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.
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.
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.
In no particular order, here are some highlights from our whirlwind tour this captivating coastal county:
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.
If you only have time for one county park in Whatcom, check out Whatcom Falls Park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Try saying that 10x fast. (That’s okay. I’ll wait.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
I saw them before. Lining my grandmother’s street in Michigan. In 1967. But you never forget Dutch elms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!