10 Questions: Cycling From Canada To Mexico

wetday.jpgBetween Canada and the Mexican border is one of the world’s most beautiful roads for bicycle touring: the Pacific Coast Highway.

It takes in amazing ocean views, lush forests, fantastic facilities for cyclists and cities like Vancouver and San Francisco.

In 2008, one bike tourist cycling this route was Dan. In this edition of 10 Questions, he shares tips and experiences learned during this 2,750km route. You can also see Dan’s website for more on his bike tours.

1. What attracted you to cycling this route, from Vancouver to Mexico?

I wanted to do another cycle tour after completing a ride from one end of Britain to the other the previous summer. I had never been to North America before and I had read that the Pacific Coast was hard to rival in terms of its scenery. The distance between Vancouver and Mexico was about right for me too – short enough for me to be able to do it in the relatively short time scale I had but long enough to be a challenge.

fogcoveringtheocean.jpg

2. How did you plan the journey?

I really struggled to find much about this or similar rides on the internet. I purchased the Adventure Cycling Association maps which cover the section from Vancouver to San Diego and a book called “Bicycling the Pacific Coast: A Complete Route Guide, Canada to Mexico”.

The ACA maps in particular were fantastic and I followed these most of the way. They were particularly good as they highlighted the type of accommodation that could be found along the route.

3. What were some of the best things you experienced?

pelicansatsantabarbara.jpgThe scenery along the coast was always a highlight. Had I stopped to take a picture as often as I wanted to, I’d probably still be out there on my bike. The wildlife was good too. I saw seals fighting on the beach near Cambria, pelicans nose-diving for fish in L.A., deer by the side of the road and various birds of prey.

I really enjoyed my time in Los Angeles and San Diego after I had completed the cycling, although the best memories come from the days when I was on my bike.

Also, the one thing all cyclists love is a good tail wind, and I had it. Every day!

4. And the hardest part?

One of the hardest things was waking up to cold rain and fog every day for the first half of the ride but physically the day from Monterey, CA to Cambria, CA was the hardest.

endlesshillsbetweenmontereyandcambria.jpgIt was very hilly all day and except for the first 10 miles there wasn’t a flat stretch of road. I can remember, after I had been slogging it up endless hills for the first half of the day, I was greeted with a sign that read “Hills” and underneath “63 miles”. At least I knew what to expect!

This was the only day that I really struggled physically but I was treated to some fantastic views in the rare moments when the fog cleared.

Most other days were gentle rolling hills with the occasional longer, steeper climb thrown in, which I must admit felt like they would never end sometimes. They never worried me too much though and I was travelling pretty light so I didn’t have much weight to lug up them. After Santa Barbara the road becomes very flat so the last couple of hundred miles are relatively easy.

5. This route can be pretty rainy in the northern section. Did you struggle with that?

It rained most mornings in Oregon and I was sometimes cycling through dense fog till midday. I tended to just get my head down and ride without stopping too much in the morning as the fog obscured any views there may have been and I would get too cold anyway. As always the weather would clear around midday and I rode a more relaxed pace with plenty of stops in the warm sun.

6. What about accommodation? Did you have any trouble finding places to sleep?

cambriayouthhostel.jpgThere were a couple of nights where I had to spend a little time asking around for accommodation and usually ended up paying for something more expensive than I would have liked. This was down to not booking in advance, but I liked the freedom of not being tied down to a particular place at the end of each day.

I had planned to use the hiker-biker sites (special areas in campgrounds for cyclists) and carried a bivi and sleeping bag with me. However, due to the cold and very wet nights the equipment I had wasn’t really suitable. I also arrived at a few to find that there was nowhere to get food for miles around. I really should have planned for that.

So, I ended staying in youth hostels and the occasional motel and carrying a bivi and sleeping bag the entire length of America without using them once…

7. This route is popular, and there are some big cities along the way. How did you find traffic?

highway101.jpgI live in the UK so to me the roads were huge! I did feel a little insecure as I cycled out of Vancouver airport but I soon got used to it. I found that drivers were very accommodating and I didn’t have any problems. You have to be alert in the big cities and the constant stop start flow of traffic was frustrating, especially in Vancouver where it took well over an hour to clear the city limits.

