Tucked into the northwest corner of the Evergreen State, Whatcom County’s 2,503 square miles have a well-earned reputation for epic Northwest beauty. While Birch Bay State Park, the Peace Arch in Blaine and Semiahmoo County Park may be better known, Whatcom County also offers hidden treasures of the lesser known variety. From parks and lakes to a picturesque small town and a nature reserve, here are six highlights.
1.Whatcom Falls Park
If you only have time for one park in Whatcom, check out Whatcom Falls Park.
Located in the city of Bellingham, this county park includes multiple waterfalls, picturesque ponds, marsh and song birds, picnicking and a playground. Ditto a vast network of hiking trails — mostly brief, level, and easy — and lots of shade. There’s a sweet little waterfall and stone bridge that was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939-40.
There’s also a popular leash-free zone for dogs at the south end of the park near Lake Whatcom. Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue in the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood. There are two entrances to Whatcom Falls Park. To access the sports field and upper playground, use the entrance at 1401 Electric Ave.Continue hiking north. Brave a busy street crossing and you’ll find beautiful Bloedel-Donovan Park where the lapping waters of Lake Whatcom kiss the shore.
2. Lake Whatcom
Yes, you can easily walk to Lake Whatcom from Whatcom Falls Park. They’re within shaking hands distance in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
It was in the ‘80s when we hiked from the falls to Bloedel Donovan Park and Whatcom Lake in May. Talk about a welcome, refreshing sight! We plunked our CamelBaks down on a picnic table near the water’s edge and watched ducks and geese frolic in the water while munching our lunch.
Lake Whatcom is approximately 10 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest. Its manicured lawns and playgrounds are fringed by a truckload of additional outdoor opportunities including motor boating, swimming, fishing and hiking.
From Lake Whatcom and Bloedel Donovan Park, do an about-face and retrace your steps back to Whatcom Falls Park. It’s an easy walk. Take a brief detour around Sudder or Derby Ponds on your way back to the park.
With its big red barn, cow pastures, farmyard animals, gently rolling hills, historic buildings and farm implements, this 350-acre park preserves the rich history of Whatcom County pioneer farming. It also includes a Fragrance Garden, observation tower, and the Hovander River Trail. Tip: In early May, the lilacs draping the old Hovander house are at peak bloom. Lovely!
A few miles north of Bellingham, this sweet little town is So. Darn. Cute. Proud of its Dutch heritage, Lynden features windmills, colorful wall murals, Dutch bakeries and restaurants and all things Hollandish.
A walk down Lynden’s Main Street is like stepping back into the Old Country. I half-expected a little Dutch boy to appear around the next bend, holding the sea back with his finger in a dike.
5. Fragrance Lake/Larrabee State Park
Fragrance Lake is tucked inside Larrabee State Park, Washington state’s first state park. A popular hike, the Fragrance Lake Trail is somewhat steep on the outbound. It levels out near the lake, which includes great picnicking sites and splendid views. The lake brims with birdsong and jumping fish. Beware skunk cabbage and mosquitoes in summer.
The Fragrance Lake Trail is about 5.5 miles round trip and is rated as moderate. The loop around the lake is about .6 miles. The Fragrance Lake trailhead is on Chuckanut Drive, directly across from the main entrance to Larrabee State Park.
6. Stimpson Family Nature Reserve in Sudden Valley
This place is off the beaten path. But it’s worth the drive, with a 4.4-mile round trip trail looping through a splendid mixed growth forest bristling with hemlock, Douglas fir, big leaf maple and a thousand shades of green.
You can lop 1.2 miles off your round trip by eliminating the 1.2-mile loop trail around Geneva Pond. Don’t. The trail parallels the pond along a ridge before dropping down to shore level. There’s a fine, smooth stone bench on the west end of the placid pond where you can take a breaker and soak in some serenity.
You don’t need to be a world class athlete to take this loop trail, which is about 4.4 miles round trip if you include the pond. But you should be in decent shape. It includes some ups and downs. Bring plenty of water, especially on a warm day.
There’s a small dirt parking lot at the trailhead that can accommodate maybe a dozen cars, and vault toilets at the lot. There’s a sign with a trail map at the trailhead, just before the beaver pond.
Note: Cougars have been sighted in this area so keep your head on a swivel.
Plan Your Visit
It’s a lot to pack into a single weekend. Come back again and spend more time at any site you may have missed or cut short. Whatcom County’s hidden treasures and classic Northwest beauty are always worth a second look.