Best known for its namesake waterfall, the park’s main attraction could easily be checked off your Bellingham bucket list in as little as 15 minutes. But there’s so much more to discover beyond the falls. Spend an hour or two wandering Whatcom Falls Park’s 241 acres, and you’ll find everything from miles of serene, forested trails to a 100-year-old railroad trestle standing silently over Whatcom Creek.
📸: Peter James Photography
The park’s close proximity to Bellingham makes it easy to access for your daily dose of nature. It seems no matter the season, there’s something new to discover — from fresh growth in spring and a shaded summer oasis to colorful leaves in fall and gushing winter cascades. Bring your bike, or stop by for a leisurely urban hike. Over 5 miles of trails weave through the park.
New trail maps installed in 2019 make it easy to find your way among the trails and trees. Here are a few hidden treasures worth seeking out at Whatcom Falls Park.
The park’s main attraction, Whatcom Falls is accessible via a short paved path from the parking lot off Lakeway Drive. The trail descends gently to a grand Stone Bridge, built between 1939-1940 by Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews. Constructed from salvaged Chuckanut sandstone, the bridge’s materials once formed the arches of a downtown Bellingham building.
From the bridge, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with Whatcom Falls. The falls can swell to some 40 feet wide during rainier months (visit during winter for best flows). Listen to the tremendous crash of the cascades. A native word meaning “noisy water,” Whatcom is the perfect name for Bellingham’s most well-known waterfall.
After crossing the bridge to the north side of Whatcom Creek, you have a choice to make. Trails take off in several directions. Reference the park’s Trail Map for navigation, and enjoy the park at your own pace.
West Whatcom Falls Park
A picturesque plunge tucked away in the woods, Whirlpool Falls drops into a popular summertime swimming hole. Though it’s not labeled on the official park map, you can find this small waterfall just north of the Waterline Bridge.
Dog Off-leash Area
Cross the Waterline Bridge to reach the Waterline Trail, a mostly flat, wide-open path popular with dog walkers. Dogs love running free here — just remember to pick up after your pet! This is the only dog off-leash area in the park (dogs must remain leashed in all other areas). For direct access, park at 1925 Woburn Street on the west side of the park and hike up the graded path to the Waterline Trail.
Pipeline Explosion History
In 1999, a deadly pipeline explosion engulfed Whatcom Creek and the surrounding forest. To view the recovery area, walk Whatcom Creek Trail to the northwest corner of the park (between St. Clair Park and the Iowa St. stairs). At an overlook high above the creek, signage explains the regeneration the area is now experiencing.
East Whatcom Falls Park
The east side of the park (east of the Stone Bridge) is home to most of the park facilities. From the lower parking lot off Lakeway Drive, you have access to a playground, restrooms, and covered picnic shelters. Walk or drive to the upper lot (Electric Avenue) for access to basketball and tennis courts and a bike pump track.
Fish Hatchery and Derby Pond
Walkers can head north along Whatcom Creek to reach the fish hatchery. Trout are raised here to feed Washington state lakes, streams and ponds — including nearby Derby Pond. Watch for ducks at the peaceful pond before continuing north to check out the old railroad trestle.
Built in 1916, a towering train trestle still stands over the creek north of Derby Pond. It once linked Lake Whatcom’s Larson Mill to Bellingham Bay. Imagine trains chugging overhead as you pass beneath the towering structure. Cut from the shores of Lake Whatcom, timber was floated to the mill and transferred by train to the bay.
Bloedel Donovan Park
Continuing north from the trestle, you can cross Electric Avenue into Bloedel Donovan Park. The lakeside park provides both boat launch and swimming beach access to Lake Whatcom, along with plenty of parking. Lake Whatcom is the source of Whatcom Creek and Bellingham’s drinking water. With plenty of picnic tables and BBQs, its a great place to kick back for lunch in the sun.
You’ll find several playgrounds in and around Whatcom Falls Park. All of the main parking lots offer places for kids to play, including the upper and lower lots, St. Clair Park, and Bloedel Donovan Park.
Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue. There are two main entrances to Whatcom Falls Park. To access the sports field and upper playground, use the entrance at 1401 Electric Ave. To access the picnic shelters, fish hatchery, lower playground, creek bridge and derby pond, use the entrance on Silver Beach Road off Lakeway Drive.