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Rock Trail: Forest walk in Larrabee State Park has unusual geology

Hikers take a breather April 2, 2016, while on the Rock Trail in Larrabee State Park near Bellingham.
Hikers take a breather April 2, 2016, while on the Rock Trail in Larrabee State Park near Bellingham. krelyea@bhamherald.com

Hike the Rock Trail and you’ll thank all of the volunteers from Chuckanut Conservancy, Washington Trails Association and Mount Baker Club, who helped create and build the route, a newer trail that was completed in 2014 in Larrabee State Park. This is a beautiful, forested walk that takes you past high cliff bands and geologic features that are remnants of climatic events millions of years ago.

Difficulty: Easy to challenging, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet. You’ll happily skip down at least 100 steps on the way out, and huff your way up those stairs on the steep climb back to the trailhead at Cyrus Gates Overlook, where you can see Chuckanut Bay and assorted islands.

Round trip: 2.4 miles.

Users: Hikers and runners. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail, too.

Why you’ll like it: The trail isn’t far from Bellingham, but it’s a good place for solitude, as you likely won’t see many other people. In early spring, you’ll hear the buzzing of bees, the call of birds, and the wind rustling through leaves in the forest.

You’ll smell skunk cabbage, admire the delicate pink blooms of Pacific bleeding heart, see old man’s beard lichen draping trees, and enjoy peek-a-boo views of Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters on clear days.

The Rock Trail connects to South Lost Lake Trail, which is part of a system of trails in the Chuckanuts that will keep you hiking for hours on end and for mile after mile.

Other trail features include a drop into a ravine near the start, thanks to the steps built by volunteers; a wealth of moss and licorice fern; cliffs more than 100 feet high; a 20-foot log bridge; a maturing forest; and a geologic history lesson of the Chuckanut Range.

The geology includes large pockets, or holes, that have eroded back into a nearly vertical rock face, says Bellingham geologist Dave Tucker. It’s the same erosion process that created the honeycomb pattern found in rocks along the beach at Larrabee State Park, but these are unusual because they’re up in the hills, says Tucker, who blogs about geology along trails at nwgeology.wordpress.com.

There also are thin sandstone layers in the Chuckanut Formation, layers left by streams flowing westward from the Rocky Mountains 50 million years ago in a subtropical environment, before the Cascade Mountains rose up, Tucker says.

The Rock Trail connects to South Lost Lake Trail, which is part of a system of trails in the Chuckanuts that will keep you hiking for hours on end and for mile after mile, if 2.4 miles isn’t enough of an outing for you.

You should know: You’ll need a Discover Pass for parking; the pass costs $30 for the year or $10 for the day. There’s a pit toilet at the Cyrus Gates Overlook.

Getting there: Turn at Hiline Road off Chuckanut Drive. Hiline turns into Cleator Road. Take it to where the road ends at the overlook. Be prepared for a bumpy ride over ruts and potholes in the road.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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