The short trail to Clayton Beach starts in Whatcom County, but the beach itself is actually just over the border in Skagit County. But this beach in Larrabee State Park is too popular to leave off our list.
Why you’ll like it: Larrabee State Park has about a mile and a half of shoreline, and Clayton Beach is among the park’s best.
Why? First, there are long swaths of sand, a rarity among the rocky and pebbly shores in this part of the Salish Sea.
Second, this is the spot for you if you prefer places that haven’t been built-up and still promise isolation — provided you go there early in the week or early in the day — without a great deal of travel.
Third, it’s ideal for sunbathing and dreaming while you’re staring out at the sparkling water of Samish Bay.
Fourth, there’s a spot where you can go bouldering on the main beach.
Fifth, this is a good place to go tidepooling with your kids during low tide, especially during a minus low tide. Even if you don’t hit it during ideal conditions, you’ll still see small red crabs, aggregating anemone with pale green tentacles tipped by pink or purple, eel grass and rockweed. Look for sand dollars here and sea stars such as the purple star or the false ochre star, provided they’ve recovered from sea star wasting syndrome.
Sixth, the walk through the woods and down to the beach is pretty in its own right. You’ll be serenaded by bird song as you walk.
Seventh, at the beach, you’ll be soothed by the sound of waves lapping on shore.
Eighth, this is probably the best spot in Whatcom County to see the honeycombed formation — one of the natural wonders that Larrabee State Park is known for — in the Chuckanut sandstone on the beach, because there are long stretches of it.
The honeycomb pattern is weathering caused by the effects of saltwater flung onto rocks. As the water evaporates and salt crystals form in crevices, they do so with enough force to break rock — creating small pits. Those holes get bigger as the process repeats.
Ninth, other rocks have been scoured and left with striations until they resemble pale driftwood.
Tenth, there are two nearby beaches that you can explore.
Driving there: From Bellingham, drive south on scenic Chuckanut Drive to the Lost Lake Trailhead parking lot (formerly known as Clayton Beach Day Use parking). It’s about 8 miles from downtown Bellingham.
Hiking route: From the parking lot, you’ll need to cross Chuckanut Drive and walk down a half-mile trail to the beach.
Total trip: A little more than 1 mile. Getting there will take you 15 to 20 minutes.
Difficulty: Easy. There’s not much of an elevation gain. But there is a tricky part when the trail dips down as you near railroad tracks. You’ll have to traverse a rock face and some tree roots. It can be slippery so keep an eye on your children.
You also will have to cross railroad tracks to pick up the last part of the trail on the other side. Keep an eye and ear out for trains — they can be quieter than you think and the sight line at the crossing is short — and walk quickly. For the easiest access route after the tracks, stay on the trail until you pass the Larrabee State Park sign. It eases you down to the main sandy beachfront.
Users: Hikers and bicyclists.
About that railroad crossing ... BNSF doesn’t like it when people cross their rails, saying it’s trespassing. But you can’t get to Clayton Beach by land without crossing the tracks. For decades, there’s been talk of building a railroad overpass for pedestrians but no money was ever set aside for the project.
Larrabee State Park has received a $2.4 million grant from the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition for the project, which will include a new trail, the overpass and a restroom near the overpass.
“It’s supposed to provide safe and legal pedestrian access to Clayton Beach. This will be really good for access and it will keep people safe,” said Virginia Painter, communications director for Washington State Parks.
The project is expected to be completed in summer 2020.
You should know: A Discover Pass is required to park in the Lost Lake Trailhead parking lot. The cost is $30 a year or $10 a day if you buy it directly from the parks agency. Otherwise, you’ll pay $35 and $11.50 respectively to buy from a vendor. There’s a pay station for a one-day pass in the parking lot.
Camping, alcohol and campfires are prohibited at the beach. Dogs must be on a leash at all times. Get busted for violating any of these rules and you could be fined $99.
There are cycles of car break-ins at trailheads or parks, so take your valuables with you.
If you’re going to put a purse or wallet in the trunk, do it at home or before you get to the parking lot so someone waiting around doesn’t see where your valuables are. And if you think hiding your wallet or purse under a car seat or a piece of clothing will fool anyone, law enforcement said thieves will easily see through your ploy.
Amenities: There are pit toilets at the Lost Lake Trailhead parking lot.
Before you go: Check the tides by going to tides.net/washington. On phones, try apps like Rise for iPhones and Tides Near Me for Androids. It’s best to arrive about an hour before the low tide if you’re there to look for beach critters and want the best experience.