When making a choice between all the options available to hikers throughout Whatcom County, it’s well known that the best views often require some pretty strenuous exercise — and are often quite far from home. But drive just 20 minutes outside of town to the Chanterelle Trail at Lake Whatcom Park and you’ll find the unique combination of a relatively easy, close-in climb and an unusually gorgeous overlook.
The park dates back to 2014, when a group of local organizations transferred their ownership of more than 8,800 acres of forest to Whatcom County, with the understanding that it would be open to public use. Most visitors quickly became familiar with the Hertz Trail, a pleasant lakeside walk that follows the lake for three miles and offers a multitude of swimming holes. A smaller number of visitors venture over to Chanterelle to climb up through the cedars, which opened to the public in 2018.
To drive there from Bellingham, take Northshore Drive around the north end of Lake Whatcom. It soon becomes North Shore Road and continues past Agate Bay to the Sunnyside area. Following signs into the park, it’s best to use Parking Area 2 and find a place among the towering trees. There is access to the Hertz Trail to the south, while the beginnings of Chanterelle Trail are further back from the road.
At the start of the trail is a map that shows the route, and how the walking trail crosses over the forest road. Officially named the Wickersham Truck Road, it is thankfully rarely used by vehicles, but it is useful to the beginning hiker as a landmark. The trail crosses over the road for the first time .6 up from the trailhead, and the second time is .4 miles after that. The third and final crossing is .3 miles after that.
By using these intersections, the casual hiker can easily measure out a one-mile walk, a two-mile walk, or a two-and-a-half-mile outing. The more determined hiker can follow the trail for its final mile up to Chanterelle Overlook. While the cedar forest is stunning right from the start, and the landscape offers plenty of sights no matter how far you walk, it is this ridge-top overlook that truly crowns any trip to Chanterelle.
It’s helpful to know ahead of time that this is an uphill trail. While the steepness may vary, and there are some brief level and downhill stretches, the trail rises 1,000 feet in about two-and-a-half miles. But there are no ‘scrambles’ that require special mountaineering skills, and most people have no problem making the walk without special equipment, so it’s a moderately easy trail when compared to some of the treks found in the nearby mountain ranges.
At the top of the trail, a brief walk leads to the end of the forest road, where several large, flat rocks provide the perfect place to sit and rest. But don’t sit for too long — the views from the edge of the ridge are spectacular. Lake Whatcom is splashed out at the bottom of a dramatic 1,300-foot-tall slope, surrounded by mountains and vistas.
To the northwest is the city of Bellingham and, on a clear day, the bay that shimmers beyond. Directly across the lake is Sudden Valley, with Lookout Mountain rising behind it. Looking south, the southern end of the lake is hidden by even more wooded hills and mountains.
From the summit, you’ll also notice another trail disappearing into the woods. It is a relatively new addition to the mountain which will eventually be known as the Brown Pow Trail. A work in progress, it continues up the mountain over some small bridges, but it doesn’t feature any more breathtaking views. At least not yet: the plan is to continue the trail until it meets with the end of the Hertz Trail, creating a single large loop, rather than two separate dead-end walks. It is already worth exploring, though, and will continue to be an attraction for hikers on the lookout for a new adventure.
When it’s time to return, one option is to retrace your steps down the same trail, and the other is to follow the Wickersham Truck Road back to the parking lot. A gravel road just wide enough for a service truck to travel, it loops around the top of the hill and looks out over the east side of Lake Whatcom, and the hills that rise up from it. In contrast to the narrow forest path, the views beneath the power lines are broad and expansive.
Unless you’re in the mood for a workout, it’s best to schedule a couple of hours to get to the overlook and back. Allow even more time if you’d like to explore the new trail or enjoy a picnic with one of the best views in the county.