Family Bike Camping at Manchester State Park (but not on Sunday)

I found a bike camping spot easier (sort of) to get to than our old favorite Fay Bainbridge Park & Campground–welcome to Manchester State Park.

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It’s flat and calm enough that the kids rode their own bikes camping for the first time ever! There are three considerations, though:

  1. The second of two ferries doesn’t run on Sundays
  2. The elevator to the second ferry doesn’t fit long bikes
  3. The second ferry is too small for big groups

Comparing briefly to Fay Bainbridge:

We took two trips this past summer so we’re not total pros, but we learned quite a bit.
All my photos are here:

For comparison, here’s the photo album from a trip to Fay Bainbridge from this past summer:

This two-ferry, never-on-a-Sunday route isn’t the only way to get to Machester State Park. One can also take the 40-minute Fauntleroy-Southworth Ferry. I made this longer-but-simpler trip two summers ago to camp with a dozen other adults. It’s a 17-mile ride to get to the ferry (versus 6 to the Seattle Ferry Terminal). Once off the Southworth Ferry, it’s 7.6 miles of rolling hills. It’s hard for me to imagine how those hills would feel with passengers and/or more gear, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed them…and I’m pretty sure the kids would have hated them. Side note: we’ve biked/water taxied to Lincoln Park (by the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal) as a family once, but deemed it too far away so we haven’t been back in six years.

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machester-bikes

For our first Manchester State Park family bike camping trip, a Thursday to Friday, I rode the Big Dummy and the kids rode their own bikes–each with two little panniers containing sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and small camp pillow. They were not a fan of riding with panniers so they only carried them a mile to Gas Works Park where we started our day with #coffeeoutsideforher.

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My cargo bags were packed full, but the four panniers fit atop my deck. I made a deal with the kids that I’d carry the panniers, but they’d have to ride the whole way because it would be difficult to squeeze them and their bikes on my bike with the extra stuff. (Totally not true, of course I could have carried the whole show on my bike, but they fell for it and never asked to be carried!)

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The Bremerton route allows bikes to ride aboard, just like Bainbridge. Super fun!

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This is the same ferry we took for family bike camping at Illahee State Park, by the way. But rather than climb climb climb four miles to the campground, we biked the equivalent of one flat city block to the foot ferry. This was where I ran into trouble because the foot ferry is accessed by 17 steps or a small elevator.

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I carried the kids’ 18- and 20-pound bikes down the stairs and a foot ferry employee very kindly helped me get my 75-pound (plus gear) bike upright in the elevator. (Mind you, this was all after initially freaking out and trying to convince the kids we should hit Illahee instead.)

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The foot ferry is small, but it was possible to maneuver the Big Dummy aboard.

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This was our first time in Port Orchard and it looks adorable, but we didn’t linger to explore before heading for the park. Bay Street and Beach Drive are both flat and have a great coastal views. Two-lane roads aren’t my favorite, but we didn’t see many cars. Most of the way had shoulders and the few cars that passed us gave us a lot of leeway.

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There was a bit of climbing once we left the coast, but at least this was in the shade. Then it flattened out just before the hill into the park and THERE ARE CAMELS AND HORSES next door. The kids were too hot and tired to appreciate the camels, but I’ll play them up before we head back. There’s one hill before the camels and one hill after so I hope to use the camels as incentive to get up the first hill this summer.

Unlike Fay Bainbridge with its convenient kiosk, we had to pay at the entrance which meant we couldn’t skip the line of cars. We chose one of the three hiker/biker spots–$9 each and no fire pits. They’re not right by the restroom, but it’s right by a nice trail and blackberries.

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None of the campsites are right on the beach like at Fay Bainbridge, but that means it’s not completely exposed on hot days and it doesn’t feel like a big parking lot. The beach was a quick bike ride from our site (and is also walkable for those so inclined).

The most easily accessed beach is STINKY, but you get used to it after a while. The kids enjoyed piling up the stinky seaweed, but we didn’t go into the water because there were jellyfish. I have a feeling it’s not always jellyfishy here. Note the Bremerton ferry cruising by in my photo below–fun view!

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This is a great campground if you have a camper into old military stuff. There are several structures, like the torpedo storehouse pictured below, all with interpretive signs.

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We were surprised by unexpected rain overnight which was good in that it got us on the road early. I sent the kids to stay dry and warm in the restroom while I quickly packed us up.

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The foot ferry back was easier thanks to knowing ahead of time what I’d be in for in terms of wedging the cargo bike onto the boat, plus this time I was able to tilt my bike upright on my own for the elevator. However, I’m still of the opinion that I don’t want to do this with the big bike ever again.

We skipped the soonest Seattle ferry to have lunch at Fritz European Fry House in Bremerton (just up the hill from the ferry terminal) and then explore the area around the USS Turner Joy.

The ride home from the ferry is all slightly uphill so we took lots of water/rest breaks (and one crash/rest break), but the kids made it without complaint!

Our second trip was double the fun. I didn’t even try to convince the kids to use their panniers and I was somehow able to fit all the stuff on my Surly Straggler. I needed my front basket for gear which meant I had to wear nine-pound Pixie in her backpack, the Timbuk2 Muttmover, which I wouldn’t want to do for a big trip, but was just fine for this short one.

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This time we went with Brad and his two kids, our frequent camping buddies. They also have a Big Dummy and a tandem plus trailer bike, but I convinced Brad to carry all the gear on his Surly Long Haul Trucker and put his kids on their own bikes so we’d all easily fit in the elevator.

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The elevator was so much easier like this! I took our three bikes in the elevator while the kids walked down the stairs.

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One thing that was trickier with our bigger group was the varied speeds and personalities of the kiddos. Brad rode ahead with the two speedsters (his big and my little) and I hung back with the two who appreciate a slower pace.

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We didn’t get too far from one another and met midway for a roadside blackberry snack.

Having friends along was encouragement enough that my kids biked up the last hill–Hillsdale Road just after the camels–that they had both walked up on our first visit.

This time we opted for a $25 economy spot and chose one fairly close to the beach. The hiker/biker spots are big enough for two tents, but we wanted a fire. We still chose to bike down rather than walk, but everything is all close together with no fast roads to cross.

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We ventured beyond the stinky beach to hit the tide pools. This meant biking along a gravel path and narrow trail lined with poison oak warning signs. No one got poison oak and we found tons of tiny and big crabs to play with.

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Having friends along meant we hung out at the campground for quite a while on day two–laps and laps were sprinted around the campground, a dead snake was thoroughly examined, and fellow campers were befriended. Next time I’ll try to time our visit so we can stay for two nights and [hopefully] more easily hit the road early in the day with fresh legs.

The first 90% of the journey home went well: great ride to Port Orchard, successful foot ferry and foot ferry elevator rides, tasty lunch at the fry house, and restful ferry ride back to Seattle. Once on the Seattle side we stopped to play at the beach, visited an outdoor bike commuter happy hour, parted ways with our friends, and then slowly clawed our way home with quite a few tantrums, some angry bike walking, several water break stops, and one blackberry picking session. Definitely too big a day. That said, WE CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK!

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2 thoughts on “Family Bike Camping at Manchester State Park (but not on Sunday)

  1. Thanks for the detailed write-up. I might be headed to Manchester at the end of June. I would probably have to do the Southworth route with the Bullitt as I’m not sure I could get it in the elevator. Unless I had a pretty strong companion with me who could get it up and down the stairs :)

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