When it comes to taking a walk or a run through a beautiful natural setting, Whatcom County has no shortage of options. But the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve and Geneva Pond Trails stand out for a few reasons. The two trails are laid out in loops, meaning you can choose to follow one or the other, or both. And since it’s a protected, undisturbed nature reserve, there are no horses, dogs, or bicycles on the trails, just people, on their own two feet, wending their way through a surprising variety of old-growth forest. Well, just people — and owls, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and a few other woodland creatures you might spy along the way.
Out at the quiet end of Lakeway Drive, just before it reaches Lake Whatcom, you’ll find Austin Street leading to the south. After a few blocks, the neighborhood ends, and Austin becomes the more pastoral Lake Louise Road. A mile later, on the left side of the road, you’ll see a wide spot in the road signposted as the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve.
The first Stimpsons moved to the area in the early 1900s. In the family’s second generation, Edward married Kitty Watts, whose father funded what is now Whatcom Falls Park. The Stimpsons served on the boards of numerous institutions and civic groups, and when they passed, their children donated 166 acres of their land to Whatcom Land Trust. The trust then acquired a total of 404 acres on this part of the Lake Whatcom watershed, and in 2000 the reserve was established.
The entrance to the 350-acre reserve is a nondescript little trail in the corner of the gravel parking area, which passes a reader-board full of information about the spot and a map you can use to decide which route to take. Beyond the map, the trail plunges immediately into forest, where you can catch glimpses of Beaver Pond through the foliage. After crossing small wooden bridges, the trail begins to twist uphill between the imposing trunks of statuesque trees. The bare forest floor and the canopy overhead paint the world in a reddish brown and green, the first of many types of forest the trails travel through.
About a third of a mile in, the trail levels off at a sign pointing out the Main Loop Trail. The beginning hiker will be happy to know there are really only two easy-to-read signs to keep track of. Following this first one in the direction of the Main Loop leads into a greener area, with ferns and mosses everywhere. You will come across the second sign very quickly, which points out the Geneva Pond Loop Trail.
If you choose that option, another connecting trail about a third of a mile long leads you to a fork in the road. This is the start of the loop and, following the left-hand path, the feel of the woods changes again as the ground cover hugs a forest floor that is constantly rising and falling in tiny rolling hills, and the lower canopy sets a more intimate and magical mood.
The loop around Geneva is only half a mile long, so in no time you’ll find yourself at the far end of the pond. There’s a sudden clearing with a bench and a view of trees surrounding still water that seems custom made for photography. The fact that it’s also a popular destination for families of ducks and geese only adds to the charm.
From there the trail skirts the pond, over a couple of wooden bridges, and back to the intersection with the Main Loop Trail. You can either make your way back out to the trailhead or follow the sign to the left and find yourself in yet another type of forest, with grand trees overhead, ferns and flowers underfoot, and an ever-changing cast of seasonal flowers and mushrooms. For the next mile and a half, you’ll have the hill on your right side and valley on your left, as you follow a gentle rise through switchbacks that twist their way between and along the tops of the various ridges that rise and fall though this area of the reserve.
Eventually you’ll cross a bridge over a seasonal pond and start up a noticeable slope. At the top is another bench, at a viewpoint that also lets you know that you’ve just climbed the steepest part of the trail. Just past the bench, a sign points out a trail into the nearby neighborhood of Sudden Valley, but as you continue on past it, you’ll find yourself walking the last mile of the loop.
Parallel to Lake Louise Drive — but still separated by plenty of forest — the trail descends. Smaller trees leave open spaces in the canopy, allowing in more light to reflect off of a series of pools of water, to turn the woods a blazing light green.
And then the woods go dark again, as a narrower, twistier path leads alongside Beaver Pond. After one last slight uphill stretch, you’ll enter a familiar high canopy and bare floor. You’ll see that first sign again, pointing out the short trail that returns you to the parking lot once more.