Favorite Fall Hikes in Whatcom County

When fall is in full swing in Whatcom County, it’s the perfect time of year to lace up those hiking boots and get into the woods. With sunshine, cool temps, and beautiful foliage, the mountains are calling Bellingham visitors outside and onto the trails. With the Chuckanuts to the south and the Mt. Baker Wilderness to the east, the options are plentiful for visitors and locals alike to enjoy fall hikes in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Below you will find a list of five hikes, from closest to Bellingham and easiest, to those farthest and hardest. Whether you’re looking to gain some serious elevation and spend a night in the mountains or if you’re bringing the whole family along for a contemplative walk in the woods, there’s something here for everyone. Take advantage of the amazing fall weather and find your favorite fall hike in Whatcom County!

The Stimpson Family Nature Reserve is one of Whatcom County’s pristine natural spaces close to Bellingham city limits. Located adjacent to Lake Whatcom, and just a 10 minute drive from downtown Bellingham, Stimpson offers about 350 acres of beautiful old growth forest and a wetland ecosystem that provides sanctuary to the many small mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians found in the area. 

The reserve’s trail system consists of two separate loops: a shorter loop around Geneva Pond and a larger main loop that climbs steadily through old growth forest consisting of Douglas fir, red cedar, and western hemlock that will make you feel like you’ve traveled back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. On the main loop, you’ll find carpets of voluminous moss, small streams, and waterfalls, eventually reaching a high point that offers a decent view of Lake Whatcom.

If you take the Geneva Pond Loop, be sure to slow down and observe the wildlife surrounding the wetland. If you’re lucky, you’ll find beavers, woodpeckers, ducks, river otters, Northern Pygmy Owls, and so much more. 

Heading south from Bellingham on scenic Chuckanut Drive, Fragrance Lake is part of Larrabee State Park. Directly across from the Larrabee park entrance, you’ll find the trailhead to Fragrance Lake. The parking area is small, so be mindful of making room for other groups to park. Also, be sure to bring a Discover Pass (WA State Parking Pass) to avoid any tickets. There is also a pass kiosk at the trailhead if you forget.

The trail for Fragrance Lake seems pretty steep to begin with, but, thanks to the hard working trail crew from Washington Trails Association, is really quite pleasant. This hike takes you through beautiful second growth and old growth forest as switchbacks zig and zag uphill.

Eventually, you will reach a small junction with a smaller .2 mile trail that leads to a view looking over Samish Bay, the oyster beds of Taylor Shellfish, and the San Juan Islands. This is a great stop on the way up or on the way back with a well-timed sunset and offers a great change of scenery from the less sunny aspects in the woods. Keep walking to find a quick downhill section before arriving at Fragrance Lake. The lake is most often still, quiet, and hosts pretty good fishing. In the summer, the lake offers a perfect swimming spot after working up a sweat on the way up.

Enjoy the mirror views of the lake, and then take a quick walk around the lake, with plenty of small bridges and fascinating rock formations to admire.

Skyline Divide, in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, is a great step up for hikers looking to get into more difficult and steeper hikes off of the Mt. Baker Highway. Not only does Skyline Divide offer a great introduction to hikes in this area, but also hosts one of the finest views of Mt. Baker in all of Whatcom County.

If you drive east from Bellingham through Glacier, take a right onto Glacier Creek Road, then a quick left onto FR-37, where there will be signs pointing towards Skyline Divide. Take this windy dirt road for about 12 miles and drive with caution as there are usually more than a few deep potholes and sharp corners. Eventually you will end up at the trailhead, with a privy and a kiosk with a map showing hikers the route. Be sure to pack water, snacks, and warm layers as you may want to hang out at the top for an extended period of time.

The trail twists and turns through forest of silver fir and hemlock at a steady incline for about 1,500 feet before you hit the ridge line. With good weather and timing, the colors in the fall are stunning at the top. On clear days, look east and you’ll be able to see all the way out to Bellingham Bay. Look south, and you’ll see massive mountains and buttes as well as Mt. Baker in the distance with a beautiful ridge line trail in the foreground. This ridge line is the Skyline Divide.

There are possible camping spots up here on the ridge, and you may continue 2.5 miles on the undulating ridge, towards Baker. The views undeniably get better as you head south, and you may find less of a crowd. The trail keeps going and there are several possibilities for longer hikes. If you’ve had enough of the views, enjoy the hike down and treat yourself to a Magic Cookie Bar at the Wake N Bakery once you make it back into Glacier.

***NOTICE: The road to the trail, FR-37, is currently washed out nine miles from the trailhead***

If color is what you’re looking for, then Yellow Aster Butte is the hike for you. This is yet another hike off of the Mt. Baker Highway with easy access from Glacier. Drive about 12 miles past the Glacier Public Service Center on 542 until you hit Twin Lakes Road (FR-3065). Take a left and keep going for about 4.5 miles until you hit the Tomyhoi Lake and Yellow Aster Butte trailhead.

This hike begins with a sturdy ascent that gains about 1,500 ft. in under two miles. Follow switchbacks through terrain shaped by avalanches until you hit forest and meadow. In early fall, this trail is filled to the brim with Indian paintbrush, lupine, fireweed, even more wildflowers, and blueberries. Bring a camera for this hike as you’ll find loads of inspiration before you reach the top. 

About a mile and half from the trailhead, you’ll hit the junction for Yellow Aster Butte. Stay left, and traverse around the south side of the mountain. Take in the views for a couple more miles until you reach a second junction at 3.6 miles from the start of your hike. Stay right and hike up to the summit of Yellow Aster Butte. At the top, take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty with views into Canada and the surrounding Mt. Baker Wilderness. If you’re feeling up for it, bring overnight camping equipment for a sunrise that is sure to impress with clear weather.

At a little over six miles round trip, and with very little elevation gain, the Hertz Trail is perfect for a casual day hike with the dogs or an outing with the whole family. This level, scenic lakeside trail is snuggled tightly between Stewart Mountain and Lake Whatcom, so you enjoy mountain foliage on one side and silver waters on the other. 

The mellow trail begins in the forest but soon offers peek-a-boo views of Lake Whatcom. There are several lake access spots a long the trail, perfect for an afternoon picnic, a photo of the lake and the mountains, or a place to sit quietly and think. At roughly three miles, the trail ends and it's time to turn around. 

To get to the parking lot and trailhead, drive around the north end of Whatcom Lake in Bellingham and enter Lake Whatcom Park. The parking lot is also where you'll find the trailhead to the Chanterelle Trail, a steeper hike that gains 1000 feet of elevation and offers views of the lake.

These trails are held near and dear to many in Whatcom County. Please do your part and leave no trace. Pack out everything you pack in, and pick up any trash you find while you’re out enjoying these beautiful areas.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
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