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These four miles of new Whatcom trail offer views of Mount Baker and older forest

The Deschenes family — Hunter, Bode and Susan — hike up Baneberry and Rufus Creek trails to the Lake Whatcom Overlook. Crews and volunteers have added four miles of new trail in the network in and around Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve.
The Deschenes family — Hunter, Bode and Susan — hike up Baneberry and Rufus Creek trails to the Lake Whatcom Overlook. Crews and volunteers have added four miles of new trail in the network in and around Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve. The Bellingham Herald

The trails in and around Lookout Forest Mountain Preserve are the perfect place to enjoy a pretty fall day or two, bright as they are in places with orange-yellow leaves that crunch under your feet or bicycle wheels.

And there are more of them, thanks to the recent completion — or near completion — of four miles of new trail as well as improvements to 1 mile of an existing trail previously built by users.

If you go, you’ll be on the most recent trails built for new Whatcom County parkland, located on both sides of Lake Whatcom, that was created by the transfer of 8,844 acres of forest land around Lake Whatcom from the state to Whatcom County in 2014.

The routes are part of an extensive network that will eventually total some 98 miles, according to a recreational trail plan for Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Lake Whatcom Park.

This past summer was the second summer of trail-building in the new parkland, according to Reid Parker, conservation and parks steward for the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department.

The first one gave us the popular Chanterelle Trail, which climbs through the woods before opening to stunning views of Lake Whatcom below.

The most recent ones give us the new Rufus Creek and Cougar Ridge trails as part of a project that cost $125,000, according to Parker.

Check them out when there’s a break in the rain.

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Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Why you’ll like it: The views are pretty. There are maples on Baneberry and Leila June trails — which are renamed sections of an existing trail — as well as the lower leg of Rufus Creek Trail, so you’ll get an eyeful of colorful fall leaves.

The upper part of the Rufus Creek Trail takes you through older evergreen forests and showcases the sandstone cliffs that are common to Lookout Mountain, according to the Parks Department.

“It feels old,” Parker said, referring to 120-year-old Douglas fir trees. “There’s cliffs and rock ridges.”

As for the Lake Whatcom Overlook, it actually is all about admiring snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance.

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Snow-capped Mount Baker from the Lake Whatcom Overlook at Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve in August 2018. Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Users: Hikers, runners and bicyclists, although who can be on which trail varies. For example, when the Cougar Ridge Trail opens by the end of the year — it’s closed now while crews finish the project — it will be for mountain bikes only.

Even then, it will be for bikes going downhill and bicyclists who can handle a challenging ride.

“This trail contains technical terrain features including drops, steep sections, cliff edges and sharp corners,” Parker said. “We encourage riders to examine features before attempting to ride them.”

Difficulty: Moderate with some uphill sections that will have you huffing. You can take children on a hike here, though you might have to do a bit of coaxing.

Round trip: It depends on you. The network has smaller and larger loops.

With the new routes, there will be a little more than 8 miles of hiking and biking trails in the area. There’s also 8 miles of gated forest roads for exploration, according to the Parks Department.

You should know: Parking is free. There’s a restroom at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed, as long as they’re on a leash.

A number of groups and volunteers helped build the trails in partnership with Whatcom County.

They included the Washington Trails Association, Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, Whatcom Land Trust, Greater Bellingham Running Club and REI, as well as crews from the city of Bellingham and Washington Conservation Corps.

Temporary trail signs are up on the routes. Permanent signs and wayfinding kiosks will be installed in early winter.

Getting there: The main access point, which includes a parking lot near the trailhead, is at 2537 Lake Louise Road. This trail network connects to the miles of mountain bike trails on Galbraith Mountain via 4000 Road.

Details: Go online to www.co.whatcom.wa.us and type “Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve” into the search window to find a temporary map as well as additional information.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea
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