Growing up in Custer, Washington (think of it as Bellingham’s armpit) my wife was very familiar with the hikes in the area and was only too happy to guide me when I told her that I wanted to see some waterfalls.
As you might expect from one of the wetter areas of the Pacific Northwest, there are tons of waterfalls near Bellingham. Some of them require hikes, some of them require long hikes, and some of them are to be found just on the side of the road.\
So, if you’re in the Bellingham area and want some of the best waterfalls hikes to explore, these are seven of the best! (and least in my wife’s opinion)
Let’s start with one of the most iconic, Whatcom Falls Park.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable waterfall hike near Bellingham, Whatcom Falls should be at the top of your list. This stunning waterfall, located in Whatcom Falls Park is one of the most easily accessible on this list. Not to mention that the park also has a bunch of other amenities that add to the experience!
The “hike” to the falls really only involves a short walk down a dirt trail and down a (fairly steep) incline paved with cobblestones. It’s very accessible and most people have no trouble reaching the bridge which is the main viewpoint from the falls.
The falls themselves are beautiful but not incredibly tall. The water cascades over a 25-foot drop but what’s more impressive is the incredible scenery surrounding the falls.
Once you cross over the bridge you can go down the bank to get closer to the falls, play in the water, and explore. Just be aware that the rocks (like all rocks near waterfalls) can be super slippery.
In addition to Whatcom Falls, the park offers several other waterfalls and cascades for visitors to explore. Whirlpool Falls, located downstream from Whatcom Falls, is a smaller but equally beautiful waterfall that drops into a natural whirlpool.
Chuckanut Falls Trail
If you’re up for a bit of a hike, the Chuckanut Falls Trail in Larrabee State Park is a great option. This 2.6-mile round-trip trail takes you through dense forests and over wooden bridges, culminating with a great view of the “roaring” Chuckanut Falls.
If you’re wondering why “roaring” is in parenthesis, it’s because it’s a lie. Even though it has a dedicated trail, Chuckanut Falls is actually a very small waterfall that measures about 30′ high and maybe 3-4′ wide. If you’re looking for crazy waterfalls this might not be for you but, if you also enjoy hiking, it’s still worth the miles.
To get there you’ll want to start from the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead. From there you’ll pass through Arroyo Park before hitting several boardwalks and creek crossings (you don’t have to get wet if you have good balance).
For those looking to extend their hike, there are several other trails in the area that offer stunning views of the surrounding forest and coastline. The North Lost Lake Trail, which can be accessed from the Chuckanut Falls trailhead, is a 7.8-mile loop that winds through old-growth forests and along the shore of Lost Lake.
Lookout Mountain Preserve
The Lookout Mountain Preserve offers half a dozen trails but only two that I’ve done have led to waterfalls that make the hike worth the calories.
If you’re heading here, you’ll want either the Waterfall Loop or the Baneberry Trail.
If you’re a waterfall-lover seeking a hiking adventure, the Forest Preserve offers six trails with varying levels of difficulty and attractions. This guide focuses on the Waterfall Loop and Baneberry Trail to help you plan your hike.
No matter which one you choose, you’ll start in the same place.
Begin your hike from the parking area, where you’ll find the trailheads for Rufus Creek Trail and the eight-mile-long graveled service road. After hiking 0.3 miles, you’ll reach an intersection with Rufus Creek Trail, Waterfall Trail, and Baneberry Trail.
The Waterfall Loop is a moderate 0.4-mile hiker-only graveled trail that departs from Rufus Creek Trail about 0.8 miles from the parking area. Halfway through, you’ll pass a picturesque waterfall after gaining about 150 feet in elevation. The trail then descends approximately 200 feet, reconnecting with the main service road.
The Baneberry Trail, a shady four-foot-wide graveled trail, loops off Rufus Creek Trail at the 0.8-mile mark. Restricted to hiking and uphill biking only, the trail switchbacks uphill with elevation gains totaling about 600 feet over 1.2 miles. Look out for a bench leading to a small waterfall, and admire the ferns and salmonberry that line the path.
At the 1-mile mark, you’ll encounter the Leila June Trail on the right. Continue for 0.2 miles to rejoin Rufus Creek Trail at an elevation of approximately 1,200 feet. From here, you can hike to the Lake Whatcom Overlook or loop back to the parking area.
Racehorse Falls, located near Deming, is a series of three waterfalls descending over 139 feet.
Accessible via the Racehorse Falls Trail, the hike to the falls is a moderate .6-mile round-trip journey through lush forests and over wooden bridges. Each tier of the falls offers a unique and beautiful sight, making Racehorse Falls a popular destination for photographers and nature lovers.
Along the way, you’ll cross several wooden bridges and pass by several small cascades and rapids. The trail is well-maintained and moderately difficult, making it suitable for most hikers.
In addition to the waterfall hike, the surrounding area offers several other recreational opportunities. The nearby Middle Fork Nooksack River is a popular spot for fishing, and the surrounding forests are home to a variety of wildlife, including bears, elk, and deer.
Located within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Nooksack Falls is a powerful 88-foot waterfall that plunges into a deep canyon. A short (like, really short) .1-mile walk from the parking area leads to an observation platform, providing excellent views of the falls.
Unfortunately, that’s about as close as you can get to the falls as the area is fenced off to keep people from getting any closer.
However, this means that just about everyone who can make it a couple of hundred feet down the path can enjoy the exact same view without missing out!
The falls themselves are some of the tallest on this list and top out at an impressive 88 feet.
In addition to the waterfall, the area offers several other recreational opportunities, including hiking trails, fishing spots, and camping sites.
Ladder Creek Falls
Situated in the North Cascades National Park, Ladder Creek Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls that flow through a narrow, moss-lined gorge. The falls are accessible via a short, 0.5-mile hike from the Gorge Powerhouse parking area. At night, the falls are illuminated by colorful lights, creating a mesmerizing display that is well worth the visit.
At night, Ladder Creek Falls is illuminated by colorful lights, creating a mesmerizing display that is well worth the visit. The falls are a popular spot for photography, offering a unique and beautiful sight that’s unlike any other waterfall in the area.
Gorge Creek Falls
Gorge Creek Falls, the tallest on this list, is a 242-foot, multi-tiered waterfall that can be found along the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20).
A short walk (.5-miles) from the Gorge Creek Falls Trailhead leads to an observation platform, providing a great vantage point for admiring the falls. The area is also home to several other waterfalls and hiking trails, making it an excellent spot for a full day of outdoor adventure.
In conclusion, the Bellingham, Washington area is a haven for waterfall enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
There are enough waterfalls hikes (and every other type of hike) within a short drive from Bellingham that there’s no reason to ever leave! Although you probably should…this town has grown enough already. Feel free to visit again though!