Getting Reacquainted With Bellingham Trails

Of course I was disappointed to leave Colombia early and miss out on the rest of South America, but I was also thrilled by the chance to get reacquainted with the trails and backroads around Bellingham, WA. Having lived there from 1998-2002, I had vague memories of the trails around Galbraith, Chuckanut and Blanchard. Now exploring these trails 12 years later, I realised that I had completely underestimated how far things progressed with the sport and how much trail building had been done whilst I was away.

Both Kona and Transition are based in Ferndale, just a few miles from Bellingham. The area has a heritage of mountain biking and the place is full of high-end, freshly muddied bikes. Just looking on Bellingham Craigslist gives an idea of the number of local riders. Several pro racers train on Bellingham trails, often posting their jaw dropping tracks on Strava.

I went on more than 20 trail rides over two months exploring Bellingham trails and it was still not enough. I missed some key routes and never got to ride a lot of higher elevation trails due to the snow. I captured all my rides on GPS and combined them in the map below. You can download a GPX file at the link.

Exploring Bellingham Trails (direct link)

Larrabee State Park

The coastal ridges of Chuckanut Mountain and Larrabee State Park offer some of the most scenic riding in the state. The trails are less technical than Galbraith, but with more dramatic landscapes, geological features and several lookouts perched above the San Juan Islands to the west and views of Mt. Baker and other peaks to the east.

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The Chuckanut Ridge Trail offers some lovely tree riding with technical descents and (sometimes) great views … weather permitting.

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It does help having a map or GPS around here, but there are also decent signposts and maps near the main trailheads. Check the end of this post for more info on maps.

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Although the Marathon XRs have served me well for almost 10,000 km, I decided to swap the front for a more aggressive Maxxis Ardent 2.4.

Tour In Tune-20140203-021.jpgTwo Dollar Trail between Fragrance Lake and Cleator Rd weaves through beautiful old growth forest. It’s best approached downhill just before sunset for nice views of the San Juan islands and Samish Bay.

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This particularly chilly, dry February often had me bundled up with extra gloves and socks.

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I found the Double Black (aka Black Diamond) trail was completely different to my memory (c 2001), now tailored for big DH and FR rigs. Also, the big patches of ice didn’t help! I did my best to get down on my rigid steed.

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Just a few hundred meters off the Lost Lake trail, there is a lookout and logging road connector to a newer trail which leads back to Pine & Cedar lakes via Mud Lake.

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Intricate icicle honeycomb formations lined the trails…

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… crunching like broken glass under my tyres.

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I came across several frozen ponds and lakes, several of which appeared nameless on my map…

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… as well as frozen waterfalls …

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The Lost Lake Trail is one of my favourite scenic rides. I found it’s best done as a loop, returning on Two Dollar and followed by the Interurban or Chuckanut Ridge Trail via Cleator Rd.

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There are some really nice rock formations on Two Dollar just after Fragrance Lake.

Blanchard Hill

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Climbing up Blanchard Hill, there’s another great lookout with views of the San Juan Islands…

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… and to the south, the often flooded dairy farms near Bow, between Burlington and Anacortes.

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I climbed up higher to Lily Lake to find some fresh snow just before dusk…

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And a frozen Lily Lake just after sunset.

Galbraith Mountain

Back in 2000, Galbraith was a much smaller place. I found my dad’s paper map of Galbraith from 1999 showing our old favourites. Comparing that with the latest trail map shows the extent to which it has grown. I rode a fair portion of the new trails and was astonished by the amount of work done to create this veritable labyrinth. These trails range in skill levels and riding style from traditional XC to more modern AM, FR, slopestyle and a few DH runs. Fortunately, there’s no free ride to the top and this seems to keep the number of gravity park riders to the minimum!

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On my last ride before leaving Bellingham, I stumbled across a new trail on the far east side of Galbraith, not featured on any trail maps.

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It’s a lengthy, technical affair with plenty of drops, steep, rooty hairpins with evidence of a trailbuilders’ campsite on the summit. I’ll admit I was longing for a plush freeride rig for the descent…

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… but the Inbred got me down in one piece, albeit slower than was intended by the trailbuilders.

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It was a steady climb back from Lake Louise Rd to the other side of Galbraith in the late afternoon. As I reached top, I could see Mt Baker peeking over the hills around Lake Whatcom.

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On my way down the Ridge Trail to Birch St trailhead, I saw downtown Bellingham glowing below.

The Hub Community Bike Shop

Just before leaving Bellingham, I decided to fix up our bikes with some new and used spares. The Hub Community Bike Shop in Bellingham is a non-profit organisation promoting cycling in the community. They provide great resource to cyclists in the community offering refurbished bikes, spare parts, expertise and use of tools at very reasonable prices.

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The Hub is chock full of spare parts for all kinds of bikes. I picked up a Shimano freehub, chainrings, pedals, rear derailleur and rear tyre all in great condition for around $40 USD.

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The Hub’s in house mechanic Steve can be spotted around Bellingham on his Surly Ogre when he’s not tuning other peoples’ rides.

Bellingham Trail Maps & Resources

  • The Hub Community Bike Shop – I can’t emphasise enough how great this place is!
  • Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC) – the WMBC crew organise the trail building and mountain biking events in the community. Check their forum for trail status updates and events.
  • Galbraith Mountain – This vast network of technical, purpose built trails remains one of the most popular destinations in the Northwest for all types of riding, from traditional XC to AM, FR and DH. You can support the WMBC by purchasing their excellent map of Galbraith here.
  • Chuckanut Trail System (map) – Decent overall map of Larrabee and Blanchard, including some newly proposed trails which might be finished when you read this.
  • Chuckanut Mountain Park (map) – The Whatcom County Parks website provides some descriptions and basic maps for Chuckanut and Larrabee trails.
  • Bellingham City Trail Guide (map) – this is mainly for interurban trails, but does show a good overall layout of some main trailheads.

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