Take caution and check for road closures due to wildfires in the North Cascades.
Brandon Fralic | 07/11/2022 | Updated | Adventure - Outdoors, Boating, Hiking, Scenic Drives, Sightsee, Spring, Trails, Water Adventures |   

Mountain and Water Landmarks of Whatcom County near Bellingham

From the Cascade Mountains to the Salish Sea waters, Whatcom County is full of natural landmarks. These mountains and waters provide endless outdoor recreation opportunities near Bellingham. This guide provides an overview of each landmark, including things to do and how to get there. Access points to each landmark are available on this map. Welcome to Whatcom County!

  • Highest Point: 10,781’
  • Best for: Hiking, Climbing, Snow Sports

Whatcom’s slumbering giant — the glaciated volcano visible from Bellingham — is Mount Baker. Drawing visitors from near and far for its legendary, world-record snowfall and pristine summer hiking trails, Baker is the undisputed king of local landmarks. And visiting the mountain is a delight. Whether you prefer winter snow sports at Mount Baker Ski Area or summertime high country excursions, you’ll never be disappointed by a trip to the mountain.

During winter, head to either the White Salmon Base Area or Heather Meadows Base Area for access to chair lifts and groomed ski and snowboard runs. You can also enjoy sledding and snowshoeing in the area.

When the snow melts out for summer, Mount Baker becomes a hiking and backpacking paradise. Visit Artist Ridge Trail for a taste of the alpine glory, or hike up nearby Table Mountain to take in Mount Baker views from on high. Both trails — as well as Chain Lakes Loop and Ptarmigan Ridge — begin from the end of Mount Baker Highway at Artist Point. For a closeup of the volcano’s glaciers, hike the Heliotrope Ridge trail near Glacier.

Getting to Mount Baker

  • Mount Baker Ski Area: For White Salmon Base Area, take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to mile 52. For Heather Meadows Base Area, take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to mile 55. See Mount Baker Ski Area for additional info.
  • Artist Point (Multiple Trailheads): Take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to the end of the road parking lot (mile 58). Open summer-fall only — check current conditions at WSDOT. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead: Navigate to the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead using GPS, or follow driving directions at wta.org. Open summer-fall only for hiking. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Highest Point: 9,131’
  • Best for: Photography, Hiking, Climbing

If you’ve ever seen a postcard (or Instagram post) of a jagged, snow-strewn peak reflected in an alpine lake in Whatcom County, there’s a good chance it’s Mount Shuksan. Some say it’s the most photographed mountain in North America. This is due in equal parts to Shuksan’s epic appearance and its accessibility. You can drive right up to aptly-named Picture Lake for that million-dollar photograph, no off-roading or hiking necessary. But to really get up close and personal with Mount Shuksan, you’ll want to hit the trail.

For a fairly easy trek to iconic Shuksan views, take the 1.2-mile roundtrip Artist Ridge Trail. The trail begins at 5,000-foot Artist Point, a paved, ADA-accessible area, before climbing staircases to summer snow patches and reflective tarns. Views of Mount Shuksan and Baker from here are incredibly rewarding for such little effort. Those seeking a bigger challenge can take on the Lake Ann trail, which gets so close to Mount Shuksan that you can hear its glaciers groaning in the afternoon heat.

Getting to Mount Shuksan Viewpoints

  • Picture Lake: Take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to mile 54. Park in the wide shoulder on the left side of the road. Open year-round. Northwest Forest Pass required.

  • Artist Point (Artist Ridge Trailhead): Take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to the end of the road parking lot (mile 58). Open summer-fall only — check current conditions at WSDOT. Northwest Forest Pass required.

  • Lake Ann: Take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to mile 56. Park in the lot on the left side of the road. Open summer-fall only — check current conditions at WSDOT. Northwest Forest Pass required.
  • Highest Point: 2,300’
  • Best for: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Camping

Easily accessible via Chuckanut Drive from Fairhaven, the Chuckanut Mountains are arguably Bellingham’s nearest and dearest outdoor playground. Locals love training here year-round for races and big mountain adventures. Rising from Salish Sea shores, the Chuckanuts are said to be the only place where the Cascade Mountains meet the sea. Begin your day at the beach with a visit to Larrabee State Park, then climb through lush forest via countless miles of hiking and biking trails.

Because there are so many ways to enjoy the Chuckanuts, the biggest challenge is deciding where to go. Looking for the most popular hiking trail in town? Oyster Dome is it, hands down. Located on Blanchard Mountain (part of the Chuckanut range), the dome is a 2,000-foot rock perch overlooking 180-degree Salish Sea views. Fragrance Lake is another hot spot, located right off of Chuckanut Drive in Larrabee State Park. For more info, see: Soaking in Nature – Hiking around Fragrance Lake.

If you prefer to escape the crowds, park at the North Chuckanut Mountain trailhead and choose your own adventure. The extensive network of trails here leads to such destinations as Chuckanut Ridge and Raptor Ridge. Bring a good map (Chuckanut Recreation Area is the best) or guidebook to assist with navigation. And don’t forget the 10 Essentials.

