Whirling Through Whatcom: Washington’s Captivating Coastal County

Snuggle Bunny and I typically celebrate our May wedding anniversary with a hiking trip to Mount Rainier National Park. There’s just one catch: Mount Rainier is one of the snowiest places on earth. All our favorite hikes are buried under tons of snow.

On Hwy 11, en route to Larrabee State Park.

So this year we decided to celebrate some place different. Where we wouldn’t have to contend with trails under truckloads of snow. Like the coast. Whatcom County, to be exact. “Crew HQ” for the week was Bellingham, the county seat and largest city in Whatcom.

Birch Bay on a brisk Wednesday morning in May. That’s the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we’re told.

Tucked into the northwest corner of the Evergreen State, Whatcom County’s 2,503 square miles have a well-earned reputation for serene, stunning Northwest beauty. The county is bordered by Canada on the north, Okanogan County on the east, Skagit County on the south, and the Strait of Georgia on the west. It features some of the most stunning and scenic real estate in the state.  

Once you leave the I-5 in the rear view mirror, it’s not long until roads wind through rich farmland dotted with black and white bovine, purple lupine, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, state and county parks, and a vast network of choice hiking trails. Also historic sites, beaches, and great sea food with ocean-front views. We visited and hiked an average of about three state or county parks a day, averaging 10+ foot miles per day.

Overlooking the San Juans. (It was noon-ish and really, really bright!)

In no particular order, here are some highlights from our whirlwind tour this captivating coastal county:

Bellingham

Mount Baker from somewhere in Bellingham.

Bellingham has a “big” small town feel. It’s big, but not – gag me! – Seattle big. The city is large enough to have most anything you might want in terms of shopping, restaurants, an historic and business district, and a bustling waterfront. But it’s also small enough to feel friendly, welcoming, and kick back.

Whatcom Falls Park

If you only have time for one county park in Whatcom, check out Whatcom Falls Park.

Whatcom Falls gallops under a stone bridge built by the WPA in 1939-40.

Located in the City of Bellingham, this county park includes multiple waterfalls, picturesque ponds, marsh and song birds, picnicking, and a playground. Ditto a vast network of hiking trails – mostly brief, level, and easy – and lots of shade. Also a sweet little waterfall and stone bridge that was built by the WPA in 1939-40.

‘Swimming hole’ at Whatcom Falls Park.

There’s also a popular leash-free zone for dogs at the south end of the park near Lake Whatcom. Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue in the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood.

Continue hiking north. Brave a busy street crossing and you’ll find beautiful Bloedel-Donovan Park where the lapping waters of Lake Whatcom kiss the shore.

Lake Whatcom!

Lake Whatcom

Yes, you can easily walk to Lake Whatcom from Whatcom Falls Park. They’re within shaking hands distance in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

It was in the upper 80s when we hiked from the falls to Bloedel Donovan Park and Whatcom Lake. Talk about a welcome, refreshing sight on a warm May day! We plunked our Camelbaks down on a picnic table near the water’s edge and watched ducks and geese frolic in the water while munching our lunch.

Within hiking distance of Whatcom Falls Park, Lake Whatcom is about 10 miles long!

Lake Whatcom is approximately 10 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest. Its carefully manicured lawns and playgrounds are fringed by a truckload of additional outdoor opportunities including motor boating, swimming, fishing, and hiking.

Lake Whatcom.

From Lake Whatcom and Bloedel Donovan Park, you can do an about-face and retrace your steps back to Whatcom Falls Park. It’s an easy walk. Take a brief detour around Sudder or Derby Ponds on your way back.

For a complete list of Whatcom County Parks, click here.

Hello Birch Bay!

Birch Bay State Park

This park includes over 8,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and nearly 15,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on Terrell Creek. The Terrell Creek Marsh is one of the few remaining saltwater/freshwater estuaries in north Puget Sound. A natural game sanctuary sits at the park’s north end.

The state park adjoins the Birch Bay Beach and Tidelands Access Area. This 60 acre undeveloped wildlife conservancy protects heron nests and other local wildlife.

If you want to lunch on a pristine beach with sweeping views of the San Juan Island and the jagged spires of the North Cascades, this is the  place. Also camping an. We found lots of cars with license plates from Alaska, Victoria. B.C., and believe it or not, Texas.

Birch Bay State Park is located between Bellingham and Blaine. Take exit 266 off the I-5. Follow the signs to the park. It’s a pretty drive. The park entrance is on Helweg, just off Jackson Road and past the Birch Bay Beachwood Grocery and Deli. A Discover Pass is required.

Hovander Homestead Park

With its big red barn, cow pastures, farmyard animals, gently rolling hills, historic buildings and farm implements, this 350-acre park preserves the rich history of Whatcom County pioneer farming.

Hovander Homestead, Bellingham.

Tip: In early May, the lilacs draping the old Hovander house are at peak bloom. Lovely!

It also includes a Fragrance Garden, observation tower, and the Hovander River Trail.

Semiahmoo Park

Semiahmoo Marina.

Try saying that 10x fast. (That’s okay. I’ll wait.)

Whiterock, Canada across the water.

