Welcome to Canada, our lovely neighbor to the north. Sweeping mountain ranges, rugged coastlines, raw wilderness and a lot of snow make Canada a veritable wonderland of adventure. Living in Washington, I feel incredibly lucky to be just a quick drive away from the border and have taken advantage of this convenience many times over … Read more I Ate the State – Special Edition: Victoria B.C.
Greetings! Looking for beautiful wildlife habitats, mysterious plains, plentiful outdoor opportunities or perhaps the inner-workings of the state’s legislative process? All of these attractions and more can be found along the highways and byways of scenic Thurston County. Let’s go! Since Thurston County is host to the state capitol of Olympia, it’s a fairly accessible … Read more I Ate the State: Thurston County
For such a tiny area, Wahkiakum County packs quite a punch. Located in the bottom southwest corner of the state, this small swatch of Washington has been key to pivotal moments in not only the history of the state, but of the country. For its part in the iconic journey of Lewis and Clark, Wahkiakum County provided the first views of the Pacific Ocean to the weary explorers. Also indispensable to their expedition was the mighty Columbia River, which flows all the along the county’s border with Oregon. Most importantly, had the area and its native peoples not been helpful and accommodating to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the United States might not have the same layout as it does today.
Named for Chief Wakaiyakam of the Chinook Tribe, Wahkiakum County is the second least populated county in the state and the third smallest by land area. With its lush, fertile farmland and foothills fed by the Columbia River, the area has long supported local residents with its bounty. Thefirst salmon cannery along the Columbia River sprang up around 1865 and inspired many similar operations. Life on the river has always been vibrant and the area’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean has provided a strategic location for trade and exploration through the ages.
Just across the county border lies the appropriately named County Line Park. Situated directly along the Columbia River, it provides a nice rest stop and picnic location for a day visit as well as overnight RV camping. On a clear day, Mount St. Helens can be seen in the distance and the views of the river are outstanding. Having grown up mere blocks from the Columbia River as it flows through the Tri-Cities, I have a special place in my heart for its waters. I was incredibly happy to make my first stop in Wahkiakum County along its beautiful shores.
Heading west on SR-4 near the Wahkiakum County border
County Line Park and the mighty Columbia River
Clouds on clouds! It was a beautifully calm morning on the river…
Camp right on the Columbia!
Traveling further west along SR-4, the road continues to wind along the river, but slowly gains a small bit of elevation. Perched along the resulting bluffs and overlooking the river, beautiful homes with private driveways peak through the trees. Not much further, the lovely river town of Cathlamet awaits visitors to both Wahkiakum County and nearby Oregon alike.
While it might not seem very big, Cathlamet is the largest town in Wahkiakum County and serves as the county seat. It is a hub to the area and host to the Wahkiakum County Courthouse and K-12 school district for the entire county as well as a WSU Extension campus. The area has long been home to the Kathlamet and Chinook Peoples and what was once a large village, was visited by Lewis and Clark during their travels. Chief Wakaiyakam, the county’s namesake, is buried in the Cathlamet Cemetery.
Welcome to Cathlamet!
The Wahkiakum County Court House in Cathlamet
Not only is Cathlamet the heart of the county, it is also an inspiration to many artists and artistic endeavors. Films such as Snow Falling on Cedars (1999 – starring Ethan Hawke) and Men of Honor (2000 – starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.) have taken advantage of the beautiful surroundings. Local Tsuga Gallery features beautiful work from local artists and musicians and well-known Jazz musician Hadley Caliman called Cathlamet home for many years. He loved the area so much, in fact, he was willing to commute to his faculty position at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts during his long tenure at the school. (I had the pleasure of studying with him during my own time at Cornish!)
The history and beauty of the Cathlamet area runs deep and there are many ways in which to experience it. Simply walking around the quaint downtown area is a great way to start and can provide a great afternoon of exploration. If you happen to be in town on the weekend between May and October, stop by the Wahkiakum Historical Society Museum to investigate the county’s rich heritage. Admire the river view from the steps of the beautiful Pioneer Church (c. 1895 – On the National Register of Historic Places) and walk down to the waterfront area to enjoy the river up close. The area is particularly beautiful in the spring and summer, but Cathlamet is a charming place to explore any time of year.
Since I’d left early in the morning to make a good day of it down in Wahkiakum, I’d skipped breakfast in my rush. (I did stop for coffee, however. I’m not a monster.) By the time I made it to Cathlamet, I was feeling pretty challenged and a good breakfast sounded fabulous. I was in great luck when I walked into Patty Cakes Café & Roasting, located on Main Street. I enjoyed a couple cups of their great coffee as well as a delicious scramble with bacon, Italian-blend cheese and mushrooms. To top it off, I splurged and tried one of their Patty-cakes. I’m not normally a pancake fan (unless they’re Swedish with lingonberries and butter), but the menu mentioned a 100-year old sourdough starter in their pancakes and I was intrigued. For the record, I’m very glad I tried them as they were delicious!
Great coffee at Patty Cakes downtown
Made with 100 year-old sourdough starter!
A delicious scramble at Patty Cakes!
Cathlamet is a fairly small area, but they do have a few tasty food options. Some of the possibilities for your next Cathlamet visit:
Maria’s Place, located on Main Street offers scratch-made Mexican cuisine as well as a full bar and early morning breakfast every day. (Open daily at 7am)
Not just for pizza, The Pizza Mill serves great pizza along with burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. (Closed Sundays)
Stop in at the Mile 38 Brewery if you’re in the market for a great pint or two. (They also have house-made root beer!) If you happen to be moored at the nearby marina or staying at the campsite, they’re perfectly located for a relaxing break. Bring your own food or arrange for delivery from a local restaurant. (Wednesday – Saturday, 4-9pm and Sundays, 2-6pm – Family and dog friendly)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Maria’s in downtown
Grab a tasty pint at Mile 38 Brewery
If you’re thinking of staying in the Cathlamet area or perhaps stopping in during your next river expedition, check out these great options:
The downtown Hotel Cathlamet (c. 1926) features comfortable rooms and a lovely lobby and tavern in this historic building. They also offer a continental breakfast, a large patio and a freezer to store all of those fish you just caught!
If you’d prefer to stay on your boat with all those fish you just caught, cruise into the charming Elochoman Marina and enjoy an idyllic riverside stay. They also have great cabins, yurts, tent sites and restrooms/showers. I have the fondest memories of boating along the Columbia River with my Uncle Ron when I was young. We pulled into similar marinas along the river and I always dreamed of owning my own boat someday. It’s STILL ON MY LIST. Soon…
The lovely Cathlamet Hotel in downtown
The Elochoman Marina in Cathlamet
The Columbia River and adjoining sloughs are a boater’s dream!
Rental cabins at the marina
After my lovely breakfast and jaunt around downtown Cathlamet, it was time to check out the wilds of nearby Puget Island. Actually a series of islands, including the fittingly named Little Island, the area can be reached from the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge via SR-409. The islands are a goldmine of gorgeous country roads and farmland. I had a mission to check out the entire county that day, but I could’ve happily spent all day on the tiny island, aimlessly driving around and taking in the scenery.
Looking over to Puget Island from Cathlamet
Looking out over the Columbia from the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge
Gorgeous scenery on Puget Island
There are indeed many farms in the area and it’s an important part of the Wahkiakum County agricultural scene, but the island also fulfills another important purpose. Traveling south on SR-409 will quickly bring you to the Wahkiakum County Ferry, located on the south side of the island. The last ferry operating on the lower Columbia, this tiny gem ferries passengers and vehicles across the river to nearby Westport, Oregon 365 days a year, all day long. Should you arrive early to the Cathlamet side, grab a spot in adjacent Buffington Park and Heritage Area for a picnic and information about the area’s history and contributions. (Note: No debit or credit cards accepted for ferry – cash/check only)
Check out tiny Buffington Park and Heritage Site while you wait for the ferry to Oregon
Hanging out by the ferry dock
The ferry dock and long line-up!
Looking over to Oregon from the ferry dock
Sasquatch welcomes you to Washington!
Heading back towards Cathlamet, I randomly took a few of the backroads around the island. Amazing views, sweeping farmland, hidden sloughs and beautiful scenery greeted me around every turn in the road. I initially took a right on East Little Island Road off of SR-409 and drove around the eastern tip of the island until it brought be back around to SR-409. Lovely! Puget Island is one of the most peaceful, tranquil areas I’ve visited and I fully intend on returning for further exploration.
More places to explore on Puget Island for my – and your – next journey:
Located off the lovely East Little Island Road, Little Island Creamery produces delicious artisan cheese and butter out of their beautifully restored dairy farm. (10am to 4pm, daily – Self-serve fridge available)
If you’re looking for a cozy place to stay while exploring Puget Island, check out Stockhouse’s Farm & Rog’s Retreat Guest Cottage. As part of their farm operation, they also host a weekly farm market on Fridays from 3pm – 6pm. (May – October)
Should you feel like pitching a tent or lying out on the deck of your boat and stargazing, head to South Welcome Slough Campground & Moorage for a peaceful stay on a beautiful river slough. They also have a cozy lodge available should you want to take your adventure indoors.
Sweeping farmland and beautiful scenery on Puget Island
Beautiful farmland off of East Little Island Road
The Columbia River and overlooking bluffs as seen from East Little Island Road
Beautiful bluffs of the Columbia River
Such a peaceful river scene from East Little Island Road
There are so many hidden sloughs coming off the Columbia (as seen from East Little Island Road)
Norse Hall on Puget Island
Heading west on SR-4, the road winds and meanders inland of the river as it flows towards the Pacific Ocean. The drive is gorgeous and there are more than a few photo ops to be enjoyed. Along the way, the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge can be found off of SR-4 and Steamboat Slough Road. (Note: The refuge extends across the river into Oregon.) There isn’t a lot of hiking due to marshes, but you can boat around the islands. An amazing ecosystem awaits your exploration along with the opportunity to travel in the “steps” of Lewis and Clark. A few words of caution from the website:If your boat gets stuck in the mud, you’ll have to wait for the tides to return to loosen it. (Eeesh!)
Just a little further west on SR-4 will bring you to the sprawling Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (It also extends across the river into Oregon) It is a huge ecosystem of birds, fish, deer, marshlands, river sloughs and more and is absolutely worth a visit. Any of the viewing areas are great for a quick visit, but check out the White Tail Trail and connecting Steamboat Slough Road for a beautiful and serene afternoon.
The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer
I didn’t see any deer, but the views were beautiful
Sweeping views and beautiful landscapes!
Wahkiakum County is gorgeous!
Big, beautiful trees at the wildlife preserve
After taking in the lovely scene at the wildlife refuge, I continued on SR-4 towards the bucolic, riverside town of Skamokawa. (Pronounced SKA-MA-KA-WAY and means ‘Smoke on the water’ in Chinook.) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Skamokawa has long been an important outpost in the area. Until 1917, there were no roads to the area and travel was made primarily by boat using the river and connecting sloughs. The majority of homes were built on or facing the water and had docks and boardwalks connecting them to other parts of the village. Steamboats and tugboats were common in the area and greatly contributed to the local salmon fishing and logging commerce. It was quite a bustling area in its heyday.
The idyllic Brooks Slough on the way to Skamokawa
Makes me want to hop on a steamboat
Looks like that boat has been there for a while…
For a great overview of the town and its history, don’t miss a stop at the Riverlife Interpretive Center and museum. (c. 1894 – Originally known as the Central School) The displays are well-curated and showcase many examples of life in early Skamokawa as well as spectacular views of the town and river. On my recent visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Pam Emery, the president of the Friends of Skamokawa historical society. She graciously shared with me much about the town’s history along with giving me great dining and tourist recommendations for the surrounding areas. The center also features local artisan wares and I was happy to pick up a jar of delicious caramel apple butter from Island’s End Farm and a lovely bar of soap from Elochoman Valley Soapworks. Check out the center’s upcoming Deck the Hall Christmas and Holiday Open House for even more local goodies. (Nov 29 – Dec 15, check website for hours)
Make sure you climb to the top of the schoolhouse!
Inside the former school
This soap smells sooooo good!
The lovely gift shop area
The Riverlife Interpretive Center – Formerly the Central School
‘Lots to learn about upstairs!
And fire in the skyyyyy!
For Ryan and Beth
Boats of the Columbia River and Skamokawa area
After learning about the area at the interpretive center, do a little exploring on your own and imagine what life on the river might’ve been like all those years ago. A few places to help you with your Skamokawa adventuring:
Situated on an inlet of the Columbia River, the Skamokawa Resort features lodging, conference facilities, a dock, wonderful water views and a nice little general store. It is now on my bucket list to return to the area for a few days of kayaking and general relaxation. I’m sure a few hours sitting in the gazebo and taking in the view will also be a part of my plan…
A little greenery adds color to the docks
Just give me a book and a long afternoon… And some wine…
Even the birds love a good gazebo!
Resort life on the river
Serene afternoon at the Skamokawa Resort
Lovely clapboard lodging on the river
Stock up on supplies at the General Store
Just up the road from the Skamokawa Resort, The Duck Inn offers classic pub and diner specialties with great views of the Columbia River.
Part of my bucket list planning will most certainly involve Columbia River Kayaking. Featuring instruction and guide services in the area, they’ve been outfitting adventures since 2003. I’m very much looking forward to gliding through the waters of the Columbia as they head out to sea…
Just a peaceful day on the slough
A pretty sweet back yard!
Boat from house to resort!
Yep, I could do the river life…
For amazing views of the river with awesome sandy beaches and wildlife, head to Vista Park, just past the center of Skamokawa. They have great camping spots and also feature yurts and tepee rentals! In June, take advantage of the gusty river winds and check out the Skamokawa Kite Festival. (June 28-29)
Just a little further west on SR-4, stop by the Skamokawa Farmstead Creamery to enjoy a bit of delicious goat cheese and visit with the resident goats.
