Friday, December 27th, 2013
An Urban Hike: Barkley Village to Big Rock Garden
Todd Elsworth

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.

BarkleyGazebo

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.

KlipsunTrailSignpost

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.

SylvanBigRockSignpost

Klipsun Trail at the end of Sylvan Street (go right to Big Rock Garden)

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.

BigRockSignpost

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.

BigRockGardenPath

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.

BigRockGazebo

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.

BigRockDeerPeek

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 РWildlife Friendly (PDF).

BigRockDeer

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.

BigRockHill

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!

BigRockRamp

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

BigRockSunMask

7′ diameter cedar carving by Jimmy Joseph of Albert Bay, Alaska.

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.

Hours

Dawn to dusk year round.

Directions

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.

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About the Author:

As the co-Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at RecreationNorthwest.org.

3 Comments »

  1. I’m wondering, do you know the exact walking distance between the Barkley Haggen starting point and arrival at Big Rock Park? We hiked it today and it took a little under 2 hours round trip, plus whatever meandering we did to see the art once there. Have you figured out the exact mileage, from Haggen to the park entrance?
    Thanks for your answer! We loved it! And I took this route based on this article which I searched beforehand, so thank you very much!

    Comment by Carol Tyler — September 27, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

  2. I haven’t measured the distance. Thank you for the kind words and I’m glad you enjoyed the walk.

    Comment by Todd Elsworth — September 29, 2015 @ 9:13 am

  3. According to Google maps, it is 1.4 miles each way. A nice walk with a bit of elevation gain.

    Comment by Laura Steiger — March 19, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

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