Fragrance Lake sits up in the cradle of the Chuckanut Mountains in Larrabee State Park, just south of Bellingham. This hike is a popular spot for geologists like Dave Tucker to hang out, because of the diverse types of geology you pass through. “The trail to Fragrance Lake in Larabee State Park is one of the most popular [hiking trails] in the Bellingham area,” Tucker said in his Fragrance Lake Geology Guide.
The trailhead for Fragrance Lake is located on the Chuckanut Scenic Byway, which is only 6 miles south of the Historic Fairhaven District in Bellingham. Since Fragrance Lake is located within Larabee State Park, remember that a Discover Pass is required for you to park in the parking lot. Also be aware that during nice days, when that fiery ball in the sky is out, the parking lot will be busy.
There are many trails to choose from to access the lake – we chose to drive up Cleator Road and hike down.
The actual trailhead for Fragrance Lake is directly across from the Larabee State Park entrance. If you are visiting, and you don’t have a Discover Pass, there is a pass kiosk, water and restrooms located at the park.
From the parking lot, you can head down to the beach at Larabee State Park or you can head up toward the Chuckanut Mountains. The Fragrance Lake trail head provides access to both Lost Lake and Fragrance Lake, with intertwining trails that weave through the Chuckanuts. The Fragrance Lake trail is 5.5 mile roundtrip, according to Washington Trail Association. The total elevation gain is 950 feet, and the highest post is 1050 feet.
My daughter was a bit reluctant on the way there, but as soon as were on the trail, she was off and running. We like to explore the environments where we play. As a “Captain Fantastic” wannabe kind of dad, we stop often to identify the flora and fauna. It starts simple with looking at the boughs of trees. The flatness of the cedar bough is easily identifiable.
The little nuances of how the needles are arranged on the twigs of the small branches differentiate between the trees. Without slowing down and zooming in on the variety, you just may miss the complete story the trees are telling.
The shades of green are also engaging to the eye and deserve deeper exploration. As hands on naturalists, we like to use what we learned on our North Cascades Institute Family Getaway adventure years ago – use all your senses. This patch of moss was spongy and deep!
This trail has lots of things that you can expect to see, like mountain views and sea views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands. You can walk through wooded trails are filled with old growth trees. This trail is also good for children, and dogs are allowed if they’re on a leash. Additionally, the trails are also regularly maintained by the Washington Trail Association.
As my young scientist expands her understanding of nature, we are adding geologist to the list. The Chuckanut Mountains rise out of the eastern edge of the Salish Sea. Their foundation is the loamy Chuckanut sandstone that often has fossils embedded. It’s also just plain fun to break apart the different layers and investigate.
As we made our way down and around the lake, we chose to head up on the higher loop that winds around the larger exposed rock that is like the Rock Trail, just a bit south of the lake.
We rounded up and around to the overlooks that show us where we had just came from down below. The sheer cliffs make for an impressive look straight down to the lake.
Along the trail, you will have access to various other trails – so keep your head up and be mindful of which direction you are going. It may be wise for first timer’s to get a map, just to be safe. There is access to a .6 mile loop trail, that branches off from the main Fragrance Lake trail, that allows you to see more views of the Chuckanut Bay. For those who are looking for more adventure, you can continue on the trail and follow the signs to Lost Lake.
After our usual game of hide-and-seek on the ridge, we descended to seek more insight into the secrets and wonders of nature. Along the edge of the lake, we found the future of a colony of frogs. Below, tadpoles are growing in the goo that protects them. Soon enough, they will emerge and begin their transformation into mature frogs, signing their songs for our enjoyment.
Our journey was complete. We made it down and around the lake and found what we were looking for – raw nature to soak in with all our senses. The Fragrance Lake hike makes for an accessible opportunity to get the family out into nature. We’ll be going back, hope to see you on the trail.