Vista Park has it all!
Clouds and sand… Nice.
What a view! Some might even call it a vista…
Who says the Columbia doesn’t have sandy beaches??
Sometimes a cloudy day is a beautiful thing.
A tepee on the beach!
Continuing west on SR-4, keep an eye out for the Loop Road turn-off to the Grays River Covered Bridge. Located in the beautiful Grays River area, the iconic bridge is the last covered bridge in service in Washington State. Built in 1905 and on theNational Register of Historic Places, the bridge is a picturesque tribute to days gone by. The surrounding Ahlberg Park and farmlands are stunning and the feeling of peace in the area is transcendent. For a gorgeous look at the countryside, cross back over the bridge and take the Loop Road side route out of the area. (It connects back to SR-4 a little further west) Once back on SR-4 stop in at Duffy’s Irish Pub for a tasty, traditional pub-style meal and a pint. You can’t miss its quirky, entirely unique exterior!
Spooky and charming at the same time!
I actually had to back out as someone was already coming in the opposite direction!
And extra shelter assist from the giant trees!
More giant trees in Ahlberg Park. Stop to take a rest and admire the scene.
Waiting for the horseman…
Don’t miss stopping at Duffy’s!
Nearing the border of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties as well as the bridge from Washington to Oregon, I wanted to stop at a few more Lewis and Clark checkpoints before my Wahkiakum County adventure came to an end. I’d always been curious about Pillar Rock in the Altoona area, so when I saw the turn-off signs in the Rosburg area, off I went! (Pro tip: If you happen to be hungry, the Rosburg Store at the turn-off for Altoona-Pillar Rock Road offers very tasty burgers, sandwiches, pizza and soup – along with all the standard convenience store fare.)
The Altoona-Pillar Rock Road is a beautiful drive, but very winding; especially once it begins to hug the shores of the river. It’s all worth it, however. To say the views of the Columbia were stunning would be an understatement and each time I stopped to admire the view, it was hard to get back in the car.
Along the way, I stopped to investigate the Lewis and Clark road markers and learned the area was an important part of the final days of their journey. It was only a few miles up the river where on November 7th, 1805 they first spotted the Pacific Ocean and William Clark famously recorded in his journal, “Ocian in view! O! The Joy!” (His spelling, not mine) It would require several more days of stormy weather and setbacks around the nearby Dismal Nitch area, but two weeks later, the Lewis and Clark expedition miraculously and finally reached the glorious Pacific Ocean. The anticipated Northwest Passage was not to be found, but the eventual expansion of the US was due largely to all that Lewis and Clark discovered in its pursuit.
An amazing view of the Columbia River from Altoona-Pillar Rock Road
Looking out towards one of the last camp areas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Envision Lewis and Clark sailing right through this area…
If you’d like to further take in the scene of the final days of Lewis and Clark’s trek to the ocean, there are various bed and breakfasts to be found in and around the Altoona area. (Check out VRBO or Airbnb for options) There is also the charming Rose Creek Retreat which features private campsites along the Columbia, surrounded by beautiful gardens and native plants. (April to December – No RVs or large campers)
Note: The Altoona-Pillar Rock Road culminates in a dead end on private property. The owner of the property and his dog are very nice, but I’m fairly certain they appreciate their privacy and would prefer to keep said property private. I’d recommend turning around before the road ends.
Beautiful homes along Altoona-Pillar Rock Road
Lewis and Clark traveled right through this area.
I don’t believe I spotted the actual Pillar Rock during my explorations, but I did take in some pretty amazing views. As it was a clear day, I could also see the spectacular Astoria-Megler Bridge off in the distance, heralding views of the joyous Pacific Ocean just beyond. Had I more time during my adventure, I would have taken the bridge over to nearby Astoria, Oregon; gateway to the amazing Oregon Coast as well as setting for the classic Spielberg film, Goonies. Check out the Oregon Film Museum in Astoria for more info about Goonies and other films made in the area. (And remember: Goonies never say die!)
I never did find Pillar Rock, but this is another of the cool basalt pillars in the area
Looking out towards the Astoria Bridge and the Pacific Ocean
Goonies never say die!! (Picked up on my Kittitas County adventure)
Wrapping up my time in Wahkiakum County brought me to a place which spoke deeply to my own history and roots. Even though many of the Finnish immigrants of the late 1800s settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and surrounding areas (my grandmother’s family included), a large group of immigrants found their way to Washington State’s Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties. One such community is Deep River, located just near the border of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties.
They were drawn to the area for its rich salmon fishing and timber industries, both of which were mainstays in their native Finland. (I knew there was a reason I love salmon so much – it’s in my DNA. Science!) The Finnish immigrants thrived in the area and felt a kinship with the wilds of the Northwest and its familiar bounty. While the area’s salmon and logging industries have greatly declined over the years, many families of these immigrants still call the Deep River area home. The Deep River Pioneer Lutheran Church, on the National Register of Historic Places, was completed by Finnish immigrants in 1902 and is open during the bi-annual Finnish American Folk Festival, held in the neighboring Finnish community of Naselle. (July 24-26, 2020)
Come and celebrate Finland!
The salmon industry was key to the Wahkiakum economy. (Display found in the Riverlife Interpretive Center, Skamokawa)
On my way out of Wahkiakum County, I was tinkering with my road trip playlist when I came across a new album by Deep River resident, Krist Novoselic. Living on a farm in the area seems to have really inspired his art as Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole is a unique and interesting homage to the area’s flora and fauna. (And a definite departure from his Nirvana days) After having spent only a short time in the area, it’s easy to see how such a peaceful and historically rich setting can inspire such tribute.
Native Americans, explorers, farmers, fishermen, Finns and famous Grunge artists have all called the Wahkiakum area home over the years and it is certain to attract many more adventurous souls in years to come. I know I’m happy to have spent only a day exploring its treasures – and I intend to spend many more in the future. It may indeed be one of the smallest counties in the state, but it is filled with adventure and ever so big in heart.
Whatcom County corners the market on gateways. Not only does it provide stunning, waterway access to the Puget Sound, it grants passage to some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in North America. Throw in the actual Peace Arch gateway to Canada and you’ve got the triple crown of sightseeing. This, in addition to an interior filled with vibrant history, city life and beautiful countryside makes it an excellent place to visit any time of year.
There are many ways to arrive in Whatcom County. The main thoroughfare of Interstate-5 is typically a fairly efficient route, but don’t discount the many smaller highways and scenic byways which lead to and around the county. This applies to travel into Canada as well. The Peace Arch entrance, located on the 49th Parallel (north), off of I-5 is a great place to cross the border, but don’t forget about the smaller Sumas and Lynden crossing points. (Interesting fact: While there are only a few official points of entry between Canada and Washington State, Whatcom County shares its entire northern border with Canada.)
I’ll be covering many of the highways and byways of Whatcom County throughout the article, but let’s first focus on the northernmost part of the county; the tiny, but nationally important town of Blaine.
Set directly on the US/Canada border, it’s fairly safe to say that most Washingtonians are familiar with Blaine for this very reason. Relatedly, I must sadly admit to never having spent much time in the area. If I’ve found myself in Blaine, it’s because I’m lingering in the long line of cars waiting to cross into Canada. (I-5 becomes BC Highway 99 in Canada.) Aside from participating in last year’s Ragnar – NW Passage race, which starts at the Peace Arch Historical Park, I haven’t stopped in to visit Blaine proper. I hereby swear to include Blaine in my future visits to the northern wilds of Washington and Canada.
A beautiful morning for the first leg of the Ragnar race – Peace Arch Historical Park
View of the border looking out to Semiahmoo Bay
Downtown Blaine is a lovely destination and a great place for strolling along a historic waterfront area. Quaint shops, tasty restaurant fare and great views of historic Drayton Harbor can easily fill an afternoon. Should you be visiting during the first weekend of August, check out the Drayton Harbor Maritime Festival & Tall Ships for music, food and all things seafaring.
Back on mainland Blaine, there are several interesting dining and shopping options to explore. Antiques, boutiques and more can be found in the waterfront area and nearby Blaine Marine Park offers great water views with nice areas for picnicking and beach-combing.
A few of the cool spots to check out while visiting downtown Blaine:
Check out the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company for incredibly fresh oysters, to stay or take out. Additionally, they have oyster stew, local beer and wine and a great view of the water. (Closed Tuesdays – check website for hours)
For homey breakfast and lunch fare, stop in at downtown Peace Arch City Café & Bar for a relaxing respite from your exploring. (Tues-Sun, 7:30am – 3pm)
Take in the extensive wine list at The Vault Wine Bar in downtown Blaine. Along with being an events space, they also feature a great restaurant. (Wed-Sun, 3pm – 9pm & 10pm on Fri/Sat)
Located in downtown Blaine, Café Rawganique is a tasty vegan café and bakery with a lifestyle store on the side. Grab an organic vegan sandwich and a cool pair hemp jeans – all in one spot!
NW favorite, Woods Coffee can be found in several locations around Whatcom County. The spot I recently visited while refueling for Ragnar was located at Birch Bay Square. I didn’t realize just how much I needed an Americano that morning…
Located on a farm just outside of Blaine, Atwood Ales brews French and Belgian style saison and farmhouse ales. They grow their own hops and fruit on their farm and produce some very tasty beverages. While they aren’t open to the public, they do occasionally have events such as chef’s nights and tours. Check out their website for upcoming events. Locally, they can be found on Saturdays at the nearby Bellingham Farmers Market.
Woods Coffee is an excellent way to start the day!
Delicious Atwood Saison Ales
Just south of Blaine, off of SR-548 lies the little beach town of Birch Bay. It can be somewhat sleepy during the off-season, but that also makes for some pretty peaceful beach strolling. I’ve visited both during the summer and off-season and have always had a lovely time. Birch Bay is a great location all on its own, but as it’s fairly close to Bellingham, it’s also a great jumping-off point for Whatcom County adventures.
If you’re looking for lodging in the Birch Bay area, I’d recommend finding something close to Beachcomber Way. It’s the main road along the beach and is at the heart of coastal activities. (Including the Ragnar course!) A few options for your stay:
The area has several vacation club condos and on a recent stay with my brother and company, we hit up World Mark Birch Bay. It was located on Beachcomber Way and was incredibly convenient for maximum beach visitation. In addition, there are quite a few great Airbnb’s in the area as well as lodging in nearby towns such as Bellingham and Blaine.
Should you prefer the comfort of camper or tent, check out beautiful Birch Bay State Park on the bluff overlooking the beach. It’s a very large park with camping, boating, beach access, clamming, crabbing and more. On my last visit I saw several groups clamming and it looked like they were bringing in quite the haul. And don’t miss taking a stroll along the beach areas of the park – beautiful!
If you’re in the area during the first weekend of August, head to the Birch Bay Music Festival for music, food, craft vendors and beer/wine gardens. (7/31 – 8/2, 2020)
Head to the yearly Birch Bay Discovery Days for music, family events, food vendors and something called EXTREME CHAINSAW! Bring your biggest chainsaws. (8/29-30, 2019)
Traveling with kids? Hit up the Birch Bay Waterslides for summer fun in the sun. Waterslides, pools, concessions and more. (Open summers – Early June thru Labor Day)
Waiting for the tide to come back in…
Campground area at Birch Bay State Park
Peaceful camping at Birch Bay State Park
Lovely view from Birch Bay
A very relaxing afternoon at Birch Bay
There are several places to eat and shop along Beachcomber Way. The area is particularly alive during the warmer months, but several places are open year-round. Next time you’re in Birch Bay, consider these spots:
While only open during the summer, The C Shop makes the most of the warm weather. Offering delicious homemade candy and treats, along with pizza, sandwiches on house-baked bread, coffee drinks and ice cream, they’ve got everything you need for a sunny day. Their Turkish Delight is particularly delicious!
Located directly next door to The C Shop, The Beach Shack is tiny, but packs a punch with a quirky assortment of gifts, souvenirs, antiques and more.
Stop in at The Boardwalk Restaurant for breakfast specialties, fish-n-chips, burgers and outdoor seating with a view at this popular Birch Bay spot. (Check website for hours)
Found just across the street from The C Shop, the kitschy Birch Bay Café serves breakfast and lunch as well as baked goods and coffee. In addition to their menu, they have a gift shop and also rent bikes, kayaks and paddle boards. (Closed Mondays – check website for hours)
For waterside dining with outdoor seating and a great view, check out the newly reopened and remodeled Bay Breeze. Seafood, burgers and more! (They were forced to close in December after a strong storm brought waves crashing through their windows!)
Classic sandwich counter at the C Shop
Delicious Turkish Delight at the C Shop!
Much candy to try at the lovely C Shop
Tasty dining at the Beach House
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Birch Bay Cafe
‘Lots of great finds at the Beach Shack
Stop by the C Shop for tasty treats!
A little further south off of I-5, we come to the small town of Ferndale. There are many lovely things going on in the Ferndale area, but I immediately think of two things: The crazy beagle I live with, Finley from Ferndale, and running my first leg of the Ragnar race. Since neither of these items are likely on your list, let’s explore a few of the other cool things about Ferndale. (But come on – who couldn’t love such a deviously smart beagle like Finley?? A deviously smart beagle who began her life on a small farm in Ferndale…)
Finley is a very fashionable and likes to wear her ear jauntily to the side.
Finley is always ready for her close-up.
You have food. I want it. NOW, human!
