Explore the Outdoors

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.

A snowboarder is in a mid-air jump, trailing powder behind them against the blue sky.
A skiier is  almost completely obscured by a burst of powdery snow. The snow looks fresh, more snow is falling, and the sky is a deep grey-blue
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.

A wakeboarder is upside down in mid air. There is a large wave and beneath them, and there are scenic hills and trees far in the distance behind them.
A person is standing on a fallen log at Canyon creek, holding a fishing rod in one hand. The nearby hills and trees are reflected off the creek, creating a near-perfect mirror image. It is a very pretty day.

Visit the Boathouse

 

Lakes

Two sailboats with white sails are in the middle of Lake Whatcom. There is a big hill with trees and greenery in the distance behind the boats. There are some very small waves on the water.

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!

Rivers

An orange kayak is paddling straight down a waterfall or very steep river.

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.

Bellingham Bay

A medium-sized boat is on Bellingham Bay at sunset, and the water is calm. A person is swinging on a buoy or ball that is suspended from the mast, they are swinging far over the side of the ship above the water.

Just a short walk from campus, Bellingham Bay is the gateway to the Salish Sea. Make a splash jumping off of Taylor Dock, borrow a paddleboard at the Community Boating Center, or spend a day at the marina. If you'd rather learn about sea life than get your own feet wet, visit the touch pool at the Marine Life Center, or take a day trip to Western's own Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes.

Experience Bellingham Bay

A bald eagle is flying on a cloudy day

Wildlife

From squirrels and raccoons to salmon and eagles, there's wildlife everywhere you look in Whatcom county.

Marine Life

A seal sticks its head out of the water. There is a seagull next to the seal.

Between the Bay, the lakes, and the rivers, there's marine life everywhere in Bellingham. It's the perfect place to spot seals and otters or help protect habitats. 

Campus Critters

Two young deer are eating grass on the lawn in front of Old Main. It appears to be early in the morning.

You don't have to leave Western to see wildlife; every student can tell you a good story about deer, raccoons, or squirrels. 

Quality Birdwatching

An owl (either a Great Horned or Long Eared Owl) is sitting in a tree, partially obscured by branches. The owl is making eye contact with the camera.

If you're into birding, you'll be in good company at Western. We have owls, bald eagles, and all manner of feathered friends right here in Bellingham.