West Coast US

“Long beach far from a narrow entrance”

Otherwise know as Chuckanut, the Native American word for the area that spans the coast just south of Bellingham, WA. Though the word ‘Chuckanut’ makes me think of a mischievous squirrel, I suppose it’s much less of a mouthful than the English translation.

Chuckanut Drive is also another name for the 21-mile (34 km) long Washington State Highway 11, stretching from I-5 in Burlington north to Bellingham. Starting from the south, the first few miles are inland before the highway turns sharply westward to hug the shoreline of the Samish Bay. Once the water is within sight, there is no shortage of ocean views to the west while the Chuckanut Mountains rise to the east.

Samish Bay
The iconic bent tree along Chuckanut Drive

Coming from the south, around mile marker 14 is Larrabee State Park, the first state park in Washington and a popular destination for locals looking for a breath of fresh air. At Larrabee, there are opportunities for hiking, biking, or jogging the trails, picnicking, camping, seeing some tide pools, or even having a bonfire on the beach. The park entrance is off to the left and access to the beach from there involves a short walk through a tunnel under the train tracks. It’s the west coast, so it’s not the beachiest of beaches. But it’s beautiful in its own right and provides yet another wonderful location to watch the sunset.

Larrabee State Park

There are miles of trails in the Chuckanut Mountains, and present day me is kicking college me in the ass for only ever hiking one of them. That one was the trail to Fragrance Lake. The trailhead is across the road from the state park entrance and parking lot and is well-marked. It begins with a steady climb and it’s coastal Washington, so it’s usually muddy — sturdy shoes are a must. At around the 1 mile (1.6 km) mark is an unmarked trail off to the left that leads to the best views of Bellingham Bay that I ever found!

Fragrance Lake trail viewpoint

Back on the main trail, the lake is another 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Don’t be fooled by the short section of downhill, as there is quite a bit of climbing still to go! Once we were nice and out of breath, though, we came upon a junction; Fragrance Lake was just up ahead.

Fragrance Lake

Though the forests in this area aren’t true rainforests, Bellingham gets a lot of rain so there’s a rainforesty feel to them. The lake itself is surrounded by mossy trees and lots of greenery, but rocks on the shore provide a perfect picnic spot.

Once we’d had our fill, we headed back to the parking lot, traded our hiking boots and jackets for sandals and sunglasses, and headed on down to the coast to see some starfish and catch some sunshine!

Larrabee State Park

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: take Washington Highway 11 south from Bellingham or north from Burlington, WA
  • Fees & passes: there is a fee to park during peak season, but I always went in the off-season so it was free
  • Camping: $12-45 per night, depending on amenities (ranges from primitive to full hook-ups)
  • Hiking: Fragrance Lake Trail, located across Highway 11 from the Larrabee State Park parking lot, 5.5 miles (8.9 km) RT, moderate
  • Other: at mile 1 (1.6 km), there’s a spur trail off to the left; hike this for incredible views of the bay!

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