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How to get hiking this fall

Bellingham offers tons of trails near campus that can be enjoyed even when it’s wet outside

A hiking trail at Fairhaven Park in Bellingham, Wash. Fairhaven Park offers nearly five miles of trails for hikers to explore. // Photo by Finn Wendt

Hiking is the most abundant and accessible activity in Bellingham. Even though the days are getting shorter and colder, there are still plenty of ways to get outside throughout the fall and winter.

There are over 70 official trails within 10 miles of Western Washington University’s campus, according to AllTrails, a hike-mapping app.

While many of those hikes are located in Larrabee State Park, there are many within the city, including the Sehome Hill Arboretum and the South Bay Trail.

“Chances are that there’s a trailhead within the span of a mile or two from you in the city of Bellingham,” said Ryan Robie, City of Bellingham Park Ambassador Program lead.

The Whatcom Smart Trips program provides a plethora of maps and guides that can get people to adventures that are a little farther away, Robie said.

Todd Elsworth, director of Recreation Northwest, recommends the 136-acre Fairhaven Park for hiking close to campus on top of Sehome Hill Arboretum.

“It’s not much elevation gain, so whether you hike or ride a bike, there’s a great network of trails in there,” he said.

Moving into fall, what Elsworth calls the “sad months” due to the common seasonal affective disorder, Recreation Northwest offers programs focused on mental health and finding beneficial connections with nature.

The fall and winter can be considered the offseason for hiking, but that doesn’t mean that all trails are inaccessible.

Laura Ward is an avid hiker and owner of Earth Elements, a Bellingham-based business offering excursions with the goal of getting people closer to nature.

Ward hikes through all seasons but enjoys the fall due to its unique offerings that set it apart from the busier spring and summer months.

“[In the fall] there's less people on the trails,” Ward said. “The colors are amazing. The mushrooms are going off. It's like a fairy world out there. I just find it really magical.”

Getting outside is just the first step to enjoying nature. Once there, there are ways to stay comfortable even in the wet and cold.

Riley Sweeney, the city of Ferndale recreation coordinator and communications officer, recommends having enough water and dressing appropriately.

“It’s the Pacific Northwest, so the secret sauce is layers,” Sweeney said. “The temperature and the weather change every five minutes.”

Outside of hiking, there are countless opportunities for mountain biking and kayaking on top of other excursions in the area.

Western’s AS Outdoor Center offers outdoor resources, equipment rentals and excursions of its own to students of all skill levels.

Five Great Hikes Near Campus
  • Fairhaven Park
    • Distance from Western: 2.3 miles
    • Trail Length: 4.9 miles | Elevation Gain: 196 feet | Map
    • A sprawling network of trails make for comfortable walking, running and biking adventures.
  • South Bay Trail
    • Distance from Western: 1.6 miles
    • Trail Length: 4.9 miles | Elevation Gain: 196 feet | Map
    • Spanning from downtown Fairhaven and following the waterfront all the way to the edge of downtown Bellingham, this out-and-back trail is mostly paved with some gravel sections and is great for all skill levels. 
  • Sehome Hill Arboretum
    • Distance from Western: A stone’s throw
    • Trail Length: up to 6 miles | Elevation Gain: 239 feet | Map
    • The Arboretum is Western’s backyard. Hours can be spent exploring the countless trails between trees atop the hilly terrain.
  • Fragrance Lake Trail
    • Distance from Western: 6.5 miles
    • Trail Length: 3.9 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,089 feet | Map
    • A little more difficult than other hikes on the list, this popular trail is just off Chuckanut Drive in Larrabee State Park. The trail goes out-and-back, looping around the forest-enclosed lake at the turn-around point. A Discover Pass is required to park in the trailhead’s parking lot.
  • Lake Padden Singletrack
    • Distance from Western: 3.8 miles
    • Trail Length: 2.6 miles | Elevation Gain: 91 feet | Map
    • This trail takes a gentle loop around Lake Padden. Lake Padden Park also offers over 7 more miles of trails for some more adventure.

Finn Wendt

Finn Wendt (he/him) is a sports and recreation reporter at The Front. He is pursuing a degree in visual journalism with a minor in sociology. Outside of journalism, he enjoys photography, eating and hiking. You can reach him at or

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