For the most part the roads were in good condition and there was either a cycle lane or a large hard shoulder for many parts of the ride and I found there to be little traffic once city limits were cleared. The one thing I did find was that the roads were quite dirty. Some days I would finish with my legs covered in dirt and oil from the road.

8. What kind of budget is necessary to do this trip? Can you do it on the cheap?

It could certainly be done on the cheap. The hiker-biker campsites along most of the route only charge about $4 a night. There are also plenty of youth hostels which are not too expensive. There is always the opportunity to splurge on more luxurious hotels if you have the funds but I really enjoyed the youth hostel experience and being able to talk to other guests at the end of the day is always nice.

9. What is one amazing experience you had, that you’d recommend to everyone?

p1010690.jpgThis is without doubt the hardest question to answer! The one thing that always sticks in my mind is when I was walking out on the Pier in LA (after I’d finished in Mexico and had got the train back up to fly home from LA), watching Pelicans nose-diving into the water to catch fish. I was so relaxed and at the same time so triumphant that I had cycled down the Pacific Coast of America.

From a cycling point of view, the day from LA to San Diego was amazing. It was sunny, the roads were very flat and fast and I had a tail wind all day. The scenery was fantastic and I was flying along all day.

I also did 143 miles that day so it was a huge achievement for me, as well as knowing I only had a few miles to ride into Mexico the next day. The feeling you get when completing something that you have worked so hard for is not comparable to anything else and this is what I love about cycling.

10. In terms of gear, what’s one thing every cyclist cycling from Vancouver to Mexico should bring with them?

Camera. There are probably far more useful items to take but I saw so many fantastic things and I love looking back at the photos from my trip.

Thanks to Dan for answering 10 Questions and providing the photos.

Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling the Pacific Coast of North America.

If you’d like to answer 10 questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.

Comments

  1. Grace Johnson
    18th September 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    I agree with Dan that the Pacific Coast highway has some very beautiful scenery. But as for “little traffic once city limits were cleared” – that depends on what time of year you cycle the route and what time of the week you cycle through the most popular sections such as Big Sur. As for us, we had bad luck and ended up cycling through Big Sur during the first sunny weekend in spring. It was “wall to wall” traffic that weekend and combined with the narrow roads and no shoulder in places – that made it very dangerous and stressful.

    Here is a link to cycling the Big Sur section http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/sflad3.html

  2. Colleen Welch
    18th September 2010 at 6:34 pm #

    I cycled the Pacific Coast this last summer from mid-June to the later part of July from my home in Olympia, WA. I agree that the scenery is fantastic. I stayed in State Parks most of the time. In OR, it is now $5/cyclist in the Hiker/Biker sites (with Ft. Steven’s and Beverly Beach charging $6). The northern and central CA coast parks were also $5. Further south, parks ranged from $6 to $10 for H/B sites. I also utilized Warmshowers and CouchSurfing for 4 nights. Those were free!

  3. steve
    6th July 2011 at 7:05 am #

    I’m leaving tomarrow for this experience, wish me luck and I”ll see you out on the coast!

  4. Robert
    3rd April 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Hi,

    I am looking to do this trip this December and was wondering if i could pic your brain on this. If i could contact you directly that would be brilliant.

    Hope to hear from you.
    Robert

  5. Pete and Ian
    9th April 2012 at 11:56 am #

    We loved this route. We cycled Vancouver to San Diego (via San Francisco and Los Angeles) in Sept/Oct 2011. The Pacific Coast is full of brilliant hiker-biker campsites and amazing scenery.

    Our trip log and route breakdown can be found here: http://www.peteandianhittheroad.co.uk/2011/11/2203-miles-vancouver-to-san-diego-complete/

  6. Glenn
    13th July 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    I done the Same trip from Van to Mexico almost two years ago.
    The best part of the trip for me was Big Sur and the surrounding area down Route 1. In-fact, I’d say that Cycling Big Sur on the coast of CA was the best moment of my life. It’s such a beautiful place.
    One of the hardest challenges was going up Mount Tamalpais(just before San Fran) in the blistering heat, with all my clothes, sleeping bag and tent on the back of my bike.

