1. Bloedel Donovan Park at Lake Whatcom
Bloedel Donovan Park is a classic hot spot to cool down. Situated on the western edge of Lake Whatcom, the park can be jamming on a hot afternoon. There is a marked off swimming area to keep boaters away from the shore and it can be a great spot for flatwater paddling. The park has two beach volleyball courts, barbecues, picnic tables, restrooms, and plenty of parking. Come for swim, bring dinner, and stay late! The park is open until 10pm, and the not-too-cold waters make it a great place for an evening swim.
This is easily the best spot to swim in the Bellingham Bay. The park offers barbecue pits and a large field to throw the Frisbee or kick the soccer ball. Wade into the calm bay water by the newly installed sand beach, or head a couple hundred yards south to the pier and boardwalk that extend out over the bay. Slip into the water off of the boat dock, or jump from the top. No more than 15 feet high, the jump has kids of all ages spending time between sunbathing on the dock and leaping off into the cool bay waters.
With all the waterfalls cascading throughout Whatcom Park, it would be a crying shame if none were jump-able. Well, lucky for us, The Whirlpool is perfect for those blazing hot days when you need a little adrenaline. Local kids, from middle school to the university, love to come and jump off the cliffs above the water. The popular stomping ground lets you take the plunge into the cool waters from between 30 to 60 foot leaps. You can also opt to carefully climb around and swim in the gently swirling pool. The jump can make the 12-foot waterfalls look minuscule! Whatcom Falls definitely resides on the Bellingham bucket list of activities. Always practice caution when jumping. To get to the falls, park in either of the park’s two parking lots, and take Whirlpool Loop Trail.
4. Floating the Nooksack
With so many lakes and the bay to swim in, many people forget about the Nooksack River. In fact, it’s almost regarded as a local secret, a Saturday adventure that you had no idea existed until your friend’s friend told you about the gem of a river. When it’s 85º outside, and you’ve got time to kill, buy a tube and grab some friends. Tubing on the Nooksack River’s south fork is a must-do dip for Bellingham locals. Depending on water levels, the trip can take anywhere from three to five hours. There’s a small beach to explore at nearly every bend in the river, and the current meanders peacefully downstream. It’s best to float midweek, as a weekend trip can sometimes feel like a traffic jam in the narrower sections with a big crowd of floaters. Take Highway 542 out of Bellingham and drive through Deming. Shortly after, take a right on State Route 9, towards Acme. After five minutes, drop the first car of the shuttle near Everybody’s Store (please park legally, you can also fill the tubes with air here), and continue on towards Acme. After 10 minutes, you’ll see roadside parking, or cross over the bridge and park in the dirt lot.
5. Lake Samish
Somewhat overlooked, Lake Samish is nestled on the quieter southern outskirts of Bellingham. The most peaceful of the lake options, it’s a great place to come rent a boat and paddle around. Bring a kayak or standup paddleboard, and enjoy the smooth-glass surface of the north side, or water skiing on the south side of the bridge. There’s a small swim area roped off, and a small sandy beach. Lake Samish is a great choice to beat the heat and the crowds at the same time.
6. Lake Padden
Known more commonly for its trails and fields, Lake Padden is a great place to enjoy a swim. Bring a tube and float out to the middle, get in a good workout swim, or splash around the small beach area near the western park entrance. It’s never too busy, but when the sun’s out, you’ll always be joined by families and college kids sprawled out on their towels or swimming around the lake’s edge. Lake Padden offers boat rentals, and is a fantastic location to paddle around a kayak or SUP. Located minutes from the Galbraith Mountain’s south entrance, mountain bikers love to finish a long day on the trails by pulling over and jumping in to cool off and get rid of the dirt!