Monday, March 21st, 2016
Bike or Hike to Spectacular Views from Samish Bay Overlook and Oyster Dome
Todd Elsworth

Driving along Chuckanut Drive, south of Larrabee State Park, you will see an inordinate amount of cars parked precariously along the edge. It may seem that everybody is in line for The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive, but that’s not the full attraction. One of the main attractions for hikers is the Chuckanut Trail (also part of the Pacific Northwest Trail) that leads up to the Samish Bay Overlook and for the more adventurous, the infamous Oyster Dome!

With the destination of the dome in mind, the fun began. Route planning! In my advancing age (not really) my eyes are in need of help (for real), so I prefer to use my daughter’s “bug spying” magnifying glass from the hardware store to get into the details of my day- especially scoping out the contour lines that designate an increase or decrease in elevation.

OysterDomeBlanchardMap

On my adventures, I usually have an idea of where I want to go, but no specific plan outlined. It’s great to take a holistic look and identify the options and go with the flow as the day progresses. At least this was my plan for reaching the summit at Oyster Dome. One simple plan at least- start at the bottom, work my way to the top, then go down! My trusted steed “Silver” (aka- my mountain bike) would provide the transport that I would require to get ‘er done.

Unlike those parked on Chuckanut Drive, I chose to take a more circuitous route. I took Exit 240 off of I-5, went North on Lake Samish Rd and quickly turned onto Barrel Springs Road. Keep an eye out on the right for the dirt road with minimal signage. I parked at the least popular, Lower Trail Head, where there is ample parking and restrooms. The single track trail for hikers, equestrians, trail runners and mountain bikers starts near there.

Climbing the first section is a great warmup. The trail dumps out at the Upper Trail Head. From there, the Lily Lizard Trail begins (referencing the two lakes it leads to, eventually) and winds up the hillside. When I got to the Lily Max Connector Trail, I made a decision. Yes, I do deserve to go to the lower Samish Overlook (that is also a drive-able destination) and see what all the fuss is about. I made the connection to the Larry Reed Trail and wound through croaking frogs in the swampy pockets. Soon enough, I popped out onto the Samish Overlook!

OysterDomeBlanchardSamishView

There is parking for horses, cars and people! Benches and bathrooms make this a place to hang out for a while and soak in the views. These photos are looking south over the Skagit flats with Chuckanut Drive cutting a line through the middle.

OysterDomeBlanchardSamish

Zooming in, you can appreciate the lush green farmland of the valley below.

OysterDomeBlanchardSamishFlats

The wide gravel path is a welcome break for those folks who chose to hoof it up from Chuckanut Drive below. The view below is looking west out over Samish Bay- with Samish Island and Vendovi Island (directly above the woman with the red backpack) in the foreground and Guemes Island rising in the background.

OysterDomeBlanchardSanJuanView

As I made my way down, I heard voices (not just the ones in my head) coming from the woods! These nice young gentlemen were just hanging out for the afternoon. I shouted out, “Did you two monkeys see the two eagles below?” We laughed out loud.

OysterDomeBlanchardHammocks

The monkeys’ vantage point gave them a view of Samish Bay to the north and of people perched on the side of the hill. Below these folks were the two eagles! In the photo below, Lummi Island, with Eliza Island in front are floating above the couple standing with their dog. The island rising to the left is Orcas with Mount Constitution reigning supreme in the San Juans.

OysterDomeBlanchardSamishBay

I love Bald Eagles. Not just because of the myth that they beat out the Turkey as our National Bird, but because they are awesome! We are fortunate to have ample opportunity to see them.

SamishBayEaglesView

Sidenote: If you’d like a tangent, these are my personal favorite Eagle Photos and some videos of an Eagle Eating an Octopus from another adventure, I’d like to share with you!

Zooming in with the camera on their white heads, their regal positioning commands respect (even though it’s a little blurry) for any viewer.

SamishBayEagles

Break over! Time to climb. Jumping back on “Silver” (yes, it’s a Lone Ranger reference) we retraced our route and got back on the Larry Reed Trail to make our way UP to the dome.

We chose to take Max’s Shortcut and follow this section of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT). See PNT section map (I’m warning you, it’s BIG but detailed) North Cascades to Salt Water, Ross Lake to Samish Bay (PDF).

The route is a “shortcut”, which means it takes a more aggressive line than the other option. Max’s Shortcut is for expert (and in shape) riders. Needless to say, I was not always in the saddle on the climb. Yes, I walked Silver at times.

The views! Yes, the views!! That’s what I came for- the views. And to share with you. The shortcut merges at a confluence of other trails at the Lily Lake Trail intersection. We continued to roll on the Oyster Lily Trail to reach our interim destination – Oyster Dome!

At the trail junction to Oyster Dome, I tied Silver up and continued my ascension on foot.

The southern views from Oyster Dome provide a top down look at Samish Island in the foreground and Padilla Bay separating the islands further out. On such a sunny day, is was a great place to share with everybody.

OysterDomeBlanchardOverlook

Walking to see what the northwestern views had to offer, I looked out over the Oyster Creek drainage that empties out near the Taylor Shellfish Farm into Samish Bay below.

OysterDomeBlanchardChuckanuts

Don’t look down! If you must, it’s quite a drop. These happy campers were perched out below, enjoying their view and some lunch, I imagine.

OysterDomeLedge

After a quick snack myself, I shot this panorama atop Oyster Dome, looking to the northwest. The “panos” come out a bit funky, sometimes, but help tell a story and show off the breadth of beauty the human eye can soak in.

OysterDome

Now what? I got UP. How should I get down? After I fetched Silver out of the woods, we chose to cross back over to Lily and Lizard Lakes. This would set us up for a bit more fun on the way down. About 3 miles of it. Yeehaw! From Lizard Lake, we rolled on the Lizard Lake to Lily Lizard Trail and connected it all the way back to the bottom. Quite the ride.

The lesson: What goes UP, must come down! Spinning Wheel!!

Thank you Square One Maps for helping me get OUT THERE!

SquareOneMap

For more outdoor adventures near Bellingham, WA see the full list of Todd’s articles or our Things to Do pages.

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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.