Enjoy the end of summer at Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve
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Beaches of Whatcom County
We visited the beaches along Whatcom County’s nearly 130 miles of saltwater shoreline because you will want to, too.
Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve is a magical place, providing beach access that still feels wild and remote despite the nearby presence of BP Cherry Pointer Refinery — you’ll see its pier from the beach — and the community of Birch Bay.
Why you’ll like it: Opened in 2009 south of the tip of Point Whitehorn, this is one of Whatcom County’s newer coastal parks and its 54 acres of forest, beach and bluff have much of what make our corner of the world a special one.
There’s a short trail that will take you through a forested wetland. You’ll see a mature forest of red alder, big-leaf maple, Douglas fir and willows. Look for the delicate blooms of bleeding heart, the waxy white of common snowberry, the ruby red of salmonberry and the heart-shaped green leaves of false lily-of-the-valley.
It’s tranquil, with insects trilling and birds singing as the backdrop.
Four overlooks, as the trail nears a bluff, provide stunning sparkling views of the Strait of Georgia and islands, including Lummi, Orcas, Vancouver and Saltspring. Look for interpretive signs along the way to learn about the area’s forestry, wildlife and marine life. If you want to sit and contemplate the view, you can do so at the elegant stone benches that were put there for that purpose.
When it’s hot outside, it’s cool under the forested canopy.
The first three-quarter mile of the trail is easy to traverse and accessible to people in wheelchairs. The last part of the trail, which drops a few hundred feet down to the rocky beach, isn’t.
Down at the rocky beach, which goes a ways in either direction and is backed by 80-foot sand and gravel cliffs, you’ll see shorebirds, eelgrass beds offshore as well as some of the San Juan islands and even the Olympic Mountains, provided the view isn’t hidden behind a haze caused by wildfire smoke.
You can kick back and spend a languid day at the beach, listening to waves lapping against the shore.
During low tide, explore marine life such as sea star, dogwinkle, crabs digging themselves out of the sand and an amazing wealth of aggregating anemone.
Users: Hikers and people in wheelchairs for the first part of the trail.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The walk down to the beach takes about 20 minutes. The beach is full of rocks that can be slippery so wear shoes that grip.
Round trip: The trail is roughly 1.6 miles.
Amenities: There’s a portable toilet in the gravel parking lot.
You should know: Because it’s a reserve, no pets, bicycles or horses are allowed. Camping and fires are banned. Watch where you step to avoid destroying the intertidal species you’re there to admire.
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.
Getting there: From downtown Bellingham, head north on Interstate 5 and take exit 266 and head to WA-548 N/Grandview Road toward Custer. At 548/Grandview, turn left and follow the road as it curves left and becomes Koehn Road. Continue a half-mile to the gravel parking area on the left. The trail down to the beach starts from the parking lot.