The best of Bellingham tends to hide beneath the trees, an extraordinary world engulfed under a green tarp. So we seek exposure. And sculpted into the edge of Blanchard Mountain with a jagged chisel, Oyster Dome thrusts itself out of the forest, touches the sea, and bathes in the sun.
You could spend a lifetime in Bellingham and never run out of new hikes. The options are overwhelming. Yet one trail that brings locals back year after year is the trek to Oyster Dome. Full of poetic nature, the trail rises up from the bay’s shoreline as the lone slice of the Cascades Range that touches the sea. It only makes sense that the trail begins at the western terminus for the Pacific Northwest Trail, gracefully transitioning between craggy mountain land and smooth water.
The view, of course, is a spectacle of the Northwest landscape’s stunning metamorphous, as if the cliff itself is giving out beneath you to the join the islands in the distance.
The moderate up and down is roughly 6.5 miles round trip. Unlike most Pacific Northwest trails, the trail up isn’t anywhere close to being too rocky or muddy. The route saunters up from the road beneath a canopy of trees, so even on the hottest days, you will stay cool. As the trail meanders, the path can’t make up its mind: some parts are steep and burn the legs, while other sections amble along in an easy, cruise-control mode, despite the steady elevation gain.
After about mile, you reach a brief clearing in the trees, which is your first chance to escape the conifers and gaze out on the San Juan mountains. There is a bench there, and it makes for a beautiful spot to grab a quick snack, sip of water, or snap of the photo lens.
After the bench, there’s a little over 2 more miles of hiking. Some steep scrambles lead to casual stream crossings and two junctures with other trails. After the first, head left on the Samish Bay Connection Trail as it cuts across the mountain. Gear up for another uphill push by taking a right turn on the Oyster Dome trail.
Continue up through a minor junction, passing the Talus Trail which takes you to the base of the cliffs. You’ll reach your final trail junction, and veer left on the Rock Trail for the last section through thin trees until you’re suddenly out of the cover and in the sun.
A local favorite year round, Oyster Dome is best in the late spring through late fall. Though predicting the Northwest weather is a tricky craft, any day with sunshine is an astounding day to hike up and stand atop the cliffs. Perhaps the most rewarding hike Bellingham has to offer, the sandstone dome at the top top juts out from the trees and affords a stunning view that has become a favorite for local day hikers.
But what Oyster Dome does best is remind Bellingham that there is an entire mountain range between them and the open ocean. On clear days, you can be lucky enough to look west and shake your head in awe at the snow-capped tips of the Olympic Mountain range.
The short trek is definitely worth starting early. With 1900 feet of elevation gain, there’s no reason to rush. Though surprisingly spacey, the top dome is more enjoyable with smaller crowds. Oyster Dome attracts daily attention from hikers of all ages and levels. From Bellingham, head south on SR 11 (Chuckanut Drive) for about 11.5 miles, until you see the Pacific Northwest Trail Head on the left: it’s small and subtle, in between mile marker 11 and 10, and roughly 300 feet south of The Oyster Bar.