Now celebrating its centennial, Chuckanut Drive – officially, state Highway 11 – is one of the most beautiful roads in the Northwest, connecting fertile Skagit County in the south with bustling Bellingham in the north.
As you discover – or rediscover – the views along the way, consider these five nuggets of Chuckanut Drive knowledge to deepen your appreciation, or perhaps impress your passengers.
1. Much of Chuckanut Drive is a narrow two-lane road that hugs the sandstone cliffs of the Chuckanut Mountains, the only place where the Cascade Range meets the Salish Sea. No wonder it’s so scenic.
2. About 50 million years ago, Chuckanut Drive was the setting for a coastal floodplain where mud was deposited by rivers flowing west from the Rockies. That sediment was pushed upward some 40 million years ago. That’s why the Chuckanut shoreline is well-known for its sandstone.
3. In early days, settlers reached Bellingham by boat because the thick forests were virtually impenetrable. As settlements grew, Chuckanut Drive began as a rough logging road in the 1890s. In 1905, state lawmakers OK’d money to improve the road south from Bellingham, but the money ran out after only a few miles were built.
Two wealthy Bellingham businessmen, Charles Larrabee and Cyrus Gates, obtained money for the Fairhaven portion of the road, and state lawmakers eventually approved more money. At first, convicts built the road. A private company and state crews finished the job, and the road opened in the spring of 1916.
4. Larrabee State Park, along the way, was the first state park in Washington. Charles Larrabee agreed to donate 20 acres for a park, but died in 1914 before the paperwork was finished. Fortunately, his wife, Frances, liked the idea, too, and finished the deal. Today, the park now covers nearly 2,700 acres.
5. At the south end of the cliff section of Chuckanut Drive sits the tiny community of Blanchard. That’s where Edward R. Murrow, the famous radio and TV broadcaster, spent his childhood and attended high school. Murrow will long be remembered for his World War II radio broadcasts from Europe, and for his substantive news coverage on radio and early television.