Ski to Sea Race
Whatcom County’s wealth of recreation opportunities is largely due to the incredible variety of topography, ranging from Mt Baker (10,778 feet), which holds the world record for snowfall, to the miles of saltwater frontage on the Salish Sea. Whatcom County’s annual Ski to Sea Race covers the gamut of diverse terrain, starting high in the North Cascades Mountains. The 93.5 mile relay race course includes seven legs (cross country ski, downhill ski/snowboard, running, road bike, canoe, mountain bike; kayak) on its way down the mountains to Bellingham Bay and along the waterfront to Marine Park. Five hundred teams compete, so Ski to Sea Day is a big event in the Bellingham area.
For me, Whatcom County is about hiking, kayaking, and the great outdoors. Apparently others agree. In 2006, Outside Magazine named Bellingham “Best Paddling Town in the U.S.” The American Hiking Society and the National Park Service designated Bellingham as a “Trail Town USA.” National Geographic Adventure magazine named Bellingham one of the top adventure cities in the nation. Whatcom County also holds Mt Shuksan, the most photographed peak in the world and the namesake of my business, Shuksan Web.
The city of Bellingham has one of the highest percentages of park area in the nation. These beautiful parks have a network of trails connecting different parts of town, and the city was kind enough to produce a 38 page guide with descriptions and maps.
Whatcom County Parks
The county park system also maintains trails, with well-maintained routes scattered throughout the eastern portion of the county, along lakes, marshes, up foothills and more. The link will bring you to descriptions and maps.
National Forest and North Cascades National Park
Western Whatcom County is covered with rugged alpine peaks and is the domain of the National Forest Service and North Cascades National Park. Here you’ll find world-class hiking with a relatively short season, since much of this area is buried in snow well into the summer.
For those of us that like to snowshoe, ski, or carry snowboards uphill, all that snow makes for a very long season. Mt Baker Ski Area, at the end of Highway 542, has the most snow in North America, with an average snowfall of 701 inches. There’s a vertical rise of 1,500 feet. On a clear day, the ski area’s view is the best that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve skied at quite a few areas throughout The West. The vicinity of the ski area also holds sledding opportunities and snowshoe routes. Five miles before the ski area, the Salmon Ridge Area has up to 15 miles of cross country ski trails, depending on conditions. The trails are free, but parking here requires a Sno-Park permit.
With miles of coastline, lakes like Whatcom, islands like Lummi and the nearby San Juans, Bellingham and Whatcom County are a real treat for kayaking. There are bays to explore, sunsets to view, and warm enough winters to paddle all-year round. Kayaking on the bay can be dangerous, so paddle with someone experienced like the Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts, and go prepared. The City of Subdued Excitement also has an informative page on kayaking in the area.