new to this blog, I’m Bex Band – a full-time UK adventurer and founder of the women’s adventure community, Love Her Wild. I’m on a mission to make getting outdoors and going on adventures as easy as possible. You can read more about me here.
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How long does it take to cycle the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route?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. Of course, this is very dependant on a lot of factors including your fitness level and experience. And how many days you want to take off to enjoy the places you pass en route. As a general rule when doing long-distance treks or bike rides, aim for at least 1 day off after every 6 days on the road. In addition, add a few days for contingency and in case of an injury. 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 could have travelled faster but there are so many cool places en route to visit and sights to see that we wanted to balance out the challenge with also having a trip of our lifetime!
Best time to cycle the Pacific Coast?
We left Vancouver heading southbound on the 17th May. Oregon had some cold and rainy days. But by the time we reached California in July it was very hot!!Cyclists take on the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route all year round. As the saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear’. Most consider the best time to cycle the Pacific Coast to be spring when the temperatures are mild but this also means you don’t hit the heat of the summer when it would become unbearable.
The Pacific Coast Cycling Route
The Adventure Cyclist Association have maps for the full route that you can buy. We brought the route via the website and loaded this on to our phone mapping app.For the most part, you are cycling on highways although some stretches are through towns and on bicycle paths. We decided not to follow the route entirely though (I write more about this and our reasons below). When we made a change in the route, following our own path, we simply used Google Maps. Their bike feature when you plot a route works really well. Sure, sometimes you end up on a path that isn’t suitable but this really did just add to the adventure. Of course, you don’t have to do the full route. Many cyclists, especially those who are restricted with time, just do a segment. The most popular segment is the San Fransisco to Los Angeles part.
What to pack for the Pacific Coast
Between us, we had just 27 litres so were packing very light. Just one 17L pannier on the handlebars and a 10L hydration rucksack on the back. We decided not to take a camping stove and never carried more than 2 days worth of food, utilising roadside cafes and restaurants. This worked out more expensive but meant we saved a lot on weight.It’s really easy to pick up supplies on the way if your clothes get worn or you need to replace a tyre (between us we only had a total 8 punctures). We saw cyclists burdened with bags and panniers, struggling to get up hills in the heat. I really couldn’t understand what they had in their packs. You waste so much time packing and unpacking all the time when you travel heavy. You can see the full kit list of items we took here.
Where do you stay each night – camping, motels and hosting!
We worked out accommodation as we went, usually planning about a week or 2 in advance. You definitely don’t need to plan so much but if you intend to use hosts then giving a bit of notice made it much easier to find people.We were opting for variety. We love camping and being in nature. But also love being hosted and the people you meet. Plus occasionally a room to ourselves to give the back and brain a proper break.
The pacific coast bike route camping options are pretty good although if you want to do this predominantly you need to accept there will be a lot of detours and extra miles to get to the campsites. 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 – the success rate isn’t always great. I’d say we contacted 2/3 people to get 1 ‘yes’. That’s why doing it in advance is good as it can take a bit of time).
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 $34 off your first booking).If we got really stuck we also sometimes knock on doors 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 – they were all really lovely and brought us food as well. Or we’d post on local Facebook groups to ask if someone would mind us camping in their yard. Every time we did this someone would come forward with a spare bed.
If you are a foreigner, 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. Or at the very least book somewhere for the end of your cycling tour.
How much does it cost to do the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route?
On the road, we spent an average of $50 per day for 2 people, or $25 each. This included food, drinks, accommodation costs and also entry to attractions.
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) – more on that in my tips below – or insurance ($150 each). And we had some fun post-adventure for a couple of weeks before our visa ran out visiting Disneyland and Vancouver Island which I’ve left off.
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 and people on Facebook 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.
Daily spend ($25 a day over 80 days) – $2000 London to Vancouver return Flights – $900 Return train from San Diego to Vancouver – $150 Insurance – $150 TOTAL – $3,200 (excludes gear which we already had and spending a week splashing out on holiday post-adventure)
Top tips for cycling the pacific coast
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.
#1 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!
#2 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.
#3 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).
#4 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.
#5 Know what to be cautious about
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.
#6 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!
#7 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.
#8 Get the Amtrak backIt was cheaper to get a return international flight from the same location, London – Vancouver. At the end of our tour, rather than getting an internal flight from San Diego to Vancouver, we decided to be more adventurous (and environmentally friendly) and to get The Amtrack Coast Starlight (you can read my experience of this journey here). 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 travelled past on the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route past. It was a great way to end the trip and to reflect on all the miles we’d travelled as they whizzed past us on the train. Have any questions or tips about cycling the Pacific Bike Route? Just say in the comments box below!
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