Three local hikes that are perfect for a summer’s day

Leah Sauter of Bellingham dabbles her toes in the water along the Ladder Creek Falls Trail in 2010.
Leah Sauter of Bellingham dabbles her toes in the water along the Ladder Creek Falls Trail in 2010. The Bellingham Herald

These area trails beckon summertime day-trekkers. Always be sure to bring sturdy shoes, sunscreen, snacks and water. A camera, binoculars, pocket magnifier and field guide will heighten the experience for young nature-lovers.

Table Mountain Trail

One result of the persistent Western drought is that the lack of snow in the North Cascades last winter means an extended summer hiking season in the high country.

That’s especially good for fans of the popular Table Mountain Trail, an easy 2.5-mile out-and-back hike with some steep switchbacks that can be perilous if covered in snow and ice. Keep small children close at these areas and have them keep away from the edge of the wide trail. Elevation gain is only 560 feet total.

At an elevation of 5,700 feet, Table Mountain offers a sweeping vista with picture-postcard views of Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker, nearby volcanic calderas and surrounding glacial lakes. A long plateau supported by columnar pillars, it was formed by a lava flow several hundred thousand years ago and exposed by erosion.

Because of its popularity, this hike is likely to be crowded on fair summer weekends. Try a weekday instead.

Getting there: Take Mount Baker Highway east to where it ends at Artist Point. The trailhead is west of the parking lot, which has pit toilets and no running water. A $5 day-use pass or seasonal Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking. Obtain the pass and maps at the Glacier Public Service Center east of Glacier or the Heather Meadows visitor center just below Artist Point. Both have restrooms and natural history displays.

Fairhaven Park Trail

This easy trail is part of the Greenways system that links various Bellingham neighborhoods and parks. It’s a great little trip year-round and perfect for tiny hikers and bicyclists. In fall and early winter, spawning salmon can be seen in Padden Creek, which runs alongside a good portion of the trail. In summer, a high canopy of green filters the sunlight and offers welcome shade. The creek invites little feet to dabble in it.

Several short pathways around Fairhaven Park connect with the Interurban Trail, heading slightly north and west toward Bellingham Bay. Not long after passing under the 12th Street bridge, you’ll encounter a side trail that leads to 10th Street/Donovan Avenue in downtown Fairhaven. Stop for ice cream or a cupcake or continue toward the Larrabee Trail, which wraps around the wastewater-treatment plant, goes past Post Point Lagoon, and ends around the corner from the entrance to Marine Park, which offers beach access. Return the same way, or make this part of a longer family ride or hike by picking up the South Bay Trail toward downtown Bellingham near the Fairhaven Village Green.

Fairhaven Park Trail and its side routes are well marked with directional signs. Find a printable PDF map at cob.org/documents/parks/parks-trails/trail-guide/lower-padden-fairhaven-park.pdf. There’s plenty of parking at Fairhaven Park, and the area is served by Whatcom Transportation Authority buses, allowing hikers to leave their car in Bellingham or at the park and return by mass transit.

Getting there: Fairhaven Park is at 107 Chuckanut Drive, south of Fairhaven. It’s served by WTA bus No. 105.

Ladder Creek Falls

This half-mile loop trail is part of a series of easy hikes that surround the North Cascades National Park visitor center at Newhalem in eastern Skagit County.

Along scenic Highway 20, it’s about a two-hour drive from the Bellingham area and offers a great introduction to wilderness hiking for small children.

There are a few steep areas with handrails and the view of the falls is fenced to prevent hikers from tumbling into the gorge. It’s in a narrow slot canyon with a three-tiered cascade of about 100 feet total. Historically there was much greater water flow, but it’s now diverted to the hydroelectric plant.

You’ll also see stunning examples of ferns, mosses and Western red cedar.

Trailhead is near Seattle City Light’s Gorge Powerhouse, accessible via a suspension bridge or a trail behind the powerhouse. Depending on where you park, a $5 day-use pass or seasonal Northwest Forest Pass may be required. For trail map and other information, stop at the visitor center, which has clean restrooms, benches for picnicking, natural history displays, and a small store.

While you’re there, explore some of the campground’s other short trails, plus an old steam locomotive and Seattle City Light museum that traces the history of hydro power in the region. About five miles east is the Diablo Dam, with its stunning view of the Skagit River below and the wonderful blue-green Diablo Lake.

Getting there: Take the North Cascades Highway east toward Newhalem, about milepost 120. North Cascades National Park visitor center is in the campground area on the right.