If you do not get out of bed RIGHT NOW and fill this kong…
In addition to goofy beagles and running out of breath during Ragnar, Ferndale offers many excellent adventures and distractions. Just a few of the cool things you can check out while in the area:
I had such a fun time hanging out at Pioneer Park, managed by the Ferndale Heritage Society. It’s a unique, educational and entertaining way to spend an afternoon. During my visit, I had the pleasure of learning more about the area from the very charming tour guides, James and Julie. Dressed in period garb, they gave me a very detailed description of the various structures as well as a great insight into local Ferndale history. (Check out the tiny museum upstairs in the Parker House/General Store.) Make time to visit the well-maintained and restored village and enjoy your step back in time. I’ve been told their annual Olde Fashioned Christmas – Christmas in the Woods (Dec 6-8) is a great bit of winter fun and I’m looking forward to checking it out!
The Church at Pioneer Park
Comfortable pews inside the little church
Stop in and check out the gift shop and museum inside the Parker House. Say hi to Julie and James!
The lovely gift shop inside the Parker House
Inside the Granary building at Pioneer Park
The museum upstairs at the Parker House
I’m very glad dentist chairs have been improved…
The wonderful guides, Julie and James!
Welcome to Pioneer Park!
Just south of downtown Ferndale lies the spacious Hovander Homestead Park. Packed into 350 beautiful acres are the historic Hovander House (Tours available), the Hovander River trail (1.9 miles), a boat launch, a FRAGRANCE GARDEN and barn and farmyard displays. Pack a picnic and plan on spending a glorious day exploring the area. Don’t forget to include a visit to adjacent Tennant Lake Park for excellent bird-watching and a lovely boardwalk trail.
Don’t miss the annual Bellingham Scottish Gathering, put on by the Scottish Dance Society at the beginning of June. It takes place at Hovander Homestead Park and is a great day of Scottish games, piping, haggis and more. Och aye!
The annual Ferndale Street Festival hosts a great weekend of downtown fun. Live music, food and craft vendors, a car show and a PIE EATING CONTEST are just a few of the features. (Aug 23-24, 2019)
Stock up on local produce and artisan wares every Friday afternoon at the Ferndale Farmers Market in downtown Ferndale. (Fridays – 2-6pm, June 14th – Oct 11th)
More gratuitous shots of Finley…
What? No, I’m not messing up your pillows…
I’m not messing them up – I’m building a fort!
This fort is not big enough for you, human.
Rearranging the fort. That’s better…
Adventures and distractions can make one hungry. To fuel up after your Ferndale explorations, check out these great eateries:
I am always on the hunt for a good tamale. New Mexico Tamale Company in downtown Ferndale definitely fills the bill with their tasty selections. Be sure to try the traditional pork tamales made with Hatch chile! (Closed Sundays and Mondays)
Check out the great wine selection and tasty made-from-scratch Italian fare at Leader Block Wine Co. & Eatery on Main Street. They also feature great cocktails, regular live music and special event dinners.
While not necessarily common these days, I maintain it IS possible to make an entire meal of cheese. And maybe a good bottle of wine… If you concur, head to Twin Sisters Creamery and indulge in their delicious cheese selection. They also host tastings, tours and events. Check out their October Cheese & Brews for a tasty sampling of their cheese along with local beer. (Oct 30th)
If you can’t get enough delicious cheese, stop by Appel Farms and do a tasting in their cheese shop – or try a grilled cheese sandwich at their café. Come on – a creamery-to-table grilled cheese sandwich? It doesn’t get much better than that. (Tues-Sat, 11am – 6pm)
Check out Ferndale’s first commercial brewery, the newly minted FrinGe Brewing. They feature regular food trucks at their taphouse and are family and dog friendly. (Closed Mondays)
The Twin Sisters Whatcom Blue is delicious!
Running through the backroads of Ferndale during Ragnar. I should’ve stopped for cheese…
Beautiful Mount Baker as seen from my Ragnar run through Ferndale
Heading further south from Ferndale (Exit 260 – Slater Road, off I-5), will bring you to the lands of the Lummi Nation and nearby Lummi Island. On my way to check out Lummi Island, I noted the Silver Reef Casino Resort, directly off of Slater Road. Not only that, I discovered there was a Skippers restaurant located inside the Lummi Bay Market in the same parking lot as the casino. Who am I to ignore both a casino and a Skippers? While I wouldn’t consider Skipper’s to be fine seafood dining, it does remind me of Tuesday nights in the ol’ Tri-Cities and “all-you-can-eat” at the local Skippers. Nostalgia… And come on – you get Jell-O AND coleslaw with your fish basket. Score! But should you not be up for a quick Skippers stop, check out The Steak House in the casino for a more leisurely affair.
The humble, yet delicious Skipper’s fish basket! (I ate the Jello first.)
I’m very sad I didn’t notice the FRY BREAD option!
Lodging at the Silver Reef Casino
Silver Reef Casino
Just across the water from the Lummi mainland sits lovely Lummi Island. Take a quick, 20-minute ride on the Lummi Island Ferry and enjoy the solitude of this most peaceful and relaxing locale. (The passenger/Car ferry – leaves every 20 minutes from Gooseberry Point.) This tiny community features a thriving Arts scene, beautiful shorelines and a whole lot of blissful quiet.
There are quite a few Airbnb opportunities on the island, but The Willows Inn is a great place to check out for more traditional lodging. They also feature upscale dining, spa services and additional off-site lodging opportunities. Just across the way from the inn is beautiful Sunset Beach. Overlooking Rosario Strait and nearby islands, it provides an enjoyable and serene way to while away the hours.
Hop aboard the lovely Lummi Ferry!
Beach hang near the Lummi Island Ferry
As Lummi Island is relatively small, there aren’t a lot of dining options available. That said, the Beach Store Café offers lunch and dinner along with regular live music, a great happy hour and various events. (Their hours and days open vary with the season, so be sure to check their website for details.) If you’re more in need of wine tasting, hit up the Artisan Wine Gallery for a sample of their wares. (Fridays and Saturdays)
Also happening on Saturdays – and a great way to pick up local specialties – is the Lummi Saturday Market. (Marketplace Field 10am – 1pm) Stock up for a picnic and hike up Lummi Mountain via the Baker Preserve Trail to take in the beautiful views of the neighboring San Juan Islands. And if you’re like me and love peonies, don’t pass up a stop atFull Bloom Farm to enjoy their many varieties as well as seasonal organic produce. They can also be found at their Farm stand which is open year ‘round. (You can evenstay on the farm!)
Nestled against Bellingham Bay and the Salish Sea, the eclectic city of Bellinghamis at the core of Whatcom County commerce and culture. Serving as both the county seat and largest city in Whatcom County, Bellingham is a busy and vibrant hub of activity. (Also the largest, northernmost city in the contiguous US.) Often included on many “best of” lists such as places to visit, live and retire, Bellingham is brimming with things to do and areas to explore. EatLocalFirst is a great resource for things to do, sample and experience in the area and features events such as the Whatcom County Farm Tour (9/7 – 9/8), Culinary Adventures and the Fall Fruit Festival (10/5 – 10/6) to help show off the area’s bounty.
In complement to being nestled between beautiful coastal and mountainous regions, Bellingham prides itself on environmental stewardship and a large variety of outdoor pursuits. Filled with parks, trails and all things lush and green, the area is a nature lover’s fantasy land. A few of the beautiful outdoor areas to visit in and around Bellingham:
Visible from I-5 while driving south of Bellingham, Lake Samish is surrounded by tree-filled hillsides, with a community of homes dotting its shores. (Hillary Swank grew up in the area and Ryan Stiles presently lives on the lake.) Adjacent Samish Park has a nice day lodge for events, small public docks and a couple of nice trails alongside and above the lake. I took the Lakeshore Loop Trail and very much enjoyed the lakeside view, including the beautiful lily pads and cute picnic areas tucked into the trees. I’d always wondered about the big lake you could see from I-5… Now I know!
Steps leading directly into Lake Samish
Beautiful lake trail and trees
A lovely place to take a break on the lake
A gorgeous look out at Lake Samish
Peaceful and quiet on the lake…
Paddle boats on the lake
Lovely Lily Pads!
Iconic Whatcom Falls Park is a great place to enjoy deep, forested valley scenery, all within a few minutes of the downtown area. Don’t miss a photo-op next to the historic bridge and be sure to breathe in the fresh air while strolling on the Whatcom Creek Trail. (Pop Culture Note: I was very entertained to rock down to turn onto Electric Avenue to get to one of the park’s entrances. Additionally, someone in the area has It’s A Trap as their Wi-Fi name. HAA!)
I’m gonna rock down to… Electric Avenue…
Great carvings at Whatcom Falls Park
Great trails at Whatcom Falls Park
The classic bridge – and major photo op – at Whatcom Falls Park
While not your traditional nature trail, walking around the beautiful campus of Western Washington University could easily be considered a day hike. Surrounded by forest and beautifully landscaped grounds, it’s a great place to commune with nature, not to mention pursue a stellar education.
The Academic Instructional Center (West) building on campus
Surrounded by beautiful trees!
Beautiful views of the surrounding hills from campus
The Wade King Recreation Center building on campus
Speaking of trails, Bellingham has many types to offer. For instance, the Tap Trail and corresponding Tap Trail Passport are fine ways to explore the local brewery culture. Whatcom County overall hosts an excellent brewery scene and it would be a shame not to visit a few on your next adventure. Some of the great spots to beat a trail to in the Bellingham area:
Great food, great beer (all organic!) and a very cool space make Aslan Brewing Co. an excellent destination for lunch or dinner. They also have a nice happy hour! I particularly enjoy their seasonal Das Boot. (They also have a great taproom in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood)
Located just around the corner from Aslan Brewing Co., Schweinhaus Biergarten features a great outdoor beer garden, long happy hours and tasty German pretzels and brats from their outdoor, wood-fired oven. (Family friendly – dog friendly)
Should you want to branch out from beer, head to Chuckanut Bay Distillery, located in the heart of downtown. Housed in a great old building that used to be JC Penney, they feature several award-winning spirits. Check out their bourbon and seasonal 110 proof Krampus (Closed Tues/Wed)
Situated directly across from the Farmers Market, the popular Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro features a great menu which includes deviled eggs, classic meatloaf, bangers and mash and more. And two very important words about their taproom Hoppy Hour: TABLE BACON ($1/slice – Hoppy Hour in the taproom only). They are family friendly and the beer garden is dog-friendly.
Close to the Whatcom Co. Museum and tucked just off Prospect Street, family-friendly Bellingham Cider Co. is an excellent place to stop in for cider, food and a great view of the Waterfront area. Their menu features an outdoor pizza oven, chicken & waffles, spaghetti w/browned butter and crab and more. I particularly enjoy their Dry Cider and the Blackberry Ginger Cider. (Closed Mondays)
Not too far from Bellingham Cider Co., the tasty Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen (North Nut location) features a great beer selection and a full menu with tasty sandwiches, burgers, seafood and more. If you enjoy lighter beers, I love their Kolsch and Vienna Lager. Family friendly. (Check out their South Nut location in nearby Burlington, mentioned in my recent Skagit County article)
With two Bellingham locations, Kulshan Brewing has much to offer the area. The beer hall, found north of downtown on James Street is family (and dog!) friendly and hosts regular food trucks and live music. The main taproom/brewhouse is located across I-5 in the Roosevelt neighborhood and features great outdoor seating, food trucks and live music. (This location is 21+) Check out their tasty Premium Lager and Pilsner brews.
Closely located to the Kulshan beer hall on James Street, Twin Sisters Brewing offers a tasty beer selection along with Saturday/Sunday brunch and a menu featuring sandwiches, burgers, small plates, tacos and cocktails. Check out their delicious Dufel-Sach Belgian-Style Golden Strong. (Tasting room closed Monday, but the restaurant is open. Family friendly.)
When wandering through the downtown area, head to Wander Brewing and sample their tasty beer selection. The large brew hall, set in a historic downtown building, features local food trucks and is family friendly. They’re also located just a few blocks up from an excellent sandwich shop, Sandwich Odyssey. (Across from Bellingham High School)
As an alternative to the beer scene, check out downtown Honey Moon Alley Bar & Ciderhouse for mead, cider and cocktails. They also feature a light food menu and regular live music in their intimate space, located off State Street alley, behind Pepper Sisters. (Great New Mexican restaurant – Closed Mondays, dinner only. They have mashed potato rellenos!)
Some seriously amazing sandwiches can be had at Sandwich Odyssey!
Try the 110 proof Krampus!
Perched on the hill overlooking the waterfront, Bellingham Cider Co. has a great view AND great cider!
Just around the corner to the great Bellingham Cider Co.!
They have TABLE BACON!
Aslan Brewing’s delicious Das Boot
A spacious scene at Aslan Brewing
Aslan Brewing in downtown Bellingham
Bellingham is a very walkable – and bikeable – city. It’s possible to explore much of the downtown and Waterfront areas all within a comfortable afternoon’s worth of walking or biking. (Including important stops at breweries and eateries along the way.) For an interesting trip around the historic buildings, murals, art installations and more, check out the Self-guided Story Maps courtesy of the City of Bellingham. (Also available for Bellingham’s predecessor city, Sehome, nearby Fairhaven and Highway 99)
Even without a map, it’s easy to have a very interesting, informative and delicious walk just by parking downtown and heading off in any direction. The Bellingham Farmers Market (Saturdays, 10am – 3pm, Apr – Dec) is a great place to start. They have an excellent selection of local goods and a covered hall for those rainy northwest days. Just a few blocks away, heading towards the water and Port of Bellingham are several more blocks of great trails to walk and sights to check out. The city of Bellingham has a long term plan to expand and revitalize the waterfront area and they are making visible strides towards their goal.
