16 Miles On The Pacific NW Trail (PNT) – Training Hike For Chinook Trail Thru-Hike In October

In training for my Chinook Trail thru-hike this October, I’ve been going out on 15+ mile training hikes in the Bellingham area – mostly in the Chuckanut/Blanchard Mountain area. I’ve done short sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), but in looking at the section between Chuckanut Drive (the Oyster Dome trailhead) and Alger, WA, it looked to be about 16 miles – absolutely perfect. It combines uphills, downhills, several lakes, a bit of road walking, and food and beer at the end. My actual miles on the Chinook Trail will average about 22-25 miles a day, but with a bit more rest, I definitely could have done 20+ miles with this hike.

The day started cool a misty, with occasional rain – to me absolutely perfect hiking conditions. Plus, after a few weeks of no rain at all, the forests here needed the moisture. There was a trail closure that didn’t affect the PNT, but it did require a detour for anyone hoping to reach Oyster Dome. As Oyster Dome isn’t part of the PNT, it wasn’t an issue for me. The weather seemed to keep people off the trails as well – through the entire hike I only saw three small groups of hikers, two trail runners and 1 bicyclist. The biggest uphill climb of the day was the section up to the Skagit Overlook – a good workout, but the legs were still fresh so it really wasn’t too difficult. The next section is a more gradual climb up to Lily and Lizard Lakes – I love this section of Blanchard and the mist and fog made this section quite beautiful, especially with all of the moss on the trees.

A few weeks ago I did the next section, the British Army Trail, going uphill and it was tough! It’s relatively steep, plus it came towards the end of my first thru-hike of the Chuckanuts, so it really wasn’t much fun. This time I was going downhill and had a much better experience. After this section it’s a bit of forest road walking, decent gravel roads that were more of a gradual downhill. The next section was mostly motorcycle trails and short sections of forest road – this is probably the least interesting section of the trail, and with rocks and deep ruts filling parts of this section it would be pretty easy to turn an ankle here, so watch your step!

Following that is close to 2 miles of road walking on Summerland/Nulle Road, which takes you under Interstate 5 over to Squires Lake Park. I’ve done the trails here on the way up to Alger Alp before, and it’s a nice trail with several cliff-side overlooks. It was more uphill though, which at mile 14 of the overall hike wasn’t super-welcome, but it’s fairly gradual so it wasn’t a big deal. The sun was starting to come out by then, so my clothes and pack had a good chance to dry. The trail turns onto forest roads as you continue south, ultimately spilling out onto Alger-Cain Lake Road, right near the town of Alger and the Alger Bar & Grill, which was where I ended the hike with a veggie burger and a beer. Conveniently there is a Park & Ride about 1/4 mile with buses to Burlington and Bellingham.

Overall this was a perfect hike to prepare for the Chinook Trail – I’ll probably do it again, but in the opposite direction for no other reason than to make it a different experience.

First Go At Chuckanut / Blanchard North-South Thru Hike

The last two years I have made it my goal to hike every trail in the Chuckanuts – everything from the most popular trails, such as Oyster Dome, Pine/Cedar Lakes, and Fragrance Lake, to some obscure trails that I just stumbled upon using the Gaia app, such as the Secret Trail or the Fiona Ridge Trail.

As I have hiked through the Chuckanuts, and joined several work parties, the thought grew that perhaps there was a way to hike the whole area, north to south (or vice versa). There are several great east/west trails, and lots of trail through the Chuckanuts, as well as Blanchard Mountain, but nothing really in between in the Oyster Creek area.

There are some older maps showing a “Lost Lizard Trail”, which would connect the Lost Lake area in the Chuckanuts to Lizard Lake on Blanchard Mountain, making a north-south trail hike possible. However, I haven’t been able to find it, and through online research it seems like no one else has either. Best I can guess, it was a proposed route at some point that was never completed (non-existent “Lost Lizard Trail” below):

So i discovered with the Gaia app/website you could easily create a route using existing trails, roads, and even mountain biking and motorcycle trails. It took some work, but I was finally able to come up with a route that started in the Fairhaven district of Bellingham, and allowed you to hike about 14 miles in a southerly direction through the Chuckanuts, connect with Blanchard Mountain, and then finish on Chuckanut Drive at the base of the Oyster Dome trail.

