It was August when I moved to Bellingham, so I was happy to hear that a group of friends were going to take me to their favorite place to cool off. I assumed that meant we were headed to a marina or other beach access close to downtown, but soon we were traveling west on Sunset Drive, further than I’d been before.
As we left the city behind, I got my first look at the Mount Baker Highway, and the trees and hills didn’t exactly make me think of beaches and cool, refreshing waterways. But soon enough we crossed a tall bridge, and a bar and grocery store appeared before us. Just before we reached civilization, though, the car took a sharp right turn off of the pavement, and doubled back along the bridge, out of sight of the road. A few moments later, the car was parked beneath the bridge we had just crossed.
As we followed a short path through some brush and low trees, I the dirt under our feet turned to sand. Coming up over a small rise, we were suddenly on a beach overlooking the Nooksack River. The water moved swiftly but stayed shallow enough that there was no danger of being swept away. And, since it flows down from of a ski resort, and beside a town called Glacier, it was definitely an effective antidote to the hot summer weather.
In the years since that visit, the roadway that leads to the area has been developed by the Whatcom County Parks & Recreation Department, and signs welcome visitors to what is now called Nugent’s Corner River Access.
To get there from Bellingham, head west on Sunset as if heading to Mount Baker. The traffic light at McLeod Road signals the edge of the city and the transformation into Mount Baker Highway begins. About eight miles out — roughly 10 minutes of driving — you cross the bridge that spans the Nooksack River and enters Nugent’s Corner. Between the river and the roundabout is the aforementioned sharp, right-hand turn that takes you to the water’s edge.
You can’t miss the parking on the left side of the road, next to the Parks Department sign. Or you can follow the road under the bridge to another, larger parking area surrounded by towering trees that services the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s boat launch. Whether you start from this lot, or by following the Parks Department “Trail to River” sign, there are a number of ways to cut through to the river itself.
Once you’ve found the water, it’s worth exploring a bit, since a variety of choices of terrain are within just a few minutes’ walk. Some spots are just a narrow ribbon of dry land between the woods and the water, while others are wide spaces that give plenty of room to stretch out. Likewise, some areas feature soft, fine, white sand, and others are covered with large, smooth rocks.
Wherever you go, you’re likely to find a wide range of others enjoying the river. It’s not unusual to find teenage couples spending time together, fishers waiting for a bite on their line, and dogs splashing after floating sticks. It’s also nice to take a short walk to get further from the bridge and the sounds of passing traffic.
It’s well worth the short drive to get out of town and enjoy the river. And with your choice of quiet, shady places to sit and wide-open sunny spaces to run and play, there’s something for everyone looking to beat the heat in the summer or to just soak up some Mother Nature any time. The area is open from sunrise to sunset year round and camping and fires are prohibited, but otherwise, Nugent’s Corner River Access is wide open to your sense of adventure and willingness to explore.