Oyster Dome: Expect bird's-eye island view

Oyster Dome Trail provides great views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands.

Elevation gain: 1,600 feet to talus slope; 2,000 to top of cliffs.

Round trip: Five to six miles.

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult. Steep climb for about the first and last half-mile.

Best times to hike: Almost year-round.

Highlights: Amazing views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands from a clear-cut area about three-quarters of a mile into the trail. It's also an opportunity to look down on eagles and hawks soaring below and hang-gliders overhead.

Oyster Dome itself has a cliff face much used by rock climbers.

The piles of boulders at the foot of the dome have crevices, which form nests for bats. Don't disturb the bats. They need rest to survive.

Maps: Rex N. Brainard's Chuckanut Mountains map; R.R. Products' Blanchard Trail map; Pacific Northwest Trail (available at trailhead).

Getting there: Take Chuckanut Drive about 10 miles south of Bellingham to a turnout just south of the Oyster Bar restaurant. Find trailhead across road at Pacific Northwest Trail sign.

Trail switchbacks through forest, enters clear-cut area offering great views, then heads back into the forest. At junction, continue left toward bat caves, right toward another lookout and hang-glider launch site.

Take a right at the next junction (left heads down toward Oyster Creek) and climb steep section past small cascade and two outcroppings on the left. A quarter-mile farther, a small sign points to bat caves about 150 yards to the left.

Go straight to top of Oyster Dome and sweeping views.