Monday, August 12th, 2013
Next on the list: Family Camping at Birch Bay State Park
Todd Elsworth

It has been an amazing summer for camping in the Northwest.  Next on my list is family camping at Birch Bay State Park. I wanted to go scope it out before we headed out- to find the best campsite, access points to the beach, places to buy stuff (that we may have forgotten) and determining the sporting equipment that we should bring.

Sounds like a lot of lists. One thing that I have recently been reminded of is the value of lists. On my visit to Birch Bay today, I came across a lot of lists of fun things to do, look at, think about and to eat. I was able to capture quite a few here. So, if your kids say that they are bored or hungry when you’re camping at Birch Bay State Park, well, I don’t know what else to say- because there are some pretty good lists below. The first list to look at is the number of great campsites to choose from.

Birch Bay Campground Map

Birch Bay State Park campground is a hidden gem, tucked into the shade- providing respite from the sun after a day of play. I rolled through in the late afternoon as most families were getting ready for dinner. I was amazed to find such a vast network of clean and flat campsites with ample room for tents and RVs. The South Campground seemed to be where the tenters and small camp trailers were set up for the weekend. Many paths lead back and forth from the campground to the beach.

Birch Bay Campground Bridge

The North campground had larger RVs and some creative signs “welcoming” visitors. The space allocated for the RVs makes it easy for people to set up camp for the weekend or what looked like all summer for some of the campers. It’s great to see the families all gathered around enjoying their dinners and spending quality time together.

Camp Welcome Sign

It seemed odd, but was evidently well received by the younger campers in the park, that there would be an Ice Cream Truck rolling through just after dinner time. Funny thing about kids and Ice Cream Trucks that I noticed- kids will run (in this case ride their bikes) to their parents announcing (screaming) that “The Ice Cream Truck is coming!!!”. What the kids, obviously, don’t realize is that parents have Extra Sensory Hearing and detect those unique songs well before they do. It comes from our early training as kids, I suspect. From the looks of it, this group of young campers are veterans already- even to the point of preparedness of having their chairs lined up and waiting for the delivery of delights to come their way.

Birch Bay Campground Ice Cream Truck

When I was a kid, I had the fortune of traveling all summer with my family (parents as teachers=summers “off”) We went to every point of interest possible, which included our state and national park system. I have always enjoyed stopping to take the time to read these signs. I came across this one in the park and couldn’t help but stop to learn.

Birch Bay History

Birch Bay History sign

At the bottom of the sign it offers a timeline of interaction, with brief details of each period:

Native Americans
1792: European Explorers
1856: Fraser Gold Rush
1871: Homesteaders
1925: Logging
1954: Birch Bay State Park.

The main text of the interpretive sign reads:

“Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest have frequented the area encompassed by Birch Bay State Park for centuries. The Lummis’ name for the area, Strav-a-wa means the place for clams. Before European settlement, an abundance of shellfish, migratory waterfowl, and salmon attracted people to the area.

Vast ancient forests covered most of the lowlands in Whatcom County when Captain Vancouver’s expedition sailed into Birch Bay in 1792. The south end of Birch Bay was a natural prairie blanketed with bunch grass and wildflowers. Nodding onion and camas, prized for their savory bulbs, were plentiful on this prairie.

The dense forests were dominated by douglas fir, grand fir, spruce, pine, cedar, hemlock, birch and quaking aspen. The forest canopy was so complete that travelers could not see the sky to use the position of the sun or stars to guide them.

In addition to being a foraging place for edible plants, the native prairie grasslands provided animal grazing, hunting areas, and clearings for home sites. Only a few remnants of the prairie ecosystem remain in Whatcom County. “ – NSEA, Arco, Washington State Parks.

It seems as though there is still a bounty to reap from the sea for your meal or just for simple recreation. For a brief pause, I watched these three beach casting out into the calm waters. I didn’t stick around to see how their “luck” was going at this activity. I was anxious to continue my own journey on the flat open road (with ample space on the side for bikers, walkers and skaters like me).