A few of the cool areas in the waterfront part of town:
Take a stroll around the newly opened Waypoint Park and enjoy the views looking out towards Lummi Island. The park and surrounding areas are part of the revitalization effort with more development coming soon. Be sure to stop by the very cool “Waypoint” (AKA: “Acid Ball”) art installation.
The South Bay Trail connects downtown Bellingham with downtown Fairhaven with a great 2-mile trail via the re-purposed Bellingham and Skagit Interurban Railway. It also hooks up w/the Interurban Trail in Fairhaven which goes all the way to Larrabee State Park.
Check out the Acid Ball installation at Waypoint Park
Stroll through the new Waypoint Park on the waterfront
Urban industrial meets waterfront park!
Inside at the Farmers Market
Nearby Breadfarm (Edison, WA) at the Farmers Market – DELICIOUS!
Scores of great farmers and artisans at the Farmers Market
Welcome to the Farmers Market!
Bellingham has a quirky sort of charm. They’ve got their own thing going on and the downtown area celebrates this individuality with great restaurants, museums and more. To experience some of the unique flavors and flair of Bellingham, consider these options:
Laying claim to the title of “oldest continually operating café and cocktail lounge in Washington State,” the iconic Horseshoe Café (c. 1886) features local ingredients and a menu filled with comfort food classics. Tasty cocktails, a good tap list and open late.
If you’re craving Russian dumplings (they’re delicious!), head over to Pel’meni in the University district for a tasty experience. They offer a small menu, but who needs more when you have PEL’MENI to serve?! Open late!
For delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner in a funky, cozy downtown space, check out Cosmos Bistro. Inventive dishes, a great happy hour and locally sourced ingredients make this a fine stop on any downtown excursion.
The Old Town Cafe has a regular line out the door for their delicious breakfast and lunch fare. The current ownership has been serving tasty food to Bellingham residents for nearly 25 years and here’s to hoping the trend continues. (The space has actually been a restaurant since the early 1900s and known as the Old Town Café since 1967) They feature in-house baked goods, locally sourced ingredients and a great communal setting. They also host a free Thanksgiving dinner every year!
Old school cocktails and hot dogs, set in a historic downtown building with space-themed decor? What’s not to love?? Orion has a good happy hour, pool tables and they’re open late!
The funky cool Orion in downtown Bellingham
The iconic Horseshoe Cafe in downtown Bellingham – since 1886!
With all of Bellingham’s deep and eclectic history, it’s no wonder they have several excellent museums and antique stores to visit. Next time you’re in the area, bone up on your local knowledge at these great stops:
Guarding over the downtown skyline, the Whatcom Museum and its corresponding Lightcatcher building feature wonderful exhibits of Bellingham and surrounding area histories and more. The main museum is housed in Old City Hall and is itself an important piece of Washington State history. (First site in the state to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places)
The very unique and innovative Mindport features fine art and hand-built interactive exhibits. Located just around the corner from the Spark Museum, it’s a great way to spend an entertaining and interactive afternoon; especially as a combo pack!
Get a fully-charged, up-close look at all things electrical at the Spark – Museum of Electrical Invention in the heart of downtown. Check out the Mega Zapper with its 4 million volts (AKA: Nikola Tesla’s Lightning Machine) and listen in on local KMRE 102.3 FM, the independent radio station operated out of the museum. (Or online at org)
Great mural around the corner from the old Rocket Donuts shop
The Spark Museum is shockingly cool!
Rocket Donuts may be gone, but the rocket ship remains! RIP Rocket Donuts.
The beautiful Old City Hall and now Whatcom Museum
It’s a port… for your mind!!
Great murals can be found all around Bellingham
There are many great antique shops in the downtown Bellingham area
Lovely old homes near the downtown area
Glimpses into old Bellingham are all around the downtown area
The Arts are alive in Bellingham and there are many options for expanding your artistic horizons during your visit. Just a few of the great places to help you enjoy the scene:
Owned by actor Ryan Stiles, the Upfront Theatre features regular improv comedy shows as well as improv classes. Put your comedic skills to the test!
On the National Register of Historic Places the Mount Baker Theatre (c. 1927) used to be a vaudeville theatre, but now features a variety of Arts and entertainment. Shows include the classic Phantom of the Opera (1925 silent film version) played with a live score on their in-house Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, Warren Miller’s Timeless (11/9) and the 20th Annual Mt. Baker Film & Arts Festival. (11/1)
The new Sylvia Center for the Arts features theatre, music and dance performances as well as rehearsal and teaching space for Bellingham’s thriving Arts community.
Head to the Bellingham Festival of Music for beautiful classical music including orchestral premiers, string quartets, chamber music, world-class soloists and more. (July 3-24, 2020)
Just south of Bellingham lies the endlessly charming Fairhaven Historic District. Founded by “Dirty” Dan Harris in the late 1800s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fairhaven is a wonderful place to spend a long weekend – or longer. Great restaurants, shops and a gateway to scenic Chuckanut Drive make it a must-visit – and very walkable – destination any time of year.
While strolling about this quaint area, keep an eye out for one of the many murals featured on town buildings. Along with Bellingham, the Fairhaven area sports wonderful murals by artists such as Northwest favorites, Lanny Little and Henry. (Check out the largest hand-painted mural in Washington State at the Bellingham Subaru dealer by artist, Henry) I particularly love how Lanny Little painted himself into one of the murals located in the lovely Village Green, located in the center of town. Nice to be able to recognize an artist for their talent…
One of the great murals in historic downtown Fairhaven
A great mural next to the Village Green in historic downtown Fairhaven
The artist, Lanny Little, painted himself into the mural next to Village Green. Awesome!!
Fairhaven has no shortage of great restaurants, pubs, bakeries and dessert spots to check out. On your next visit, add these establishments to your list of places to visit:
Grab a bite from one of the visiting food trucks or bring your own to enjoy with one of the tasty locals brews at Stones Throw Brewing Co. They’re family and dog friendly and regularly feature live music.
For the ultimate in dog-friendly watering holes, stop by Paws for a Beer and enjoy a pint. They even kindly allow humans who might not have their dogs with them. For more info on grabbing a beer with your furry buddy, check out their dog membership (21+)
If you’re up for a delicious burger, hit up the eclectic Filling Station in downtown Fairhaven. Using local ingredients, including custom-made buns from local bakery, Avenue Bread they know how to rock a good burger, not to mention a tasty cocktail. (Also in the Sunnyland neighborhood of Bellingham)
My new friends, James and Julie from nearby Pioneer Park in Ferndale, highly recommended Fairhaven Fish & Chips in downtown Fairhaven. Located in the center of downtown and run out of an authentic British double-decker bus, they serve some pretty tasty fish-n-chips, indeed.
Featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, Skylark’s Hidden Café is a great Fairhaven stop. Throw in award-winning chowder, a great happy hour menu and Jazz on Monday nights and it’s hard to ignore this cozy scene.
There is never a time I’m not up for fresh crepes – never! Mount Bakery Fairhaven is the place to go if you, too, heed the call of the delicious crepe. Also serving a multitude of scratch-baked goods along with a full breakfast and lunch menu. Yum! (Additional locations can be found in downtown Bellingham and the Bellingham Farmers Market)
Named after Fairhaven’s founder, Dirty Dan Harris’ Steakhouse in downtown Fairhaven has been serving delicious steak and local seafood for the past 44 years. (Closed Mondays. Open at 5pm, Tues – Sun) And if you’d like to further celebrate Dirty Dan, check out the annual Dirty Dan Harris Festival at the end of April.
The iconic Colophon Café, with entrances on 11th Street and off the Fairhaven Village Green, offers hearty soups, sandwiches, burgers and great coffee and baked goods. The building (c. 1891), with its (haunted) upstairs ballroom and 1900s hand-operated elevator remnants in downstairs dining area is a gem in and of itself. There is said to have been a speakeasy in the building during the Prohibition era. Cool!
Directly next door to the Colophon Café and another icon of the neighborhood, Village Books & Paper Dreams offers a wonderful selection of books, gifts and more. (Also in nearby Lynden)
For a nice spot of tea and a British-inspired lunch or afternoon tea, stop by Abbey Garden Tea Room in downtown Fairhaven. Located in the same space is CreativiTea where you can paint your own pottery and enjoy a lovely cup of tea. (Also in Lynden)
I am indeed sad about Rocket Donut’s departure from the Bellingham/Fairhaven food scene. However, the fact that ACME Ice Cream has opened their new flagship store in the old Rocket Donut Fairhaven location definitely helps to soothe my soul – and beyond! To say I am addicted to ACME Ice Cream is an (embarrassing) understatement. It is the best ice cream EVER and I’d eat it every day if I could! (Well, I certainly could, but the adult side of me vigorously argues as to whether I should…) Made with local ingredients in the nearby town of Acme, it has a dense, taffy-like consistency that is unlike any other ice cream I’ve tried. It is DELICIOUS. (Great. Now I need/want some ACME Ice Cream… Shut up, adult side!)
Amazing ice cream AND baked goods at Acme Ice Cream
THIS IS THE BEST ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD!!!
Delicious baked goods at Mount Bakery Fairhaven
Great artwork, coffee, breakfast, baked goods, live music and more at the Mount Bakery Fairhaven
Delicious food at the Cobalt Grill
The front entrance to the excellent Colophon Cafe
The man, the myth, the steak house!
Excellent burgers to be had at the Filling Station
Fairhaven Fish-n-Chips in the heart of downtown Fairhaven
Enjoy a lovely tea AND a bit of pottery painting
Grab a pint with your four-legged buddy!
To add to the delicious temptations lurking around every corner in downtown Fairhaven, there are an equal number of fun shops to explore and activities to check out. A few notables from my recent visit to the downtown area:
My wallet and I needed to get out of Current & Furbish fairly quickly as I could’ve easily taken home quite a few wonderful items. Home décor, gourmet foods, restored furniture and more make for a lovely bit of browsing and potential home redecorating projects.
The same goes for Three French Hens in that I could’ve easily gotten carried away with the credit cards. Fun clothing, home décor, gift ideas and more fill the shelves of this fun shop in the heart of downtown Fairhaven.
Great finds at Current and Furbish! (And great old neon signs in “Fairhaven Historic Village”)
Located in the old bank building, Three French Hens is a great shopping stop
They make pretty awesome bikes, but I will admit to being more entertained by their company name and logo – And the limitless opportunity for puns, memes and overall humor. The Evil (Bikes) headquarters can be found in downtown Fairhaven, just across from the ferry terminal. I wish I could afford one of their Evil bikes, but for now I’ll just have to dream of owning something Evil… I’d also like to point out the rather evil looking trees directly across the street – as well as the wild apple trees. Coincidence? But don’t worry – it’s all located just past the peace marker. Where there’s evil, good is likely hot on its heels. Or down the sidewalk…
Evil has a logo!
Evil also has a very hip corporate office. (And also makes awesome bikes!)
Is it just me, or does this tree look evil? It’s right across the street from Evil headquarters. Just sayin’.
ALSO across from Evil headquarters…
CLOSE UP on evil tree…
Apple tree across from Evil headquarters. Coincidence? Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn…
But JUST down the way from evil headquarters lies PEACE. Whew!
Something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time is taking the ferry from Bellingham/Fairhaven to Ketchikan, Alaska. That’s right, you can take a ferry from Washington State all the way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Chain! It’s part of the quite extensive Alaska Marine Highway System. The trip to Ketchikan is 38-hours long and there are options to stay in one of the ship’s staterooms, “camp” on the deck or sleep in the solarium area. If this sounds as AMAZING to you as it does me, head to the Bellingham Cruise Terminal and hop aboard! (But best to first make a reservation.) Located across the street from Evil. (I’ll make an effort, but it’s probably going to be a while before I stop making Evil jokes…)
Hop aboard a ferry to Alaska!
Inside the lovely Bellingham Cruise Terminal – Let’s go to Alaska!!
Looking over to Fairhaven from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal
If you’d like to extend your exploration of downtown Fairhaven, check out the quaint scene at the Fairhaven Village Inn, located just across from the Village Green. During your stay, be sure to visit Galloway’s Cocktail Bar, the Art Deco cocktail bar located on the street level of the Inn.
Fairhaven offers many excellent ways to celebrate and explore the area throughout the year. A few fun ways to experience what this quaint village has to offer:
Head to the Village Green during the summer months and enjoy the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema. (Saturday evenings, June 20 – August 29, 2020)
Set in conjunction with the epic Ski to Sea relay race, the Historic Fairhaven Festival takes place in downtown Fairhaven and celebrates the town in grand fashion with an all-day street fair, live music, a beer/wine garden, local food vendors and more. (May 26th / Memorial Day weekend)
Stroll around the Village Green, take in the summer air, enjoy the view out to the water and savor a fine glass of wine at the annual Vino in the Village Wine Walk. Sounds like a pretty great way to spend a summer evening… (August 8th)
Celebrate all things holiday at the yearly Fairhaven Winterfest. Hop in one of the horse-drawn carriages and take in the lights and holiday displays. Be sure to check out the Holiday Market on November 30th in the Village Green. (Winterfest runs Nov 29th thru Dec 21st)
If you like learning all the hush-hush, behind-the-scenes details about a town, hit up the Good Time Girls tour company for any of their well-researched tours of Bellingham and Fairhaven. Their Sin & Gin and BellingHistory tours are quite popular and very entertaining. In October they offer a special Gore & Lore tour – don’t miss it!
The covered walkways of Village Green
Looking into the Village Green – So many great events take place throughout the year!
