Monday, July 16th, 2018
3 Summer Trails and Apres-hike Ales in Whatcom County
Brandon Fralic

When summer hits in Bellingham it’s a game-changer. Suddenly, happy hikers head for the hills via Mount Baker Highway, whose ski area is transformed into a wildflower wonderland in the warmer months.

We’ve covered year-round hikes and happy hours around Whatcom County, along with winter trails and ales. 

Below, we’ve paired a few favorite summer-only trails with our favorite places to grab a beer post-hike. See you on the trail — or in the taproom!

Skyline Divide Trail. Brandon Fralic photo.

1. Lake Ann + Chair 9 Pizza and Bar

  • Gain – 1,900 feet
  • Highest point – 4,900 feet
  • 8.2 miles, roundtrip
  • Dogs are allowed, on a leash

Lake Ann Trail

Lake Ann Trail. Brandon Fralic photo.

Hike through wildflower meadows and talus-strewn slopes to Lake Ann for close-up views of Mount Shuksan’s thunderous glaciers. This trail begins with a descent, dropping 700 feet into a valley alongside Swift Creek. Criss-cross the creek and streams several times before climbing out of the valley towards Lake Ann. Views of Mount Baker, Table Mountain, and seemingly endless peaks and valleys surround you along the way. Watch and listen for wildlife — the pika are particularly vocal here.

After 4 miles reach a saddle, then descend towards Lake Ann for panoramic views of Mount Shuksan and the alpine lake at 4,700 feet. Listen for the sound of Shuksan’s glaciers — groaning under the heat of the sun — before returning the way you came.

Chair 9 Pizza & Bar

Known for its “first cocktail/last cocktail” sign on Mount Baker Highway, Chair 9 is indeed the first place to stop for a drink on your way down from the mountain. This woodstone pizza pub’s cheeky name is a nod to the number of chairs at Mount Baker Ski Area (there are only 8) — a 12th man-esque reference for skiers and snowboarders. But let’s talk about the beer. Chair 9 sources locally from Bellingham breweries, usually featuring Kulshan Brewing and other local favorites in heavy rotation. It’s a well-earned first stop for hungry (and thirsty) summer hikers.  

2. Heliotrope Ridge + North Fork Brewery

  • Gain – 1,400 feet
  • Highest point – 5,100 feet
  • 5.5 miles, roundtrip
  • Dogs are allowed, on a leash

Heliotrope Ridge

Mount Baker’s Coleman Glacier from Heliotrope Ridge Trail. Brandon Fralic photo.

Experience Mount Baker’s Coleman Glacier up close and personal at Heliotrope Ridge.  At just over 2.5 miles one-way, this trail is relatively short but feels like an adventure due to multiple creek crossings. Along the way, hikers share the path with mountaineers attempting to summit Mount Baker. Come prepared with trekking poles and an extra pair of socks — there’s a good chance you’ll get your feet wet at some point.

Once you’ve reached the overlook, peer out over the sea of glacier-blue ice. This is the Lower Coleman Icefall, part of the greater Coleman Glacier. Those giant ice chunks in front of you are called seracs. Often formed by intersecting crevasses, they can be as big as a car – or even a house. Above, Mount Baker stands tall at 10,781 feet. Be sure to read the latest WTA trip reports for seasonal conditions and exercise caution on this potentially dangerous trail.

North Fork Brewery

Stop in at the North Fork Brewery and Beer Shrine — located right off Mount Baker Highway — for your post-hike pint. This funky brewery is decorated floor-to-ceiling with beer memorabilia and offers some of the best pizza (and beer) in the county. Try one of their experimental sours or the silky-smooth nitro ESB. And if it’s the weekend, expect a line out the door!

3. Skyline Divide + Illuminati Brewing

  • Gain – 2,500 feet
  • Highest point – 6,500 feet
  • 9 miles, roundtrip
  • Dogs are allowed, on a leash

Skyline Divide

Mount Shuksan from Skyline Divide. Brandon Fralic photo.

What can be said about one of Whatcom County’s finest trails that haven’t been said before?

Skyline Divide is simply spectacular. A rolling ridgeline hike offering panoramic views from mounts Shuksan to Baker, it’s a wildflower oasis in early summer and a fiery fall-color kaleidoscope come fall. Marmots whistle as you walk. Views improve with seemingly every step. But this trail’s rewards don’t come without a significant challenge: you’ll gain roughly 1,500 feet in the first 2 miles, and 1,000 more along the way. Come prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray. And don’t forget the SUV — the forest road to Skyline Divide is notoriously long and pothole-filled. But oh-so-worth it!

Illuminati Brewing

It may be a conspiracy, but the 13th brewery in town is a charm.

A post shared by David Barton (@bartonizer) on

The first Bellingham brewery you come to on the way back to town is Illuminati Brewing. This joint brewery-winery is a great place to go if you’re hiking with a mixed crowd and seeking some variety. For the hungry hiker, Illuminati’s hearty meat and cheese plates are the perfect way to refuel apres-hike.

For more trails and ales in Whatcom County, check out the following links:

Also, see our Beer page for more posts about Bellingham Craft Beer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:

Freelance writer Brandon Fralic has called Bellingham home since 2006. He writes about the outdoors, travel, and craft beer for a variety of regional publications. Brandon co-founded Beers at the Bottom in 2013 to highlight Pacific Northwest trails and ales. His first book, Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest, was released in 2018.