Birch Bay Beachcasting

Yes, my mode of transportation along the beach was a pair of skates- if you saw me while I was out, yes, I was “That GUY!”. As a popular endeavor in the 90’s, in-line skating (aka, Rollerblading) is quietly making a comeback (some will argue it never left, others will argue it should stay dormant), especially in resort beachside towns. I recently bought a new pair so I can skate along while my young daughter rides her bike out in front of me. I wasn’t the only one out on skates, it was nice to have some company. Back to our lists and more signs.

Conveniently located at entry points to the beach are lists of harvest-able “beach” food.  Each has the appropriate rules associated as well: Horse Clams (First 7 Dug, no discards), Steamer Clams (40 Clams or 10 lbs. Whichever Reached First, 1 1/2″ Min. Size on Littlenecks, Manila and Butter Clams), Geoducks (3 – cannot take siphon only), Mussels (10 lbs. in shell), Oysters (18, 2 1/2 Min. Size Shuck on Beach).  Check the Recreational Shellfishing – Public Clam and Oyster Beaches to see what’s open. NOTE: Currently closed: Rock Crab and Dungeness Crab.

Birch Bay Chillin

Down the beach, I noticed a family was gathered together enjoying the evening.  I talked to them long enough to learn that they came from Portland, Puyallup and from all around Whatcom County for their annual family reunion,.  A couple of their kids were having a blast out in the warm waters of Birch Bay well into the evening. I also learned that the “boy’s job” was to snorkel down to the bottom to try and catch the crabs that were scurrying across the sea floor, while the “young lady” held the boat steady and kept watch on their catch. Looked like good teamwork to me.

Birch Bay Crabbing

If you can’t find enough to eat from the bounty of the sea, you may want to head into town for treats and eats and make sure to STOP at The C Shop, “A Whale of a Place to Go” as the sign reads out front, they have plenty to choose from: Pizza, Ice Cream Cones, Sundaes, Shakes, Espresso, Peanut Brittle, Fudge, Caramels, Taffy, Snow Cones, and Chocolate. There are plenty of other great outdoor restaurants as you head north into Birch Bay if you’re so inclined.

The C Shop Birch Bay

While camping at the park is great, if you have enough time and want to head out even further, go out to the popular Birch Bay Waterslides and beyond. I was even more excited to see Miniature World Family Fun Center with RACING Go Karts & Kidz Karts, Championship 18 Hole Miniature Golf and Miniature Train Rides. (Whatcom County Resident’s Discount provides 10% off the total bill on all “Regular” priced attractions. Please present a valid picture ID at the time of purchase to receive this discount.) This is what summer on “The Shore” is for many people. Why not here in Whatcom County too?

Miniature World

What more could you want?  Hit it on your way in or on your way out of the quaint seaside town of Birch Bay. I know one thing. I’m heading back OUT THERE soon with my daughter so we can get our go-cart and mini-golf fix.

Birch Bay Mini Golf

There are a few lists buried in there. Plan wisely and pack well. You’re guaranteed a great time.

But first, you need to pick a date and Make a Reservation for Birch Bay State Park.

Hey, we just might be neighbors for the weekend!


Driving Directions to Birch Bay State Park

Located 20 miles north of Bellingham, Wash., and eight miles south of Blaine, Wash., near the Canadian border in Whatcom County.

Park address:
5105 Helweg Road
Blaine, WA 98230

From the south:
Take exit #266 off of I-5. Go left on Grandview for seven miles, then right on Jackson Road for 1/2 mile, then turn left onto Helweg.

From the north:
Take exit #266 off of I-5, and turn right onto Grandview for seven miles, then right on Jackson Road for 1/2 mile, then turn left onto Helweg.

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



    Comment by CRISS — September 14, 2013 @ 8:52 am

  2. I live here and Birch Bay was a huge part of every kid in Whatcom County growing up. Ended up taking for granted the fact Birch Bay was truly an awesome place. I have great memories of walking out into 1-2 feet of water and just walking along picking up all kinds of Dungeness crabs. Then digging up steamer type clams and cooking it all up in a big pot of water right on the beach. It really does taste better on the beach!!
    You did a perfect job of reminding me just how great BBay is. Great job describing the area…really well done!

    Comment by Ken — July 18, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

  3. Thanks Ken. My daughter just went to Miniature World Golf for the first time with my folks and had a blast!

    Comment by Todd Elsworth — July 18, 2016 @ 4:15 pm

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