15 Must-Do Bellingham Adventures in 2016

A snowboarder in search of summer snow while ascending the Coleman Glacier beneath Mount Baker.
A snowboarder in search of summer snow while ascending the Coleman Glacier beneath Mount Baker. Brian Bates
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From epic hikes in the Cascades to climbing in nearby Canada, this bucket list is all Bellingham. And boy is Bellingham a coveted spot for the outdoors lover: Skiing? Check. Running? Check. Camping, climbing, biking, kayaking? Check, check, check, and check. In fact, it was tricky narrowing it down to just 15 must-experience activities in this outdoorsy paradise. But without further ado, here are our ideas for discovering adventure in the upper-left corner of the country as we roll further into 2016.

1. Ski the Shuksan Arm

‘The Arm’ is quite possibly one of the most photographed backcountry ski shots in the country, and it’s easy to see why.
‘The Arm’ is quite possibly one of the most photographed backcountry ski shots in the country, and it’s easy to see why. Andre Charland

Perhaps the most iconic sidecountry stash in Bellingham (if not the Northwest), The Arm is as skiable as it is photogenic. Ride Chair 8 of the Baker resort and immediately unload, turn on your beacon, hop onto the established boot pack, hike to your preferred line, and drop in. You’ll finish right near the base of the lift; ride it up and do the whole thing again. But keep in mind that a patroller at the boundary line checks for avalanche gear, so make sure you have it, and always practice safe backcountry travel methods.

2. Race in Ski to Sea

With registration already open this May 29 race, now is your chance to grab a group of friends, form a team, and dive into the outdoor adventure that captivates Bellingham.  Ski to Sea  is a seven-leg relay race from Mount Baker to the Bellingham Bay that includes cross country skiing, downhill skiing, running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, and sea kayaking. It's the most ambitious way to get from the mountains to the sea.

3. Climb at Squamish

Climbing among the trees at Squamish
Climbing among the trees at Squamish Chris Gehlen

Crossing the border into Canada is commonplace for many Bellingham climbers who prefer Squamish's world-famous crags only two hours from town. When you’re this close to the most extensive climbing in the Northwest, it starts to feel like your own playground.

4. Hike Oyster Dome

Locals soak in the sun on top of Bellingham’s favorite Chuckanut hike.
Locals soak in the sun on top of Bellingham’s favorite Chuckanut hike. Brian Bates

Oyster Dome isn’t the best hike in Bellingham without reason: The grade is steep, but the panoramic views are legendary and there’s no better place to enjoy sun on a summer day. On clear days, you’ll spot the white-capped tips of the Olympic Mountains, reminding Bellingham folks that even though they live on the bay, there’s an entire mountain range between them and the Pacific Ocean. Such is the magic of the northwest: stunning landscapes just a short drive and two-hour hike from downtown.

5. Boulder at sunset at Clayton Beach

Golden hour bouldering at Clayton Beach
Golden hour bouldering at Clayton Beach Andrew Wise

Head down Chuckanut Drive with a crash pad for a climb up the distinguished honeycomb-like sandstone that is Clayton Beach . When you’re done, lay down a blanket and crack a beer as the sun sets over the Bellingham Bay.

6. Run up to Fragrance Lake

In classic Chuckanut fashion, this route is steep enough for a workout, but beautiful enough to keep you coming back. You'll huff and puff for three miles up before cruising three miles down, and spectacular views reward you at every step along the way. The canopy of trees gives way to a small lake at the top, as well as a gorgeous viewpoint about a mile into the run.

7. Soak in the Baker hot springs

Getting ready for an early morning dip in the Baker hot springs.
Getting ready for an early morning dip in the Baker hot springs. Brian Bates

They may be small, but they’re a local hotspot, quite literally, in the foothills of Mount Baker, off of Highway 20. The natural hot spring is unmaintained and just a small clearing in the woods some lucky hiker stumbled upon many years ago. If you’re up for another dose of adventure, visit them at night: Nothing says spooky like the wet, drooping trees of remote North Cascades in the wee hours.

(Getting there is like every other local secret: You’ll have to work for it. From I-5, drive state Route 20 east from Sedro-Woolley. Between mileposts 82 and 83, turn onto Baker Lake-Grandy Lake Road. Drive about 18 miles and look for Forest Service Road No. 1130 on your left, just past the Boulder Creek bridge. Drive 1½ miles to a junction and stay right. Next, turn right on Forest Service Road No. 1144 and drive a half-mile to a makeshift parking area. The small trail is on the uphill side.)

8. Kayak to Lummi Island

The view from Lummi Island
The view from Lummi Island Warren in the Weeds

It’s been said that you haven’t seen Bellingham until you’ve paddled over and seen it from across the bay on Lummi Island . On a clear day, the landscape's hills bleed into Mount Baker. The best part? The free campground is only accessible via a few hours of sea kayaking across the Bellingham Bay.

9. Camp at Baker Lake

It seems like you can almost touch Mount Baker from the comfort of your tent. One of the most beautiful lakes in the area,  Baker Lake is perfect for campers and backpackers of all levels. The hike in is fairly flat with some occasional hills, with multiple campsites to choose from and distances to trek. This means the perfect place to introduce the kids to camping: remote enough to get away, close enough for a weekend trip.

10. Hike Raptor Ridge

Water break atop Raptor Ridge
Water break atop Raptor Ridge Peter Stevens

The stunningly dramatic  ridgeline is worth the hike. There’s no better feeling than emerging from the Chuckanuts and popping out into a reward of a skyline.

11. Take a wilderness first-aid class

Remote Medical International offers wilderness first responder (WFR) and first aid (WFA) courses throughout the year in Bellingham. While the 2015 schedule has not been released yet, these courses are critical for any outdoor explorer.

12. Ride a new trail on Galbraith

A rider ripping through the canopy on the north side of Galbraith Mountain.
A rider ripping through the canopy on the north side of Galbraith Mountain. Brian Bates

Galbraith is renowned for its size and efficiency, packing in more than 50 miles of trails in just roughly 3,000 acres. Have you tried every trail on the  north  and  south  side? Here are some of our favorite, less-frequented trails on the mountain that is the pride of the local biking community: Whoopsie Woodle (cross country), Oriental Express (all mountain), and Mullet (downhill).

13. Run the Chuckanut 50K

With more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain, the Chuckanut 50K is a grueling, yet beautiful way to experience the best of Bellingham’s backyard trails.

14. Picnic on the Nooksack

Most people drive Highway 542 to search out mountains, but don’t forget about the Nooksack River. Pack a picnic lunch and pick a spot to enjoy it along the riverbanks. There are both excellent marked spots to pull off the road and unnamed dirt roads, with the river winding along in view almost the whole way.

15. Find turns all year

A snowboarder in search of summer snow while ascending the Coleman Glacier beneath Mount Baker.
A snowboarder in search of summer snow while ascending the Coleman Glacier beneath Mount Baker. Brian Bates

Bellingham’s outdoor bucket list concludes with the always-popular local challenge: Can you ski at least once a month for the entire year? Winter and spring are easy, but you’ll need to strap those skis on your backpack and earn those turns in the summer and fall. Luckily, the North Cascades are famous for year-round snowpack and glaciers. Ruth Mountain and the Coleman Glacier on Baker are recommended spots for summer skiing. Not many places in the country can offer such a challenge like this one.

Good luck on your quest for adventure!

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