Except for the occasional El Niño year, eastern Whatcom County is known as a playground for local winter sports. In addition to skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, getting out for some good old-fashioned sledding is a great way to celebrate the snow. In previous years, the go-to location was off Squalicum Parkway in the center of the former Pacific Concrete Plant. But last year marked the final phase of development transforming the area into one of our newest parks, Squalicum Creek Park. Although this area still has a number of slopes that look ideal for sledding, the City of Bellingham has closed them so that new vegetation can become established and take permanent hold.
In response, we’ve compiled a list of options for families, adventure-seekers, and the young-at-heart to rejoice in the white stuff we’ll get this season. Whether you’re planning to stick to the bunny hills or hoping to pick up some serious speed, these options will prepare you for your next snow day or jump-start planning for your next trip to conquer the mountain.
Located off Chuckanut Drive North and marked by historic brick pillars, the expansive, naturally beautiful Fairhaven Park is perfect for first-time and younger sledders eager to dive into the magic. The hills are smaller and the crest is spread out to offer more space and fewer potential collisions. Convenient parking both below and above the hill, as well as the on-site playground with slides and swings, make this park a great option for differing ages and interests. When the fingers and toes begin to get cold, the walk home, or to the car or bus, is short and convenient.
Although most of the sledding-sized hills around Lake Padden are wooded or too close to the water’s edge, there is an area above the playground that can be accessed using the south entrance near the golf course. Parking is conveniently just above the hill, and the view of the lake, miles of trails, and wildlife make this an excellent anytime stop.
Fairhaven Middle School
A second common Fairhaven spot is near the soccer fields of Fairhaven Middle School. These moderate-sized, gradual slopes, long run-outs, and wide crests make this spot best for intermediate-level sledders. Parking is available nearby when school is closed or out for the day.
When you mention sledding, most locals think of Mount Baker first. Although the hour-drive from central Bellingham is more of a commitment, the consistent snow quality and variety of hill heights and slope lengths to suit most ages and skill levels make this the most visited sledding spot in our county. The drive, varying access conditions, and short hike from parking make this less desirable for the tiniest of sledders, but the height, expanse and steepness of the available sledding slopes, wider availability throughout the ski season, and spectacular views make this a favorite destination for adventurers and die-hards. Access to this area is east up Mount Baker Highway toward Mount Baker Ski Area. Between the lower and upper Baker ski lodges, at a 180-degree bend to the left, just across from a chalet, you’ll see a great snow bowl. Park to the right near or just past the chalet, or take the loop drive past the upper ski lodge and park on the downhill side of the bowl. Chains are a general recommendation for the area November 1 through April 1, but you can check changing road and weather conditions here. Allow at least a half-day for this outing, bring your own snacks and hydration, and dress for the weather to make the day great.
Silver Lake Park
Silver Lake Park is a great compromise between city sledding and driving the full distance to Mount Baker. Approximately 30 miles or 45 minutes east on scenic Mount Baker Highway from downtown Bellingham, this park is often quiet and underused in the winter. Although the hills are not high and powerful like Mount. Baker, there may be snow here even when there isn’t any in the city-based areas (elevation is about 775 feet). The roads are usually maintained and rustic cabins are available to turn this trip into a winter weekend getaway.
Don’t Have a Sled?
Support area businesses and buy local. Yeager’s Sporting Goods and Hardware Sales have sold sledding equipment and a wide variety of coats, gloves, hats and boots in the winter months for decades. Or add to your fun by creating your own sled from reclaimed and recycled materials available from the RE Store. Make a one-of-a-kind chariot with a little ingenuity and these Do-It-Yourself ideas from Pinterest and Bob Vila.
There’s nothing like the feeling of a crisp breeze in your face and snowflakes in your eyelashes as you glide — or careen — down a hillside blanketed in a fresh Pacific Northwest snowfall. Did we overlook your favorite spot for making those lasting winter memories? Help us out with your suggestions in the comments below and start planning your own winter quest today.