The heart of Village Green
Village Books at Village Green
A great scene on Village Green
Sure, I-5 is a relatively efficient way in and out of the Bellingham and Fairhaven areas. There’s even quite a bit of lovely scenery along the way. However, why take I-5 when you can cruise along one of the state’s most beautiful and scenic drives? Chuckanut Drive (AKA: SR-11, a designated Scenic Highway), running along the Whatcom County coast between Fairhaven and Skagit County is a spectacular drive and has been awing motorists since the turn of last century.
Even before it became an official (gravel) road in 1916, Chuckanut Drive has been an important fixture in the area. In conjunction with Highway 99 and later I-5, it was an integral link in joining together routes from British Columbia all the way down to San Francisco. (It was paved in 1921.) As it winds its way through the coastal Chuckanut Mountains and into the Skagit Valley, it continues to provide a beautiful and interesting route through the area. (The fall is a particularly lovely – and popular – time to take the drive!)
Chuckanut Drive is brimming with amazing areas to explore and enjoy. A few beautiful spots to check out on your next Whatcom County adventure:
Perched on a bluff overlooking Chuckanut Bay and Teddy Bear Cove, the lovely Woodstock Farm (c. 1905) and its sprawling estate is a wonderful spot to stop and explore. Original owner of the farm, Cyrus Gates, one of the leads in creating Larrabee State Park as well as portions of Chuckanut Drive and the Mt. Baker Highway, definitely lent his scenic vision to the creation of the farm. After investigating the beautiful grounds, enjoy the great views of Lummi Island and the San Juans.
Train causeway across Teddy Bear Cove
The old Chicken Coop building at Woodstock Farm
Madronas eat other trees for lunch!
A stone circle out behind Woodstock Farm
Looking out towards Teddy Bear Cove
I think this tree has been hanging out near Evil headquarters…
Looking out towards Lummi Island from Woodstock Farm
The main house at Woodstock Farm
The grounds at Woodstock Farm
The grounds at Woodstock Farm
Looking up at the rear of Woodstock Farm and the Chicken Coop
On the topic of Larrabee State Park, it’s just down the road from Woodstock Farms – and very big! (The southern part of the park is the Whatcom/Skagit County border) It was the first designated state park in Washington and is an excellent place to spend the day. Camping, boating and great hiking are just a few of the reasons to visit. Discover Pass
If you’re heading south on Chuckanut drive with a destination of Skagit County, consider adding a bonus stop in the tiny, but delicious Bow-Edison It’s a foodie paradise!
Stop in at the Oyster Bar restaurant on Chuckanut Drive
So many delicious cheese at Samish Bay Cheese in Bow, just off Chuckanut Drive
Fresh bread from the Breadfarm while dining at the excellent Slough Food in Edison – off Chuckanut Drive
Paella made fresh at Slough Food – Amazing!
A must stop in Edison off of Chuckanut Drive – Breadfarm and neighbor, Slough Food. DELICIOUS!
Head down to the amazing Taylor Shellfish off of Chuckanut Drive
Heading back up north, towards the Canadian border, will allow us to check out the Whatcom County scene to the east of I-5. The coastal, west side of Whatcom County has plenty to offer and countless activities to keep one busy. However, when you add in the picturesque towns, winding rivers and soaring mountain scenery of Whatcom County’s east side, the ante gets considerably upped. Epic vacation plans for the win!
A short drive northeast of Bellingham on SR-539 brings us to the wonderfully quaint town of Lynden. From its serene, tree-lined Front Street to its Dutch-inspired downtown, Lynden is an excellent town to explore. Windmills, Dutch bakeries and pastoral backroads and farms make it a dream for bicycle excursions and leisurely country drives. It’s also host to one of the three border crossings in Whatcom County, known as the Aldergrove Crossing. (SR-539 becomes BC Highway 13 in Canada) So many great areas to explore are packed into this quiet swath of northeast Whatcom County. (Interesting fact: Known as America’s Raspberry Capitol, Whatcom County is responsible for growing 65% of the nation’s red raspberries and 95% of the state’s red raspberry crop. YUM! Many raspberry farms can be viewed along the Lynden area backroads.)
Biking, raspberries and farming – Lynden backroads have it all!
Hop on your bike and check out “The Raspberry capital of the world!”
A great place to begin your Lynden adventures is via the downtown area. It’s a relatively small part of town, but is brimming with great restaurants, shops and more. (Note: Many businesses in the downtown area are closed on Sundays) A few places to check out during your visit to Lynden:
The Waples Mercantile Building (On the National Register of Historic Places), located in the center of downtown, is home to several great businesses. I had a delicious breakfast and great cup of coffee at Avenue Bread. The ambiance is very cool and it was a nice place to relax on a Sunday morning. (Also in Bellingham) They are connected within the building to The Inn at Lynden, a cozy boutique hotel and the stellar Village Books and Paper Dreams. (I picked up some luxurious soap from Samish Bay Soaps and a rather cool Octopus glass) Connected on the other side of Village Books is the Cheeks clothing shop. (Closed Sundays) And on the side of the building, don’t miss grabbing a pint at Overflow Taps. (Also in Bellingham) They are part of the excellent Charity Pints Program which benefits clean water and building drinking wells in Africa. (Additional Whatcom County brewers participating include Aslan Brewing, Atwood Ales, Wander Brewing, North Fork Brewery and Boundary Bay Brewery)
Such a great book shop!
Local area Samish Bay Soaps are lovely!
Chock full of awesome finds!
There are many cool businesses tucked into the old Waples Mercantile Building.
A lovely boutique hotel in the old Waples Mercantile Building.
Delicious breakfasts at Avenue Bread – and much more!
SO many options!
Peaking over to Village Books from Avenue Bread
Just across the way from the Waples Mercantile Building are several more wonderful food and shopping options. The famous Dutch Mothers Restaurant and gift shop has been wooing diners with their scrumptious Dutch pancakes and homemade pies for years. (Closed Sundays) Not to be outdone in the area of delicious Dutch baked goods, the nearbyLynden Dutch Bakery has been serving tasty Dutch baked goods to a dedicated crowd of patrons for the past 125 years! (Closed Sundays) And in a fully dedicated tribute to the town’s Dutch heritage, The Mill by Perfectly Paired serves bistro-style lunch and dinner along with sporting a full-size Dutch windmill as part of the building.
Great finds at More than Antiques in the downtown area
Lovely Dutch Mothers and the downtown area
Great old buildings in the downtown area
The delicious Lynden Dutch Bakery in downtown Lynden
Stop by delicious Dutch Mothers!
The Mill Bistro and its awesome windmill
Windmills are everywhere in Lynden. (Woods Coffee)
Lynden offers many ways to celebrate the history and bounty of the area. Some of the year-round opportunities to explore Lynden include:
To sample the best of area farms and local artisans, head to the Farmers Market every Saturday in the center of downtown at Centennial Park. (6/1 – 9/28, 10am – 2pm)
Raspberry farms surround the Lynden area – Delicious!
Classic buildings in downtown Lynden
A wonderful mural in downtown Lynden
Learn a bit about the history of Lynden at downtown museum
Stop in for a bit of theatre at The Claire in downtown Lynden
While you’re ambling your way through the backroads and byways of the Lynden area, keep an eye out for hidden gems along the way. Great food, wine and adventure await! Some of the fun spots to seek out:
As you head into Lynden on SR-539, be on the lookout for Bellewood Farms. Home of the largest apple orchard in western Washington, they feature a “farm-to-glass” distillery, a farm store and tasty breakfast and lunch in their café. During the harvest season, they feature u-pick apples, a pumpkin patch and corn maze.
Not far from Lynden in the Everson / Nooksackarea, in between SR-9 and SR-544, are several spots worth checking out. For a delicious steak and all manner of German schnitzel, stop in at Herb Niemann’s Steak & Schnitzel House. (Since 1973) If you’re a fan of meat pies (Kristen, I’m lookin’ at YOU.), Good to Go Meat Pies is the place to go! (Also at Bellingham and Everett Farmers Markets) For a bit of wine tasting and relaxing in a beautiful locale, be sure to visit Samson Estates Winery in the Nooksack area. They feature award-winning fruit wine created from the abundance of local Nooksack berries.
Heading into nearby Sumasvia SR-9 will bring you to the final Whatcom County border crossing into Canada. (Sumas/Huntington Crossing – SR-9 becomes Hwy 11 in Canada) While in the area, stop in at the famous Edaleen Dairy for a scoop or several of their delicious ice cream. (Also in Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine and Fairhaven/Bellingham) If you want to eat your meal before your dessert, head to nearby Bob’s Burgers & Brew for a juicy burger and a pint. (Also in Birch Bay) Work it all off by learning a little bit about the Sumas area at the Sumas Historical Society and Museum. (Monday, 10am – 1pm, Friday & Saturday, Noon – 4pm)
Welcome to Washington State – and the town of Sumas
Delicious Good to Go Meat Pies from the Everson area
The Lynden and Sumas areas are surrounded by gorgeous backroads and farmland
Corn! One of the many crops in the Lynden and Sumas areas
Try the delicious ice cream from the Edaleen Dairy in Sumas
Traveling south on SR-9 will bring you to the junction of one of the most spectacular drives in the state, the Mount Baker Highway. (SR-542) As you head into the wilds of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the road winds through gorgeous farmland as the promise of towering mountain peaks rise in the distance. Mount Baker(10,781 ft), the second most active volcano in the Cascade Range behind Mount Saint Helens, dominates the area with the spectacular Mount Shuksan (9,131 ft) guarding its flank. Whatever manner you choose to experience the area, whether by car, foot or other, it is impossible to leave without being profoundly moved by this immense beauty.
Driving east on SR-542, there are a multitude of things to see and do. The ultimate destination is often the Mount Baker ski area, but as there are so many excellent distractions, it’s easy to make a few stops along the way. Deming and nearby Glacier are the tiny towns closest to Mount Baker and are surrounded by stunning scenery and filled with many camping, hiking and outdoor opportunities. Deming is also the tribal seat of the Nooksack Tribe, who have been living in the area for thousands of years. Spending time at Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker proper is never a bad idea, but definitely allow time to stop and smell the fresh mountain air on the way up. (Pro tip: As you’re driving along the Mount Baker Highway near the Kendall area, be sure to stay on SR-542 at the round-about intersection. If not, you just might find yourself on SR-547 and heading towards Sumas and the Canadian Border. Which can come up on you very quickly… Not to say I’ve ever done such a thing.)
DON’T DO IT!! (Seriously, there was an insane drop! But a great view – On the Mt. Baker Highway…)
The foothills are beautiful on the drive up to Mount Baker
Great rock outcroppings on the way up to Mt. Baker
A few of the great distractions to enjoy as you make your way up the Mount Baker Highway:
If you find yourself driving towards Mt. Baker on SR-542 out of Bellingham, make a stop at Rome Grocery. They’re a great place to stock up on supplies for your adventure as well as a great place to grab a quick bite.
If you’re in the market for Icelandic or Shetland sheep (And who isn’t?), consider Lydia’s Flock, a sheep farm located off SR-542 around the Deming area. They offer classes, shearing, volunteer events and more. I’m particularly interested in their Wool 101
The North Fork Brewery and Pizzeria, located directly off SR-542 is a must-stop for tasty pizza and a pint after a hard day of hiking, skiing, taking pictures, etc. Family friendly with outdoor seating, a wedding chapel and a beer shrine! In addition to their delicious beer, they make barleywine and root beer. I’m partial to their BRP Pilsner.
Graham’s Restaurant and adjacent store have been greeting Mount Baker travelers for many years. The store features a small selection of groceries, gifts, camping supplies, a coffee counter and baked goods. The restaurant has a tasty menu of comfort food favorites and servers breakfast on weekends. Always a great spot to visit!
Located directly off SR-542 in the Deming area, Rifugio’s Country Italian Cuisine serves rustic Italian food and regularly hosts “Feast” themed events. Open Thursday thru Sunday for dinner with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
Heading closer towards the mountains, Chair 9 – Woodstone Pizza & Bar in Glacier offers a great pub and pizza menu. If you’re in need of lodging, check out their adjacent Blue T Lodge and enjoy not having to drive home after a long day of skiing or hiking.
While there isn’t lodging at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, there are many Local accommodations available in the Deming and Glacier areas. Find a cabin, bring along a few friends and enjoy a sublime mountain getaway in one of the most peaceful areas in the state. (And beyond!)
Cool art installation in the lawn behind Graham’s Restaurant
Delicious and hearty food at Graham’s Restaurant
A more modern take on the signage – still cool!
That’s a lot of stickering!
Cool memorabilia in Graham’s Store
A cool name AND a cool fence at Hairstream
MIlano’s Restaurant – check it out!
For those of you who might’ve forgotten something on the way to the ski hill. (I’ve NEVER done such a thing! Heh.)
Pro Tip: As you venture further into the mountains, make sure you’ve included the 10 Essentials in your backpack. Whether summer or winter, it is imperative to be ready for any type of off-roading, be it on foot, ski, bike or other exciting means. Weather can change quickly, water sources might be far and few between and you never know when that loose rock on the trail might have other plans for your day. Be prepared!
Not too far past the Glacier area, look for a signpost directing you to the gorgeous Nooksack Falls area. It’s a short jog off the highway and well worth the stop. The beautiful Nooksack River flows through the area and drops, via a series of stunning waterfalls, 88 feet to the canyon floor below. Be sure to check out the information kiosks telling about the former Great Excelsior Mine and old town of Excelsior. Also pay heed to the warnings about NOT climbing over the fenced areas overlooking the falls. Seriously. (Interesting fact: The falls were featured in the hunting scene of The Deer Hunter. The nearby North Cascades Highway and spectacular Diablo Lake were also included in the film.) If you’re looking to get to know the Excelsior area even better, check out the hike to Excelsior Pass. It’s a moderate hike with great views of Mt. Baker and flower-filled meadows with access to the Damfino Lakes. For bonus points, hike up further to the former fire lookout at Excelsior Peak.
