Experts may differ about what you should eat, what supplements you should take or avoid and whether a daily glass of wine is advisable. But there seems to be a consensus about one thing: Walking is good for you.
And unlike some healthy things, it’s also fun and it feels good, weather permitting.
For many of us, a North Cascades hike up Skyline Divide or Hannegan Pass must be relegated to the realm of fond memories and photo albums as health issues slow us down. But Whatcom County offers many wonderful walks for people limited by bad knees or even walkers and wheelchairs.
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Along Bellingham Bay, the most popular option is Boulevard Park. In the northern section of the park, you can take a short stroll on a paved path with grassy playfields on one side and beaches on the other. You can extend your walk all the way south to Fairhaven if you’re up to it, enjoying the two overwater walkways connected by solid gravel paths. But getting to Fairhaven does require a steep climb up the Taylor Street dock. That will be a welcome workout for some, but perhaps a barrier to others.
The biggest barrier at Boulevard Park is parking. On sunny weekend days, there are nowhere near enough spaces to accommodate demand, although there are a few handicapped permit spaces that often seem to be available for those who qualify. Others may need to be dropped off by a friend or family member willing and able to walk in from wherever a parking space can be found.
Zuanich Point Park
Another waterfront option is Zuanich Point Park at the north end of the bay near the Squalicum Harbor marina. Parking is seldom a problem, and there is a flat paved path around the water’s edge. Besides the stroll around the landscaped area maintained by the Port of Bellingham, you can continue roughly west along the southern edge of the parking lot to the edge of the commercial marina, where many Bellingham-based fishing vessels are moored.
The bay’s frequent southerly winds make Zuanich Point a popular kite-flying spot, but the wind can also be downright unpleasant at times. Check conditions before heading out. If you see whitecaps on the bay, you’ll want a chinstrap for your hat here.
Zuanich Point Park is also a lovely spot for watching the sunset. As the sun descends in the west, it often bathes the city to the east in a buttery golden glow, while setting the windows of bayside homes and Western Washington University aglitter. It can make a terrific photo.
Elsewhere in Bellingham, Cornwall Park can be a pleasant woodsy walk, with flat paved or gravel trails that connect the Meridian Street entrance on the north with the Cornwall Avenue entrance to the south.
There is a bridge over Squalicum Creek and a playground with a spray park for the grandkids.
Whatcom Falls Park
A walk of any length through Whatcom Falls Park is going to involve some steep stretches, but access to the lovely old stone bridge at the main falls is easy from the main parking lot off the Lakeway Drive entrance. After enjoying the roaring waters, you can take a pleasant stroll to the nearby fish hatchery and Derby Pond.
Not far from the beginning of Whatcom Creek, just across Electric Avenue from Bloedel-Donovan Park and Lake Whatcom, is Scudder Pond, reachable via a short, flat walk on a broad gravel path. There are a few parking spots at the trailhead off Electric Avenue and a few more around the corner off the eastern end of Alabama Street.
Scudder Pond, choked with cattails and lily pads, is a birder’s delight, but even non-fanatics may enjoy the avian delights here. Red-winged blackbirds nest amid the cattails, and you will see many colorful males flashing their bright orange and yellow epaulets and sounding their metallic cries. With luck you might spot wood ducks or even a Virginia rail, and beavers also hang out in the pond and do their best to obstruct the culvert that drains out of the pond into the nearby creek.
Lake Padden Park
At Lake Padden, the 2.6-mile trail around the lake is solidly gravel-paved, but the stretch of trail that runs through the woods along the southern side of the lake has some ups and downs. If that’s a deal-breaker, you can still enjoy a lovely flat lakeside walk along the northern side, from the parking lot near the tennis courts all the way to the dog park near the lake’s southeastern corner.
There are frequent benches along the way to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery.
Here, as on nearly every Whatcom County trail, be alert for passing bikes. Most bikers are careful and courteous around pedestrians, but there are exceptions.
For shoreside walks outside of Bellingham, you have three good options.
Semiahmoo Spit includes Whatcom County’s Semiahmoo Park as well as Semiahmoo Resort with its hotel and marina at the north end of the spit. You can start your walk at the park and stroll to the resort for lunch or dinner.
The beach along Semiahmoo Spit is full of cobblestones that may make walking uncomfortable for some, but there is an asphalt path that parallels the road to the resort. On sunny days, you get a sweeping view of the Strait of Georgia and Boundary Bay to the west, with the city of White Rock, B.C. hugging the northern shore. To the east is the watery expanse of shallow Drayton Harbor, with Mount Baker’s snowy flanks gleaming in the distance.
Near the marina is a floating breakwater that is often jammed with basking harbor seals.
Semiahmoo County Park has restrooms, a small exhibit on the spit’s history as a salmon-canning hub and some nicely-situated picnic tables with fire pits.
The city of Blaine provides a lovely, accessible shoreside walk beginning at Blaine Marine Park. From the end of the park itself, past the marina to the end of Blaine Pier – a walk of about two miles. From the pier, you can look across the water to Semiahmoo Resort. The park has a shelter for rainy-day picnics and views of a broad expanse of tideflats that make this park another mecca for birders. Beyond the tideflats, you get a view across the bay to White Rock.
Another option is Point Whitehorn Marine Park. Follow Grandview Road west to its end, then head south on Koehn Road to the gravel parking lot. There is a ¾-mile flat, accessible trail through a lovely forest to some overlooks on a bluff with a commanding view of the Strait of Georgia and the islands beyond. Unfortunately, getting down the bluff to the water’s edge involves a bit of a scramble down a steep stretch of trail that ends at a jumble of logs that must be negotiated. Nimble hikers only.
Besides the parking lot, the only facility at Point Whitehorn is a portable toilet.
One of the best easy walking areas in Whatcom County is just south of Ferndale. Two adjoining county parks, Hovander Homestead and Tennant Lake, provide lots of attractions that make them a good destination for a three-generation family outing. Both parks can be reached by car, but you can also park at one and walk to the other via a flat, accessible half-mile trail.
At Hovander, you can marvel at the massive wooden beams holding up the roof of an enormous old red barn, which houses a collection of antique farm equipment. Close by is a lovely garden maintained by the Washington State University Master Gardeners, and an orchard.
The lovely old farmhouse, stocked with antique furnishings, is open for tours at limited times. Call the park at 360-384-3444 for current information.
The kids will enjoy the farm animals in nearby pens – usually ducks, chickens, goats, rabbits and pigs. There are ample picnic spots, both shaded and sunny.
At Tennant Lake is another old farmhouse with a small interpretive center, and a fragrance garden chock full of unusual aromatic plants. There is also an accessible one-mile loop trail through the adjoining wetland (which would have been referred to as a swamp in the old days).
Much of this trail is on a boardwalk with no handrails or guardrails. While a misstep would not be fatal, it would be messy. If the boardwalk seems a bit dicey, you can still enjoy the stroll along the smooth gravel trail from the Fragrance Garden to the Tennant Lake viewpoint. Watch for ducks and geese amid the lily pads, and enjoy the majestic view of Mount Baker if it’s not overcast.
For the more energetic, there is a trail that roughly parallels the Nooksack River from here all the way south to Slater Road, through groves and fields.
Want to join a senior walking group?
There are at least two organized groups with regular walks: The Senior Trailblazers and the Button Walkabouts. The Bellingham Senior Activity Center posts information about these two groups on its website: wccoa.org/index.php/BellinghamSeniorActivityCenter/.