Thursday, May 24th, 2018
Bike Camping for Beginners – Bellingham to Larrabee State Park
Todd Elsworth

I am a lifelong cyclist. I ride to work and for fun and in all those years, I’ve yet to go on a bike tour/camp out. With the advances in technology in regard to bikes and camping, I figured it was about time to crack this nut. To get started, I re-purposed an old “hardtail” mountain bike that I bought in ’95 and refit it with racks to carry my load. You can too.¬†I began my journey from the coolest boutique hotel in Bellingham – The Heliotrope Hotel.

With Chuck the Chicken leading the way, strapped in on my front rack, I left the hotel and headed through downtown and got on the South Bay Trail out of downtown, that connects with Fairhaven and points beyond.

To clear up some terminology: bike touring/camping vs. bikepacking. Bikepacking is a popular new endeavor that is gaining traction in the mountain bike community. This is another level. From the folks at Bikepacking.com:¬†‚ÄúSimply put, bikepacking is the ¬†synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping.”

Yes, I’m riding a mountain bike, but in a more classic touring fashion. This allows me to have more carrying capacity. Which means that I had the space to get some fresh beer on my last stop out of town, in Fairhaven. I popped into Stones Throw Brewery and got a small bottle to go. Whether you are filling up on your way out or finishing your day of play, Stones Throw is “The Closest Pint to Adventure.”

A brief stop in Boulevard Park to enjoy the perspective of biking along the beach, while the Canadian border peaks poke through the landscape on the horizon.

I chose to ride the road (Chuckanut Drive) to avoid the switchbacks in Arroyo Park and get to my destination, Larrabee State Park, sooner. A necessary stop is at Inspiration Point at Woodstock Farm to look south out, over Chuckanut Bay, to our view of the Olympic Mountains in the distance.

Just after this corner, you can get on the Interurban Trail to enjoy the dedicated bike path that connects to Larrabee State Park “just down the road.” As you travel south on the relatively flat path, you will have to be aware of one dip in the path. Just use caution and everything will be A-OK.

The dedicated path (aka- NO CARS) is a great way to introduce yourself to this fun notion of bike camping. Load up your bike with the essentials and creature comforts and go spend the night outside! Keep it simple, keep it real and have fun. In the words of Nike, “Just Do It.” This is a great introduction to the bike camping craze.

My journey was just over an hour of pedaling from Bellingham. The intent in this first round was not to go far and set any records. I simply wanted to see what I could piece together to ride my bike and camp out. At Larrabee, there are walk-in sites for those of us that will go the extra effort to be a little more “out there”. This was my sign.

After getting my camp set up and going down to pay for my site, I settled in for a snack and a refreshing cold beer. Having enough capacity to carry “things” on my bike, adding beer and ice to the mix wasn’t too far of a stretch. I used a kayak dry bag to store frozen water bottles in to keep my food and drink cool.

For entertainment, I walked down the Fern Trail to the Wildcat Cove boat launch to see “how many people it takes to load a kayak?” The answer, in this case, was: 4. Boat launches are always entertaining. Witnessing the dynamics of couples communications never gets old.

After the show, I returned to “my room” and had my first dehydrated meal in a bag. I usually have a different approach to camp cooking, but I wanted to see how doing it “simply” went. All dinner prep took was boiling water and pouring it in the Mountain House bag, stir and serve. I took my hot pouch and a bowl/spoon and headed to the rocky shore.

The sunsets on the Whatcom County coastline are hard to beat. Since we’re not on “The Ocean” there are near and distant islands that interrupt the horizon and add to the complexity of the setting sun on the western horizon. This is a panorama of my dinner spot, looking out at the setting sun, just north of Lummi Island.

The ride only took me an hour, but it was taxing and the rays of the hot sun tuckered me out. I found my sleeping bag as a welcome space to rest and slumber though the night. The next morning, I laid around in my rain-fly free tent, just listening and breathing and soaking it all in.

After my morning rituals, I got back on it. With Chuck leading the way, we chose to hustle and get after it on Chuckanut Drive. The morning light cast rewarding shadows on the road below.

We took a right off Chuckanut Drive, to get back on the Interurban at Hiline/Cleator Road. I was delighted to see that this next section of trails has been adopted by the Walking Friends! What a great group!!

On our way to Larrabee, we rode the road for this section. But on the way back, Chuck and I decided that it would be more fun to head on the trail to the popular North Chuckanut Trailhead parking lot below.

The walkways have been elevated and positioned in a manner that makes it reasonable for people to Ride ON! Chuck was ready to lead the way.

Our return route was a mixture of road and trails. What a convenience to have so much to choose from. After my one hour ride back into town, I had to stop at the center of it all- Boundary Bay Brewery. Besides award-winning beers, they have an excellent menu and nice people helping you make the most of your day.

To finish it off, I made my way through town, back to the Heliotrope Hotel. Done. Deal. The round trip ride from Bellingham to Larrabee State Park is a great way to introduce yourself, and friends and family, to travel and camp. After a ride, the Heliotrope offers a complimentary bike washing station to clean up your gear, and a friendly community yard for relaxing on the lawn or by the firepit. The rooms are also comfy and stylishly designed.

If you want to get out there with others, join the worldwide event that Seattle-based bike bag manufacturers are hosting for the fourth year: The Swift Campout 2018 on Saturday, June 23. “Swift Campout is a global call to go bike-camping on June 23, 2018. For the fourth year in a row, thousands of adventurous spirits will load camping gear on their bikes for a weekend adventure.” Sign up and go have an adventure of a lifetime.

Larrabee State Park Information

Larrabee State Park is a 2,748-acre camping park open year-round that has 8,100 feet of saltwater shoreline on Samish Bay.

Campsite Information
The park has 51 standard tent sites, 26 utility sites, eight primitive sites, one dump station, and six showers (four ADA). Six showers are open May 1 – Oct. 1 and four showers are open Oct. 1 – May 1. Utility spaces have sewer, power, and water. Maximum site length is 60-feet (limited availability). A working train track runs through the park and west of the campground. Campers are advised to check in at the registration booth upon arrival.

Reservations and Fees
Reservations can be made 9 months in advance for the period of May 15 to September 15 each year. The rest of the year is on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations can be made online or by calling (888) CAMPOUT or (888) 226-7688.  For fee information, check out the camping rates page.

For more routes and ideas, see our Bicycling page and our Campgrounds page.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.