If family or friends come to visit from out of town, it’s a good chance we’ll take them to visit Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham. The falls are beautiful year-round, and never fail to impress visitors.
The park’s namesake is something to behold. The falls are especially magnificent after the winter rains have started and the volume of water rushing over the falls is an experience to see – and hear.
The WPA-era bridge over Whatcom Creek gives a front-row view of the falls. Tourists and locals alike are usually there with camera in hand.
And the falls are beautiful to visit any time of the year. When the water isn’t rushing though the Whatcom Creek at its highest levels, there are several places above the falls where you can hop rock-to-rock and explore the interesting formations the water has cut into the stone.
The “Picnic Grounds”
Whatcom Falls may be the oldest park in the city, dating back to the 1890s. It was originally called the “picnic grounds” and formally became a city park in 1908 when the Young Men’s Commercial Club (think of it as the junior chamber of commerce) raised money to purchase 40 acres for the park.
Over time, the city purchased more and more land to encompass the park’s 241 acres, which wraps around Bayview Cemetery to the west.
Being more than a century old, Whatcom Falls is rich with history. The iconic bridge over the falls was built in 1938-39 as a WPA project. The bridge is constructed from Chuckanut sandstone salvaged from a building in downtown Bellingham that had burned down.
Other historical elements include the remnants of the train trestle, constructed in 1916 to link a lumber mill on Lake Whatcom to Bellingham Bay, and the fish hatchery, which was built in 1936.
The park’s recent history includes a fire caused by a gas leak in 1999. The scars from the fire have healed over the years, but restoration continues.
Hatchery, hiking and more
The hatchery is one of my kids’ favorite attractions at the park – it stands up there right next to the falls themselves in wow factor.
And, I’ll admit, it is a lot of fun to check out the occupants of the hatchery ponds, rainbow trout from the fry to mature fish ready to be released. Many of these fish will stock the park’s Derby Pond – a fishing hole for kids 14 and younger. Typically, the first weekend of May the park hosts its annual Mother’s Day fishing derby.
The larger trout in the hatchery ponds are always excited when someone comes around, hopeful that it’s mealtime. One Saturday morning last spring we were thrilled to actually see the fish being fed. The kids even got a chance to throw the fish some kibble as well.
The kids can easily spend an afternoon exploring through the lush forest. The park has 5-1/2 miles of trails, winding through trees, along the creek, and north to Scudder Pond, linking to Bloedel Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom.
Two playground areas, one for tots and the other for all ages, are another draw for families with children, as has been the case for generations.
I remember playing here as a kid. I loved to climb on the big boulder on the upper playground, just as my kids do today.
Rounding out its amenities, the park also has tennis and basketball courts and picnic shelters suitable for large groups.
If you go:
Whatcom Falls Park
1401 Electric Avenue
Hours: 6:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Whatcom Falls Park has two entrances. The lower entrance, from Silver Beach Road off Lakeway Drive, is closer to the falls and the fish hatchery. The upper entrance, on Electric Avenue, is near the tennis courts and main playground.
And a bonus: You’ll find a delightful little neighborhood hangout, Lafeen’s Donuts, right across the street from the upper entrance. Along with doughnuts, Lafeen’s also serves ice cream.