Trek among the trails of the Chuckanut Mountains, then take a walk and grab a brew in the historic Fairhaven district.
It feels counterintuitive, but some of the best early-season hiking in the Cascades is to the north of Seattle.
The Chuckanut Mountains near Bellingham are the only part of the Cascade Range in Washington that meets the sea. Topping out at 2,300 feet, they usually stay out of the snow zone, and that makes them a perfect destination for early spring, when most of the Cascades are still a muddy mess.
Explore Bellingham’s beer scene
A fast-growing craft-beer scene is putting Bellingham on the brew-tour map.
And there’s a physical map called the Tap Trail (pick one up at a visitor information center), a way for people to keep track of the city’s ever-growing list of craft breweries, pubs and taprooms.
“Things have really exploded in the last 10 years,” said Brandon Fralic, a Bellingham writer.
Aslan Brewing just opened a new location at the historic Union Depot building featuring barrel-aged and blended beers. Other popular stops include Wander Brewing, Stones Throw Brewing and Structures Brewing. Yet another opening occurred this month with Twin Sisters Brewing.
The physical Tap Trail map allows you to collect stamps along your merry way. Once it’s full, you can redeem it for promotional Tap Trail gear.
“It’s a great resource for navigating our beer scene,” Fralic said.
You still have time to catch Bellingham Beer Week, with special events, music and food, running through April 28.
“The beer community here is really strong,” said Brian Seales, creative director for the Tap Trail. “This is a great way to celebrate.”
More info: bellinghambeerweek.com.
— John Nelson
Head north, get the season’s first hike out of the way and you can make a side trip to the beautiful Fairhaven District of Bellingham (fairhaven.com), a bustling place filled with history, nice shops, restaurants — and even a few ghosts.
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If you need an excuse to visit Fairhaven and Bellingham, two events are happening right now. The annual Dirty Dan Harris Festival is Sunday, April 22, honoring the colorful founder of Fairhaven. And we’re in the midst of Bellingham Beer Week, featuring special events along the city’s Tap Trail.
Lace them up
You won’t find a better early-season hike than the Oyster Dome Trail, just strenuous enough at 5 miles round-trip with 1,050 feet of vertical to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Bonus: It starts and ends with great views.
From the scenic Samish Overlook on Blanchard Mountain’s southwest side, the trail contours along through forest, crossing several streams along the way. About halfway in, the big climbing begins, and you’ll pass several huge chunks of Chuckanut sandstone, topping out on the dome cliffs, with great views of the San Juan Islands to the west.
If you’re into synchronicity, venture down to Samish Bay from Oyster Dome after your hike to Taylor Shellfish Farms and grab some fresh oysters. You conquered that big oyster after all — now it’s time to slurp.
Besides the majestic beauty of Oyster Dome, you have several ways to explore the Chuckanut Mountains on foot.
Larrabee State Park has 18 miles of trails, many leaving from the Chuckanut Drive Scenic Byway to open views of the Salish Sea. One of the quickest and most rewarding is the 2-mile round-trip to a viewpoint on the Fragrance Lake Trail.
Even easier is the Chuckanut Ridge Trail because your car does most of the climbing. At Milepost 16 on Chuckanut Drive, watch for the signs and follow Cleator Road as it climbs steeply for 3.5 miles to the Cyrus Gates Overlook. Once on top, you can hike for up to 4 miles.
Several other trails leave from the viewpoint, including the new Rock Trail, a 2.4-mile round-tripper that descends and regains 1,200 feet of vertical.
Feeling like a beach hike? Larrabee State Park has 1.5 miles of rugged shoreline to explore along Chuckanut Bay.
The Victorian-era district of South Bellingham is best explored on foot. Besides taking in the history of Fairhaven, you’ll experience the natural beauty of the area.
If you do one walk, hit the South Bay Trail, which travels all the way into downtown Bellingham along the waterfront for 2.5 miles. Leaving from Tenth Street and Mill Avenue, walk north to Taylor Dock and follow it along a restored trestle with fantastic views of the bay.
“It’s probably the best thing Bellingham has ever done for visitors,” said Jeff Jewell, archivist and historian for Whatcom Museum.
Another great walk is along the Interurban Trail, stretching nine miles from Fairhaven all the way to Larrabee State Park. One pleasant stroll goes from the trail’s entrance on Harris Avenue near Eighth Street through forest along Padden Creek about one-half mile to Fairhaven Park, which has its own trails and green spaces to explore.
Besides all the natural beauty, Fairhaven is chock-full of historic buildings and bustling new construction that mimics the look and feel of Victorian-era architecture.
“Our economy is going gangbusters,” Jewell said, “but the old buildings in Fairhaven are really the draw.”
Walking west along Harris Avenue toward the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, starting point for the Alaska Marine Highway, takes you back in time. You’ll see the Mason Block (1890), Terminal Building (1888), Nelson Block (1900), Morgan Block (1901), Bellingham Bay Hotel (1901) and Schering Block (1903).
Continuing west, you’ll also run into some fun historical trivia markers set in stone along the sidewalk, such as:
“Chinese Mafia Attempted Assassination Here, 1909” and “Huge Freight Wagon Disappeared Beneath Quicksand Here, 1890.”
All this history makes Fairhaven a great location for ghosts, said Kolby LaBree, a researcher and Bellingham history tour guide.
“Fairhaven is a very haunted place,” LaBree said. “The main portal of haunting is Sycamore Square.”
Sycamore Square is in the Mason Block at 12th and Harris, home to a number of businesses. The fourth floor is said to be haunted by “The Lady in Green” — thought to be Flora Blakely, who died in 1894. Her body was taken to Oregon for burial, but her spirit stayed behind, the story goes.
Stop in, say hello to Flora, and check out The Black Cat, a stylish restaurant whose servers occasionally report spooky vibes. It’s also a great place for a post-hike happy hour.
If you’re looking for caffeine, Fairhaven stalwart Tony’s Coffee is in the Terminal Building at 11th and Harris.
Another place to rest your weary legs is Stones Throw, Fairhaven’s only brewery.
“It’s literally a stone’s throw from the Interurban Trail,” said Brandon Fralic, who writes the blog, “Beers at the Bottom” and is releasing the upcoming book, “Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest.” Stones Throw’s interesting design is anything but historic — it is constructed from old shipping containers and has expansive outdoor seating spaces, a fire pit and a rooftop patio.
“It’s a great place to just hang out,” Fralic said.