The Chanterelle Trail at Lake Whatcom Park offers views that rival more popular destinations like Oyster Dome and Mount Baker—but without the crowds, longer drive or parking stress. Hikers and mountain bikers alike are welcome to climb the five-mile trail above Lake Whatcom to take in the water vistas and crisp-forest air.
Thanks to Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, the trail doubled in length in October with an additional 2.8 miles. Prior to the addition, the only route to continue beyond the 2.4-mile trail was to hike or bike the adjacent service road. Now, users can continue their wooded walk or ride to the upper trail terminus.
The trail addition is part of Whatcom County Parks and Recreation’s Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Lake Whatcom Park Recreation Trail Plan, which was adopted in 2016. The end goal is to connect the Chanterelle Trail with the shore-side Hertz Trail, according to Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Director Michael McFarlane. The result will be a 6- to 7-mile-long loop trail open to hikers.
“This is something that the community has asked for a long time,” McFarlane says. Trail work will begin again in June when the weather permits working without threat to the Lake Whatcom watershed. The complete loop is expected to be open in 2020.
Beginning from the parking lot, the Chanterelle Trail climbs quickly above the cars below. Listen for the rushing of Smith Creek as it flows into Lake Whatcom. During winter months, the waters flowing into the lake run high and provide a soothing anthem. Visitors should expect muddy tread and wear appropriate footwear. On a clear November day, the dense forest is interrupted with pockets of sunshine and blue sky.
As visitors approach the initial overlook at 2.4 miles, they will cross a service road three times. Watch for mountain-bikers as they motor down the mountain. For the most scenic route, continue on the trail at each of these junctions. For the quickest way to the top, use the service road rather than the trail.
For those who continue on the Chanterelle Trail, keep peeking west to catch glimpses of Lake Whatcom. In the winter, more naked trees make way for vistas of the water as hikers and riders ascend the more than 2,000 feet from the parking lot.
“Lake Whatcom Park provides a diverse trail system and is convenient to the general Bellingham area year-round,” McFarlane says. For people looking to get home in time for dinner post-workout, the Chanterelle Trail is a great option.
“We’re quite lucky to have these large parcels so close to an urban area to get out and get away,” McFarlane continues.
At 2.4 miles, visitors reach the Chanterelle Overlook and what was previously the trail terminus. After reaching the overlook sign, continue .1 mile on a wide, gravel path to an ideal lunch or snack stop. Traveling at a brisk walk, hikers can reach the overlook in about an hour, give or take 10 minutes.
Stop for a moment to soak in the view. Directly below is Lake Whatcom, and across the water is Lookout Mountain and Sudden Valley. Look further northwest and you’ll see Bellingham and the bay, while south is Alger. On a crisp November day, the lake seems to have two different weather systems. To the south, clouds engulf the water and surrounding mountains, threatening the sunny day to north.
While a trip to the Chanterelle Overlook makes for a complete adventure in itself, visitors can now double their workout by continuing to the new terminus. From the overlook, take the trail to the east rather than returning .1 mile back to the junction. Moving into the second half of the trail, visitors will continue to climb above Lake Whatcom. The higher the trail climbs, the more infrequently hiker or bikers appear.
And as Smith Creek provided aural backdrop for the first few miles, the electrical lines above replace the babbling creek with a dull hum. Continue over a handful of wood bridges so freshly constructed they still hold a sweet scent and meander through the still-dense forest.
For hikers simply seeking a view, the additional 2.8 miles of trail don’t offer much. However, for trail runners or mountain bikers who want an extended workout, the additional miles are ideal. Mountain bikers can ride the entire 5-mile trail uphill; however, they are not permitted to ride downhill on the trail until the last .6 mile. Bikers can plan to ride the service road downhill.
The county plans to open a downhill trail route for mountain bikers, the “Brown Pow Trail,” in 2020, says McFarlane. Until then, hikers and bikers can enjoy another way to access Whatcom County’s seemingly endless backyard through the Chanterelle Trail extension.