Winter in Western Washington means heavy snow high in the North Cascades, forcing all but the most robust of hiking families to settle for lowland destinations.
Local trails that are popular during the rainy season include Whatcom Falls Park, the Chuckanuts, and the North Shore of Lake Whatcom — but they can begin to feel routine. Here are three trails to expand your day-hike repertoire.
SEHOME HILL ARBORETUM
A network of trails surrounds Sehome Hill, that wooded knoll overlooking downtown Bellingham.
Its central location makes this 180-acre park perfect for a weekday jaunt or a weekend day trip. It offers a variety of connected trails — six miles in all — including narrow dirt paths and paved walkways through second-growth forest adjacent to the campus of Western Washington University.
Winter is prime time for birders, too, and the area is home a variety of waterfowl species.
Features of interest include an 80-foot wooden observation tower and a tunnel that was carved through rock for cars in the 1920s. In winter, you’ll have a clear view across the bay and downtown from the top of the observation tower.
Trails are for hiking only (no bikes). Dogs must be on leashes.
Directions: Enter Sehome Hill Arboretum from various directions. There’s parking at 25th Street and Bill McDonald Parkway and also at the end of Arboretum Drive in the park. Other entrance points include a trail near the intersection of 32nd Street and Allen Avenue, and two trails on East Myrtle Street, between Jersey Street and Key Street. Streets around the arboretum are served by frequent Whatcom Transportation Authority buses.
Find a printable map at cob.org/documents/parks/parks-trails/trail-guide/Sehome_hill.pdf.
PADILLA BAY SHORE TRAIL
Padilla Bay Shore Trail is an easy, 2.25-mile out-and-back bayside route that meanders along the edge of the Skagit River delta, a stunning estuary that’s part of the famed Pacific Flyway for migratory birds.
Much of the area was logged in the early 1900s and turned into farmland. Most of the level, gravel shore trail follows the top of dikes that protect adjacent fields.
You’ll find markers every eighth of a mile, perfect for answering those “How much farther?” questions. Interpretive signs illustrate the importance of sloughs to the environment, and show examples of birds and other animal inhabitants.
In winter, the sloughs and fields are saturated in browns, yellows, grays and greens. Visitors might see unusual migratory ducks or snow geese picking through the fields. In the sky, look for a northern harrier or peregrine falcon on the wing, watch great blue herons inching through the shallows, or spot a belted kingfisher motionless in a tree.
Toward the south end of the trail, you’ll see a collection of aging farm buildings and old rusting machinery from the logging days.
In thickets along the pathway, look for the bright scarlet fruit of wild roses, called “hips.” From deep inside this cover, you’ll hear the chirping peeps and calls or various small songbirds.
Trail is for hiking and biking. Dogs must be on leashes.
Directions: Padilla Bay Shore Trail is on Bayview-Edison Road, just south of Bay View State Park. Take Interstate 5 to exit 231 and go east on Josh Wilson Road. Turn left onto Bayview-Edison Road and look for a signed free parking area with a portable toilet by taking a left on Second Street. You’ll walk along Bayview-Edison Road for several yards and then cross to the trailhead. There’s also parking on the south end of the trail, but there are fewer spaces.
Situated next to Blaine, Semiahmoo Spit is a narrow strip of land that shelters Drayton Harbor from Semiahmoo Bay.
On clear winter days, it offers a stunning view of the Strait of Georgia to the west and Mount Baker and the Cascades peaks to the east. Winter is prime time for birders, too, and the area is home a variety of waterfowl species — including loons, grebes, cormorants and scoters, plus bald eagles, great blue herons, all manner of gulls, and such ducks as harlequins and mergansers.
It’s a Whatcom County facility, so parking is free and there are clean restrooms and a picnic area. An easy, paved trail of just less than a mile (one way) skirts the east shore of the peninsula. Shoreline and tidelands out to sea are open for exploration, too.
North Cascades Audubon Society offers occasional free guided birding trips for the general public. Check the calendar at northcascadesaudubon.org.
For more information and a map, go to http://whatcomcounty.us/2064/Semiahmoo-Park.
Check the time and heights of tides in the area at http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/locations/599..
Directions: Take Interstate 5 to exit 270, Birch Bay-Lynden Road, and go west to Harborview Road. Turn right (north) and go to Drayton Harbor Road, then turn left (west). Take Dayton Harbor Road to Semiahmoo Parkway and turn right.