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.