Explore the Outdoors

Kayla stands under a tree and smiles. She wears a baseball cap.

I like Bellingham for its perfect location; nestled right in between the San Juan Islands and the North Cascades. I like Bellingham for its trees, sunsets, rivers, and waterfalls. I like Bellingham for all the powder days last winter and the lake days this summer.

Kayla Guettich
Outdoor Recreation and Psychology
Students sit on a mountain side, resting after a long hike.

Hiking and Camping

Walk through tunnels of bowing trees, look out over scattered islands, and sleep beside mountain-cradled lakes.

Students on a WOOT trip.

4th Best College for Hikers

"At this 100-percent renewable energy campus, students work hard to preserve the nature they enjoy. Western Wilderness Trail Corps maintains trails in the North Cascades, and student volunteers spread the outdoor love by taking community members outside with LEAD, an environmental service club."

The 20 Best Colleges for Hikers

Backpacker Magazine
Person hiking Table Mountain trail in the Northern Cascades near Bellingham. There are red and yellow plants scattered among green mosses, ferns, and grass. Rocks and fallen logs line the path. A small stream trickles along the side of a hill.

Between the Mount Baker wilderness, the 180 acres of forest and 6 miles of trails adjacent to campus, the Chuckanut Mountains and Larrabee State Park, it's easy to see why so many students are drawn to Western for its access to the great outdoors.

The Mount Baker wilderness has spectacular views and scenic trails for new and experienced outdoor adventurers alike. With more than 1,500 miles of trails, there are both meandering pathways and exciting ascents. Grab some friends and climb to lakes as clear as glass, walk on ancient glaciers or spend the night in a cabin perched on top of the world. Go out and enjoy the area’s hiking, biking, camping, fishing and climbing opportunities while the sun shines, the marmots whistle and the wildflowers bloom.

Person on the top of a tall mountain summit. In the background is an entire mountain range. The sky is clear.

Experience the brilliance of a night sky in the mountains, have a cookout by the Chuckanut's wooded lakes or sleep in an old-growth forest on the Olympic Peninsula. Whether you enjoy hiking in, driving up, or pitching your tent seaside, Bellingham is a short trip from hundreds of beautiful campsites.

No matter what, the Outdoor Center at Western has your back with advice, rental equipment, planned expeditions, and potential trail buddies.

Snowboarding through powder on Mount Baker.

Mount Baker

Grab your skis, splitboard, or snowboard, because Mount Baker holds the world record for most annual snowfall in a single season.

Students get discounted season passes and access to the Baker Bus, for those without cars. Mount Baker also has cross-country ski, snowshoe and snowmobile trails, and a slew of sledding hills. No gear or need a guide? Western's Outdoor Center offers rentals to keep you well equipped, and experienced guides to help you explore beautiful Mount Baker.

Legs of a mountain bike cyclist covered in sweat and mud. Their bright orange bike is also muddy. They are on a trail with pine trees and ferns.

Mountain Biking

Beginners to experts, mountain bikers can’t do better than Bellingham.

Galbraith Mountain is a world-class destination, with more than 50 miles of single-track routes that span over 3,000 acres overlooking the city and bay. Lake Padden and the Interurban Trail have mellow cross-country style trails, while Chuckanut Mountain offers technical terrain (roots, rocks, and steeper faces) with 1,600 feet of attainable elevation. Campus clubs, local organizations, and bike shops lead tours for every level of rider.

A ferry cuts a path through the Salish Sea. Many islands and the Northern Cascade mountain range are in the background.

On the Water

Take a walk on one of Bellingham's urban trails alongside a rushing creek, cut across Lake Whatcom in a sailboat, paddle up to a wooded beach and eat lunch by the sea or explore hidden island-towns by ferry. Bellingham is the perfect port of call.

Rated the “Best Paddling Town in the USA” by Outside magazine, Bellingham's waterways are perfect for intermediate to expert sailors, kayakers, and canoers. Water sports not for you? Experience the unique ecosystem and stunning beauty of countless accessible beaches. The Associated Students of Western Washington University also manages the Visqueen Lodge, an 800 square foot cabin on thirteen acres on the southwest of Sinclair Island in the San Juan Islands.

Lakes

Bellingham is home to three beautiful lakes. Swim across Lake Padden on a summer day, or jog the two-and-a-half-mile circuit around its wooded shore. Further south, Lake Samish is surrounded by hiking and hosts some of the best canoeing in the county. On the shores of Lake Whatcom, Western's Lakewood facility offers equipment rentals, beach access and fantastic water sports. Boat rentals are available exclusively to Western students and alumni for as low as $6 per day!

Rented sailboats on Lake Whatcom at WWU Lakewood facility.
A person in a red kayak, navigates a waterfall in the Cascade mountains.
Barred Owl at Whatcom Falls. The owl is striped dark brown, beige, and white; withblack eyes and a orange-yellow beak. It sits on a branch covered in moss.

Photo by Eric Frommer. CC BY-SA 2.0

Creeks and Rivers

Bellingham is also rich with many creeks and rivers. Starting at Bloedel-Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom, Whatcom Creek creates a beautiful series of waterfalls. Whatcom Falls Park is a favorite location for Bellingham residents. A short walk south of campus, Arroyo and Fairhaven Parks and the creeks running through them are surrounded by trails and wildlife. In all three of Bellingham's creeks, the annual salmon spawning is unmissable — thousands of wild salmon fight their way up waterfalls and through eddying pools to lay their eggs under the same stones where they were hatched.

Two rivers empty into the sea near Bellingham — the Skagit and the Nooksack. With the Nooksack to the north and the Skagit to the south, Bellingham residents are uniquely positioned to enjoy the outstanding recreation around these rivers, from the snow-capped Cascade Mountains to their lazy lowland flows. In the alpines, backpack along the rivers' tricking headwaters, in the foothills, kayak and raft down roaring rapids, in the wilderness east of Bellingham, fish the plentiful wild salmon and trout, and along the banks of the Skagit delta, explore the fields of vibrant tulips that bloom every spring.