Throw the bike on the car rack and head for Bellingham, where you'll find weekend rides for all levels of expertise and ambition. Bellingham bike fanatic Mike McQuaide points the way.
To those of the two-wheeled persuasion, Bellingham has long had a reputation as a mountain-biking hot spot. But the city by the bay, as well as outlying Whatcom County, offers plenty of riding opportunities for cyclists of all skill, experience and interest levels.
Bellingham itself is crisscrossed with myriad flat (or mostly flat), wide pathways perfect for families and folks who want to meander through city parks or along the waterfront. More ambitious roadies are drawn to the seemingly endless miles of the county’s rural roads through small towns and open farmland. Throw in the Interurban Trail, a six-mile hard-packed rail trail between Fairhaven and Larrabee State Park, and you have the textbook definition of the phrase “something for everyone.”
Looking to tote your bike (and maybe your kids’ bikes) to Bellingham but not sure where to go? Here are a few suggestions:
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with young children
From Boulevard Park on the waterfront, wide, mostly flat trails head north to downtown Bellingham and south into Fairhaven. Along with a cafe, the 20-acre park boasts a nautically themed playground and easy beach access sure to please the little ones with hours of exploration opportunities.
To ride downtown — where on Saturdays the Bellingham Farmers Market makes a terrific destination — head north from the park for about a mile on the South Bay Trail. Slightly uphill at first, the former rail bed is shaded in parts but offers terrific water, city and mountain views for much of the way. Once in downtown Bellingham, the trail (now paved) morphs into an alleyway for a block or so before emerging onto Maple Street, directly in front of the Depot Market Square, site of the farmers market.
To ride to Fairhaven, head south from Boulevard Park via the newly restored Pattle Point trestle and sort of recently restored (2004) Taylor Avenue dock, both of which pass directly over the water and make for Bellingham’s most popular and scenic promenade. Once up the short but steepish incline at the far south end of the dock by the Chrysalis Inn, go right onto lightly traveled 10th Street and regain the gravel trail a couple hundred yards ahead.
The trail emerges a quarter-mile ahead at the Fairhaven Village Green (itself the site of a Wednesday afternoon farmers market), directly behind Bellingham’s beloved Village Books.
For recreational riders
Like the idea of riding wide, car-free trails but want to put in a little more mileage? Then the Interurban Trail has your name on it. Heading south from Fairhaven, this rail trail is one of the area’s true gems, leading about 6 miles (one-way) to Larrabee State Park and, if you follow it all the way — crossing Chuckanut Drive at one point — to Clayton Beach on Chuckanut Bay.
Traversing the lower flanks of Chuckanut Mountain, the forested trail in spots offers sweeping vistas of the San Juan Islands and Olympic Mountains beyond. Though mostly flat, there are two places on the Interurban Trail that offer potential spots of bother and/or opportunities to practice your bike-walking skills. (More on those in a sec.)
The Interurban Trail has several trailheads, but for our sake, we’ll start at the Rotary Trailhead parking lot on Old Fairhaven Parkway, just before you enter Fairhaven. From the parking lot follow the wide, flat, hard-packed dirt trail south for a little more than a mile before a short, not-too-steep sweeping descent brings you to Old Samish Road and Arroyo Park.
The park is a stunner: a gushing, often salmon-choked creek squeezing through a narrow gorge overhung with moss-hung alders and evergreens. At first the creekside trail is fun and not-too-technical. Just after crossing Chuckanut Creek, however, the trail switchbacks steeply up the hillside (potential bike-walking spot) for a few hundred yards before leveling off again. From here, it’s 2.5 miles of mostly flat riding before the trail dips momentarily down into and up out of a creek bed. (The up-out-of part may have you walking your bike for a few steps.)
Just ahead, you soon enter Larrabee State Park and, about 6 miles from where you started, the trail’s end at Chuckanut Drive. To get to Clayton Beach, a sandy spot on Chuckanut Bay complemented with sculpted sandstone cliffs that make for a perfect picnic spot, cross Chuckanut Drive and follow the main trail for about a half-mile down to the beach. At one point a steep rocky stretch, as well as a railroad crossing, will require bike walking.
For avid roadies
North and west of Bellingham, numerous low-traffic roads beckon skinny-tire folks who want to get some miles in. An excellent way to discover where to go is to hook up with the Donut Ride, an informal Saturday morning group ride that’s been a Whatcom County institution since the 1980s.
There’s no contact number, email list, Twitter or Facebook page; riders just show up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays (7:30 a.m. October through February) at Kulshan Cycles (100 E. Chestnut St.), ready to ride. Cyclists ride two abreast with everybody rotating through and getting a chance to take a pull. (Or hide in the back if that’s what they prefer; it’s all good.) Speed is generally about 17 to 20 mph.
In its early days, the Donut turned around at a since-closed bakery in Ferndale (thus the name), but now it usually follows a 45-mile loop to Birch Bay and back.
Check www.mtbakerbikeclub.org for other weekly group rides.
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer, avid cyclist and author of “Insiders’ Guide to Bellingham and Mount Baker” (Globe Pequot). He can be reached at email@example.com. His blog is mcqview.blogspot.com.