Starting from Bellingham – 4 Easy Hikes with Kids

hikes with kids bellingham
The open meadows at Excelsior (beyond Damfino) provide incredible mountain views.

 

By Laura Rogers

village booksWhatcom County boasts a plethora of amazing trails, but the abundance of outdoor options can be a little overwhelming for parents. In my own parenting, I’ve been flummoxed by all the questions: Which hikes are open year-round? Do we need to buy a pass? Which one? How far is too far for my little ones, and where-oh-where do they go to the bathroom?

Below is a list of fun, kid-tested, easy to moderate, historically and ecologically-rich hikes to do with kids (all with bathrooms nearby!)

 

Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

hikes with kids bellingham
It’s never too early to begin cultivating a love of hiking.

Stimpson is one of my all-time favorite places to go with kids. The Reserve offers the perfect blend of adult and child appeal. It also helps that it’s easy to get to. Just outside of Bellingham, on the road to Sudden Valley, you’ll find this unmatched gem of a hike. Stimpson is a truly enchanting place. Among the dense trees and singing birds, you’ll find old-growth fir trees (some that are over 400 years old), wetlands and bogs, and even an active beaver pond – all this on lovely loop trails that are gently rolling and short enough for little legs.

A short distance into the hike, you’ll find a sign listing the two hike options: The Main Loop Trail (2.8 miles) and The Geneva Pond Loop Trail (1.2 miles). With my 3- and 5-year-old kids, I usually opt for the latter. What strikes me every time I’m out there is the amount of diversity in Stimpson. All of the water features (from serene waterfalls to still water teeming with life) and older trees and snags create amazing habitats. A vast array of bugs and birds can be found, along with over 300 species of fungi and slime molds. It feels like the possibilities are endless there. The closer you look, the more you see.

The 138-acre reserve was donated to the Whatcom Land Trust in 2000 in memory of Edward K. and Catharine C. Stimpson by their seven children. This donation continued their legacy of giving back to the community. What an amazing final gift they gave.

Directions: Take Lakeway toward Lake Whatcom, turn left on Austin St., which becomes Lake Louise Rd. After about 1.5 miles, look to your left for the parking area. There is also a bus stop at the trailhead. (Trail is not open to dogs or bikes.)

 

Lake Whatcom Trail (Hertz Trail)

hikes with kids bellingham
Kids can really stretch their legs or wheels on the wide, flat trail at North Lake Whatcom.

This trail has all the beauty and glory of other Whatcom trails, but without the elevation change. For bike rides with kids or an easy stroll, this is my go-to spot. The trail is wide and flat and as kid-friendly as it gets, after the short initial descent to the lakeside. It’s also a winner for summertime, as there are at least two great places to stop for a swim with little ones.

The Lake Whatcom Trail, as its commonly refered to, or the Hertz Trail (named after former Bellingham Mayor, Ken Hertz) is about 25 minutes from downtown Bellingham, and the drive is well worth it. The glistening waters of Lake Whatcom accompany you nearly every step of the way as the trail follows the water’s edge. The thick forests of Stewart Mountain on the hillside next to you and views of Lookout Mountain are spectacular and calming all at once.

There is a great spot to stop for a break or to serve as your turnaround point, about a mile in. The largest waterfall of the hike is stationed here, along with a beautiful, new, covered bridge. There is a lovely beach for swimming here, or in the cooler months, for throwing rocks. For the ambitious, the trail continues on for another couple miles before you’re forced to turn around (3.1 miles total). In the fall, the trail is set ablaze with color from the changing leaves, so if you miss the swimming weather, there is still plenty of reason to come out here.

Originally, the Lake Whatcom/Hertz Trail was built to facilitate the Bellingham Bay and Eastern Railroad. In 1902, the trail was established in order to bring in coal and timber via steam engine. The railroad and mining company went out of business in the 1920’s after a mining explosion.

It’s fun to explain to kids how the trail came to be, and watch their imaginations churn. Railroad support structures can still be seen along the trailside.

 

Lake Padden (beyond the loop)

hiking kids bellingham
You never know what treasures, like these wild blueberries, you will find while out hiking.

Most locals have walked the 2.6 wooded and open miles around Lake Padden, which, on their own are pretty darn spectacular. And, depending on your kids, the easy lake loop might be where you want to stay. But there are some lesser known, equally great trails to the south and east of the lake. To reach them (if you’re going clockwise), turn off just before the dog park. Beyond, you’ll find another 5.1 miles of multi-purpose trails. See the map for details. Within these trails, you’ll find waterfalls, patches of stunning old-growth forest, and a network of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

My favorite way to approach this trail with kids is to start at the parking lot across from Galbraith Lane on Samish Way. This way they have a goal in mind (for us, usually the playground). It’s not quite 2 miles from Samish Way to the playground. For those of you who love Lake Padden and its vast amenities, but who also might be tired of walking the same old loop, this hike is for you! It’s a little more adventurous feeling than many kid hikes in the area, but still very easy to access.

Directions: From the Lakeway Fred Meyer, take a right on Lincoln St, which turns into Samish Way and continue past Lake Padden’s 2nd entrance until you see Galbraith Lane to the left. The parking lot will be on the right. (Trail is open to dogs and bikes.)

 

Damfino Lakes Trail

hikes with kids bellingham
The open meadows at Excelsior (beyond Damfino) provide incredible mountain views.

This one is a bit more of a driving committment, but it is one of the coolest places I’ve ever taken my kids. The story behind the name is pretty fantastic, too. Supposedly ages ago, when asked what the lakes were called, a ranger replied “Damn if I know!” And so it’s been called this name to this day.

The hike is located just past Glacier, on Canyon Creek Road. Be sure to check weather reports depending on the time of year, as this is a seasonal hike – and the seasons will show their colors. Up at the tiny lakes, you’ll find wildflowers and wild berries galore. The lakes are surrounded by boardwalks. It’s like a mountain hike straight out of a fairy tale.

The lakes are just under a mile from the trailhead, so perfect for tiny hikers. The trail is forested until you get to the lakes. The foliage around the lakes turn bright red in the early fall and wild blueberries are everywhere. At this point, if you want to go a little further, the trail continues on to Excelsior Ridge and Excelsior Peak. After another couple forested miles, hikers will pop out of the trees to some of the most glorious open meadows, creeks, wildflowers and views imagineable. I enjoy this hike because it is easily customized to fit the day and your energy level. Unlike the first three hikes listed, you’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass for this one, which you can purchase online or locally at REI or Big 5.

Directions: Take Mt Baker Highway to Glacier. A couple miles past Glacier look for Canyon Creek Rd. (also called NF-31) on your left. Continue on Canyon Creek Rd for about 15 miles to the Damfino Lakes Trailhead.

 

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