I proposed this route to a few friends who seemed into doing it – 14 miles is a great day hike, but between work and family commitments, conflicting schedules, etc, it hasn’t worked out for all of us to get together to do it. So having a free day, dry, and temps in the low 60’s I decided to just go for it. I decided to drive to the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Fairhaven, starting at sea level, and working my way south from there.

The trail starts out pretty mellow, following Padden Creek initially as you make your way past the Fairhaven Historic District on the way to Fairhaven Park. You have to leave the trail for a few hundred yards, walking past the tennis courts, restroom and parking lot before getting back on trail at the Chuckanut Community Forest (or as locals refer to it, the Hundred Acre Woods). There are quite a few options for ways to get through this section, but with a goal of connecting with the Interurban Trail, I decided to take the Main Vain and Swamp Trails.

The Interurban Trail then connects with Arroyo Park and the Lost Lake Trail – in working on this thru trail, I had to decide between using the lower Lost Lake Trail, or the higher, rougher Ridge Trail. Since this was my first time, and not knowing what the middle section of the trail was going to be like, I decided to go with the easier Lost Lake Trail. In doing it this way, it isn’t a ridge hike, but it is a great north-south route.

One of the things I liked about this route was that it followed the east side of Lost Lake, which is one of the better sections of trail in the Chuckanuts, but for some reason they don’t show it on the trail maps. There must have been a decision at some point to de-emphasize that trail, and it seems to have happened at the same time they stopped permitting camping at Lost Lake. In any case, there is a large rock in the mid-section of the lake that made for a great lunch spot (enjoyed a can of Bitburger there as well).

I was excited for the next section – it was the middle connecting the Chuckanuts with Blanchard Mountain – no man’s land! After reaching the south end of Lost Lake, you hit a Y in the trail – going to the right takes you back towards multiple trails in the Chuckanuts, but going left takes you out of the area and into what I thought would be primarily logging roads. It wasn’t a great start, as the trail was quite overgrown – I had to use my trekking poles to push my way through. However, for trails that supposedly aren’t used that often, it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected.

Eventually the trail did merge with logging roads, crossing the upper section of Oyster Creek, past a pond called Easy Reach Pond (where you can’t really see any water – it seems to just be an overgrown swamp), and into a network of motorcycle / mountain biking trails. There was only one clear cut section, and it was rather small – for some reason I expected more clear cuts in this area.

This section was all pretty mellow – not too much in the way of hills, just easy hiking. However, that changes as you approach the base of Blanchard Mountain. I knew there would be some uphill hiking involved – after all I was at about 800 feet and I knew Lizard Lake is at about 2000 feet. The last section of logging road was a pretty gentle uphill, but then it met up with the British Army Trail – a trail that I’ve been looking forward to checking out. I’m not sure how it got the name, but it didn’t take long for me to decide it was because of how steep the trail was – it would be good training for any army! It’s a great trail though – it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s likely because there really isn’t a proper trailhead at either end of the trail.

Eventually you get to the shores of Lizard Lake, probably my favorite lake in the Chuckanut/Blanchard area – it’s not the largest lake, but it is really nice and has probably the best campsite in the area. I haven’t reached the lake from this direction before, but I liked how it came close to the shoreline.

At this point I had reached the base of the Lily-Lizard Connector Trail, the last uphill of the route, so I took a breather and drank half a liter of water and refueled with a Snickers. However, I don’t think I was dreading this uphill as much as the final downhill section – 2000 feet of descent on the Oyster Dome Trail….

Well, this final section took much longer than I had hoped – distance-wise it was only a few miles, so it should have only taken an hour. However, after the previous 13 miles, my pace slowed down quite a bit as I descended. However, it was awesome to finally reach Chuckanut Drive, just shy of 9 hours after I started (this time included a 30 minute lunch break, and a couple of other 15 minute stops along the way).

