Backpacking around Bellingham is now getting started that it’s summer. Backpacking in northwest Washington opens up in mid-to-late July because many hikes are at a higher elevation and snow needs to melt.
The Chuckanut Mountains are the most accessible backpacking options near Bellingham, being the closest to campus. The Chuckanuts are close enough to start a walking trip from campus. The Mount Baker Ski Area has a large trail system as well, but snow covers the more elevated treks until about mid-July. In addition, hikers can explore the North Cascades National Park and Highway 20.
The North Cascades offers a wide range of backpacking trails and backcountry support, but they are slightly farther than the other options — about an hour and a half drive from Bellingham. Detailed information about what to do in the park and planning support can be found at the park’s website. North Cascades National Park has a large amount of higher elevation trips, taking place above approximately 4,500 feet, but they aren’t accessible until mid-July.
The park has plenty of low elevation options as well. Ross Lake is easily accessible and has surrounding camping sites. Some feature boating access, fire pits and food lockers to protect against animals. Ross Lake is accessible in early spring. Lastly, Highway 20 is known to be gorgeous, and even just driving over the pass reveals great views of the area surrounding the Cascades.
The most accessible backpacking option around Ross Lake is the Green Point Campsite. It is about two miles from the Ross Dam Trailhead, located on Highway 20, and is the first campsite hikers will reach. For anyone looking to try backpacking, this is a great place to go.
The Green Point campground is luxurious, especially by backpacking standards. As a warmup for experienced hikers or a first-timers trip, it ensures a relaxing and fun time. The views of Jack Mountain from the campsite are incredible as well.
The hike is pretty mellow, but the views are easily accessible. A highlight of the short trek is hiking across Ross Dam, which sports great views of Paul Bunyan’s Stump, Pyramid Peak and Pinnacle Peak. The natural beauty makes a stark contrast with the engineering feats of the dam. The rest of the trail follows a path along the eastern edge of Ross Lake.
The Washington Trails Association is one of the best resources for learning more about hikes and trails, as it is full of reviews and consistently updated trail reports from other hikers. After laying out a desired route, the Whatcom Transit Authority offers great resource for planning a bus ride closer to a trailhead.
North Cascades National Park is full of wildlife and opportunity for adventure, but stewardship is important to consider. The park has a large population of black bears and a recovering population of grizzlies, so bear safety is something to pay attention to. In most bear safety classes, it is taught that hikers, backpackers or trail-runners are more responsible for our actions than the bears are.
Studies have shown that bears are rarely predatory toward humans, so run or walk loudly because bears become aggressive when startled or snuck up on. Most bear attacks are the result of mindless and quiet travelers. When in a group, have conversation while traveling. As a runner, play music, wear bear bells or sing. Trail-runners are more susceptible to bear attacks because they are quiet and quick-moving, therefore more likely to startle the bears.
Park rangers say bears are naturally averse to humans, but we are responsible for maintaining that. Bears don’t naturally associate humans or our camping areas with food and only will if food isn’t properly hung, locked up or stored in a bear canister. That goes for small critters as well. Food storage can easily be rented at the Marblemount Ranger Station. Every overnight trip in the park requires a free permit and Marblemount is the closest place to get one when coming from Bellingham.
Backpacking is a unique experience, despite the trip’s length. Whether traveling with friends or alone, one is completely responsible for themselves. It’s a safe freedom; in current times, there are many luxuries in the backcountry that keep travelers warmer, drier and more protected than before. Still, that freedom can be wonderful. You are free of many of the restrictions of society. There is no light pollution, so get a good look at the stars while they are there. Listen to the sound of the purest silence during the night or the loud snoring of a friend. No matter what, everyone experiences the backcountry in their own way.