Beautiful moss and giant rocks near Nooksack Falls
Old and new growth trees near Nooksack Falls
Upper part of Nooksack Falls
The side fall at Nooksack Falls
Hidden spots near Nooksack Falls
The Nooksack River juuuust before it plunges off the edge
Giant boulders on the Nooksack River (Check out people in the upper left for scale)
Do NOT venture beyond the fences and warning signs!
Past Nooksack Falls, the highway begins to gain elevation and the switchbacks come with more frequency. I love windy, mountain roads and the Mount Baker Highway is one of the greats. I will admit, however, to feeling my heart in my stomach on a few of those switchbacks closer towards the top; especially if it’s raining or snowing. Yowsa! That said, the WSDOT does keep the road well-maintained and it’s open year-round up to the ski area.
As you get almost to the end of the road, look for the entrance to the parking area for Picture Lake. One of the most photographed locales in the state, it is an absolute must-stop. Mt. Shuksan towers alongside the area, gloriously reflected in the lake. The path next to the lake is fully accessible and great for an easy-going stroll and with little effort and the simplest of cameras, your pictures are guaranteed to be amazing. I could honestly just sit on the shore and watch the mountain all day long…
This little guy was just hanging out near Picture Lake
This tree looks like a dragon head. Winter is coming!
The trail to Picture Lake
A peek of Shuksan Peak…
And there she is, the beautiful Mount Shuksan as seen (and reflected) in Picture Lake
If you happen to be in the area during the summer, make a point to go all way to the end of highway at Artist Point. The mountain views are spectacular and on a clear day, it’s easy to see Canada to the north and Mount Rainier to the south. Head to the easy-going Artist Ridge Trail for breath-taking scenery and be sure to stick around for the dazzling sunsets. The portion of the highway leading to Artist Point closes for the winter, but it’s still possible to head up to the area for beautiful snowshoeing opportunities.
Just short of Artist Point, lies the consummate ski hill, Mount Baker Ski Area. They get an average annual snowfall of 701 inches and due to their somewhat remote location, the crowds are never huge. It’s possible to get fresh tracks throughout the day! If you’re not up for tackling the crazy mountain drive in the winter, the day lodge is open in summer and is a great addition to area hiking adventures. (Interesting fact: Call of the Wild (1935) with Clark Gable and Loretta Young was filmed near Mt. Baker Ski Resort and helped expand the popularity of the area.)
Grab your rock skis!
Step outside the lodge and this what you get!
The summer scene in the day lodge
Come back snow, COME BACK!!
A beautiful scene – even without snow!
I guess that view is alright…
There are countless hiking, climbing and adventuring opportunities in the Mount Baker / Mount Shuksan area. A few to consider on your next visit:
IMPORTANT NOTE:Never hike or climb on any glaciers or permanent snow fields without the appropriate alpine climbing gear and know-how.
If you’re up for a challenge, check out the Heliotrope Ridge Trail off of FS Road 39. The hike offers pretty amazing views overlooking the crevassed, glacial moraine of Mount Baker. (Not good for early summer hiking) A Recreation Pass is required at the trailhead.
Another strenuous, but rewarding hike is the Lake Ann Trail with its great view of Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker, sub-alpine meadows and marmots! A Recreation Pass is required at the trailhead.
As is to be expected, there are a lot of climbing opportunities for Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Hit up local climbing outfits such asRMI, Alpine Ascents or the American Alpine Institute for excellent guide services, information and gear. American Alpine Institute offers snowshoeing tours as well. (Note: You will need a permit to make a summit climb.)
For an epic challenge, grab a few friends and enter the annual Ski to Sea relay race over Memorial Day Weekend. It’s an ambitious trek from the Mount Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay consisting of teams of three to eight racers, competing in seven different sports. (Cross Country Ski, Downhill Ski/Snowboard, Running, Road Bike, Canoe (2 paddlers), Cyclocross Bike, and Sea Kayak.) This is an absolute bucket-list goal of mine. Care to join me?
Beautiful trails and towering trees everywhere you look
This highway leads to some of the most amazing scenery and adventuring in the country!
In order to get to the North Cascades National Park and Diablo Lake in the eastern part of Whatcom County, it is necessary to first travel through Skagit County. The mountains are beautiful, but they do occasionally add a bit of travel time and obstacle to the adventure. (It’s also possible to reach these areas from the eastern side of the state via beautiful Okanogan County. Look for the I Ate the State article coming soon!) For my most recent adventure to the area, I opted to approach via Skagit County.
For the most direct route from western Washington to the North Cascades Highway – North Cascades Loop (SR-20 – a designated Scenic Byway) hit up I-5 Exit 230 in the Burlington area. If you’re looking for a more leisurely approach, take SR-9 to get to SR-20. Any route you take to get to SR-20 will be worth it as the North Cascades Highway is truly one of the most spectacular drives in the county. (Note: The North Cascades highway is closed past Lake Diablo and west of Mazama during the winter. Check theWSDOT website for opening/closing details.)
If you happen to be coming down SR-9 (the Valley Highway) from the north, be sure to explore the areas around Acmeand Wickersham. Bring your swimsuit and take a dip – or a float – in the South Fork of theNooksack River. (River floating is a popular summer pastime in the area. Many cars were parked on the side of SR-9 near Acme and the Mosquito Lake Exit to access the river.) SR-9 and adjoining backroads are fairly quiet around the Acme and Wickersham areas and there is beautiful scenery everywhere you look. Prairie Road is particularly lovely and will eventually lead you back out to I-5 and the Bow Hill Road Exit. (Exit 236) It’s an absolute beauty of a weekend drive or ride.
It’s a fairly quiet part of the county, but there are indeed great places to visit. Some of the spots to check out on your next trip through the area:
The Blue Mountain Grill features a pretty spectacular view and is a popular stop for travelers through the area. They serve lunch and dinner and feature burgers, seafood and fried chicken with all the fixins’.
A favorite along the Valley Highway (SR-9) in Acme is the ACME Diner. Stop in and enjoy their classic diner fare and all-day breakfasts. (Closed Mondays)
Hop aboard the Lake Whatcom Railway and experience the past while riding in their Pullman Company cars. They’ve been in continuous operation for over 100 years! They make sightseeing stops along the way, so don’t forget your camera. They also host various events throughout the year. Located in the Wickersham area off SR-9.
The backroads around the Acme area are absolutely idyllic
I really want to run through that field…
Great food and great views at the Blue Mountain Grill near Acme
Prairie Road is a great road for a weekend drive – or anytime of the week
A drive up the North Cascades Highway is an adventure in and of itself. The highway winds through beautiful farmland and fertile valleys, all nurtured by the mighty Skagit River. The Skagit River is the state’s second largest river (after the Columbia River) and generally follows along the highway corridor. Starting in the Canadian Cascades at Allison Pass, it flows down to the Ross Lake area, into Diablo Lake and heads out to the Puget Sound close to the La Conner area. (For spots to check out along the way in Skagit County, check out my recent I Ate the Statearticle.)
Stop in at the Cascadian Farms stand for fresh berries, ice cream and more!
A lovely little meadow scene in Rockport State Park off of the North Cascades Highway
Happy cows along the North Cascades Highway
The mighty Skagit River as seen from the North Cascades Highway
As you make your way east on the North Cascades Highway, there are scores of places to camp, hike, fish and generally enjoy the area. Many are accessible year-round and are the perfect escape from the noise and grind of the city. An excellent, general area for all things outdoors can be found off the North Cascades Highway on the Baker Lake Road (FS Road 11) in the Baker Lake / Middle Fork Nooksack area. The region is known for good Sockeye fishing, spectacular hiking trails and winter recreation including snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
There are many campgrounds in the Baker Lake area along with excellent hiking and backpacking opportunities. Just a few of the many options to explore on your next trip:
Located on the west side of the lake, the Bayview South and North Campgrounds are a good jumping off point for hikes in the area. (You’ll need to bring drinking water.) Also on the west side of the lake, the Horseshoe Cove Campground features sites close to the lake as well as a swimming beach and boat launch.
Just past Panorama Point is the Swift Creek Campground. It’s a larger campground with spots for tents and RVs and features a large, paved boat launch and 20-slip dock. Just over from Swift Creek lies the Park Creek Campground. It’s smaller, but situated close to the creek as it flows out to the lake.
Continuing towards the north part of the lake will bring you to the Shannon Creek Campground. It has a small boat launch and is a stop along the way to the Shannon Ridge Trailhead which is a little further north, up the Shannon Creek and forest service roads. The trailhead a popular starting point for Mt. Shuksan climbs and backcountry camping. Backcountry permits are required for overnight stays in North Cascades National Park. (No pets allowed in park) A validRecreation Pass is required within National Forests. (At trailhead)
At the end of the Baker Lake Road, park and hike in to the remote Sulphide Creek Campground via the Baker River Trail, along the Baker River. (In Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest) Old-growth forest and a huge amount of solitude await the weary hiker. A validRecreation Pass is required within National Forests. (At trailhead)
On the east side of the lake, hit up the Baker Lake Trail #610 to hike to lakeside campsites such as Anderson Point and Maple Grove. This trail eventually hooks up with the Baker River Trail #606 which will take you deeper into the wilderness. A validRecreation Pass is required within National Forests. (At trailhead) (The Baker River Trail is also accessible via the end of the Baker Lake Road)
It’s easy to glance out the window of your car or take in the scene as you hike along a trail, but the sheer size and content of the park would be near impossible to absorb in a lifetime – or be accessible. There are 312 glaciers in the park – more than Glacier National Park! (Sadly, the glaciers have decreased by 50% in the last 100 years.) The park is comprised of 98% wilderness and has the most bio-diversity of any other national park with the exception of Great Smokey Mountains National Park – and only by a few varieties of grass! Since there are few roads within the park, many trails and campsites are only accessible by hiking or driving on Forest Service roads outside of the park to get close to trailheads and campsites. You have to really want to explore the inner reaches of the park, but it certainly is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.
While at the visitor center, take the short Sterling Munro Trail from behind the building and marvel at the beautiful Picket Range in the distance. Take in the uniquely formed Chopping Block and the highest (and most awesomely named) peak in the range, MOUNT TERROR. (What could possibly go wrong?) For a great list of hikes and campsites to help you get closer to these amazing peaks, check out the NPS site.
The North Cascades National Park Visitor Center
A lot of information to be found in the Visitor Center
Learn about the birds in the area
There are bears in the area – learn all the facts!
Hop on the Sterling Munro Trail for a beautiful look at the Picket Range
MOUNT TERROR was in the clouds, but there was a good view of The Chopping Block on the left
In my dreams, I am Ansel Adams.
Heading further northeast on SR-20 brings you to the tiny town of Newhalem. To this day it is a “company” town in that it is owned by Seattle City Light and populated entirely by employees of the nearby hydroelectric projects. It is, however, open to visitors and makes a great last-stop for gas and snacks before heading over the passes to eastern Washington. Be sure to stop in at the Skagit General Store, the Skagit Information Center and take a stroll around the town to visit the “Old No. 6” steam engine and the interesting art installations around the park areas.
It is also possible to tour the Gorge Powerhouse with the Skagit Tours outfit. Beginning in the 1920s, Seattle City Light originally gave tours around the area, including Diablo Lake and Ross Dams which included their famous Dam Good Chicken Dinner and tour of Ladder Creek Falls at night. (Offered to this day!) The tours were meant to drum up interest in the hydroelectric projects and were a popular tourist and investor attraction – and the guests got to take home the leftover pies! Stop in Newhalem and learn about the history of the area and the history of the Seattle City Light’s tenure in the North Cascades in a very unique way.
Me and several members of the Skoczen family now own this sweatshirt. True story.
Cool gazebo in the center of Newhalem
Charred trees overlooking the town of Newhalem
The Skagit General Store in Newhalem
Shopping for BIGFOOT sweatshirts in the Skagit General Store
Home of the Dam Good Chicken Dinner!
The stately Gorge Powerhouse
All the information!
Thunderbird totem in Newhalem
The sleepy streets of Newhalem
That’s a big turbine! (And don’t climb on it!)
In recent decades, the Newhalem area has attracted more than hydroelectric dreams and has served as the backdrop in a few notable artistic endeavors. For you 80s film nerds (me), part of War Games was filmed in an old Newhalem gravel quarry. (Specifically, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex scene.) Additionally, Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy’s Life (The film version starred Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and Leonardo DiCaprio) lived in Newhalem and nearby Concrete and based the book off of his life there. (Check out my I Ate the StateSkagit County article for more info about Concrete and surrounding areas)
There are many great locales about which to hike, camp and explore in the areas surrounding Newhalem. For great access to the Skagit River and cool interpretive trails, check out the nearby Newhalem Creek Campground. If you’re up for fishing and hiking in a glorious location, check into the Gorge Lake Campground and enjoy. (Boat launch, no potable water) While in the area, hit up the nearby Stetattle Creek or Sourdough Mountain trails for a beautiful – and challenging – hike. An absolute must for any North Cascades visit is a stop at Gorge Lake Overlook/Gorge Creek and interpretive trail. The waterfalls truly cannot be represented by photo. You need to stand on the bridge overlooking the falls and experience the thrill of gorge and the thundering water. I love heights and they rarely get me, but WOW – that’s quite a drop!
Just a few feet to the left lies an INSANE drop!
Looking down into Gorge Lake
Words can’t describe the scene. What a drop! Don’t miss this stop.
