Home to 82,000 people and a wealth of outdoor recreation to whet the whistle of anyone with a sense of adventure, Bellingham reminds me again and again of why I like to visit. This Pacific Northwest city is home to Western Washington University, is the beginning of the Alaska Marine Highway System, and a gateway to British Columbia, Canada. It also happens to be a community that embraces families, and for this Alaska team with an innate need to be in the outdoors, all the time, Bellingham fits as comfortably as a pair of old hiking boots.
A quick flight and drive or train ride from Anchorage, then Seattle, Alaskans can and should take advantage of the easy access to get out and explore the enormous swath of natural landscape making up Whatcom County and right-over-the-border-British Columbia. Looking at a long weekend or midweek stretch of time? Here’s our recommendations:
Day One: Strap on your bike helmet and gloves and take a bike ride. Either ship a bike (just $25 for AK residents, thanks to Alaska Airlines) or rent one from a local bike shop. Then tackle Galbraith Mountain, a 50-mile configuration of trails that impressed the heck out of my adventure-loving teen. From simple to “OH MY GOSH,” Galbraith is in Bellingham’s backyard and a popular place for weekend fun on two wheels.
Day Two: It’s been hot in Northwestern Washington this summer, so a 90+ degree day meant driving across the border to Cultus Lake Waterpark, about 20 minutes from Chlliwack. Located about an hour from Bellingham, Cultus Lake is a longtime summer getaway for Vancouver residents, and a newly-discovered retreat for Washingtoninans seeking a bit of water play. Look for a full-service waterpark, amusement park, and beach resort within a few minutes’ walk from each other, AND a nice lineup of restaurants, gelato, and coffee shops. Sign us up for Cousin Camp 2019.
Day Three: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is an alpine hiker’s dream, and Heather Meadows Visitor Center provides meadows, snow fields, and miles and miles of trails within the North Cascades. Heather Meadows Cafe‘ is open Friday through Monday during the summer, and makes a worthwhile stop while on the way to or from Artists Point, where hikers ply boots to trail for a few miles of stunning vistas and lakes.
On the way back to Bellingham, stop at Racehorse Creek Fossil Beds, the result of a 2009 landslide that exposed incredible fossils from the Eocene period. Palms, grasses, and other prehistoric plants are visible with a bit of brushing and digging, and the cousins had a blast searching for untold historical wonders after a mile-long trek up an old roadbed. Note: Follow directions HERE so you can maximize your experience. I did not consider myself a paleobotanist, but after an hour inspecting boulders and looking deeply at their contents, I’m sold. Tip: Bring a whisk broom, trowel, and a water to best expose your finds, and remember — other people want to view these treasures, too, so leave some finds behind.
Need lodging ideas? The Bellingham/Whatcom County Tourism bureau has a very nice listing of hotels, campgrounds, and rental options for families.
Bonus: If you have time on the way in or out of town, make tracks to Larrabee State Park, located along one of the west coast’s most scenic roadways. Larrabee (Washington’s first designated state park, by the way) is a quick six miles south of Bellingham along Chuckanut Drive, and features 3,700 acres of beach land, upland trails, and public space. Tidepooling is great here at low tide, and a campground, day-use area, and picnic shelter round out an exceptional property for Bellingham visitors. Do keep an eye out on small kids, as some of the trails run along sandstone cliffs.