It's raining, it's pouring - let's go exploring streams & salmon
Summer is the Pacific Northwest season that gets top billing, with cloudless skies and temperatures suited to deck dining and mountain climbing. But autumn brings its own magic to Bellingham and Whatcom County. Trees are cloaked in many colors, the air takes on a welcome crisp freshness, and gray days invite reflection. Since this northwest corner is a temperate rain forest, the weather is amenable to adventures year round, if one dons the proper gear. Good insulating layers, hat, gloves, sturdy water resistant shoes, and rain jacket are the regional uniform from October through April. With this protective attire, one can do just about anything, accessing autumnal wonders and crafting memorable adventures. Many of us beat the rainy day blues simply by going out in it: fresh air, canopies of trees, and exercise outdoors chases away indoor doldrums and primes one for an evening with friends, or sitting fireside with a cup of tea and a good book.
Salmon has long been an iconic species here, emblematic of sustenance, life cycles, and long-held traditions. Thankfully, there are still many accessible places in Bellingham and Whatcom County where one can see these anadromous fish returning to their home waters to spawn.
Whatcom Creek is a central area - just adjacent to the downtown core - where a short walk offers witness to salmon spawning. Whatcom is a Native American word that loosely translates to “the sound of noisy waters” and the iconic waterfall near the mouth of the creek makes quite a din as it descends to the nearby sea. Each year in the fall, hundreds of salmon make a valiant effort to leap up that churning cascade, an inspiring site to witness from easily accessible bridges over the creek.
For a less public viewing spot and peaceful walk in the woods, head south to Arroyo Park. This land was set aside by early developers who understood that amidst the growth and expansion of a new city, places ought to remain in their natural state in perpetuity for humans and other species. Arroyo – which means stream in Spanish – is one of these places, where an uninhibited Chuckanut Creek winds its way down from Chuckanut Mountain’s foothills through Douglas fir, bigleaf maple and red cedar forests. Each year in November, salmon complete their long Pacific ocean journey and return to the stream to lay eggs and continue their life cycle.
Visitors can head east on the Mount Baker Highway on a late autumn or mid winter drive to the county’s largest river, the Nooksack. Hundreds of bald eagles arrive from distances far and wide, as they have for thousands of years, seeking migrating salmon as sustenance. You can witness this awe-inspiring spectacle on the Nooksack River from December–February at the Deming Eagle Park, as well as other spots along the river.
Yes, the Northwest is wet and gray for much of the year, but this is no reason to stay indoors. Put on your raincoat and boots and step outside to explore Whatcom's wonders and enjoy all this region has to offer in every season!
Whatcom Creek at Maritime Heritage Park is less than a mile from the Heliotrope Hotel.
Arroyo Park is a ten minute drive from the Heliotrope. Park at one of two small parking areas along Old Samish Highway or at the North Chuckanut Trailhead, or rent bikes at Fairhaven Bike and Ski and bike on the flat and forest-lined Interurban Trail to the park, passing another salmon stream - Padden Creek - along the way.
- written by Aimee Frazier, Heliotrope Hotel owner and salmon steward