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Fall Foliage Walks in Bellingham and Whatcom County

Fall is my favorite time of year for walking and hiking in Whatcom County. Cooler temperatures, warmer colors, and fewer crowds make for ideal wandering conditions. During autumn, I find myself walking gentle trails in search of solitude and fall foliage.

Before setting out on an autumn stroll, you’ll want to be prepared for fall weather and think rain! Here are our tips on how to plan and enjoy crowd-free walks and hikes in Whatcom County this Fall.

Sehome Hill Arboretum

Rising from Western Washington University’s (WWU) campus, Sehome Hill Arboretum is a fall favorite for students, staff, and the general public. Over 6 miles of trails wind through the forested park, whose bigleaf maple trees provide plenty of crunchy leaves underfoot. Don’t miss the sandstone tunnel, carved out in 1922 to allow vehicle access. And no trip to the arboretum is complete without a stop at the 80-foot observation tower. Consult the park map to find your way to the top. 

There are many ways to access the arboretum. Park in the off-street gravel lot on Arboretum Drive (north end of 25th Street) for a longer hike north through the park. Or drive to the end of Arboretum Drive and park atop the hill for easy access to the tunnel and observation tower. 

Go Further: WWU Outdoor Sculpture Garden

From the arboretum, take one of the many trails leading down to the WWU campus. Home to more than 36 outdoor sculptures, Western’s collection is acclaimed to be one of the top ten university collections in the entire United States. Wander the red-brick campus in search of art and color. Visit the WWU Outdoor Sculpture Garden site for a handy map, descriptions of each installation, and multimedia tours.

Lake Whatcom Hertz Trail

Running for 3 miles along Lake Whatcom’s shoreline, the Hertz Trail features covered bridges, quiet beaches, and calming fall colors. This railroad-turned-trail once served the Blue Canyon Mines at the south end of the lake. Today, it’s an easy hike for all ages. Walk along a soft path of orange and yellow maple leaves in the fall on this scenic lakeside stroll. 

From the trailhead at Lake Whatcom Park, walk south on the trail. After 1 mile you’ll reach a small waterfall, followed by a covered bridge and beach. This is a great turnaround spot, especially for little legs. You can continue south for 2 more miles from here, where the trail eventually terminates at a private property boundary. Return the way you came. 

See Washington Trails Association for driving directions and additional trail information. 

Go Further: Chanterelle Trail

If you’re looking for a longer hike from Lake Whatcom Park, try the Chanterelle Trail. Originally built as a 2.4-mile (one way) trail to an overlook above the lake, this trail was extended during the summer of 2019 for an additional 2.6 miles. You can now hike up to 10 miles (round-trip) on the Chanterelle Trail.

Whatcom Falls Park

Bellingham’s favorite waterfall is perhaps best viewed in the Fall. As rain returns to the region, the falls swell beneath a canopy of colorful leaves. Walk along several miles of forested trails throughout the park, or simply stop by to see the falls from a 1939-built Stone Bridge — located just a few hundred paces from the parking lot.

Picture Lake

Drive the scenic Mount Baker Highway for 54 miles east of Bellingham to take in one of the finest views in Whatcom County: Mount Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake. With a fresh dusting of snow on Mount Shuksan and an array of Fall colors, Picture Lake is especially picturesque during autumn. Walk the 0.5-mile, ADA-accessible loop trail around the lake for views from every angle. This trail tends to get busy, so be sure to visit during off-peak times. 

Go Further: Bagley Lakes

Continue driving 0.5 miles beyond Picture Lake on Mount Baker Highway to reach Heather Meadows and the trailhead for Bagley Lakes. Situated in a cirque beneath towering Table Mountain, these sparkling alpine lakes can be explored via an easy 2-mile loop trail. Or you can simply take the views in from the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. Whichever you choose, you’ll be treated to seasonal fall colors galore. This area may be inaccessible due to snow after October — check the latest conditions before setting out.

Interurban Trail

Among the many hiking trails that traverse the Chuckanut Mountains, the Interurban Trail is the most gentle. At 6 miles (one way) in length, this mostly flat former trolley line is wide and well-used by walkers, bikers, and joggers. Running from Fairhaven to Larrabee State Park, the trail parallels Chuckanut Drive — another hotspot for Mother Nature’s Fall show. For access, park at Fairhaven Park to begin near town. Or, drive south on Chuckanut Drive from Fairhaven to access the trail from its Arroyo Park and North Chuckanut Mountain trailheads. 

Go Further: Chuckanut Trails

Several hiking trails spur off of the Interurban Trail, reaching deep into the Chuckanut Mountains. At the north end (near Arroyo Park), consider visiting Chuckanut Falls after a good rain. From here you can continue along the Hemlock Trail to Raptor Ridge and Pine and Cedar Lakes for a more challenging hike. Further south in Larrabee State Park, the Interurban Trail intersects with the popular Fragrance Lake Trail — another favorite fall hike. 

Baker Lake Trail

Accessed via North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), 9-mile long Baker Lake is a buzzing recreational hub during summertime. Come Fall, it chills out (literally) and brightens with the colors of the season. Take an easy 2-mile (one-way) hike along South Baker Lake Trail to Anderson Point for views across the lake to Mount Baker. Or continue to Maple Grove for an 8-mile roundtrip hike. Watch for vibrant mushrooms along the leaf-lined path. You can even backpack in for year-round camping at either destination. In total, the Baker Lake Trail runs 14 miles (one way) along the lakeshore. 

North Cascades National Park

Some of the most accessible sites in the North Cascades National Park Complex are located within Whatcom County. Visit the Ross Lake National Recreation Area (NRA) to experience Ross Lake, Diablo Lake, Gorge Lake, and Newhalem. These lakes are actually dammed sections of the Skagit River. You can visit all three lakes (and their respective dams).

Walk across Ross Dam on the Ross Dam Trail to access Ross Lake Resort and an extensive network of long-distance trails. Or drive across Diablo Dam to access the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center — located on the shores of Diablo Lake.

Fall Hikes in the North Cascades

For an easy, family-friendly fall hike in Newhalem, check out Ladder Creek Falls. Kids will love the evening light show! You’ll likely also find Fall colors along Diablo Lake Trail, Thunder Creek Trail, Thunder Knob Trail, and many others in the Ross Lake NRA

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