The campground might be noisy, but the day-use area is fine. Larrabee State Park, the first state park in Washington, is the perfect place for a Sunday picnic. (Photo by Jennifer Bardsley)

The campground might be noisy, but the day-use area is fine. Larrabee State Park, the first state park in Washington, is the perfect place for a Sunday picnic. (Photo by Jennifer Bardsley)

A family weekend at Larrabee State Park, the state’s first park

Just 6 miles south of Bellingham along Chuckanut Drive, the park has two lakes and plenty of hiking.

The rich history of Washington’s State Park system is a short drive away.

Larrabee State Park, founded in 1915 and the first state park in all of Washington, is a fun place for families to explore this summer. I never knew the wonders of Larrabee until I waited too long to make camping reservations and it was one of the last places left on the Washington State Parks website:

“How about Larrabee?” I asked my husband as I stared at the map. “It’s six miles south of Bellingham, on Chuckanut Drive. There aren’t any sites with hookups left, but our tent trailer is small enough for a basic spot.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Will camping an hour from our house be worth it?”

I pointed to the two lakes and 18 miles of hiking trails, and that settled it. I booked us reservations at the campground. “We’ll pack earplugs,” I said. “It says to expect train noise.”

When we arrived at Larrabee on a Friday night, the campground was full and the ranger was turning people away. But since we had reservations, we pulled into our site without a problem. Being able to fit into a standard site was a blessing. The trailer area with full hookups had pull-thru sites crammed together with little privacy.

The earplugs were a boon, too. Between the trains, road noise and night-owl neighbors, the campground was noisy. But my kids are old enough that they had no problem sleeping in.

When we woke up Saturday morning we visited antique shops, bookstores and a gluten-free bakery in Bellingham. Saturday afternoon was for hiking. That evening, my daughter gave the showers a glowing report, and I was impressed by the ADA accessible facilities.

On our visit to Larrabee, the campground was packed, but the day-use area was wide open, and was so beautiful that all four of us want to come back and hang out for the day. One of the first things I noticed about Larrabee was the architecture. I love parks with Depression-era structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Larrabee had these as well as a 1944 bandshell on a grassy embankment.

A fun game to play with kids is to have one person stand in the bandshell and whisper directions for Simon Says. Everyone else stands on the grass and plays along. Perfect acoustics mean the audience can hear from a long ways away.

It was easy to imagine old-time Washingtonians sitting on the grass with picnic blankets and enormous hats listening to concerts across the decades. I thought about history again, when I stood on the rocky shore of the beach. My son scrambled up cliffs as my daughter explored tide pools. A fleet of kayakers sailed off into the bay.

Frances and Charles Larrabee did a great thing when they donated the original 20 acres of land to Washington’s State Park system. Now, for the cost of a $10 daily, or $30 annual Discover Pass, anyone can feel at home on Chuckanut Drive.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at

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