|Bellingham Bay and Lummi Island from viewpoint|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Washington State Parks Discover Pass required
The hike up to Fragrance Lake in the Chuckanut Mountains near Bellingham is an enjoyable if generally unspectacular outing in the Western Washington lowlands. Although the hike derives its name from its destination, a small lake tucked in the forest of Larrabee State Park, the true highlight of this hike is a viewpoint of the Salish Sea, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Mountains. Hikers who like big trees will also appreciate the old growth forest of cedars and Douglas firs along this trail. Fragrance Lake is best done as a winter hike, when high country alternatives in the North Cascades are snowbound. This is a very popular trail, drawing many hikers from the Bellingham area, so don't expect solitude.
I hiked this trail on a sunny February Sunday, after a week of particularly nasty weather. I left Seattle in the morning, driving up I-5 and exiting at Exit 231 for Highway 11. I followed Highway 11 (Chuckanut Drive) north, passing the town of Bow and then winding along the scenic shoreline of Bellingham Bay, the only place where the Cascade Mountains reach saltwater. The parking lot for Fragrance Lake was directly off the east side of the road, just across Chuckanut Drive from the entrance to the campground and beach at Larrabee State Park. There is about room for 10 cars at the trailhead itself; if this parking is full, there is much more parking across the road in the main state park parking lot. Wherever you park, it's necessary to display a Washington State Parks Discover Pass.
Setting out from the trailhead, the trail ascended quickly, crossing a gravel road and then climbing uphill via a set of switchbacks. This part of Larrabee State Park has some remarkably large trees: although this area was probably logged over a century ago, some giant trees escaped the ax. These huge western cedars and Douglas firs are some of the largest trees that I've seen in the Salish Sea lowlands: some exceed five feet in diameter and 200 feet in height.
|Giant cedar along the trail|
|Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands|
|Fidalgo Island and the Olympics|
The ascent through the forest was made interesting mainly by the numerous large trees along the trail. Douglas firs and western cedars are the two most common members of the Northwest forests. The cedars of the Northwest Coast have been an integral part of Coast Salish culture for centuries: cedar bark is used to weave baskets and hats and rot-resistant cedar logs are well-suited for use as canoes.
|Wildcat Cove, Larrabee State Park|
|Sunset on Mount Baker and Twin Sisters from Semiahmoo|