A Quick and Dirty Guide to the Best Trail Running in Bellingham

Martin Criminale
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Simply put, Bellingham is a trail runner’s paradise. Offering an abundance of gorgeously canopied trails and wooded havens throughout the city, trail running here is transformed from a simple run into a rainforest escape.

With the dedication of the Washington Trails Association who organizes volunteer groups to maintain Washington trails, we have a wealth of accessible groomed trails. If you would like companionship and support, the Bellingham Trail Running Club offers weekly outings such as beer and training runs, and our local specialized retailers like Fairhaven Runners and Klicks have weekly runs and clinics open to everyone.

With over 50 Bellingham trails to choose from, you can run a new trail every day. Beaches, mossy forests, meadows, and utilitarian tracks are up for grabs in varying levels of difficulty, and even local artists can't stay away from the trails. No matter what part of town you find yourself in, a scenic trail is not far away.

Easy Options

John Lloyd

Whatcom Falls Park    

The gently rolling pathways around Whatcom Park and the creek provide easy, casual trail running opportunities convenient for people on the north side of town. You can get a three to four mile run on mostly flat well maintained trails with one steep grade and a set of stairs. Trails are primarily gravel and wide. This isn't the place to get miles in, or a fast run, but a good spot for a recovery run or jog. There are multiple entrances into Whatcom Park for runners, and the proximity to downtown makes it ideal for quick runs when you are short on time. Many people use Whatcom Falls trails as a way to bridge the gap to Galbraith.

Lake Padden

Lake Padden is a Go-To, all purpose trail. It’s relatively flat and easy, but if you want to have a more technical or difficult run, it links to Galbraith and the horse trails. After working up a sweat, the lake is right there for jumping in and cooling off.

The easy 2.6-mile loop hugs the shore of the lake, winding in and out of the sunshine through the woods. The North side of the lake loop is flat and open, and the south side is covered in trees and slightly hilly, though still easy. The entire loop is a wide, well maintained trail, either packed gravel or hard dirt. It’s long enough for a pre-work jog or casual run.

Runners looking for a longer run should turn off the loop at the furthest East point where some singletracks take you up into the hills and towards Galbraith Mountain. The singletracks are difficult with some steep switchbacks, but they are great for accessing Galbraith. They're also perfect for dog owners, as it's an off-leash area.

South Bay Trail and Boulevard Park

Just over 2 miles one-way, this trail is a waterfront connection of downtown Bellingham and its south side sister, Fairhaven. The trail goes through Boulevard Park and over the boardwalk ending at the Village Green. It's a combination of gravel and cement and the views are some of the best in town. On sunny days and weekends, it can get busy.

This trail is perfect for those looking for an easy, scenic, evening, or morning run. The length is short, and apart from a short incline up the boardwalk, the grade is flat. This is the perfect length for a recovery run, pushing the pace might be difficult with the crowds. One of the best things about this trail is its connection to the Interurban Trail, beginning a few blocks south of the Fairhaven Trail.

Moderate Options

Max Romey

Sehome Arboretum

At the Sehome Arboretum, you get the feeling you’re far from the city, but, in fact, you’re right next to the university. Trails are largely unnamed, save for the Huntoon Trail, a wider trail that takes you to the top, and the Douglas Fir Trail. Both of these offer a handful of trails jutting off into the woods left and right. One can easily run for 45 minutes in the Sehome Arb without doubling up on trails. Even though you are usually either running up or down and not flat, the running is fairly easy. It's a great area for a quick run close to town.

Happy Trails

The Happy Trails, right off the Interurban Trail, are commonly passed over, though they can offer upwards of an hour of exploring in a small area. These trails wander around the hill that the Interurban Trail avoids. One of these trails can take you to Chuckanut Drive. Another is right near downtown Fairhaven District. There is no map of these singletracks, and they aren't named; that's what makes them fun. The more you run them, the more you get to learn them and appreciate them. They offer a surprisingly subtle hill workout.

The trails buzz around the hill, and if you aren't paying attention, you can find yourself running loops and getting lost (but not really—it's fairly easy to get your bearings and pop back out on the Interurban Trail). The Happy Trails get pretty dark with tree cover, so late afternoon runs aren't always the best. During rainy season, it can get quite muddy, which can be fun.

Difficult Options

Martin Criminale

Pine and Cedar Lakes

Great for training and one of the steepest trails in town, the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail is a tough 2.5 miles one way with 1500 feet in elevation. It’s technical and muddy with lots of traffic, but when you get to the top you’re rewarded with fantastic views.  

Chuckanut Ridge Trail

Chuckanut Ridge Trail is one of those winding havens that have made the Chuckanuts a Bellingham landmark. A real mountain trail, rarely is it wide enough for two people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. But the roller-coaster ridgeline wanders through the forest with views on either side that make you feel like you're flying. Overlooking all of south Bellingham, you can see forever.

It's a quick run at roughly three miles each way, but the up-and-down nature can have your legs coasting at one moment, and then burning the next. Despite looking like a straight line on a map, the trail snakes around boulders, over roots, and through trees.

Galbraith Mountain 

A Bellingham classic, Galbraith Mountain offers over 50 miles of trails to explore. Though heavily used by mountain bikers, Galbraith has some of the best trails in the Northwest. Running is great on the North side because many of the cross-country styled trails are built for both directions. As long as you're aware of bikers, the Galbraith trails can keep you entertained for hours on end. Use the service roads to connect to singletracks, and pay attention to signs that distinguish downhill-biking only. For the sake of both parties and not getting crunched by a bike, stay off these trails. Cedardust, El Pollo Elastico, and Family Fun Center are some of the best singletracks to run, adding up to about six miles. While Galbraith trails don't involve prolonged climbing like Chuckanut, they're technical with puddles and roots and offer infinite variations. Because the trails are often modified and it can get a little maze-like, and it's not a bad idea to bring a current map to help navigate.

Fragrance Lake Trail

A steady uphill climb, Fragrance Lake is beautiful enough to make you want to work for the scenery. As part of the Bellingham Trail Running Series, it's become a very popular destination. The loop around the small lake is a little less than a half mile. Throughout the whole run, the canopy of giant timbers is gorgeous. Halfway up the trail, it is highly suggested you take the time to go the 0.2 miles out to the viewpoint. The fenced drop off is staggering as you gaze out over the lower Chuckanuts, bay waters, and San Juan Islands. The Fragrance Lookout is a big part of what makes this such a favorite destination among Bellingham locals. On a clear day, it can provide some of the best views the Chuckanuts have to offer.

Resources

Groups:
The  Bellingham Trail Running Club
Washington Trails Association

Maps:
City of Bellingham Trails Guide

Retailers:
Fairhaven Runners and Klicks

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