Bellingham and the surrounding area are home to world-class hiking, running, and mountain biking trails. Of course, many of these trails (like Oyster Dome) are popular and can get quite crowded on sunny weekends. If you’re looking to escape into nature for some solitude, we’ve got you covered. Here are our tips on how and where to find crowd-free trails in Whatcom County.
Wondering where to go? Bellingham Parks and Recreation is encouraging users to get outdoors safely in their own neighborhood. The best resource for discovering local parks near you is the Whatcom Park Finder. Developed in Bellingham by Recreation Northwest, this tool searches over 180 parks throughout Whatcom County. If you live in Whatcom County, try the Park Finder to discover new-to-you parks in your own neighborhood. Just put in your address and search radius, and Park Finder will show nearby parks in your neighborhood.
It’s important to always be prepared with a map and your 10 Essentials including water, rain gear and sunscreen. During these times we do suggest going a little further than just 10. In addition to your gear, we recommend you bring: wipes, hand sanitizer, and a face mask.
How to Find Crowd-free Trails
Dispersing trail users is a win-win for outdoor enthusiasts and the environment. Before setting out, consider these tips to find quiet and lesser-known trails in the area.
- Go during off-peak hours. Visit more popular trails on weekdays, early in the morning, and during cool, cloudy days for a quieter outing. Weekends, afternoons, and sunny days are typically the busiest times.
- Do your research. Rather than choosing the most Insta-famous (and busiest) spots, do some digging to find a trail you’ve never heard of. The Washington Trails Association (WTA) website is an invaluable resource for this. Use their Hike Finder Map or mobile app to search for lesser-known trails in Whatcom County.
- Buy a guidebook. Buy a hiking guidebook from a local bookstore like Village Books. These guides often feature hundreds of trails, many of which you won’t find online. Travel Tip: Check out our online Mt. Baker Hiking Guide!
- Drive farther. To really beat the crowds, you’ll have to get away from the city. Take Mount Baker Highway or North Cascades Highway for a scenic drive and a better chance at solitude. If you have a capable vehicle, consider driving forest roads to access far-out trailheads.
- Hike/bike/run farther. Once you’re on the trail, getting a mile or more away from the trailhead can make a huge difference. Check out that side trail that you’ve always wondered about. Always be prepared by bringing a map and the rest of the 10 Essentials!
Where to Hike and Trail Run
Taking into consideration the tips above, here are a few suggested trails that are off the beaten path. These trails are generally accessible to hikers and runners year-round unless otherwise noted. Check WTA trip reports for current conditions.
Mount Baker Highway (SR 542)
Located in north Whatcom County near the US-Canada border, Sumas Mountain is far enough from the city to discourage large crowds. Parking is limited, too. Please respect local residents by not blocking any driveways on the dead-end road.
For a 3.5-mile lollipop loop hike with about 900 feet of elevation gain, try the Gold Mine Trail. The beginning of this hike is notoriously muddy, so bring appropriate footwear. After 1 mile you’ll reach a junction. To the left, you’ll find “The Cabin”, built-in 1891. Today the Sumas Mountain Outpost has been restored and is open to the public. Other remnants of the mountain’s mining past can be found along the trail — read up on the history here.
Horseshoe Bend Trail
A summer hotspot, Horseshoe Bend Trail is the perfect cloudy day escape between fall and spring. A rolling 2.4-mile round trip trail along the Nooksack River, it’s a short and family-friendly excursion located right off Mount Baker Highway. Travel Tip: Read more about this trail and other year-round hikes in our blog: Four Winter (and Early Spring) Hikes in Whatcom County.
North Cascades Highway (SR 20)
East Bank Baker Lake
While it does tend to get busy with campers during summer, Baker Lake makes for a quiet escape during the offseason. Drive to the North Baker Lake Trailhead (Baker River Trail) for the best chance at leaving crowds behind. From here, you can hike the remote Baker River Trail, or cross the suspension bridge and hike south on the 14-mile East Bank Baker Lake Trail. Travel Tip: Check out our insider blog: Year-Round Hiking at Whatcom County’s Baker Lake.
Thunder Creek Trail
For those who want to put some distance between themselves and the trailhead, Thunder Creek Trail is hard to beat. Running over 30 miles south from Colonial Creek Campground (off the North Cascades Highway), this backcountry corridor enters North Cascades National Park and leads to numerous backpacking camps. The campground trailhead is especially busy during summer, but after a few miles the crowds fall away and you’re left with only the sound of Thunder Creek crashing below. This trail may be snowy during winter, so be sure to check recent trip reports before heading out.
Where to Bike, Run, and Hike
In addition to hiking and trail running, Whatcom County is well-known for its mountain biking trails. To get away from the popular spots like Galbraith Mountain and the Chuckanut Mountains, look no further than Lookout Mountain and Stewart Mountain. Rising from the shores of Lake Whatcom, these alternative mountain destinations make it easier for trail users to spread out and enjoy some breathing room.
Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve
Offering a mix of wide forest roads and singletrack, Lookout Mountain is home to a growing network of multi-use trails. Most trails are open to hiking, while bikers enjoy access to the Baneberry Trail, the biker-only Cougar Ridge Trail, and the Backside/Bottoms Up Trails which connect to Galbraith Mountain. Bikers can also ride the LM-2000 Road for some solitude on the mountain. Check the park’s website for details on each of these trails and a map of the preserve.
Stewart Mountain and Chanterelle Trail
Head to Stewart Mountain in Lake Whatcom Park for access to biking and hiking along Wickersham Truck Trail (a forest road) and the Chanterelle Trail. Originally built as a 2.4-mile (one way) trail to an overlook above the lake, the Chanterelle Trail was extended during the summer of 2019 for an additional 2.6 miles. You can now hike up to 10 miles (round-trip) on the Chanterelle Trail. The trail crosses Wickersham road at several points, allowing bikers and hikers to diversify their route via various loops.