Outdoor recreation is the number one reason that so many adventurous folks choose to live in Whatcom County. Situated between the Salish Sea and the North Cascades, Whatcom is a land of towering peaks, serene forests, countless trails, and endless outdoor opportunities. Whether you’re interested in hiking, exploring public parks, paddling, snow sports, or simply taking a scenic drive, there’s something for everyone here.
I’ve lived in Whatcom County since 2006 and I’m still discovering new places to explore. Here are a handful of my favorite spots to help you explore Bellingham and Whatcom County like a local.
For hikers, it’s important to always be prepared with a map and your 10 Essentials including water, rain gear, and sunscreen. During these times we suggest going a little further than just 10. In addition to your essential gear, we recommend you bring wipes, hand sanitizer, and a face mask.
For more information on outdoor recreation during Covid-19, check out the Recreate Responsibly campaign — which encourages best practices including planning ahead, playing it safe, and Leave No Trace principles.
Top 3 Parks
Larrabee State Park
Washington’s first state park, Larrabee State Park has been a local favorite since its opening in 1915. Over 100 years later, this 2,748-acre camping park offers 8,100 feet of saltwater shoreline on Samish Bay.
Home to camping, hiking, mountain biking, and scenic waterfront views, Larrabee State Park and Chuckanut Drive are #1 on our 10 Must Do’s in Historic Fairhaven.
Explore the park with a hike to Fragrance Lake or an easy walk to the beach. Then, continue down Chuckanut Drive to Taylor Shellfish for fresh oysters — or head north into Fairhaven for endless dining options.
Travel Tip: A Discover Pass is required for parking.
Hovander Homestead Park
Visit the countryside farm at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale, Washington for access to easy walking trails and a breath of fresh air. This rural county park encompasses a sprawling 350 acres and features everything from farmyard animals to a fragrance garden and boardwalk at Tennant Lake. It’s the perfect place to walk the dog, stretch your legs, and let the kids run around outside. Climb the wildlife viewing tower for views across the wetlands to Mount Baker.
With access to a huge red barn and historic Victorian home (a National Historic Site in fact), Hovander makes our list of Most Instagrammable Spots in Whatcom County.
A mile-long beach between Birch Bay and Blaine, Semiahmoo Spit is one of our favorite spots for Socially Distant and Uplifting Walks in Whatcom County!
The spit is excellent for bird watching, beachcombing, and sunset viewing. And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay (or eat and drink) nearby, Semiahmoo Resort is located at the end of the spit.
Top 3 Hikes
Stimpson Family Nature Reserve
Best for solitude and serenity
For those in need of a forest bathing experience, Stimpson Family Nature Reserve delivers 350 acres of undisturbed old-growth. This ancient forest features Douglas Fir trees over 400 years old! Walk beneath the lush canopy to access two loop trails. Both are fairly short, offering over 4 miles of hiking trails in total.
With its natural serenity, Stimpson was rated one of Whatcom County’s 10 Best Walking Trails!
Best year-round moderate hike
If you’re looking for a trail that checks all the boxes, Chanterelle Trail may be the one. Open to hikers and mountain bikers alike year-round, this trail is great for kids, leashed dogs, and just about anyone looking for a good hike.
It’s moderately challenging (4.8 miles round-trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain) and offers options for extending your hike or making a loop. And of course, the payoff is oh-so-worth-it. From the overlook, you’ll enjoy expansive views across Lake Whatcom to Lookout Mountain, Bellingham Bay and beyond.
Pine and Cedar Lakes
Best challenging lake trail
A Bellingham classic, the trail to Pine and Cedar Lakes is no joke. Gaining 1,400 feet in 5 miles round-trip, it sounds pretty moderate. But don’t be fooled by the numbers — this trail is a local training ground for bigger, more challenging mountain climbs. That’s because most of the elevation gain happens in the first mile or so.
Once you make it up this steep initial ascent, the trail eases up and leads to two picturesque lakes nestled in the evergreen forest of the Chuckanut Mountains.
These are just a few local favorite hikes near Bellingham. Check out our blog “Day Hiking in Bellingham and Whatcom County” for more suggestions and tips!
Top 3 Lookout Points
Picture Lake and Artist Point
It’s hard to beat the views at the end of Mount Baker Highway. Mount Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake is a timeless portrait of Whatcom County and the North Cascades — one of those classic scenes everyone should see at least once. You can experience this incredible viewpoint year-round. A 0.5-mile paved walking trail encircles the lake, or you can simply stop by for a photo snap.
Picture Lake is also ranked #1 on our list of Most Instagrammable Spots in Whatcom County!
A few more miles up the road, Artist Point marks the end of the highway. From this mile-high parking lot, you’re surrounded by the mountains of the North Cascades. Take in views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Table Mountain from the parking lot, or go for a hike if conditions allow.
During winter, you can also snowshoe to Artist Point!
Perhaps the most famous hike near Bellingham, Oyster Dome is another can’t-miss destination. Located on Blanchard Mountain (part of the Chuckanut Mountains), the dome is a 2,000-foot rock perch overlook with 180-degrees of Salish Sea and San Juan Island views.
If you’re not up for a hike, the view from the parking lot at Samish Overlook is nearly as good as the dome.
Travel Tip: Discover Pass required for parking.
Diablo Lake Overlook
Located high above the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake, this overlook is an absolute must-stop on the North Cascades Highway (SR-20). Snow-covered peaks drop precipitously to the glacier-fed lake, whose waters are actually a dammed section of the Skagit River. This is one of the most photogenic places in the state of Washington.
For more scenic overlooks, check out our blog “Mountain and Water Landmarks of Whatcom County near Bellingham.”
Where to Kayak
Whatcom County’s 100+ miles of saltwater shoreline and freshwater lakes offer plenty of kayaking opportunities.
During winter, Whatcom County transforms into a snowy playground. Most of the action happens near the end of Mount Baker Highway, at the Mount Baker Ski Area. Whether you’re into skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, there’s something for everyone.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Mt. Baker Ski Area is legendary for its powder and annual snowfall! It has the longest season in Washington State and is known for getting the most snow in North America.
During the 1998-1999 season, the ski area set a snowfall world record with 1,140 inches! Snowboarders and downhill skiers enjoy a variety of terrain, day lodges, ski lessons and rentals.
If cross-country skiing is more your speed, you’ll find excellent resources at the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club website. Also, check out our blog “The Nooksack Nordic Ski Club: Family Fun Just Above the Snow Line.”
Whether you’re new to snowshoeing or a seasoned winter trekker, Whatcom County offers a variety of trails for all abilities. Check out our blog, 4 Snowshoe Routes on the Mount Baker Highway, for a primer.
Need gear? In Bellingham, you can rent snowshoes, skis and more at Backcountry Essentials.