Wrapping up our adventures in Whatcom County brings us to, in my humble opinion, one of the most spectacular areas in the country, Diablo Lakeand the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The turquoise waters are mesmerizing and the towering mountains surrounding the reservoir lakes are beyond compare. I would have no problem setting up permanent camp in the area. No problem at all…
The area is chock-full of amazing trails and panoramic views, but if you’re not in the mood for a bracing hike, stop in at the North Cascades Institute for beautiful views of the area. Situated directly on Diablo Lake, they not only offer classes on a variety of nature-friendly topics and more, they also have lodging and regularly host events. Additionally, they are the base for the exceptionally entertaining Diablo Lake Dam Tour and pick-up point for the Diablo Lake Ferry which carries passengers to the nearby Ross Lake Resort.
Driving over the Diablo Dam – narrow lanes!
The Diablo Dam with its fancy ELECTRIC lights! (Quite the deal in 1928!)
The dining room at the North Cascades Institute
The beautiful campus buildings of the North Cascades Institute
Getting ready for the Diablo Lake tour at the North Cascades Institute
The tour included a delicious lunch at the North Cascades Institute
The striking, turquoise waters of Diablo Lake await!
The gift shop and visitor center at the North Cascades Institute
The Diablo Lake Dam Tour is absolutely worthwhile and a great way to spend an afternoon. I recently went with my frequent adventure buddy, Beth and her entire family and we had an excellent time. (Shout out to Mr. Skoczen for organizing everything!) The tour guide was well-informed and added an entertaining narrative to the tour. We learned about the history and geology of the area as well as early Seattle City Light superintendent, J.D. Ross’ contributions. He was largely responsible for bringing interest and investment to the area through his inventive tours and events. (Dam Good Chicken Dinner!) He even brought exotic animals to the lake as an incentive to visit. The island he named Monkey Island fittingly housed monkeys from Woodland Park Zoo and neighboring Deer Island housed white Asiatic deer. It’s said a few of deer escaped the island and ended up breeding with local deer and some of the descendants can still be spotted today.
Cruising around the lake was a fine way to learn about the area’s environment. From the amazing views of towering Colonial Peak and Pyramid Peak and a close-up look into the stunningly turquoise water, the 3-hour tour was entirely enjoyable. We learned the color of the lake is due in part to particles of mica in the glacial “rock flour” and minerals refracting light and bouncing it back. There are 52 area glaciers feeding into the Thunder Arm portion of the lake and 25% of the lake in general is from glacial melt. It was amazing to see the hidden waterfalls tumbling into the lake as we leisurely made our way towards the Ross Dam. The rocky shorelines and inlets of the lake, which can only be reached by small boat, were entirely intriguing and I hope to return via kayak someday.
Peaking over the edge of Diablo Dam
Looking off towards Colonial and Pyramid Peaks
No more monkeys, only kayaks!
A serene day on Diablo Lake
Rocky shorelines of Diablo Lake
Mini islands in Diablo Lake
The North Cascade Highway, towering above Lake Diablo
Included in the cruise, along with a tasty lunch at the North Cascades Institute, is a tour of the Ross Dam and its inner-workings. (c. 1949) It was interesting to learn the distinct waffle-pattern of the dam was originally meant to be filled in and the dam was planned to be 125 feet higher. However, the discovery of 800 year-old cedar trees in the area halted the plans in 1968. (At the same time the area was becoming a National Park) The continuing work would’ve flooded an additional 8,000 acres and drastically altered the makeup and historical bounty of the land. The current 540-foot structure with its giant waffle-squares will just have to do…
Just around the corner from Ross Dam
Right up on Ross Dam
The famous Ross Dam waffle pattern. Each square is 6 feet high!
The spooky corridors of Ross Dam
Learning about Ross Dam
Hanging out at Ross Dam, as one does…
For a nice hike down to the Ross Dam area, check out the Ross Dam Trail which is just under 2 miles down to the dam and back. This trail is often used as a starter to the much longer Big Beaver Trail. (Both trails can be accessed from the Ross Lake Trail head parking off of SR-20 near milepost 134.)
There are many places to hike, camp and explore in the Diablo Lake region. The Thunder Arm section of the lake is particularly nice for camping and there are several great hikes in the area. (SR-20 crosses over the Thunder Arm portion of Diablo Lake.) Thunder Point Campground as well as several other campsites on both Diablo and Ross Lake offers boat-in camping. Nearby Colonial Creek South campground also has a vehicle-accessible boat launch and a large campsite layout. Check out the NPS site for boating and fishing regulations for the area. (Note: Boat-in camping requires a backcountry permit.)
A few of the many amazing hikes and panoramic views to experience in the area:
The Thunder Knob Trailhead is an easy-going trail with great views of Diablo Lake and surrounding peaks. Perfect for a jaunt with the kids or a picnic lunch with a view.
Head to the Thunder Creek Trailhead for a great day hike, or continue on to Thunder Campground or Neve Campground for a longer adventure. The Fourth of July campground and nearby Fourth of July Pass hike are also excellent. (Note: Backcountry permits are required for camping)
A nice day-hike heading out of the North Cascades Institute and Sourdough Mountain trail is the Diablo Lake Trail. Spectacular views of the dams, lake and surrounding peaks will be your reward.
For the ultimate in low-key exploration, stop in at the Diablo Lake Vista Point on SR-20 at mile marker 132. The views are extraordinary and there are several interpretive signs describing the area and its history.
Lovely Thistle in the North Cascades
Peaking down into the blue waters near Ross Dam
Go for a hike over the lake!
As part of the vast Skagit River, Gorge Lake, Diablo Lake and Ross Lake all combine to form the Ross Lake National Recreation Area; an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The largest of the three reservoirs, Ross Lake is an impressive 23 miles long with its northern section located in Canada. (The only way to drive in to Ross Lake is by gravel road on the Canadian side, via Hope, B.C.) It is dotted with excellent camping opportunities and beautiful hikes. It would be easy to continually return to the area and not exhaust the prospect of discovery.
One of the great ways to experience the area is at the very unique Ross Lake Resort. Built entirely on floating log booms, it is only reachable by boat or foot. You can arrange for water taxis and truck portage from nearby trailheads or take the Diablo Lake Ferry from the North Cascades Institute – and then the resort truck picks you up. (Note: The Diablo Lake Ferry is cash only and the water taxis must be reserved and paid for in advance.) Make sure plan in advance and bring supplies as there are no amenities, not store and no cell service at the resort. Total, blissful isolation… Yeeeaaaahhhh.
In addition to Ross Lake Resort, there are many excellent campgrounds such as the boat-in Green Point Campground, Roland Point Campground, Cougar Island Campground and more. For an interesting hike, take the boat transport from Ross Lake Resort to the Desolation Peak trailhead. Head up to the Desolation Peak Lookout and take in the view of nearby Hozomeen Mountain. While you’re there, pay tribute to the great Jack Kerouac and the time he spent as a fire lookout in the area. His novels The Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler (“Alone on a Mountaintop”) and Desolation Angels reference that period of his adventures. (Interesting fact: Hozomeen Chert is a type of flint rock found exclusively in the North Cascades areas of Washington and British Columbia. It means “sharp, like a knife” and was used to make tools for thousands of years by the area’s indigenous peoples.) Another trail close to Desolation Peak and Hozomeen Lake – and currently on my hiking bucket list – is the 31-mile East Bank Trail which goes almost to Canada. SOON! (Note:Permits are required for all backcountry camping.)
Beautiful views of high mountain meadows
Amazing views of Diablo Lake from the Diablo Overlook
The gorgeous Thunder Arm portion of Diablo Lake
Looking down on Diablo Lake from Diablo Overlook
I could look at this view allllll day
So many ways to take in the view…
Looking over to Pyramid and Colonial Peaks
Alas, now it is time to leave one of my most favorite areas in the state. I love all of Whatcom County, but ending with the North Cascades just seems appropriate. The county offers a little bit of everything and it would be a surprise if anyone were able to exhaust its possibilities; especially in the North Cascades. (But what an amazing endeavor to try and undertake!) Delicious food, excellent breweries, deep histories and beauty beyond compare create a truly spectacular adventure, any time of year. Even if you have to drive a little longer from eastern Washington in the winter months, I guarantee it will be worth it. Eat the state! Eat Whatcom County!
Until next time!
For tunes on your next Whatcom County trip, check out my playlist onSPOTIFY
O-o-h Child – Nina Simone (from Here Comes the Sun)
Here We Go – Jon Brion (from Punch-Drunk Love (Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack)
These Days – Jackson Browne (from For Everyman)
Midnight in Harlem – Tedeschi Trucks Band (from Revelator)
Bullet Train – Stacey Kent (from I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions (Deluxe Version))
Travels – Pat Metheny Trio (from Trio 99-00)
Mah Na Mah Na – Sesame Street (from Sesame StreetAll-Time Favorites 1)
Down I-5 – Neko Case, k.d. lang, Laura Veirs (from case/lang/veirs)
Cast Your Fate to the Wind – Earl Klugh (from Hand Picked)
Captain Bacardi – Harry Allen (from Something About Jobim)
Our House – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (from Déjà Vu)
Don’t Give Up – Feist, Timber Timbre (from And I’ll Scratch Yours)
Mining for Gold – Cowboy Junkies (from The Trinity Sessions)
I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today – Dusty Springfield (from Dusty…Definitely)
Back in Time – Val Gardena, Chris Botti (from Back in Time)
As – Becca Stevens, Jacob Collier (from Regina)
Across the Great Divide – Kate Wolf (from Close to You)
You’re My Favorite Waste of Time – Marshall Crenshaw & The Handsome, Ruthless and Stupid Band (from This Is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw)
Buckets of Rain – Live – Neko Case (from Live from Austin, TX)
4 A.M. – Herbie Hancock (from Hands)
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps – Halie Loren (from They Oughta Write A Song)
Welcome to Canada, our lovely neighbor to the north. Sweeping mountain ranges, rugged coastlines, raw wilderness and a lot of snow make Canada a veritable wonderland of adventure. Living in Washington, I feel incredibly lucky to be just a quick drive away from the border and have taken advantage of this convenience many times over the years. One of North America’s premier cosmopolitan cities, Vancouver B.C. is but a *two-hour drive from Seattle and one of the most amazing places to ski in the world, Whistler-Blackcomb, is a couple of hours beyond Vancouver. (*Depending on border waits) As neighbors, we have so much in common and so many similarities to keep us close. However, whenever I cross the border and the traffic signs suddenly go metric – or I pull into the gas station and the prices are by liter (or litre, in Canada) – I feel as if I’ve been magically transported to the other side of the world.
Canada is a powerhouse all on its own – and a sprawling one, at that. It is the second largest country in the world by total area (land and water) and the fourth largest country in the world by land alone. I will never forget the first time I drove past Vancouver B.C. towards Whistler. Well-accustomed to the lofty mountain ranges and open spaces of Washington, I was still not prepared for the epic majesty of the Coast Mountains and the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway (BC Highway 99) which guides you closely along Pacific Ocean inlets and into the vast wilds of the Canadian wilderness. I was simply put, slack-jawed and amazed. The first time I saw the monolithic face of The Stawamus Chief (second-largest granite monolith in the world) or the soaring panorama of endless peaks from atop Blackcomb are visions which shall live forever glorious in my mind’s eye.
For this particular Canadian adventure, we kept it closer to the shoreline and fairly close to home. My Scotophile friends, Kristen, Tori and I were in need of whisky, bagpipes and kilts – and maybe a bit of haggis and the tossing of heavy objects. In short, we wanted to find a good Highland games event to attend. There are several great Highland games during the summer in Washington State, but given Canada’s close ties to England, Ireland and Scotland, there are many to be found in Canada as well. Since Victoria, B.C. is just a quick ferry ride away and they’ve been hosting a Highland games for the past 156 years, we figured it would be a great spot to fulfill all of our Scottish dreams. (And my pal Kristen and I are still financially recovering from our recent adventures to the actual Highlands of Scotland)
Combine the welcoming, good nature of Canada with the beautiful wilds of the Pacific Northwest and the pomp and grandeur of Britain and you come close to concocting the unique setting that is Victoria, B.C. Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and named for Queen Victoria, Victoria is not only an amazing place to visit, it is also the capital of the province of British Columbia. Many important goings-on take place in this quaint city along with the regular flow of tourism.
Head to the Waterfront in downtown Seattle and sail to Victoria via the passenger-only Victoria Clipper. The journey is a little under three hours and it’s likely you’ll see marine life along the way. They also offer a bevy of hotel, car and sightseeing package deals which are very worth checking out. On a recent trip, just as we were getting close to the Victoria harbor, a pod of orcas was swimming not too far off the port side. To add to the majesty, there was a rainbow perfectly situated over the harbor as we pulled into dock. WOW!
If you’re up for a gorgeous bird’s-eye view of the Puget Sound, hop aboard a seaplane flight with Kenmore Air. Many friends have made the journey, but it is still on my travel bucket-list. SOON!
If you’re coming from mainland B.C., head through Vancouver and cross to Victoria on the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay (The ferry accommodates both foot passengers and vehicles) The crossing time to Swartz Bay is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
You can also utilize the Washington State Ferry out of Anacortes in Skagit County. (The ferry accommodates both foot passengers and vehicles) They offer a 3-hour cruise to Sidney B.C. which is a 20-minute drive outside of Victoria. (Pro Tip: If you are driving, reservations are strongly recommended.)
View of the Port Townsend Dock from aboard the MV Coho
looking out from Port Townsend on the MV Coho
Checking out the MV Coho display inside the ferry terminal
Cool exhibits to be found inside the ferry terminal
The MV Coho can move the big rigs!
