Family bike camping at Illahee State Park

New family bike camping territory! As much as we love bike camping at Fay Bainbridge Park, we wanted to try something new. Enter Illahee State Park.

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First up, here’s the Flickr album of 81 photos.

Now Pixie and I bike camped at Illahee last month (Flickr album of 91 photos here), but camping with a regular bike and nine pounds of passenger isn’t nearly the same as proper family bike camping so it doesn’t really count. Good test run, though!

Same ferry terminal as if going to Bainbridge which means even though the Bremerton ferry tends to be less crowded, the ticket booths are filled with people driving onto the Bainbridge ferry. The booth adjacent to the bike lane was closed so rather than wait in a long line of cars, I swiped my adult Orca card and one of our youth Orca cards to match what we were charged last trip.

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The ferry ride to Bremerton is 60 minutes (compared to Bainbridge’s 35) so as a woman in Bremerton said, “You better get your money’s worth!” And there’s also plenty of time to wait in line at the cafe (not that the line is as long on this less-packed ferry) for kid snacks.

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Even on my Surly Straggler (which I had built up with a triple ring on the front for MOAR GEARS for our hilly city) I knew this to be a hilly four-mile ride from the ferry and even thought of possible nicknames for the park on the boat ride:

  • Hillahee
  • Illahill
  • Illahillahee
  • Illahilly

I studied the map ahead of time and opted to stray a bit from the Google Maps’ suggested route once across the Manette Bridge to cut out some elevation loss: like so, straight through the traffic circle, left on Pitt, right on 14th, left on Perry. I think this was better than my last route, cutting off some of the long slog up Perry. But it was still quite a climb and the kids opted to walk two blocks (thank goodness!) since our riding was so slow. The road wasn’t busy, but since we were so slow I kept to the empty sidewalk until Perry flattened out.

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I discovered last visit that the hiker/biker spots are tiny. Plus they have no picnic tables (though we didn’t sit at our table since it was so wet…but it was nice to stash the panniers underneath while I was setting up camp). And somewhat expensive at $12. I wasn’t sure if they’d want $12 per person or $12 for the site (and we never saw the camp host!) so we opted for a $25 car site. Note: this was on May 14th, the last day before the price went up to $30 for summer.

We biked the whole loop and the kids selected site 5. It was great with a direct path to the restrooms and two spots for tents, one of them a bit bigger than the spot at the hiker/biker sites. This was good because I brought two tents this time. The silly thing is, I didn’t bring my new small two-person tent when I camped with just Pixie because I didn’t want my brand new tent to get wet. But I’d never pass up a chance to carry extra stuff and this trip we crammed in the second tent, an extra sleeping bag, and an extra sleeping pad. Our original plan was to camp at Manchester State Park, but then we found out our friend Brad (one of my first friends with a Surly Big Dummy, before I got mine! Jon to my Ponch, I like to call him) was riding the 400k le Tour d’Hood Canal and would need to stay in Bremerton overnight. So obviously the smart thing to do was tote extra gear so he could sleep on the ground, right?

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We hit the hay long before Brad arrived. Even though the ride was only 4 miles, I was exhausted and went to sleep at kid time. Normally one gets less sleep camping, but it was nice to get a lot of extra sleep. And the kids both slept with their heads at the opposite side of the tent from me this time, plus they wanted to be next to one another rather than have me in the middle so I was more comfortable than ever before. Next time I’ll see if I can convince the dog to sleep in one of their sleeping bags instead of mine to make it even better. Brad ended up finding a hotel with a group of the randonneurs, but he arrived to camp early in the morning and took a nap so our spare tent wasn’t for naught.

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This new tent is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 and it’s so light! I wouldn’t want to cram all three of us in it, but next time I camp with just Pixie, I’ll use this tent. The poles fold up short enough that they fit in a pannier. I remove the pole bag from the REI Half Dome 2 Plus tent bag so the tent fits in a pannier and the poles either go in the side pocket of a pannier or strapped across a rack.

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While Saturday was pretty wet, Sunday was dry! We traded a blueberry muffin to Brad for some Oreos, bid him farewell as he pedaled off to the 8:45am ferry, and hiked down to the beach.

Fay Bainbridge is convenient in that the beach is adjacent to the campground and kids can play there while adults are doing camp stuff. Not so at Illahee, though the playground and cannons are close by. And of course this all varies based on your degree of free-range-ness. The beach might not be too far away for all parents and the playground might be out of range for others.

The Illahee beach is terrific with tons of tiny crabs under every rock. And a covered picnic area in the grass and picnic tables with amazing views at the end of the pier! (The pier picture is from Saturday when it was wetter.)

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And the playground is small, but fun. It’s rare to find a seesaw in Washington. Of course there was a communication mishap during a seesaw dismounting resulting in a bruised butt and some yowling.

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And cannons!

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Payment–Sites and Showers
This was the first time we needed showers while camping. At Fay Bainbridge once last summer the kids requested showers after three days of beach play, but I didn’t have any quarters. So now I’ll always bring quarters to Fay. And always include shower information in bike camping posts.

Illahee requires paper money–ones or fives–to buy tokens. Each dollar buys two tokens that are good for three minutes of hot water each. The token machine is next to the campsite pay station, close to the camp host and restrooms. Sites are paid for with cash or check in an envelope. I think the $5 firewood fee goes directly to the camp host, but since we never saw the host I scored some firewood in restroom deal with another camper. (Bainbridge is all by machine that takes cash or credit card between the restrooms and camp host.)

Heading back down the hill I followed the Google Maps suggested route and ran into a little trouble on the tight switchbacks to the Manette Bridge. I was able to walk the bike through them, but next time I’ll stick to the street, reversing our outbound route. The bike and ped path over the bridge is on the eastbound side, but approaching the bridge from the east in the street will work fine. Even with a bike that could navigate the switchbacks, I’d probably stick to the more direct street route.

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We swung by the USS Turner Joy U.S. Naval Destroyer Museum with plans to come back for a day trip without the dog. No hill climbing since it’s right next to the ferry!

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Looking for Fritz European Fry House by the ferry we discovered how friendly Bremertonites (Bremertonians?) are! I stopped on the edge of the road to look around confusedly and a guy strolled out of a bar next to us, saying we looked lost and could he help. Fritz is tucked behind Taco del Mar, by the way. We also smiled for two sets of people to take photos of our bike and had several nice conversations with locals during lunch.

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All in all we had a terrific time! But I’m going to need some time to pass so I can forget how hilly the hill was before I want to go back on the family bike.

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4 thoughts on “Family bike camping at Illahee State Park

  1. Very nice! From what I understand, in Washington State the hiker/biker fee is “per site” vs the “per person” found in Oregon and California. So, up there it’s a bit steep if you are a solo cyclist (it’s $5-6 per person down in Oregon), but if you have two or more people, it works out to your favor. But I don’t envy the paid showers! I’m lucky we have free ones down here. Then again, we don’t have the Puget Sound! ;-)

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  4. I took the family to Illahee State Park last August we had a marvelous time. If you want to indulge yourself and family then I would highly recommend this park for the ultimate bike camping experience.

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