Located on Semiahmoo Parkway on Semiahmoo Bay, Semiahmoo County Park  offers jaw-dropping views across Semiahmoo Bay the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Whiterock, Canada. Picnicking within a stone’s throw of crashing ocean breakers. A superb, easy public walking path out to the Semiahmoo Spit terminating in sweeping views of Mount Baker, the Semiahmoo Resort, and U.S., Canadian, and Washington State flags snapping smartly in a crisp blue breeze.

The park isn’t large. But if you’re in the area, it’s a must-see.

Lynden

A few miles north of Bellingham, this sweet little town is So. Darn. Cute. Proud of its Dutch heritage, Lynden features wind mills, colorful wall murals, Dutch bakeries and restaurants and all things Hollandish.

Downtown Lynden, WA. I kid you not. (Even with my eyes closed.)

A walk down Lynden’s charming Main Street is like stepping back into the Old Country. I half-expected a little Dutch boy to appear around the next bend, holding the sea back with his finger in a dike.

Lynden wall mural. At a downtown parking lot.

We had no idea this city even existed until the good folks at our hotel in Bellingham recommended it. What a treat! Especially since my maternal grandmother is Dutch.

How cute is this?

Additionally, I noted several blocks of tree-lined streets near downtown. The leafy canopies formed a graceful arch over the street. We inquired as to the identity of said trees. No one knew. But I did. (I think.)

Dutch elms lining a Lynden street.

I saw them before. Lining my grandmother’s street in Michigan. In 1967. But you never forget Dutch elms.

Blaine

Peace Arch in Blaine, WA.

With its two-lane road through downtown, quaint shops and restaurants, upscale residences and beach-hugging real estate, Blaine is about as far north as you can get in Washington State and still remain in the U.S. It borders Canada. It also reminded me of the beautiful southern California town of Coronado.

Hello from Canada!

Blaine features another must-see: the famous Peace Arch, which is both a state park and a national historic site. The arch straddles both U.S. and Canadian borders and commemorates the long friendships between these two great nations and the longest undefended border in the world.

Located half inside Washington State and half inside British Columbia, B.C., the park features some of the most beautiful grounds and rolling green hills ever. Mighty impressive.

Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in Sudden Valley

This place is off the beaten path. But it’s worth the drive, with a 4.4 mile RT loop trail through a splendid mixed growth forest bristling with hemlock, Douglas fir, big leaf maple and a thousand shades of green.

You can lop 1.2 miles of your RT by eliminating the 1.2 mile loop trail around Geneva Pond. But then you’d miss this sweet pond (more like a lake). The trail parallels the pond along a ridge before dropping down to shore level. There’s a fine, smooth stone bench on the west end of the placid pond where you can take a breaker and soak in some serenity. We met just one other hiker on this loop before rejoining the mail trail.

You don’t need to be a world class athlete to take this loop trail, which is 4.4 miles RT if you include the pond. But you should be in decent shape. It includes some ups and downs. Bring plenty of water, especially on a warm day.

Geneva Pond. Worth the additional 1.2 miles!

There’s a small dirt parking lot at the trailhead that can accommodate maybe a dozen cars. Vault toilets at the lot. There’s a sign with a trail map at the trail head, just before the beaver pond.

Note: Cougars have been sighted in this area. So keep your head on a swivel.

Additionally…

It’s a bit of drive to get here, but this primo state park offers excellent hiking trails and A+ views of the San Juan Islands

There’s also Larrabee State Park, the Fragrance Lake Trail and the San Juan Islands lookout. But I’ll save that for another time. Cuz my fingers are about ready to fall off.

Wait. Did we do all that in just four days? Remind me to put in for honorary membership in the Cheetah Society of Western Washington.

Bon voyage!

Coming soon: Mount Rainier and the Month of Multiples, Zoofari at Woodland Park, and 800 Vehicular and 65+ Trails Miles in 5 Days: The Coast, Canada, and the Cascades!

7 Responses

  1. noel

    Beautiful photos. It’s a wonderful feeling leaving busyness behind and witness a quiet, natural landscape unfold in front of you. What a fabulous hike, and ten foot miles is nothing to sneeze at!

    • HikerBabe

      Thanks for commenting Noel. It’s back to wet weather and rain this week. But we certainly enjoyed last week’s sunshine and clear skies! ☺

  2. patrishpages

    what a fun trip and a fun post! This looks like an amazing place to hike and explore. Great photo’s and now I want to go visit!

    • HikerBabe

      We’ll leave the light on for ya. 😉

  3. Amy

    Oh my stars! You really covered a lot of territory! You have a little piece of Paradise in your neck of the woods! Those views are just amazing. And that little Dutch town is so cute! I can see the joy on your face! The neighborhood I grew up in was on the Michigan Ohio line. We had a rock at the end of our street in some woods that said Michigan on the Northern side and Ohio on the southern side. Your Canada USA border reminded me of that! That really is pretty cool!

    • HikerBabe

      Thanks for commenting Amy! It was a whirlwind tour. But what fun! Here’s the kicker: The week before our trip it was wet, cold, and rainy. Ditto the week after. But the week we were actually out and about it was dry, clear, and had record high temps. ☺