Todd Elsworth | 12/27/2013 | Hiking, Insider Blogs |   

An Urban Hike: Barkley Village to Big Rock Garden

Barkley Village, in North Bellingham, is a great starting point for a hike to either Whatcom Falls Park or up to the hidden Big Rock Garden. You can park in Barkley Village to begin your journey--the 250-acre urban village offers a variety of residential, retail, office and civic uses. It also provides ample parking and access to the trails that emanate from its core. Begin your trek at the pagoda next to the Barkley Haggen Grocery Store--and a last minute chance to get some sundry items. The rocks sitting out front are not the Big Rock Garden of which I speak. We'll get there.


Start on the Railroad Trail off of Woburn Ave or you can access it from a smaller trail that cuts through the woods. The Railroad Trail offers a gentle grade with a little hill near the St. Clair Detention Basin where you'll see a split in the path. Off to the left, there is a signpost directing you up the Klipsun Trail. If you stay to the right, you'll soon be standing over Alabama Street on a pedestrian overpass looking down on Bellingham. If you go left, you'll be on your way to discover the secrets of Big Rock Garden.


The Klipsun Trail is a series of stairs that send you straight (it sure feels like it) up Alabama Hill. You'll pass Niagara St, Vining St, Alpine Dr, Crestline Dr and top out at the end of Sylvan Street. There is no parking available at the trail entrances, just helpful points of reference to see how far you have come--or have yet to go. [caption id="attachment_16878" align="aligncenter" width="575"]SylvanBigRockSignpost Klipsun Trail at the end of Sylvan Street (go right to Big Rock Garden)[/caption] This is the signpost in the distance in the photo above. If you follow the trail to the right, you will eventually end up at Big Rock Garden (stay to the right on the trails). Otherwise, for the shortest route to Big Rock Garden, take a right and walk down the road. The entrance will be on your left.


Once you've passed through the gates into the park you can pick your own path. Art abounds on the sloped landscape. The mist of the dense fog makes it an even more mystical place.


As members of the Pacific Rim community, we see the art and architecture of our eastern friends represented often in our landscape. I find it interesting that both the pagoda in the background and the one at the start of our journey demonstrates this connection.


There are many inspiring pieces throughout the park. In this one it was a matter of perspective of what could be seen through the opening--a deer in the distance.


As I moved beyond the the art, I was able to introduce myself to the deer and get their permission to take their photo. They were too busy eating and relaxing in their nice protected habitat to really care what I was doing.

Big Rock Garden was specifically designed using native plants to attract wildlife: a unique feature of this park. Find out more:  Gardens - Wildlife Friendly (PDF).


Some of the pieces in the park are bold, while others seem to blend and fit right in. The twists and turns of the sculptures and the path are an invitation to explore deeper.


Some of the sculptures even look as though they were built by our local mountain-biking community. One of the amenities of the park are the clean bathrooms and fresh drinking water. The building is easy to find--it's the one with the big Sun Mask on the side. You can't miss it!


Here's what the Kwakiutl Sun Mask looks like a bit closer up on the side the building.  

[caption id="attachment_16876" align="aligncenter" width="575"]BigRockSunMask 7' diameter cedar carving by Jimmy Joseph of Albert Bay, Alaska.[/caption]

It's fun to take a couple loops around the park--you almost need to in order to make sure that you don't miss anything. After you soak in all that the landscape and artists have to offer, you can head back down the hill to complete your journey.

There are many restaurants and shops to return to in Barkley Village.   Check out the Barkley Village Dining options or the complete Barkley Village Directory to see what is awaiting your return.

City of Bellingham's Big Rock Garden Information:

"Nestled in a grove of evergreens above Lake Whatcom sits a unique city park showcasing original sculptures in a 2.5 acre garden. Meandering paths wander through the peaceful landscape of Big Rock Garden Park, where nature and art complement each other. The Park boasts over 37 permanent works by distinguished international and local artists. A striking geometrical sculpture by renowned Mexican artist Sebastian and rarely seen pieces by Canadian artist David Marshall highlight the diversity.  Each May the Friends of Big Rock Garden Park and the Bellingham Parks & Recreation Department sponsor a Mother's Day Celebration with a focus on the garden and the opening of a new seasonal sculpture show. Seasonal change in the garden inspires a new experience with each visit. Rhododendrons and azaleas announce spring with brilliant color, over 100 varieties of maples signal the arrival of fall, and the conifers' restful winter hues complete the year. Pets are not permitted in Big Rock Garden Park." - City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation-Big Rock Garden.


Dawn to dusk year round.


Big Rock Garden Park is located at 2900 Sylvan Street in the Silver Beach Neighborhood.
  • Map
  • Parking is limited; on-street parking may be necessary.
Editors Note: You can make a bigger trip out of the walk and start at Barkley Village.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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