  7. Jible
    14th November 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I cycled the Pacific Coast this last summer from mid-June to the later part of July from my home in Olympia, WA. I agree that the scenery is fantastic. I stayed in State Parks most of the time. In OR, it is now $5/cyclist in the Hiker/Biker sites (with Ft. Steven’s and Beverly Beach charging $6). The northern and central CA coast parks were also $5. Further south, parks ranged from $6 to $10 for H/B sites. I also utilized Warmshowers and CouchSurfing for 4 nights. Those were free!

  8. josh
    5th August 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi I’m off to do this in early septmeber of this year. I am trying to find the best (and cheapest) way of getting back up to vancouver with the bikes? do most people just fly back up or is there a good train service someone can point me to.

    any advice would be much appreciated

    thanks

  9. Colleen Welch
    5th August 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    The train is pretty easy. Take the Amtrak Surfliner from San Diego to LA. Then change to the Coast Starlight. Take that to Seattle. Finally, take the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver, BC from Seattle. The cost to take the bike is $5.

  10. regina Glynn
    8th March 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    What time of the year did you do the cycle. we are doing it in july august. will the weather be cold durning the day and what will it be like at night.what is the fog like in Cal . will we be wearing rain gear a lot

    • Glenn
      25th March 2014 at 12:46 pm #

      This isn’t my page but I done the same thing.
      I left at the end of August for 2 months.

      Weather was wetter than expected. I’d advise decent water-proofs. It was never really cold. You’re doing it a few months before so it’ll probably be hotter. This will be in the summer remember.
      Cali was really hot. Some days reached over 30C. Night time could get a bit chilly, but a decent sleeping bag would sort that out.

      • Valerie
        21st June 2015 at 1:16 am #

        Sorry for reviving this comment a year and a bit after it was posted, but I’m planning on doing this trip in August of this year. What were some of the coldest temperatures you faced? Asking because I’m looking to buy a sleeping back that will be appropriate for the weather, i.e. will be warm enough. Let me know!

        • chris hersh
          16th July 2015 at 6:17 pm #

          Hey Valerie, I haven’t done this trip on a bike but I grew up in Cali and have done the drive many times. I would imagine having a 30 degree F bag would be more than enough at this time, I am actually going to be doing this in a little less than a month and that is what I have. I also got a bag liner to throw in, just in case, that way when I get further south, I won’t have too warm a bag, I can just take the liner out. I have a tent currently, but am contemplating replacing that with a hammock so I’ll be off the ground and lighter. I have never done a long bike ride, in fact, the longest I have done is around 45 miles, but I need to do this I think.
          Maybe I’ll see you out there =)

          Chris

    • Glenn
      25th March 2014 at 12:53 pm #

      I wouldn’t say you’d be wearing rain gear a lot. I’d say It rained for around 25% of the time I was out there. I don’t think I ever saw fog on the way down and i don’t even think i remember it raining at all in Cali.

  11. Dylan Jugroop
    9th May 2014 at 11:16 am #

    I am doing this route flying out from Manchester to Vancouver on the 18th July 2014 and returning from San Diego on the 28th August 2014. Reading the blog and some of the comments I am starting to think it might be a good idea to leave my tent and sleeping bag at home and find cheap B&B accommodation. Would this be a good move? 10 weeks today I set off. I CAN’T WAIT!!!!

    • Glenn
      10th May 2014 at 4:53 pm #

      Nah man, take the tent and sleeping bag. Camping is half the fun and I think you’ll regret it if you don’t take it. I think you’ll even find that on some days, camping is the only option. I remember some really rough days where we couldnt get to where we wanted to be so we had to camp where-ever possible. That also saves some money for when you get to the bigger cities. I’d also recommend hostels over B&Bs. You meet some great people who are also on their own adventures.

  12. Patricia
    13th October 2014 at 1:23 am #

    Hi there,

    I am thinking about doing the cycle from Canada to Mexico. Is there any tour operator that does this tour? How do you get in contact with people doing the cycle?

    • Glenn
      17th October 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Patricia,

      I don’t know of any tour operators that do it.
      When I done it with a group of mates, we just picked a date and done it. You could search the internet for some cycle forums to see if there’s a group of people you could join.