Oh, if you are paying close attention you may have noticed that the Gaia GPS app said this would be a 14 mile through hike – in the end, it somehow ended up being 18! There was the extra bit at the beginning, from the Alaska Ferry Terminal to Fairhaven Park, but that likely is just shy of a mile. So somehow the actual hike was about 3 miles longer than I expected. It was fine, but I’m still not sure how or why the app was so off.

I am happy to have finally completed this route, and as sore as I am a couple of days later, I’m already planning to do it again, possibly this coming week. I am going to go in the opposite direction, starting with the steep uphill Oyster Dome climb, but I may veer off and take the Pacific Northwest Trail up to Lily Lake instead. Knowing my knees, I’m thinking it may be better to do it as an uphill climb and get it out of the way first, and then have the gradual downhill from the Lost Lake area to Fairhaven to look forward to. I am also thinking of doing the Ridge Trail from Lost Lake to Arroyo. These changes add a few miles, but I think after doing it I’ll be able to combine the two to come up with the definitive Chuckanut/Blanchard thru hike route.

I really can’t recommend this route enough – you really get to take in everything the area has to offer – great views, lakes, moderate uphills and downhills, and it also works year round (other than occasional winter snows). I’m not 100% sure how access works in the middle section, as parts of it are not DNR or state park land (maps just say it’s “Private Land”), but I didn’t see any signs saying you couldn’t hike through, and didn’t see any logging trucks or equipment. In fact, I didn’t see a single person from Arroyo Park until Oyster Dome Trail – probably because it was a Thursday, but I was surprised not to see anyone in the Lost Lake or Lily/Lizard Lake sections.

If you have any questions about this hike, you can send me an email at records@dblcrown.com. I would be more than happy to send GPX / KML file of the route to you as well.






Quick Shakedown Overnighter In The Chuckanuts

With a forecast in the 70’s and no rain, it was a perfect opportunity to try out some of my new gear with a quick overnighter in the Chuckanuts. I had a new backpack (Osprey Atmos 65), sleeping pad (Therm-A-Rest NeoAir X-Lite) and quilt Enlightened Equipment Revolution 20 to try out – both performed amazingly well. Temps dropped down to maybe upper 40’s or so, but I was nice and warm all night long. My intention was to hike 9 miles each way, but about 4 miles in it was already 7:45, and I didn’t want to set up camp in the dark, so I found a nice spot for the night. The new pack felt amazing – it was the perfect size and was super comfy, and definitely helps with back sweat. The only thing I didn’t like were the tiny hip pockets – while hiking they are nearly impossible to stuff anything into, and impossible period to zip up. To solve this I think I’m going to have to get a clip on pouch – it just sucked not having easy access to stuff like a phone, snacks, lip balm, etc. Other than that little thing everything was great and a nice warm up to the upcoming season.

Volunteering With The WTA (Washington Trails Association)

One of my resolutions for 2018 was to get involved with trail work with the WTA (Washington Trails Association), a resource that I’ve used in researching new trails to hike and overnight adventures. Last year my wife and I made a big effort to hike every single trail in the Chuckanuts, as well as Blanchard Mountain, and I think we made it 95% of the way there, so it was only natural to get started with trail work in this area. It doesn’t hurt that it’s literally across the street from where we live.

So far I have volunteered four times – twice on Blanchard Mountain (Alternate Incline Trail) and twice in Arroyo Park. We’ve built up turnpikes, turned mud bogs into comfortable trail that will last for years, built rock walls, and more. Mostly it’s been digging up rock, moving rock, rolling rock, etc. So much rock work that I have literally had dreams about rock! I’ve learned the difference between a McLeod and a Pulaski, helped set up a zipline to move dirt and rock from a pit up to the trail, and gained knowledge about water drainage. It’s been great excercise, lots of fun and I’ve met a bunch of great people. I’m looking forward to doing more, perhaps even some overnighters before the year is over. If you’d like to help fund this great organization please visit their “Join WTA” page.