Looking back towards the US as we sailed on to Canada
In order to make the most of our few days in Victoria, we had made reservations for the first sailing out of Port Angeles. The morning was crisp and the water smooth; the makings of a beautiful journey! Once aboard, we got the lay of the vintage ship and staked out a few seats with a view out over the bow. (The MV Coho has been in operation since 1959 and they’ve largely kept the vintage décor.) Since it was early and I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep, caffeine was high on the list of things to do. We found our way to the cafeteria, which is adjacent to the tiny, but well-stocked gift shop, and loaded up on breakfast goodies and strong coffee. There’s something great to be said about warming your hands with a steaming cup of coffee while looking out over the bow of a ship. Ahhhh….
I loved all of the vintage signage aboard the ship
I felt like I was stepping back in time aboard the MV Coho
More great vintage signage
Not much has changed in the past 50 years
Time to go drink some coffee on the deck…
A lovely scene out on the deck…
Tiny, but packed with cool gifts!
You can bring your bike!
Looking out over the bow of the ship, towards Victoria
After fully perusing the ship and refueling with caffeine, we hit up the on-board Tour Desk to find out about special deals for various tours in the Victoria area. It’s definitely worth checking out and not only will you save a few dollars, but you’ll be able to skip the sometimes long ticket lines at the given attraction. We opted for tickets to Butchart Gardens, the Butterfly Gardens and the Royal B.C. Museum. We were all set for our first two days of touring and we hadn’t even docked yet!
The Pursers Office, just across from the Tour Desk
That’s some expertly coiled rope, to be sure…
What a beautiful morning!
As we sailed into Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we were met with the beautiful skyline of downtown Victoria. The vibrant Causeway Marina, the glorious Parliament Building and the stunning Empress Hotel were all there to greet us. The scene was bustling with boats coming and going, tourists renting scooters and tour buses shuttling visitors off to neighboring attractions. (There are many bus tours available through the MV Coho and Victoria Clipper tour desks) The area near the stately Steamship Grill & Bar (the old Heritage Steamship Terminal building, c. 1924) is a great pick-up/drop-off point with many excursions taking off from the general vicinity. Not too far from the Inner Harbour, especially if you happen to be entering the area via cruise ship, is Fisherman’s Wharf. Colorful float homes, restaurants, shops, live music and more make this another great waterfront area to explore.
The MV Coho in the Inner Harbour
Sailing into the Inner Harbour – along with a sea plane!
Turning the corner into the Inner Harbour
As we’d arrived fairly early on a Thursday morning, we had time to fit in some of the more popular tourist destinations. Since we were only visiting for a few days and it was the very busy Victoria Day 3-day weekend, we wanted to get ahead of the crowds. (Victoria Day celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday and is the unofficial start of summer in Canada. It falls on the last Monday in May, preceding the 25th.)
After switching my GPS over to accommodate the metric system and Canadian byways, we struck out towards the spectacular Butchart Gardens, located about 30 minutes outside of Victoria. It was a grey morning and threatening rain, but we maintained our hope for things to clear up. That said, we’re from the Pacific Northwest and are typically prepared for any type of weather. Most of the time…
To say that the Butchart Gardens are a marvel in horticultural design would be an absurd understatement. They are an amazing display of design, cultivation, whimsy, passion and vision. Originally masterminded by Jennie Butchart beginning in the early 1900s, utilizing the old limestone quarry in her backyard, it has grown (literally) into an absolute national treasure. After being gifted The Gardens in 1939, Jennie’s grandson, Ian Ross has continued to enhance and expand the garden experience into what greets modern-day visitors.
Once we’d gotten past our initial ooo’s and ahhh’s, we formed a strategy to help us both enjoy and see all of the grounds during our brief stay. There is so much to take in and so many garden themes and landscapes to enjoy – we didn’t want to miss anything! As we wound around beautifully manicured trails and flower-filled alcoves, we popped out at the fantastical view overlooking the famous Sunken Gardens. Words can’t fully express the breathtakingly beautiful scene, so please enjoy some pictures!
Looking down into the famous Sunken Gardens
The artistry is mind-boggling!
Waterfalls, native plants and more grace the Sunken Gardens
A sneaky view of the Sunken Gardens from a little cabin above
The most lovely of picture frames…
To be honest, I would’ve probably been fine having only seen the Sunken Gardens. My mind was swimming in a glorious flower explosion and I couldn’t imagine anything could compare. However, since I knew, based on long-ago visits, the rest of the grounds absolutely could compare, off we went to the next amazing scene. (I do wish we could’ve been there on a summer Saturday night to see the excellent fireworks show from the Sunken Gardens, but that will have to wait for another visit.)
There are faeries in the fountain…
A fountain faerie dance!
Over the course of the next couple of hours, we visited Italy, Japan, the Mediterranean and England, not to mention the beauty of the native Pacific Northwest landscape which brings it all together. It seemed around each corner was a new, mind-boggling panorama to leave us speechless. Again, since words fail me when attempting to fully describe the beauty, here are a few more pictures!
Beautiful dragon fountain
Dragon in the Japanese Gardens
A hidden portal looking out to the water
The beautiful Japanese Gardens
The exotic hanging lamp tree
Manicured lawns and beautiful rose gardens
What a sight for a wedding!
Beautiful pagoda in the Japanese Gardens
Beautiful pond near the Mediterranean Gardens
Sea Serpent fountain
Total zen in the Japanese Gardens
After all of our gallivanting around the flowers, it’s fair to say we’d become a little peckish. Since there are several dining spots on the garden grounds, it wasn’t hard to find something to fulfill our needs. We’d considered afternoon tea at The Dining Room, but since it’s a more leisurely affair, we opted for a less formal and more expedited lunch at the Blue Poppy Restaurant. It was just what we needed and soon enough, we were back to exploring the grounds and finishing it off with a stop into their lovely gift shop. (Because of course we did! Several dainty tea cups were chanting my name and I’d be a monster to not heed their call…) There are also several quick snack spots dotted around grounds for on-the-go occasions. Coffee and ice cream accompaniments for your flower viewing pleasure!
A lovely lantern to light your way
One of the cafes on the garden grounds
Right out of a Monet!
I love pansies!
Follow the purple path!
We were there for tulip season
Gorgeous NW favorites!
So very lovely!
After getting our fill of flowers and teacups, we drove back up the road a few miles to get our fill of butterflies and wine. (As one does…) Since Kristen and Tori were more excited about the Butterfly Gardens and I was more excited about doing some wine tasting, we decided to divide and conquer. Conveniently, since the beautiful vineyards of Church & State Wines were basically next door to the Butterfly Gardens, it all worked out quite nicely. I hear-tell Kristen and Tori very much enjoyed communing with the butterflies. I, too, enjoyed my communing…
I’m not a fan of bananas, but apparently butterflies love them! (Photo credit: K. Spoor)
Beautiful butterfly action! (Photo credit: K. Spoor)
Flamingos and Koi fish at the Butterfly Gardens (Photo credit: K. Spoor)
Flamingos and butterflies living together in harmony (Photo credit: K. Spoor)
Butterflies AND parrots! (Photo credit: K. Spoor)
Church & State Wine sits overlooking their vineyard and rolling grounds. The main tasting room and restaurant is spacious and there is an outdoor, covered seating area with a great view of the vineyards. Since it was a Thursday afternoon, they weren’t super crowded and I easily found a seat at the tasting bar. Upon learning more about their wine from the well-informed Sommelier, I sampled a few and enjoyed a lovely locally-sourced cheese selection alongside. I very much enjoyed their Trebella and Viognier and opted to bring home a couple bottles of the Trebella. (One of which actually made it home – We enjoyed one that evening at our Airbnb) I guess I’ll have to return to pick up a few more bottles. Oh no!!
Located a few minutes away from Church and State Wines is De Vine Wines & Spirits. They’re not only a winery and vineyard, but also a distillery! I was hoping to visit on this trip, but the afternoon had gotten away from us and it was time to locate our Airbnb. No worries – I’ll be back soon!
Beautiful vineyards at Church & State
Sit out on the deck and enjoy a glass
Welcome to Church & State!
The tasting bar was alllllll mine!
Cool decor at Church & State
A lovely wine list for tasting!
What a fabulous afternoon respite…
I’ll them all!
After we pulled ourselves away from the butterflies and viognier (sounds like a Hallmark movie), we plotted our course to the Airbnb. It turned out to be the lower-half of a cute home in a Victoria suburb with a private entrance in the back. Sweet! The hosts were a very kind family who had just begun to open their home to Airbnb guests. If you have a car, staying at an Airbnb a little outside of town can save a good chunk of change. We were about 20-minutes away from downtown Victoria and the drive into town was main thoroughfare most of the way. Additionally, we were more centrally located for visiting the surrounding towns. Win-win!
Once we’d settled in at the Airbnb, we took a little bit of time to relax and recharge for a night on the town. (But not too late a night as I’d been up and driving since 4am. We were all a bit tired, suffice to say.) Since we were in town for the Highland games, we decided to look for something along the lines of Shepherd’s Pie and Guinness Stew for dinner… Yes, please! And if I could find a place with a good Scotch egg, all the better!
Enter Irish Times, a traditional Irish pub in the heart of downtown Victoria. Both Kristen and I had been there before and knew they could fulfill at least two of our culinary needs. But did they win the trifecta with an entry of the Scotch egg? Why, YES – yes, they did! If you’ve never had a Scotch egg and you happen to see it on a menu – order it! It’s a soft-boiled egg rolled in crumbled sausage, breaded and fried. How can you go wrong?? Ohhh, delicious Scotch egg, how I love thee so… The only thing I found vaguely off about our Irish Times experience was their inclusion of ice in the cider pints. Why?? I’ve seen it a couple of other times on past Victoria visits. I need to get to the bottom of these icy cider shenanigans…
The stately Irish Times pub in downtown Victoria
Outdoor seating at the Irish Times
Traditional pub decor at the Irish Times
What’s with the ice in the cider???
A room with a view at the Irish Times
Tasty burgers at the Irish Times
Delicious lobster bisque at the Irish Times
Tasty Guinness Stew!
SCOTCH EGG FOR THE WIN!!
After our delicious dinner, we were completely full and positively spent. We didn’t have much left to give, but we figured it best to at least walk off a few of the calories we’d just consumed. (Hello there, Scotch egg…) We hit up the fantastic Munro’s Books and found a few great books and generally wandered around the area for a little while. We didn’t have it in us to make it over to nearby Russell Books, but that’s also a great spot for the bookworm. Next time!
Inside the lovely Munro’s Books
A very important book I picked up at Munro’s (Seattle author!)
So many great titles to choose from!
If you’re like us and always on the hunt for good pub food and a well-pulled pint, Victoria has so much to offer. It’s like walking down a street in London or Edinburgh – great pubs everywhere! A few of the places we didn’t get to on this visit, but have enjoyed on past stays:
The Churchill, located in the downtown area, hosts a modern pub menu and a rather large taps list. Cozy, low-key atmosphere and ‘lots of good beer – Sounds good!
The Sticky Wicket is located in downtown and features a modern pub menu, a good drink selection, a games room and hotel lodging.
Garrick’s Head Pub has been serving hungry and thirsty Canadians since 1867. They serve classics like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash, but they also feature a more modern side with nods to Pacific Northwest favorites and seafood. They also have a pretty impressive taps selection.
Whether it’s poutine, fish & chips or perhaps a duck burger, Swan’s Brewery & Pub has you covered. They also feature an onsite brewery, a liquor store and a hotel. All the things!
Spinnakers is Canada’s oldest craft brewpub and a great place to relax out of the downtown hub. They’re located across the Johnson Street Bridge, past Chinatown and also feature guest house lodging. And they have a tea-infused beer – so terribly British!
Should you want to venture further north on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cidery & Distillery is about a 45-minute drive out of town. Located in the tiny town of Cobble Hill, they feature cider, spirits and a restaurant and if you get too tired to drive back to Victoria, they have yurts! Keep an eye out for their new location coming to the Victoria Dockside area.
And for a few great festival and tour options to compliment your pub quests:
Great Canadian Beer Festival – Check out Canada’s oldest/longest running Brewfest! Happening every Labour Day (First Monday in September in Canada) 90+ craft breweries, cideries and food trucks. Yes, please!
West Coast Brewery Tours offers 3-hour tours of many of the local breweries. (Brewery tour lists often changes from day to day – collect them all!) They also offer tours of local distilleries, wineries cideries and food options. What a great way to spend the afternoon!
Canadian Craft Tours offer fabulous food, wine, beer, distillery tours and more! Operating out of both British Columbia and Alberta, they cover a lot of amazing territory and delicious treats.
The Churchill Pub – right next door to Murchie’s Tea!
Great pubs around every corner!
I’m fairly certain none of us had any issues with insomnia that night. After we made it back to the Airbnb, we all promptly retired to our rooms and if Kristen and Tori were anything like me, they were out within minutes of hitting the pillow. Even though we were on vacation, we’d planned a pretty packed itinerary and needed to get up early the next day to fit it all in. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Victoria! Dreams of morning coffee and afternoon tea filled my head as I drifted off to a well-earned sleep…
The next morning came much earlier than felt reasonable, but our itinerary was raring to go. We’d planned to get in some early morning hiking outside of town and what better way to fuel our morning adventure than with some Canadian morning fuel. Enter the Canadian breakfast of champions, Tim Hortons! (Dear Tim Hortons, Please open stores on the US west coast. Thank you! Your Pal, Dayna)
Donuts, great coffee, breakfast sandwiches, donuts, tea, pastries, donuts, donuts, DONUTS!! They’re now also serving delicious Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. You can’t go wrong at Tim Horton’s. I stop at the Squamish location on every Whistler trip and pretty much any other time I see one. That morning, we all enjoyed tasty breakfast sandwiches and I’m fairly certain a few donuts were also involved. Did I mention they have great donuts?