What makes the perfect trail? One that checks all the boxes, but isn’t too far away. A trail you can walk with kids and leashed dogs; a trail open to hikers and mountain bikers alike year-round. It’s moderately challenging — maybe 5 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.
Fortunately, such a trail exists in Whatcom County. At 4.8 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain, the Chanterelle Trail may be as close to the perfect day hike as you can get, especially while remembering to recreate responsibly, stay close to home and socially distance.
Winding steadily upward through mixed forest, the trail leads to a viewpoint 1,300 feet above sea level. And the payoff? From this overlook, you’ll enjoy expansive views across Lake Whatcom to Lookout Mountain, Bellingham Bay and beyond.
The Chanterelle Trail climbs Stewart Mountain, which rises from the eastern shoreline of Lake Whatcom. For many years, the mountain’s evergreen forests were only accessible by logging roads. Acess began to improve in 2014 when the Whatcom Land Trust and other organizations collaborated to transfer 8,844 acres of forest lands to Whatcom County for park purposes. This land transfer created the seventh-largest local park in the United States: Lake Whatcom Park. In 2018 the park’s first newly-constructed trail, the Chanterelle Trail, opened to the public.
But the story — and the trail — don’t end there. In 2019, the Chanterelle Trail was extended an additional 2.6 miles (one-way), creating a 10-mile round trip trail. According to Whatcom County parks, “in 2020 and 2021, construction of the new trail is planned from the terminus of the Chanterelle Trail to the Hertz Trail.” Eventually, a long loop route will encompass much of Stewart Mountain’s slopes. Until then, there are already many miles to explore at Lake Whatcom Park.
From Bellingham, navigate around the north end of Lake Whatcom to Lake Whatcom Park’s Chanterelle Trail trailhead (click here for Google Maps). This is Parking Area 2 on the county parks map. Begin your hike at the trailhead kiosk.
Hiking Chanterelle Trail to Lake Whatcom Overlook
- 4.8 miles round trip
- 1,000 feet elevation gain
The trail takes off uphill at a moderate, yet steady grade. Climb through the moss-and-fern forest, crossing the Wickersham road at 0.6 miles. You’ll cross this forest road a few times during your hike to the top. Notice how the forest changes around you as you gain elevation. Sunlight filters through leafless deciduous trees during winter, while evergreens provide dense cover at higher elevations.
At 2.4 miles, a wide and flat gravel path leads past boulders to the Lake Whatcom Overlook. Enjoy lunch atop the rock of your choice with a view of the lake. Then, return via the same route or make a loop by descending on the forest road. Though powerlines overhead can be a distraction, the forest road is more exposed and offers good lake views on the descent.
Hiking the Upper Chanterelle Trail
- 10 miles round trip (from the trailhead)
- 2,200 feet elevation gain
For those who wish to hike farther, continue up the newest section of trail from the overlook. You won’t find any viewpoints along this section, but it’s great for a workout adding an additional 2.6 miles (one-way) and 1,200 feet of elevation gain. At its terminus (5 miles from the parking lot), the Chanterelle Trail meets the forest road again and you can descend by either path. Read more about the upper trail extension here.
Mountain Biking at Lake Whatcom Park
Mountain bikers are welcome at Lake Whatcom Park. The Chanterelle Trail is open to uphill biking only, and for now, bikers can descend via the Wickersham forest road. Eventually, the Brown Pow descending mountain bike trail will provide a more exhilarating option for bikers. Running parallel to both the Chanterelle Trail and Wickersham forest road, Brown Pow is expected to reach completion in 2020. Check the county parks site for updates.