Getting to the Chuckanuts

There are many ways to reach the Chuckanut Mountains. Here are a few popular access points:

  • North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead: Large, gravel parking located on the north end of Chuckanut Drive, just south of the intersection with Old Samish Road.
  • Larrabee State Park (Fragrance Lake Trailhead): Located across the street from the main entrance to Larrabee State Park, right off of Chuckanut Drive. Discover Pass required.
  • Samish Overlook (Oyster Dome Trailhead): Large paved lot at the end of a gravel forest road. Navigate to Samish Overlook using GPS, or follow the Oyster Dome driving directions at wta.org.

Rising from the western shoreline of Lake Whatcom, Lookout Mountain’s two peaks are visible from the I5 corridor. You can hike to waterfalls, a Lake Whatcom overlook, or bag the summits at Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve.

Getting to Lookout Mountain

Navigate to the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve Trailhead (Lake Louise Road at Gate 9) in Sudden Valley.

  • Highest Point: 1,785’
  • Best for: Mountain Biking

Known locally as Galbraith Mountain (or Galby for short), North Lookout Mountain is the popular mountain biking area between Lake Padden and Lake Whatcom. Galbraith Mountain is privately owned land and the trails are maintained for non-motorized use by volunteers in the local group WMBC (Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition). According to WMBC over 65 miles of single-track wind through 3,000 acres at Galbraith, making it a world-class mountain destination within riding distance of Bellingham.

Getting to Galbraith Mountain 

Per WMBC, there are two main access points for Galbraith Mountain trails. Visit their website for the most up-to-date access information.

  • Highest Point: 3,032’
  • Best for: Hiking

Located on the east side of Lake Whatcom, Stewart is a prominent mountain rising over 3,000 feet. There is no trail to the true summit, but you can get a taste for Stewart by hiking its lower elevations via the Chanterelle Trail.

Opened in 2018, this moderate hike gains 1,000 feet in 2.4 miles (one-way). At the end you’ll reach a scenic overlook above Lake Whatcom, with expansive views across the lake to Lookout Mountain and even the distant San Juan Islands. 

  • Length: 75 miles
  • Best for: Paddling, Fishing, Photography

Fed by glacial runoff from mounts Baker and Shuksan, the mighty Nooksack River originates in the North Cascades, bringing life-giving waters to Whatcom County forests and farms before emptying into Bellingham Bay. The river’s three forks (north, middle, and south) combined offer many recreation opportunities. Camp and hike along the North Fork at Douglas Fir Campground and Horseshoe Bend Trail. Or stop by Nooksack Falls — a must-see on Mount Baker Highway — to witness the river’s 88-foot cascades.

Getting to the Nooksack River

  • Douglas Fir Camp and Horseshoe Bend Trail: Take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east to mile 35. The campground and trailhead are located across the street from each other. Northwest Forest Pass required at Horseshoe Bend trailhead.
  • Nooksack Falls: Take Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) east, 7 miles past the Glacier Ranger Station. Turn right onto Wells Creek Road # 33. Proceed 2/3 of a mile down this road to the parking area.
  • Area: 4,900 acres
  • Best for: Paddling, Swimming, Hiking

Whatcom County’s namesake lake is located just east of the city of Bellingham. A sprawling 10 miles long, this landmark lake has many uses including providing drinking water and recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Public access is available at Bloedel Donovan Park, which provides picnic areas, a boat launch, swimming beach and playground. From this north end of the lake, Whatcom Creek begins, running through Whatcom Falls Park and downtown Bellingham before draining into the bay.

Visitors can stop by Whatcom Falls year-round for easy access to an impressive waterfall just 10 minutes drive from downtown Bellingham. To get a little further away from it all, you can hike along Lake Whatcom’s serene eastern shoreline from Lake Whatcom Park. The flat, easy Hertz Trail is a local favorite nature escape not too far from the city. 

Getting to Lake Whatcom

  • Bloedel Donovan Park: Bloedel Donovan Park is located at 2214 Electric Avenue in the Silver Beach Neighborhood.
  • Whatcom Falls Park: Whatcom Falls Park is located at 1401 Electric Avenue. To access the main falls, picnic shelters, fish hatchery, lower playground, creek bridge and derby pond, use the entrance on Silver Beach Road off Lakeway Drive.
  • Hertz Trail: Navigate to Lake Whatcom Park using GPS, or follow the driving directions at wta.org.
  • Best for: Boating, Paddling, Beaches

Bellingham and Whatcom County are home to more than 100 miles of saltwater shoreline on the Salish Sea, including Chuckanut Bay, Bellingham Bay, Lummi Island, Lummi Bay, Cherry Point, Birch Bay, Drayton Harbor and Point Roberts. 

Numerous public parks provide access to Salish Sea beaches. A few favorites include:

Getting to the Salish Sea

There are countless ways to access the Salish Sea from Bellingham. Visit one of the parks above, or take the ferry to Lummi Island! Another great place to start is the Community Boating Center in Fairhaven. 

        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.
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