Make a pilgrimage to Bellingham for a lakefront ramble and a potent IPA from a popular new brew pub.
Editor’s note: What goes better after a Northwest hike than a stop for a good craft beer? That’s the philosophy behind this series, “A Hike and a Happy Hour.” While not every brew stop may host an official Happy Hour, they will always be places you can spend a happy hour. (Remember to designate a driver.)
THE HIKE: Hertz Trail, Lake Whatcom Park, on the edge of Bellingham
This delightful and easy lakefront ramble, popular with trail runners and the occasional mountain biker, follows the route of the historical Bellingham Bay and Eastern Railroad. Built in 1902, the railway had ambitions of serving forestry and mining interests and carrying passengers between such bustling yesteryear destinations as Fairhaven and Wickersham.
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Named for a local luminary who secured the route for public use, this almost-flat trail serves as an intimate introduction to the wonder that is 10-mile-long, 300-foot-deep Lake Whatcom. Nestled between towering Cascade foothills and lined on its northernmost shores by comfortable homes with docks and ski boats, it is the water source for about half the residents of Whatcom County (prompting roadside signs, promoting the use of no-phosphorus fertilizers and urging residents to poop-scoop after their dogs).
Don’t let the summer-home ambience on the drive in scare you off. Starting from halfway down the northeastern shore, the Hertz Trail quickly leaves most civilization behind and wends its way 3.1 miles southward with views across the mile-wide lake of wild, darkly wooded, 2,677-foot Lookout Mountain. At its foot: little Reveille Island, home to a small summer camp.
THE FACILITIES: Free parking at either of two trailheads. Trails converge after 0.2 miles, whichever you choose. First lot you come to, Access 2, has more parking. Permanent vault toilet at first lot, Porta Potty at second.
THE ROUTE: A Pacific wren tweets among mossy cedars and hemlocks as I set out from Access 2 past nurse logs, sword ferns, vine maples and a huckleberry bush already freckled red with early-summer berries. Winking eyes of yellow buttercups line a nicely constructed boardwalk crossing a marsh.
At the intersection with the other trailhead access, stop by quaking aspens to read about the trail and the old railroad on placards posted beneath a big-timbered kiosk that includes a topographical map.
Here, get used to the relaxing sound of waves lapping the wild shore a few feet away and, on a summer visit, the happy, echoing sound of kids splashing in the lake.
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Locals love this trail. One couple tells me to come back in mid-November to see kokanee spawning at two foot bridges. A younger group passes pulling a red wagon full of water toys, declaring, “We plan to be here all day!” Hiker Patty McKeown, of Bellingham, with her dog, Pepe, and friend Linda Crawford, lauds the Hertz Trail as “spectacular — family-friendly, dog-friendly, bike-friendly, the lot!”
But it’s also easy to find solitude along the way.
From the kiosk, the gravelly trail is wide and has frequent views of the far shore. I see a skittering Hobie cat, some stand-up paddleboarders and now and then a ski boat. Alders and maples shade the trail’s lake side and towering cedars shade the uplands, their cooling complemented by a light breeze off the water. Every quarter-mile or so is a lakefront bench.
In places the trail edges sandstone cliffs like you’ll see near the Chuckanut shore, rising up to 200 feet and upholstered with yellow-blooming succulents.
At one spot, an old red-cedar log protrudes from the lake 20 feet offshore with a small fir growing from it — a waterlogged nurse log. Streams burble down the oh-so-green hillside to feed a thicket of salmonberry and nettles.
At the first of two pretty covered bridges, just before the 1-mile marker, a spur leads to the best water access, where a shivery couple swims. Farther along, at the remains of an old concrete revetment built for trains, teenage boys jump to the water below, though I wouldn’t vouch for the safety of that.
Just past the 1.5-mile marker, look left to find a couple of towering old-growth firs that have overlooked these waters for many moons. I also come across a fragrantly flowering wild syringa, filling the air with orange-blossom sweetness.
Beyond the 2-mile marker the trail narrows and gets more lumpy but still easy. Flies and mosquitoes circle, but my DEET-free bug juice keeps them at bay.
Go beyond the 2.5-mile marker if only to see the mammoth tree that long ago fell across the trail, dipping into the lake. Hikers have a choice of an easy tunnel beneath or a clamber over. Just beyond, a tree leaning far over the water has wooden rungs nailed to it and a rope swing hanging from the far end. I never discovered what became of the folks with the wagon.
At 3.1 miles the trail ends at a fence and it’s time to retrace steps.
RESTRICTIONS: Hikers and cyclists. Dogs on leash; scooping required. Parts of trail are wheelchair accessible. Open sunrise to sunset.
DIRECTIONS: In Bellingham, take Exit 253 from Interstate 5 and go east 1.7 miles on Lakeway Drive. Bear left at Electric Avenue. When Electric Avenue becomes Northshore Drive, continue 7.1 miles (keeping right at The Fork restaurant) and take the left turn for Lake Whatcom Park. “Access 2” trailhead parking is .4 mile ahead on left.
On the way home
Grab a beer and some Pad Thai Dumplings
WHAT: The first-ever brew pub opened (in June) by Jackson, Wyoming, craft-brewing legend Melvin Brewing. Brewery owner Jeremy Tofte is getting back to his roots: Originally from Mount Vernon, just down Interstate 5, he grew up snowboarding on nearby Mount Baker.
WHERE: 2416 Meridian St., in Bellingham’s Fountain district.
WHY: If you’re a beer nut, this after-hike stop might be sufficient reason for the trip north.
Melvin’s award-winning ales-with-attitude have already caught the attention of Seattle brew lovers, many of whom will happily make the “Melvingham” pilgrimage to bask in the ambience of hip-hop music and kung fu posters that are all part of the brand.
The name’s origin? “A melvin is when you give someone a wedgie from the front,” pub manager David Powers says. “So if someone came in and asked for a Melvin, it would be kind of funny.” (You’ve been warned.)
The star brews here are potent sips such as the 2×4 Double IPA, described on the beer list as having “a stupid amount of hops” and weighing in at 9.9 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). They also make the Lambda Lambda Lambda Triple IPA, at a horse-choking 13 percent ABV. (Definitely designate a driver.)
If you’re indulging in such sobriety-bruising brews, don’t neglect the food; there’s a full menu. With a nod to the brewery’s birthplace in the back of the Thai Me Up restaurant in Jackson Hole, there are specialties such as Pad Thai Dumplings with Peanut Sauce ($8). Happy Hour offerings (4-6 and 10-11 p.m.) include calamari ($6), pickle chips ($5) and more.
For now, all the beer comes from Wyoming, but a 7-barrel brew house is to open here in the fall.
WHEN: 4-11 p.m. daily; plans are for lunch service before long. All ages welcome.