6 Best Hikes Near Bellingham, Washington

View of waterfalls in a forest in Bellingham, Washington.
Edmund Lowe Photography / Getty Images

Bellingham is a small city in Washington state, just 30 miles from the Canadian border. Originally home to the Indigenous peoples, the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, and Semiahmoo, this area is worth a stop, particularly for avid hikers. The main peaks are Blanchard and Chuckanut, where many of the routes on this list are located. However, there are also plenty of picturesque trails around the water with minimal incline for those with kids or who want a more relaxed outing.

All hikes are pet-friendly (leashes required). Many require a Discover Pass, which provides access to all public recreation sites in Washington and can be purchased online here.

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Oyster Dome

Pacific NW Trail, Bow, WA 98232, USA

Oyster Dome is the most popular hike in the area, as it provides some of the best views. After a challenging 2.5-mile, 1,050-feet ascent up Blanchard Mountain, you’ll be rewarded with a panorama of Lummi Island, the San Juans, Samish Bay, and the Skagit River Flats, as well as Vancouver Island and the Olympic Mountains further in the distance. It makes for beautiful photos, but beware of the sudden drop-off. Don’t take young children unless they’re reliable trekkers. The weather (as with most of Western Washington) can be finicky no matter the season. Make sure to check the weather for Bellingham and look for clear skies!

There are technically two ways to access Oyster Dome. The official parking lot is the Samish Overlook, which can be accessed from exit 240 on I-5. However, there is only room for about 20 cars, so arrive early to ensure a spot! If you don’t like jolting rides, you may prefer to start at the smoother, unofficial trailhead off Highway 11/Chuckanut Drive. There are quite a few trailheads on Chuckanut Drive; just enter “Oyster Dome” into your GPS. Note that there are no facilities, and you’ll need to make your way all the way up to the Samish Overlook for bathrooms or picnic tables. Both parking spots require a Discover Pass.

02 of 06

North Lost Lake

N Lost Lake Trail, Athelstane, WI 54104, USA

Lost Lake is the largest lake on Chuckanut Mountain, and you have a few different route options. The most enjoyable is to start from North Chuckanut Trailhead and take the long route around. This makes for a challenging 9-mile hike with 1,100 feet of elevation gain on a less-frequented trail; good if you’re with a dog or want to avoid crowds. In the end, you’re rewarded with a large, quiet lake, perfect for a lunch break or a quick swim. While great year-round, it can be muddy, making summer the ideal choice.

To access the North Chuckanut Trailhead (Discover Pass required), take exit 250 from I-5 and follow Old Fairhaven Parkway/SR 11. Toilets are available. This trailhead is the start of numerous paths, so bring a map or take a picture of the one posted at the entrance. The first fork comes relatively early; keep left for Hemlock Trail—not the Interurban. You’ll then encounter a couple more forks in the first mile or so; keep right, continuing up the mountain. On a map, it will seem as if you're going the opposite direction of Lost Lake, but it’ll eventually straighten out in the correct direction. At some point, you’ll happen upon some houses and private properties; keep straight and do not follow the road past the homes.

Eventually, you’ll come to a large fork where a map is posted. Turn right onto North Lost Lake Trail and wrap your way around the mountain. At the lake, you have the choice of a scenic loop or stopping for lunch with a water view.

03 of 06

Chanterelle Trail

The Chanterelle Trail is a 4.8-mile round-trip hike with a decent incline of 1,000 feet that involves numerous long switchbacks through various types of forest. It’s also the premier option for spotting wildlife. At the top you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Lake Whatcom and Bellingham Bay, as well as the San Juan Islands and Cascades in the distance, creating the perfect backdrop for any picture.

This is a great path if you are into wildlife, especially aquatic species, and birds. This is the rare trail that may be best in winter, as that's the high season for many bird species and the normally leafy trees are bare, allowing for a clearer panoramic view.

If you want to ensure high-quality captures, check the weather for rain year-round and smoke in the summer months. Get here by following North Shore Drive to Lake Whatcom Park, parking at the first lot. No fee or entry pass is required.

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Padilla Bay

Shore Trail, Mount Vernon, WA 98273, USA

This is the shortest and easiest hike (really more of a beach walk) in the roundup. At 4.4 miles roundtrip and just 30 feet of elevation gain, it’s perfect for newbie hikers, families with young kids, or anyone wanting a decent stroll without too much incline. You’ll walk along the Skagit River all the way to where it empties to the Salish Sea. Padilla Bay is full of birdlife, making it one of the top locations in Skagit County for bird photography. At high tide, water covers the entire bank, making for an interesting landscape. In the distance, you’ll get a decent view of Lummi Island and Mount Baker, a spectacular environment for the frequent winged visitors diving in for a snack!

While this is a great year-round trail, spring is particularly favorable due to the numerous blooming flowers and migrations. Note this is technically closer to Mount Vernon and Anacortes than Bellingham, but still close enough to be a doable day trek, or if you’re on your way to or from the area. No fee or entry pass is required.

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

Chuckanut Ridge

Essentially a “connector” from one end of Chuckanut Mountain to the other, at 10.4 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain, this trail is the most challenging on the list. You’ll be rewarded throughout with views of Mount Baker and lower British Columbia mountains across the border. Chuckanut Ridge should be hiked on a clear day, so you can take in the breathtaking views (and snap a few stunning pics). It’s covered for a large portion, ensuring you won’t get too much sun in the warmer months. It can be muddy (especially the section near Lost Lake), so keep that in mind from late fall to early spring.

There are two access points. You can head to the North Chuckanut Trailhead and follow the same initial path as the North Lost Lake route, until the beginning of the Chuckanut Ridge Trail. Alternatively, follow Highway 11/Chuckanut Drive to Highline/Cleator Road and take a rough, dirt road to an overlook where you’ll park. Look for a split rail entrance, where the path begins. Just like the road to Samish Overlook, the road can be a bit rough and uncomfortable, only recommended if North Chuckanut is full. Both areas have bathrooms and require a Discover Pass.

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Fragrance Lake

291 WA-11, Bellingham, WA 98229, USA

Fragrance Lake is part of the Larrabee State Park portion of Chuckanut Mountain. This moderate, 5.5-mile hike of 950 feet elevation gain is perfect for all levels. You’ll start on steady switchbacks, making the incline manageable. After about a mile, a signpost will signal the option for a short detour to a viewpoint of the San Juans and Bellingham Bay. The main attraction is, of course, Fragrance Lake, quite colorful throughout the seasons. The lake definitely lives up to the name, although the old-growth Pacific Northwest trees give off the pine smell, not the actual lake.

There are plenty of rocks and benches along the 0.6-mile lake loop, ideal for taking a break. This is a popular path, so it is well-maintained and well signed-posted, making it virtually impossible to get lost. It’s also one of the few on Chuckanut that stays dry throughout the year. However, the lake is best enjoyed on a hot summer’s day, as it’s one of the cleanest in the area for swimming. Alternatively, if you’re up for carrying a pole with you, there’s trout to be caught.

This is yet another hike located off of Highway 11/Chuckanut Drive, but you have the choice of parking at Larrabee State Park (bathrooms, beach, and picnic tables available) or across the street next to the trailhead. Both require a Discover Pass.

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6 Best Hikes Near Bellingham, Washington