By air, sea, car or train, there are so many ways to get to and enjoy Bellingham and Whatcom County! The railway played an integral role in establishing our area as an economic center in the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. The area was historically mined for coal, functioned as a major timber port, and later was home to Georgia Pacific Paper. Trains kept business running and brought new people to this beautiful town.
My sons were obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and so, through them, I learned about the incredible railway history of this area. So that you can too, I put together this list of seven simple ways to appreciate the history, art and influence of the railway in our area.
Bellingham is fortunate to have its own all-ages museum dedicated entirely to railway history conveniently located in Downtown Bellingham. My kids and I spent many hours driving the model trains and exploring historic photos, interactive history of the area, and antique communication devices and railway artifacts from the Golden Age to Amtrak.
A play area for the very small means grown-ups can also appreciate a more in-depth look. The gift shop and knowledgeable volunteers make this a great stop for any age. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Read more about railway exploration with the kids in Hilary Parker’s Insider Blog.
1320 Commercial Street,
Bellingham, WA 98225
Whether you’re coming up for the day or weekend to explore this artsy small town with a big heart or staying longer, you can ride along on the trains our ancestors built! You can also take the train from Bellingham to Seattle or Portland and beyond with convenient departure and arrival times.
On the train, you can dine in the Bistro Car or hang out in the Lounge Car. My kids love looking out the window at the mountains and hills that roll by. Between May and September, you can take advantage of the light in the evenings and appreciate those Pacific Northwest sunsets.
401 Harris Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225
Learning about trains is fascinating, but there’s nothing like actually riding a historic train to transport you back in time. Nearby Wickersham was once the largest city in Whatcom County, famous for its logging activity. The railway was vital in aiding the transport of logs for processing from the foothills in the eastern part of the county to Lake Whatcom and then Bellingham Bay. From there, the logs were shipped to hundreds of locations around the world.
You can take a ride on the authentic full-size, old-time Northern Pacific railroad at Lake Whatcom Railway.
The Railway hosts events several times a year. Show up for the Easter Egg Hunt in March and April, the Pumpkin Patch on Rails in October, or the Santa Train in November and December. You can purchase your tickets and board the passenger cars that have been in operation for over 100 years!
I’ve taken my kids on the Santa Train where Santa himself walked among the cars during the ride, letting kids (and adults) sit on his lap to whisper their Christmas gift wishes in his ear.
Trains leave from Wickersham, Washington, the beginning of the Northern Pacific Bellingham Branch, and the junction with the railroad traveling between Seattle and Sumas. Sit back, relax and live and breathe history on this train. You can learn more about the trains of the Lake Whatcom Railway and the rich history of this particular railway.
PO Box 91
Acme, WA 98220
Phone: (360) 441-0719
An easy and fascinating way to delve deep into our railway history is to go explore the Photo Archives at the Whatcom Museum. Each year thousands of researchers explore the archive for a variety of reasons. I’ve used the archive to find historic photos of my own home and neighborhood and also to give as gifts to friends. The archives are searchable and the knowledgeable staff will help you find exactly what interests you most.
Although exploring the archives is more of an adult activity, Whatcom Museum has a lot to explore with your kids as well so no one will be left out.
Syre Education Center
201 Prospect Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
6. Explore Western Washington University’s Center for Pacific Northwest Studies
7. The Railway Cafe
This cafe is an original caboose brought to Blaine in the 1980’s. It has housed many small businesses including a cigar shop, a stained glass studio, and now a cafe. A deck and heated patio have been added to expand seating, and the patio features a view of the harbor towards beautiful Semiahmoo.
Children and those that are a child at heart are welcome to pull the train horn inside. The wheel still exists at the back entrance of the cafe. A conductor’s portrait is in an adjacent building. The trains pass and say hello via horn each day, several times a day. With breakfast, lunch, coffee and adult beverages, it’s a hang out worth stopping by in Blaine, Washington, north of Bellingham and just south of the Canadian border.
The Railway Café
795 Peace Portal Drive
There is so much railway history and artifacts to learn and explore in Bellingham and Whatcom County. The tracks connected us to the east and Pacific Coast for generations and continue to impact transportation, the economy, and the people of our region. In the distance, sometimes you can hear the train horn blowing in the wind. Once you explore some of these fun options, you’ll have a greater appreciation of how the railway shaped the history of this magical place.