Bellingham, Washington, is a tiny community located 30 miles from the Canadian border. This area, which was once home to the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, and Semiahmoo Indigenous peoples, is well worth a visit, especially for hikers. Many of the routes on this list are found on the main peaks of Blanchard and Chuckanut. For those with children or who want a more casual visit, there are plenty of scenic routes along the river with a low elevation.
All of the hikes are dog-friendly (leashes required). Many of these require a Discover Pass, which gives you entry to all of Washington’s public leisure locations and may be purchased online.
1. Oyster Dome
The most popular hike in the area is Oyster Dome, which offers some of the best vistas. You’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of Lummi Island, the San Juan Islands, Samish Bay, and the Skagit River Flats, as well as Vancouver Island and the Olympic Mountains in the distance, after a strenuous 2.5-mile, 1,050-foot journey up Blanchard Mountain. It provides for lovely photographs, but be aware of the abrupt drop-off. If you’re taking little children, make sure they’re experienced hikers. No of the season, the weather in this part of Western Washington can be fickle. Watch the weather forecast for Bellingham and hope for clear skies!
Oyster Dome can be reached in one of two ways. The Samish Overlook, which can be reached by I-5 exit 240, is the official parking lot. However, there are only about 20 parking spaces available, so arrive early to assure a spot! Begin from the calmer, unofficial trailhead off Highway 11/Chuckanut Drive if you don’t want a jolting ride. On Chuckanut Drive, there are several trailheads; simply type “Oyster Dome” into your GPS. There are no amenities here, so you’ll have to hike up to the Samish Overlook if you want to use the restrooms or picnic tables. A Discover Pass is required for both parking locations.
2. North Lost Lake
Lost Lake is Chuckanut Mountain’s largest lake, and there are a few alternative routes to get there. Starting at North Chuckanut Trailhead and doing the long route around is the most fun. This makes for a hard 9-mile trip on a less-frequented track with 1,100 feet of elevation gain; ideal if you’re hiking with a dog or want to avoid crowds. Finally, you’ll come upon a beautiful, peaceful lake, ideal for a picnic or a brief swim. While it’s beautiful all year, it may get muddy, so summer is the best time to visit.
Take I-5 exit 250 and follow Old Fairhaven Parkway/SR 11 to the North Chuckanut Trailhead (Discover Pass required). There are restrooms available. Bring a map or snap a photo of the one posted at the entry because this trailhead is the start of several pathways. Early on, the first bifurcation appears; keep left for Hemlock Trail, not the Interurban. In the first mile or so, you’ll come to a couple more forks; remain right to continue up the mountain. On a map, it will appear like you are traveling in the other direction of Lost Lake, however, this will gradually fix itself. You’ll come across some residences and private properties at some time; stick straight and don’t follow the road past the houses.
You’ll eventually come to a large bifurcation where a map is shown. Wrap your way around the mountain by turning right onto North Lost Lake Trail. You can take a picturesque circle around the lake or stop for lunch with a view of the water.
3. Chanterelle Trail
The Chanterelle Trail is a 4.8-mile round-trip hike with a 1,000-foot elevation gain and multiple steep switchbacks through a variety of forest types. It’s also the best place to go if you want to see some animals. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Whatcom and Bellingham Bay, as well as the San Juan Islands and Cascades in the distance, making for the ideal backdrop for any photograph.
If you enjoy animals, particularly aquatic species and birds, this is an excellent walk to take. This is a unique trail that may be best visited in the winter, when many bird species are more active and the normally lush trees are naked, providing for a better panoramic perspective.
Watch the weather for rain year-round and smoke during the summer months if you want to assure high-quality captures. Follow North Shore Drive to Lake Whatcom Park and park at the first parking spot. There is no entrance fee or pass required.
4. Padilla Bay
This is the shortest and simplest hike in the collection (more of a beach walk). It’s ideal for rookie hikers, families with young children, or anyone looking for a moderate walk without too much inclination. It’s 4.4 miles roundtrip with only 30 feet of elevation gain. You’ll walk along the Skagit River to the Salish Sea, where it empties. Padilla Bay is teeming with birds, making it one of Skagit County’s best spots for bird photography. Water covers the entire bank at high tide, creating an unusual landscape. You’ll have a good view of Lummi Island and Mount Baker in the distance, a stunning setting for the regular winged guests diving in for a lunch!
While this trail is enjoyable all year, the abundance of blossoming flowers and migrations make it especially attractive in the spring. It’s worth noting that this is closer to Mount Vernon and Anacortes than Bellingham, but it’s still close enough for a day trip or if you’re passing through. There is no entrance fee or pass required.
5. Chuckanut Ridge
This path, which is a “connector” from one end of Chuckanut Mountain to the other, is the most difficult on the list, with 10.4 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain. Throughout the hike, you’ll be rewarded with vistas of Mount Baker and the lower British Columbia mountains on the other side of the border. On a clear day, Chuckanut Ridge should be walked to take in the amazing views (and snap a few stunning pics). It’s shaded, for the most part, so you won’t get too much sun during the summer. From late fall to early spring, it can be muddy (especially near Lost Lake), so keep that in mind.
There are two ways to get in. You can start at the North Chuckanut Trailhead and follow the same way as the North Lost Lake route until you reach the Chuckanut Ridge Trail’s beginning. Alternatively, travel Highway 11/Chuckanut Drive to Highline/Cleator Road and stop at a viewpoint on a rugged, gravel road. Where the trail begins, look for a split rail entrance. The road can be difficult and uncomfortable, similar to the road to Samish Overlook, and is only suggested if North Chuckanut is full. Both sections include facilities and a Discover Pass is required.
6. Fragrance Lake
Fragrance Lake is located on Chuckanut Mountain’s Larrabee State Park section. This moderate 5.5-mile trip with 950 feet of elevation gain is suitable for hikers of all abilities. You’ll begin on gentle switchbacks, which will make the ascent more doable. A marker after about a mile will indicate the possibility of taking a short diversion to a viewpoint of the San Juan Islands and Bellingham Bay. The main draw is, of course, Fragrance Lake, which changes color with the seasons. The lake certainly lives up to its name, however, the fragrance of pine comes from the old-growth Pacific Northwest trees, not the lake itself.
Along the 0.6-mile lake circle, there are plenty of boulders and benches for resting. Because this is a popular trail, it is well-kept and well-marked, making it nearly difficult to get lost. It’s also one of the few places on Chuckanut that remains dry all year. The lake, however, is best experienced on a hot summer day because it is one of the cleanest for swimming in the vicinity. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to bring a fishing pole, there are trout to be caught.
This trek is also off of Highway 11/Chuckanut Drive, but you have the option of parking at Larrabee State Park (which has facilities, a beach, and picnic tables) or throughout the street from the trailhead. A Discover Pass is required for both.