      What is it about the ride that you feel the need a tour operator? You’d have much more fun doing the ride in your own time. There are so many beautiful places to see. Also, going by a tour operator, you’ll be moving in their time. Stopping in their places.

      My suggestion would be to find a group of people to do it (or do it alone), pick a date and just go for it.

      Let me know if you have any questions.

      Good luck!

    • Colleen Welch
      18th October 2014 at 2:34 am #

      There are tours here and there that do the Pacific Coast, but none that do the whole thing (Canada to Mexico). However, there are two great resources that make it easy to do it on your own. One is Adventure Cycling Association. They publish a set of maps for the Pacific Coast Bike Route that you can purchase. The second resource is a book by Vicki Spring and Tom Kirkendall called Bicycling the Pacific Coast. The book is a day-by-day itinerary from Canada to Mexico. I used both the maps and the book. When the routes differed, I would choose which ever appealed to me on that day. You will meet numerous people along the way, especially if you follow the book itinerary, and are camping. I camped with the same group of people for a number of days, even though I didn’t ride with them much at all. You may be uncomfortable going it alone, but you will meet many more people that way. It is a great route to do solo!

    • Bob Adair
      4th March 2015 at 11:43 pm #

      Even if you go ‘by yourself’ you’ll meet people on the road, especially if you’re camping. It’s a very popular trip. State campgrounds with ‘hiker / biker’ areas are spaced regularly along the route ($5-$7 a night for the most part), and it’s quite possible you can attach yourself to another single cyclist or couple, or just run into them at the next campground anyway. We ran into some of the same people regularly all the way from Oregon to Mexico, and some others for shorter periods of time. After a week or so it was rare to be at a campground without seeing someone you’d met before.

      If weight is an issue, consider taking a small lightweight tent & bag and minimum clothing but no stove/cooking gear/major food supplies/etc. You can easily eat in restaurants all the way down and you can get by with just a set of rear panniers if you’re careful about packing (that was my strategy).

  13. bob
    9th November 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    Planning on heading out from Vancouver in mid-November. Is this crazy? Should I expect rain everyday?

    • Colleen Welch
      23rd November 2014 at 12:07 am #

      Pretty much, yes. Expect daily rain, then on those rare days when it doesn’t rain, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  14. Bob Adair
    6th December 2014 at 7:04 am #

    I did the Vancouver-Mexican border ride this fall (Sep 16 – Oct 29). It was a good time of the year to do it – not much rain, but neither were the tailwinds as consistent as the books imply. Fog is another issue, and it became a pretty familiar companion along the coast for a few hours on many days all the way to SF.

    It took just over three weeks cycling time to get to SF, and then another two weeks and change to the Mexican border – exactly 2980.1 km from my front door in east Vancouver to the rather forbidding steel wall that is the pedestrian entrance into Mexico :).

    The SF-Mexico part was by far the most enjoyable, perhaps because the weather was better and those promised tailwinds finally kicked in. Traffic was also less of an issue in general. There is also much to be said for cycling for what seems like days beside beautiful Pacific Ocean beaches, stopping repeatedly to watch the surfers, and have a coffee or a beer in a beachside town. The Southern California coast is on balance pretty well set up for cyclists.

    The rhythm of being on the road for 6 weeks becomes very seductive, especially when there’s sunshine. Another plus was the number of other cyclists on the route, meaning that you sometimes meet up with the same people at the next state park every night for several days – and then run into them again a week later. Very social, and another reason to take a tent.

  15. Chris Hersh
    26th February 2015 at 8:39 pm #

    Thanks for the page and the info! And the comments! I just decided to do this when I leave Alaska, going to do my own addition to the route. I’ll be leaving Anchorage and riding to Homer, taking a boat to Juneau and hanging out and island hopping down to Bellingham/Vancouver Island/Vancouver, not sure exactly, then biking all the way down. Was going to just do San Fran, then decided on going to Orange County, where I’m originally from, then when you all were going all the way to Mexico, I figured I can’t cheat myself out of the last couple hundred miles of going to Mexico!! I won’t be going until July ’16, but if anyone is planning on doing this at that time, I hope I see you on the road! I’ll be the slow guy with a big smile on his face and a bug in his teeth haha!!

Leave a comment