Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, just south of Birch Bay, is among the county’s newest parks, obtained with more than $1 million from fines paid in the 1999 Whatcom Falls Park pipeline disaster and donated to Whatcom County by the Whatcom Land Trust.
It’s a broad expanse of sand, pebbles and cobblestones below steep cliffs, a coastline unlike any other in the area. More than two miles of broad, flat shoreline are surrounded by 54 acres of forested wetland. It’s wild, remote and open, with a stunning view of the San Juan Islands and the opportunity for an extended waterside stroll.
At low tide, examine the shoreline for intertidal plants and animals, such as anemones, crabs, snails and seaweed. Along the shore you’ll see several boulders that don’t match the surrounding rocks. Called “erratics,” they were deposited by glaciers during the last Ice Age — and some show the scrapes of glacial scarring.
A 3/4-mile interpretive trail — wheelchair accessible unless it’s woefully muddy — leads through a forested wetland to the beach, passing Sitka spruce, western red cedar, hemlock, and big-leaf maple. Wildflowers cover the forest floor.
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Keep your eyes open for the scarlet crest of a pileated woodpecker, or scan the ground for a deep red-brown Oregon salamander. Listen for the chatter of bald eagles, which sometimes can be seen screaming through the trees.
Near the end of the trail, several benches are placed for folks to sit and watch the Georgia Strait. There’s a large parking area for strollers or bikes near the stairs that lead to the beach.
A map of the park still exists online at co.whatcom.wa.us/DocumentCenter/View/1001, but Whatcom County is revamping its website at co.whatcom.wa.us to include updated information. A number of websites provide information about high and low tides. One called protides.com lets the user select specific sites along the Washington coastline.
Getting there: From Interstate 5 exit 266, take Grandview Road west past the oil refineries to the end of the road, and go left at Koehn Road. The park entrance is on the left, with free parking and a portable toilet.