Winter Light is Just Right for Chuckanut Mountain Hiking
Looking for things to do in Bellingham, WA during winter? Though there are less well-lit hours in a day, winter light is just right for getting up and out hiking. For trails in close proximity to the Heliotrope Hotel, Chuckanut Mountain, just south of The Fairhaven District, is a recreation lover's paradise. Buy a Chuckanut hiking map from The Heliotrope for trail guidance and you'll be good to go!
The Chuckanut area offers a multitude of environments, including caves, cliffs, lakes, streams, abundant forests, and marine shoreline. This low lying ridge – the only place where the Cascade Mountains reach the sea – hosts hikes for every ability and inclination: flat walks through the forest with peekaboo glimpses of the Salish Sea; steep sweaty hikes to stellar views of the mountain ranges and the San Juan Islands; moderate rambles to tucked-away mountain lakes. There are hikes for every time frame and weather condition as well, including a thirty-minute stroll along a salmon-bearing creek, all day multi-mile expeditions, walks in the sun along coastal beaches, and rainy day forest ridge walks.
Since this northwest corner is a temperate rainforest, there’s rarely a reason not to go out, as temperatures seldom get too low or too high. Locals find that with the proper layers (our northwest uniform of base layers, warm jacket, sturdy shoes, and rain gear) there’s no such thing as bad weather. And, if your feet do get soggy, we have boot dryers in The Hub for your use!
Some of the Heliotrope owners live at the base of Chuckanut Mountain and venture out every day, year-round. Here are some of their favorite hikes:
Our Favorite Chuckanut Hikes
The Interurban Trail links the Fairhaven District of Bellingham with Larrabee State Park to the south. The hard packed gravel trail follows an old railway corridor on a mostly level grade. Bikes are able to navigate the trail adequately (though you may need to push it on the more narrow and uphill trails through Arroyo Park). The route is primarily forested, with views of the water and the San Juan Islands. While the trail is about 6 miles long, you can choose your own adventure on mileage, depending on where you park.
Just off north Chuckanut Drive, Arroyo Park has a network of trails through a beautiful old forest with a lovely stream (Chuckanut Creek). In late fall, salmon swim up the creek to spawn in the waters. Dogs may be off leash, if under voice control. Best of all, the huge Maple trees offer cover in rainstorms. Note: Many trails up Chuckanut Mountain's north end take off from Arroyo Park.
Woodstock Farm is a country home estate on a bluff over the sea created by Cyrus Lester Gates, a prominent Fairhaven business and civic leader. The Farm was built between 1905 and 1925, partly as a family home and partly as a showpiece on scenic Chuckanut Drive, and features well-maintained trails and lovely views of the sea and islands. If you are planning a wedding in the PNW, you may consider having it at Woodstock Farm and taking over The Heliotrope for the weekend for your lodging needs (hint, hint).
A popular spot in the heart of the Chuckanut Mountains, Fragrance Lake makes for a fine destination any time of year. On a well-built, hiker-only trail through forest, the way to Fragrance Lake includes a scenic lookout of Samish Bay and a glistening horizon dotted with islands. This is a 5.5 mile roundtrip hike + a short loop around the lake, with 950' elevation gain on gentle switchbacks.
Teddy Bear Cove
A switchback trail through the forest leads to a couple of lovely coves with magnificent shoreline views of Chuckanut Bay and Clark's Point. Teddy Bear Cove features two unique, small beaches on either side of a bluff jutting out into the Salish Sea. While the trail down from Chuckanut Drive is short, it is rather steep, with well-graded switchbacks.
Chuckanut Ridge Trail
The Chuckanut Ridge Trail follows a ridge in the center of Larrabee State Park, and connects the trails on the west and north side of Chuckanut Mountain with the trails and lakes on the east and south. This longer trail offers multiple viewpoints and is ideal for trail running, hiking, or mountain biking. 10.5 miles roundtrip with the highest point at 1900'.
Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail
This steep, then moderate trail through shady forest on the east side of Chuckanut leads to two beautiful small lakes and numerous branching trails. Trails circle both of these lakes, and on nice days some choose to take a dip, even in the winter! 5 mile round trip with 1400' of elevation gain.
Clayton Beach is a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, known for being a great place to explore, study tide pools, and lounge on the sandy banks. Views of the San Juan Islands and the Samish Valley are lovely from here. 2-mile round trip from the parking lot.
The Rock Trail
This newer 1.2-mile trail in Larrabee State Park takes hikers past high cliff bands and geologic features that are a snapshot of climatic events millions of years ago. Winter through early spring offers peek-a-boo views of Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters before the lush forest leafs out. This is a charismatic trail with a set of steps tracing the edge of a gorgeous wall of Chuckanut sandstone. Note the interesting indentations created by wind and weather over millions of years. Park at the top of Chuckanut Mountain at the Cyrus Gates Overlook.
Things to consider
Depending on where you park you will likely need a Washington State Parks Discover Pass.
Bring a lunch! You can buy a great picnic lunch from Old World Deli located halfway between the Heliotrope Hotel and Chuckanut Mountain. Afterwards, consider beer and poutine at Aslan Brewery, or smoked salmon chowder at Boundary Bay Brewery. For a real PNW experience, continue along Chuckanut Drive to Taylor Shellfish and enjoy oysters alongside Samish Bay.
Heliotrope guests can ask our friendly staff for directions and more suggestions for local adventures, like exploring salmon and streams!
For more detailed descriptions and directions on every hike in the Chuckanuts (and beyond), we highly recommend picking up Ken Wilcox's book "Hiking Whatcom County". We sell "Hiking Whatcom County" in The Hub at The Heliotrope and also offer Chuckanut Mountain maps for sale. You may also access more information on the hikes at Whatcom County’s Parks & Recreation website.
- Written by Aimee Frazier, Heliotrope Hotel owner who gets to hike on Chuckanut Mountain every day, rain or shine