Teddy Bear Cove, just south of Bellingham, is popular year-round. It’s ideal if you don’t have a lot of time but want to squeeze in a hike that’s more challenging than just a pretty amble. In summer, it’s a nice place to do a little bit of sun-lazing or tide-pool gazing during low tide. Plus, it’s a truly pretty piece of this corner of the world.
Why you’ll like it: This is an enjoyable walk through the woods and down to the beach. The return will be a bit of a grunt, but it’s short and the effort will be worth it.
You can admire Western red cedar, Nootka rose, salal and Douglas fir as you walk through the forested section and listen for the squeaky call of hairy woodpeckers, or the rapid-fire of their pecking.
Low tides offer a chance to explore marine life in tide pools and under rocks, especially if you have little ones.
You also can admire honeycomb formations in Chuckanut sandstone on both sides. As for the pieces of discarded red brick in the north cove, those are the remnants of the old Coast Clay Co., a brick factory that was there during the first two decades of the 1900s.
It’s why the area was once known as “Brickyard Beach.”
The south cove boasts crushed clam shells left there over the centuries and worn away until they make parts of the beach look white underfoot.
Parts of the beach are sandy, but those are very short stretches. If you want to explore, be ready to do some rock-walking.
To get to the small bluff bisecting the coves, climb the steps on either side. You can walk through the bluff and admire the Garry oak trees. Maddrone trees, known for their orange-red peeling bark, are there too, though it’s a shame that so many people have carved their initials in them over the years.
From the bluff, you can “ooh and ah” over the sparkling water and blue skies. Just make sure to pay attention if you’re close to a cliff edge.
You might also like ... Teddy Bear Cove is one of the places where people have seen bioluminescence — light emitted by plankton that glow in the dark — under the right conditions during mid- to late summer.
Also, this is a hike that will provide you with the Pacific Northwest version of fall colors.
Round trip: This is a short hike at 1.8 miles. It will take about 50 minutes, depending on how fast you’re walking.
Hiking route: From the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead, walk 0.2 mile up Hemlock Trail to the Interurban Trail. Then walk south for about half of a mile to a spur across Chuckanut Drive — there’s lots of traffic on nice days, so pay attention — to the Teddy Bear Cove Trail, and then head another 0.2 mile down to the beach.
Users: Hikers only on the trail down to the beach, and dogs aren’t allowed.
Amenities: Portable toilet at the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead.
In case you’re wondering: Teddy Bear Cove was once a popular destination for nudists and had been since at least 1948. When Whatcom County bought the 1,430 feet of waterfront on the cove and 11 acres of nearby land in 1992, it put an end to nude sunbathing. Still, there are reports of one or two people who still think clothing is optional.
Difficulty: Easy to hard. There’s an elevation gain of 300 feet, with 200 of it in the 0.2-mile section from the beach.
So walking down to the beach is a breeze. Going back is challenging to strenuous, depending on your fitness, as you climb from the beach to Chuckanut Drive.
There are steps that are wide and deep in places. You’ll also be crossing railroad tracks at the end of the trail to get to the beach, so look sharp.
The rocks revealed when the tide pulls back can be slippery, so wear shoes that grip.
You should know: Because this is Whatcom County parkland, a Discover Pass isn’t required.
Fires are prohibited on the beach but that doesn’t deter people. On a recent visit, a fire was still smoldering in a makeshift pit.
Before you go: Check the tides by going to tides.net/washington. For phones, try apps like Rise for iPhones and Tides Near Me for Androids. You will want information for Chuckanut Bay. It’s best to arrive about an hour before the low tide if you’re there to beachcomb.
Mind your manners: Here are a few tips for treading lightly when you go out at low tide to peek at critters during your beach walk.
- If you find a creature stuck to a rock, leave it there. Yanking a sea star off its perch, for example, might rip its tube feet. Look under rocks carefully. It’s better to admire with your eyes.
- Lift rocks that are smaller than your head so it’s easy to put them back without smashing the critters. Return marine creatures where you found them. It’s especially important in summer when they face greater threats from sun, predators and crowds of people.
- Step carefully to avoid crushing the very creatures you’re out there to admire.
Details and a map: Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department. Go online to www.co.whatcom.wa.us/2184/Teddy-Bear-Cove and then look for a trail map on the right side.
Driving there: Head south on Chucaknut Drive, roughly 4 miles from downtown Bellingham to the parking lot for the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead, near California Street.
Need more? “Hiking Whatcom County” by Ken Wilcox, now in its sixth edition, has long been an indispensable hiking guide. Or help your children learn about the natural world around them with the “Curious Kids Nature Guide: Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific Northwest,” by Fiona Cohen, former outdoors writer for The Bellingham Herald.