The Chuckanuts are Bellingham’s favorite trails. Whether you’re a high school cross country runner or training for a 50k, if you live in Bellingham, you're probably familiar with these stellar mountain paths. Here are 7 tips on how to get the most out of your run in the ‘Nuts.
1. Run Early
It always seems to get dark earlier than we expect, especially after Daylight Savings Time kicks in. In the Chuckanuts, that’s a lesson to live by. Some of the best trails, including our favorite single tracks, are covered in a dense canopy of trees, making 3 p.m. feel like 6 p.m. And with the days only getting shorter as winter nears, we suggest waking up a little early and getting your run in before work or class. If you can’t start running until the afternoon, don’t make it a long one. Slick roots are everywhere, and there’s never a better chance to twist (or worse, break) an ankle than while running in the dark. But if you must, bring a good headlamp.
2. Use the Urb
Use the Interurban Trail – affectionately known among locals as the Urb — to make your Chuckanut run even better. During a longer run (10+ miles), the Urb is a fantastic resource to turn an out-and-back into a loop, as it’s a service road that skirts along the base of the mountain, with multiple entry and exit points up into the hills. Use the mostly flat trail as a warm-up before turning off and disappearing into the trees, or save it for a nice, casual end to a long run. The Urb complements the hills and single tracks of the Chuckanuts very well and is conveniently stretched all along the bottom of the west side of the mountain.
3. Run for the Views
While the Chuckanuts have loop possibilities, many trail options are best run as out-and-backs. So if you’re going to turn around somewhere, why not make it somewhere beautiful? Run up to the viewpoints and take a breather before turning around. Many tough runs in the Chuckanuts have been made easier by popping out from the forest and catching panoramic views of the bay. Off of the Hemlock Trail, our favorite viewpoints are Huckleberry (shorter) and Raptor Ridge (longer). On the North Lost Lake Trail, head up to the many viewpoints on the Chuckanut Ridge before turning around. If you’re headed up Fragrance Lake Trail, follow a smaller trail 0.2 miles off the main trail and rest for a bit at the Fragrance Lookout. Running short? Chuckanut Falls are a nice turnaround spot: Build up a few miles on the Urb, head up toward Hemlock, then head left on the signed Chuckanut Falls trail. A short jaunt down takes you to a nice overlook over the mellow waterfall.
4. Enjoy the Single Life
The Chuckanuts have a fantastic balance between winding service roads and sneaky single tracks, and it’s our suggestion to search out the single tracks – there’s just something about them. They tend to see less traffic, the more technical running keeps you zoned in, and they really connect you to your surroundings – all of which as you’re twisting through a forest. While we love that the wider trails like Hemlock and Lost Lake offer fantastic viewpoints, it’s not the same experience as carving through the hill on Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail . And Salal is quite possibly the best single track trail on the mountain, with tight turns flowing between trees and over roots. Want to get the best of both trail and views? Choose Fragrance as single track the entire way, or use a brief portion of the Lost Lake Trail to reach the 3-mile Ridge Trail.
5. Choose Your Hills Wisely
Chinscraper. Double Black. Whatever you (or your map) call it, avoid this one. Quite possibly the steepest run in the Chuckanuts, this beast is best left for the bikers bombing down. While we absolutely love riding mountain bike laps down Chinscraper, it’s just not an ideal trail run. If you’re craving steep hills, a great hill workout is Pine and Cedar Lakes. You won’t have to deal with many (if any) out-of-control mountain bikers coming down, and it’s reasonably runnable. Park at the separate Pine and Cedar parking lot on Old Samish Road to start straight at the trail, or get in a warm up run on the side of the quiet road and park back at Arroyo or the North Chuckanut Trailhead. If Pine and Cedar is too much, consider running up to Fragrance Lake instead. The hill is a little gentler, and both are similar in length.
6. Be Prepared
Don’t forget: This is the Pacific Northwest, and although rain doesn’t scare away trail runners, it sure can ruin a run, especially if you’re going long and you’re not ready for it. If it even looks cloudy, it’s well worth bringing a light rain layer to run in. Also, a Chuckanut Mountain trail map is a vital investment. Both the aforementioned running stores sell Chuckanut maps, which can help you create your own loops and design the perfect run for the hills and mileage you’re after. And if you’re running for the first time in the Chuckanuts, some of the single tracks can be confusing – a map is never a bad idea.
7. Explore the Possibilities