Small sign posts along the trail mark where the Northern Pacific Railroad once ran along the South Bay Trail between Fairhaven and Bellingham. (Aaron Swaney photo)

3 Bellingham hikes and the brews to go with them

Story and Photos by Aaron Swaney

Special to The Herald

There’s a particular ad running on TV lately that has caught my eye. The ad shows athletic young folk being extra sporty during the day, you know, hiking, cross-fitting, cycling, and then clinking pint glasses presumably later that night. Being fit and drinking beer go hand-in-hand, the ad espouses.

I would agree with this sentiment. But then the camera pans out and shows the bottle of beer: Michelob Ultra.

Blech! I’d rather wash down my workout with one of those green smoothies my wife makes out of kale, carrots and broken dreams.

The ad’s premise is correct. Beer (good beer, that is) and athletic endeavors are great together. There’s few things in this world I enjoy more than a cold beer on a hot day after a long hike.

So with Bellingham Beer Week kicking off this weekend and running through next weekend, I thought it would be a good opportunity to mix two of my favorite pastimes: hiking and drinking beer.

It was also a good time to reach out to Northwest hiking know-it-all Craig Romano, whose newest book in his Urban Trails series, “Urban Trails: Bellingham,” comes out in June. Romano considers Bellingham to be Washington’s Boulder, comparing it to Colorado’s healthy, active and outdoorsy hub.

“Bellingham is truly one of America’s top trail towns,” Romano said. “It contains and is surrounded by thousands of acres of parkland interconnected by one of the largest trail networks in the Northwest. Hike, run, walk is a way of life here.”

Bellingham and the surrounding area have a number of great hikes. In the past, I’ve hiked trails just east of Bellingham in the North Cascades such as Yellow Aster Butte and Skyline Divide, showing off spectacular views of Washington’s snowiest volcano, Mount Baker. But what makes Bellingham great for the outdoors is its diversity. There are the hikes just off Chuckanut Drive with sweeping views of the Salish Sea or urban trails with dramatic views of Bellingham Bay.

Everyone knows about Oyster Dome, the iconic hike off Chuckanut Drive. Just try to find a parking spot on a spring Saturday morning and you’ll understand the popularity. With hikers’ parked cars lining Chuckanut Drive, you’ll be lucky if you don’t have to park in Edison, 5 miles away, and hike to the trailhead.

With that in mind, I asked Romano for his favorite Bellingham hikes with Oyster not in the name. Here they are, with comments from Romano and suggested beer pairings:

South Bay Trail

Distance: 5.0 miles roundtrip

Romano’s comment: If you’ve ever wanted to walk on water, the South Bay Trail is your answer. The undisputed highlight of this Bellingham Bay hugging path is its extended offshore walkway right over the bay. Admire points of interest, shore probing and surf riding birds, and sweeping views of Bellingham Bay and Lummi Island. South Bay Trail is one of the finest urban trails in Washington.

Beer: Boundary Bay Brewery is Bellingham’s oldest brewery, having brewed beer since 1995. Located downtown, the brewery is just a stone’s throw from the northern terminus of the South Bay Trail. Walk over, take a sit and order the Cedar Dust IPA, inspired by Bellingham’s Galbraith Mountain.

Directions: Trailheads for the South Bay Trail are in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven. Parking is ubiquitous near the Bellingham trailhead, which is near 210 Laurel St., and can be accessed by taking Exit 253 off of I-5, heading west on Lakeway Drive to Holly Street and then south on State Street. The parking is harder to find in Fairhaven, but the best solution might be to park at Boulevard Park, which has ample parking. To get to Fairhaven, take Exit 250 off I-5 and head west.

Chuckanut Ridge

Distance: 10.8 miles roundtrip

Romano’s comment: A long rugged ridge of gnarled firs and sandstone ledges, Chuckanut Ridge offers challenging hiking and sweeping views. Follow the up and down ridge clambering over steep knobs and stopping along the way to catch your breath and savor the scenery. Enjoy excellent views of Bellingham nestled below against a northern backdrop of icy B.C. peaks. And be wooed by giant snow cone Mount Baker hovering on the eastern horizon.

Beer: Stay healthy by grabbing a beer from Bellingham’s 100-percent organic brewery, Aslan Brewing. Order the B’ham Brown to replenish your calories after the long hike.

Directions: Take Exit 250 off of I-5 and follow Old Fairhaven Parkway 1.3 miles to 12th Street. Head south on 12th Street and follow Chuckanut Drive 1.5 miles to trailhead parking on the left.

Padilla Bay Dike Trail

Distance: 4.8 miles roundtrip

Romano’s comment: Take to a well-groomed trail atop a snaking dike built by tenacious 20th century settlers and farmers. The way winds through the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Established in 1980 to protect extensive mudflats of eel grass, the 11,000-acre reserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The trail twists and turns along sloughs, tidal flats and salt marshes, allowing you to scope out herons, eagles, falcons, dunlins, brants and scores of other winged residents. And aside from the profuse birdlife, you’ll be treated to unhindered views of Mount Baker, the San Juan Islands and active farmlands from this delightful and level path.

Beer: Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham is one of the finest purveyors of German-style beers on the West Coast. Chuckanut recently opened a second location in Skagit Valley, just 10 minutes from this hike. You can’t go wrong with the Kolsch, a clean, crisp blonde that is more complex than you’d ever think.

Directions: From I-5, head west on Highway 20 near Burlington. In 7.3 miles, turn north on Bayview-Edison Road. In 500 feet, a small parking lot marks the south trailhead. Two miles from there, the north trailhead doesn’t have any parking but can be accessed after parking at Bayview State Park just up the road.

Bellingham Beer Week

Bellingham Beer Week runs through April 29 and includes a number of events at breweries around Bellingham. For more information, including collaboration beers, events and where to stay, visit bellinghambeerweek.com.

“Urban Trails: Bellingham”

The second book in Craig Romano’s Urban Trails series is scheduled to be released in June. The series is aimed at hikers and walkers looking for nature outings that can be accessed via public transport or a short drive. Romano not only focuses on hikes in Bellingham, but hikes in outlying areas such as Anacortes, Ferndale and more. For more information or to pre-order, go to www.mountaineersbooks.org.

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