Monday, March 24th, 2014
Kayak Camping on Lummi Island
Todd Elsworth

My favorite getaway is to Lummi Island by sea kayak from Larrabee State Park, just south of Bellingham. On the Southeastern end of the island, there is a beautiful boat-in only campground. Yes, a campground- you heard me- not just a campsite, but a whole selection of choice spots to look across the bay to the fair city of Bellingham and (on a clear day) majestic Mount Baker to the east and the North Cascade Range into lower British Columbia.


There are plenty of options to choose from to get there. You can launch from Fairhaven, Bellingham or from the Ferry Dock on the Lummi Peninsula. Each have their own benefits and challenges. Hale’s Passage between Lummi and Portage Island can be a pleasant approach.

My favorite is starting from Wildcat Cove in Larrabee State Park. It’s a straight shot across Bellingham Bay to Lummi Island. As you head west, point to the northern tip of Eliza Island and fall off a bit once you’re there to continue to the destination.

You’ll need a Discover Pass to leave your car and I like to leave a sign saying “gone camping, be back on…” to let the Park Rangers know. There’s a boat launch that provides easy access to the water and the beach.


The silhouette of the island sometimes overshadows the smaller island in the foreground- especially when you leave at sunset. The bow of my trusty Delta 17 points me towards my destination. It has the space for a compass, but I will navigate by the shape of the island tonight.


Once you arrive at the DNR (WA. St. Dept. of Nat. Resources) Campground, you’ll be directed by signs showing you the way to the features of the camp. The Loop Trail winds through the campground, connecting the various sites that you’ll have to choose from upon arrival. There is no reservation system for the campground- it’s on a first come, first served basis. Another sign directs people to share if the camps are occupied upon arrival.



One of the great features is the set of outhouses that make this destination a little more comfortable for your stay. They are set in a grove of Madrone trees, not far from the campsites, offering a pleasant setting to take care of your business in peace and the serenity of nature.


The most impressive campsite sits out on a bluff, providing expansive views of the bay and beyond. A log ladder provides access up to the campsite- complete with a designated tent site and a picnic table. Looking at the photo below, you can see the houses of Fairhaven and the City of Bellingham in the lower right corner.


From the bluff campsite, you can enjoy the comfort of dining at a picnic table while you look south to Samish Island and other features in Skagit County. You can also access the top of the rock to get sweeping northern views as well.


The other campsites are more protected in the woods. You can see my blue tent, tucked up into the side of the hill, below. From this campsite, you can see all the way to Bellingham from the door of your tent.


All of the campsites offer fire pits and picnic tables. There are also designated tent sites- some have the ability to accommodate 2-3 tents.


Each campsite is unique and connected by the short trail that winds through the campground. Benches have been made for you to enjoy the fireside after a fun day of paddling.


The thoughtfulness of the campground layout provides for privacy between each campsite and a comfortable location to have a home away from home for a night or extended stay. This is the Vista Campsite, the most southern of the choices.


A short trail from the Vista Campsite gets you up on a rocky bluff to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a well-deserved beer in the evening at the end of a fulfilling day.

The rocky shore doesn’t allow for much in the way of coastal island travel (that’s what a boat is for, silly) but scrambling on and around the outcroppings provides interesting perspectives of the surroundings.


On the rugged coast, the vegetation is just as rugged. Mosses, flowers, lichen and pinecones come together to endure what Mother Nature has to throw at them on any given day. Notice the tree in the background and the effect that the weather has had on its development.


Further down the shoreline are the marine critters who are built to last- limpets and barnacles both have their protective shells to keep them safe on the exposed rock faces.


This campground is a special place that has it’s own form of protection. The Lummi DNR Campsite is maintained by WAKE (Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts). “WAKE has long cooperated with the Washington Water Trails Association [WWTA] and has offered to be site stewards. The campground is part of the Cascadia Marine Trail. The very important WWTA Cascadia Marine Trail system was created to “honor and preserve 5,000 years of marine travel”. Founded in the 1980s, early paddlers were concerned about the diminishing number of pullouts for kayakers and recognized the need to preserve space for their little flotilla of kayaks. The goal was to have a pullout within human powered reach. Like hiking and backpacking, rest areas and camping sites were needed for kayakers. More so, nature and spirits were desired. These early paddlers set the stage for our current and ongoing drive to preserve a water trail for non-motorized craft.” ~

Author Caution: Be prepared before you head out to this destination. The weather can change quickly and you may be “pinned down” for a day (or two) before calmer waters return. Have a float plan in place (tell people where you’re going and when you plan to be back).

If you need to let people know you’ll be extending your stay, you should have cellular coverage out there- or call the Coast Guard Bellingham on Ch. 16 or 22A.

For more ideas about fun things to do in Bellingham and Whatcom County, visit our home page.

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About the Author:

As the co-Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at


  1. Very cool! I didn’t know there was a camp ground on Lummi for boaters. Is this a trip across the bay for any kayaker , or only the very experienced?

    Comment by Lorraine — July 4, 2014 @ 7:57 am

  2. thank you for the great post – very helpful!!

    Comment by Richard Soet — August 18, 2016 @ 8:04 am

  3. what is the best way to kayak to the west side of the southern tip of Lummi Island. I was thinking of taking the ferry and launching from somewhere to kayak fishing?

    Thanks… Michael

    Comment by Michael — April 6, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

  4. Yes, Michael. That would work.

    Comment by Todd Elsworth — April 10, 2017 @ 10:49 am

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