Chuckanut Mountains, Bellingham
- Level: Moderate
- Total Distance: 4.4 miles round-trip
- Hiking Time: 2.5 hours
- Elevation Change: 1,300 feet
- GPS Coordinates: N 48° 41.432’ W 122° 27.172’
Moderate hikes are generally suitable for adults and children above the age of six who are fit.
The Chuckanut Mountains are best known for the colorful drive along Puget Sound during the fall. This local hangout of Bellingham hikers is also home to some great trails traversing the long ridge. Cedar Lake is one of the mountain’s best lakes, a small, quiet swimming hole on the mountain’s northeastern end. From the lake, an optional side trail climbs to viewpoints of Mount Baker and the San Juan Islands. Cedar Lake is as popular a hike in the winter as in the summer. Fall ushers in the brilliant color of the many broad-leaved trees that make up the lower forest. In winter and spring, Cedar Lake makes a great alternative to the snowbound trails of the Cascades.
From the trailhead, Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail makes a steady ascent along an old logging road shaded by large red alder and big-leaf maple. The tread is wide, flat, and poses no obstacles. The only difficulty is the taxing, steep grade. Young kids (eight years old and under) might find the grade to be too difficult, but older children will probably find it to be enjoyable. At one mile, the trail reaches a three-way signed intersection. Take a left on newly built trail through the hike’s only section of virgin forest. The machine-gun holes of woodpeckers are familiar sights in the bark of many trees. Another signed junction appears out of nowhere (1.3 miles)—continue straight ahead on Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail.
The climbing is over when Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail reaches a third signed junction at the ridge’s crest (1.6 miles). Turn left and soon encounter the fourth signed junction for Pine or Cedar Lakes (1.8 miles). Turn left—Cedar Lake Trail quickly drops to the waters of Cedar Lake. The screech of an eagle may be in the air, or deer may be grazing the lakeshore. The lake is a favorite swimming and fishing hole of area residents. Several primitive campsites ring the lake for hikers interested in an overnight stay.
Sandwiched between the Cascades and Puget Sound, the Chuckanut Mountains are rich with good views. Unfortunately, forest obscures any views from Cedar Lake. To reach views of Mount Baker and the San Juan Islands, hike on the side trail signed “Scenic Overlook” on the east end of the lake. The trail steeply climbs 300 feet to a pair of overlooks (0.4 mile from Cedar Lake) atop a wooded butte. To the east, look down to Cedar Lake and north to Mount Baker. On the west side, count the San Juan Islands and scope the Olympic skyline.
From Seattle, drive north on I-5 to Exit 246, North Lake Samish. At the end of the off-ramp, turn right, cross over the freeway, and immediately turn right on Old Samish Road. Drive 2.6 miles to the signed parking lot and trailhead on the left.
Information and Contact
This area is accessible year-round. This trail is open to hikers and leashed dogs. Permits are not required; parking and access are free. For a topographic map, ask the USGS for Bellingham South. For more information, contact Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, 3373 Mount Baker Hwy., Bellingham, WA 98226, 360/733-2900.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Take a Hike Seattle.