Summer in Western Washington means hiking in the North Cascades, where many of the most popular trails are accessible only from late June to early October. But the lowlands offer several walks that let young adventurers commune with nature on a bright, sunny day — and don’t require a 90-minute car ride or a parking pass.
Both the Connelly Creek Trail and the Klipsun Trail offer relatively flat and easy hiking along nature corridors through otherwise urban areas. Bagley Lakes Trail, near Heather Meadows near the east end of Mount Baker Highway, is usually accessible by the time school lets out — although snow can linger on the trails until August. Still, it’s an easy walk through stunning alpine scenery and it offers young children a fabulous introduction to the Cascades high country.
CONNELLY CREEK TRAIL
Walkers, runners, bicyclists, and parents with strollers favor Connelly Creek Trail, a one-mile (one-way) route that follows a creek through the Happy Valley neighborhood. It’s part of the Greenways trail system across Bellingham, just south of Western Washington University and Sehome Hill Arboretum.
In the summer, you’ll enjoy the shade of alder, Douglas fir, western red cedar, and large Sitka spruce as the trail meanders through forest, meadow, and swamp. The trail is mostly gravel, flat, and well-maintained. Hear birdsong and the buzz of hummingbirds everywhere. Watch small salmon, dragonflies, and water striders from the footbridges that cross namesake Connelly Creek. Quiet and vigilant young hikers might see foxes, rabbits, or deer.
Joe’s Gardens, a longtime Bellingham institution for locally grown fresh produce, is right off the trail at its midpoint, offering a place to stop for summer berries or greens for dinner. For a bonus excursion and to burn off energy, head west along Donovan Avenue at the trail’s south end, where you’ll find a short path to Happy Valley Park, which has a playground and picnic tables.
Trail is for hiking and biking. Dogs must be leashed. Find a printable map at cob.org/documents/parks/parks-trails/trail-guide/Connelly_creek.pdf.
Directions: The trail parallels 32nd Street from Ferry Street south to Donovan Avenue and has several access points along the way. Park along neighborhood streets or take Whatcom Transportation Authority bus No. 105 from the downtown station.
Klipsun Trail — also part of the Greenways system across Bellingham — is an offshoot of the Railroad Trail that runs along a wooded corridor through residential housing from the Roosevelt Nature Area to Northridge Park. Parts of the trail are steep enough to make pushing a stroller difficult, but the trail is mostly gravel and well-maintained.
Although you’ll pass houses and yards, and sometimes parallel busy streets, you’ll still have the feeling that you’re in the woods. The trail passes swampy areas where marsh birds and waterfowl can be seen. Stay on or near the trail, but encourage young explorers to turn over rocks and small decaying logs to discover bugs, slugs, and salamanders (bring a pocket magnifier!). Remember to gently return rocks or logs to the way you found them.
At the west end of Klipsun Trail is a pond, officially called the St. Clair Detention Dam, and at the east end is the Barkley Tunnel that leads under the busy street to another swampy area and Northridge Park. Trails on the west side of Northridge Park offer impressive views of Bellingham and Bellingham Bay.
Trail is for hiking and biking. Dogs must be on leashes.
Directions: Reach the Klipsun Trail several ways, including via Greenways connector trails from Big Rock, Whatcom Falls or Bloedel-Donovan parks, or at several access points along neighborhood streets where parking is available in the Barkley, Roosevelt, Alabama Hill, and Silver Beach neighborhoods. Find a printable map at https://www.cob.org/documents/parks/parks-trails/trail-guide/northridge-park.pdf. The area is served by Whatcom Transportation Authority bus No. 540 to the north and No. 525 to the south; both originate at the downtown station.
BAGLEY LAKES TRAIL
This easy and level trail — a two-mile oval — follows Bagley Creek and Bagley Lake and is also used by hikers to access the moderately strenuous Chain Lakes Trail (suitable for older children).
Trailhead drops steeply from the parking lot but quickly levels as it follows the alpine lake. Because the trail is oval, it can hiked as an out-and-back or as a loop. Toddlers should stick to the lower southeast side. The upper side of the lake is steeper and often there are sections covered in snow late into summer. That’s a treat for children, but everyone should step carefully on steep hillsides and avoid snow bridges.
Along the lower route, there are many opportunities to dabble little toes in soft moss along the banks and in the sharply cold water. Watch for abundant wildflowers, wild blueberries that ripen in late summer/fall, aquatic insects, and birds such as the American dipper, a little dark-colored bird often seen hunting along rocks in swift-moving water.
Along the way you’re surrounded by luscious views of Mount Shuksan, Table Mountain, and Mount Herman. At the halfway point, just below the Heather Meadows visitor center, is a quaint stone bridge where the creek flows into a cirque — a bowl-shaped valley formed by glaciers. Turn back here, hike up to see the visitor center (pit toilets), or continue along the upper portion of the trail and return to the parking lot.
Rest after your hike in the chairs at Heather Meadows visitor center, a former ski warming hut built in 1940. It has a few natural history exhibits and a small gift shop, along with rangers and docents who will offer information about trail conditions (hours are seasonal; no telephone).
Directions: Take Mount Baker Highway east to just past Mt. Baker Ski Area’s upper lot, signed for Bagley Lakes, about 20 miles east of the town of Glacier. Parking requires a seasonal Northwest Forest Pass or a day-use pass available at the Glacier Public Service Center. The ranger station has clean restrooms and a small collection of natural-history exhibits, including a large cross-section of a Douglas fir and a relief map of the park and its mountainous terrain. Hours are seasonal; 360-599-2714 for hours and trail conditions.