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Spectacular views across Bellingham Bay to the San Juan Islands and beyond reward visitors of this Interurban Trail. All they have to do is find a clearing along the wooded path that runs a fairly level course across the Chuckanut Mountains between the historic Fairhaven community and Larrabee State Park.
The mostly packed gravel and dirt trail combines the corridors of two former railroads that serviced the area before reliable roads were built in the Pacific Northwest. The longest segment follows the Bellingham & Skagit Interurban Railway, an electric trolley that ran passengers and freight from Bellingham to Mount Vernon from 1912 to 1930. Another trail section in the north follows the railbed of the Fairhaven & Southern Railroad that ran coal trains to and from Sedro-Woolley in the late 1800s through the turn of the 19th century.
At the southern end, the route starts at the Clayton Beach trailhead in Larrabee State Park. The state park was the first in Washington, created with a donation of 20 acres by the Larrabee family in 1915. Several foot trails cross the forested park, but the Interurban leaves from the northwest corner of the clearing. A second-growth forest shades the gentle path for a couple miles until an opening offers vistas to the west that stop many travelers in their tracks.
After passing a waterfall, visitors are faced with a decision at the California Street crossing, about 4 miles from the Clayton Beach trailhead. A missing railroad trestle across a deep canyon formed by Chuckanut Creek means either traveling a mile by road or taking 0.75 mile of steep singletrack through Arroyo Park. Prudent travelers turn left onto California Street, right onto Chuckanut Drive, and right again at a trail sign at Old Samish Road. Even so, they have a couple of switchbacks to tackle on the groomed gravel trail that returns to the railroad grade.
Those on foot or with good bike-handling skills can dive into the steep narrow trail across California Street and take the right fork. Entering a mossy forest that echoes with babbling Chuckanut Creek, they emerge at a long wooden bridge. Two left forks lead to the Old Samish Road crossing and a return to the groomed trail. A spur trail up here reveals pilings from the missing 500-foot trestle reincarnated as a bench.
Approaching the fringes of Fairhaven (now part of Bellingham), the trail crosses 20th Street to follow the sidewalk beside Julia Avenue for a short distance, passing the Rotary Club trailhead. The trail forks to the right at 18th Street and follows the Padden Creek Greenway to the end at 10th Street and Donovan Avenue. The Larrabee Trail (Lower Padden Trail) continues to the waterfront along Bellingham Bay.
To reach the Clayton Beach trailhead, take Interstate 5 to Exit 250, and travel west approximately 1.5 miles on Old Fairhaven Parkway/State Route 11. Turn left onto 12th Street, and then bear left onto Chuckanut Drive/SR 11. After 5 miles, turn left into the Clayton Beach trailhead parking lot at Larrabee State Park. A Discover Pass is required to park here.
To reach the Rotary trailhead (Fairhaven), take I-5 to Exit 250, and travel west on Old Fairhaven Parkway/SR 11. Look for the Rotary trailhead on the left in approximately 0.9 mile, just past 20th Street. (The Fairhaven endpoint is 0.6 mile west on the trail.)
One of my five bike tours in Bellingham area in one week. From Western Wash. Univ, biked to Fairhaven and then on Interurban Bike Trail south. I was a bit confused with Arroyo Park, where the track is dirt, so I continued on the road and then returned to the bike trail. Stopped at Clayton Beach, Larrabee State Park for lunch. It was great that I didn't have to bike much on Chuckanut Drive. Highly reccommend this ride.
I have biked this trail several times with a cruiser style and a mountain bike. The gearing on the Mtn Bike made the ride a cinch but was doable on the cruiser. Just above a beginner ride but worth the effort if you are just starting out. Park at Clayton Beach parking area and ride north all the way into Fairhaven and on into Bham if you wish, dinning, views, panorama. The trail is mostly shaded with a high canopy that is perfect on hot summer days and somewhat protective if it is raining. The trail is an out and back ride, some driveway/residential road crossings, a little bit of single track after about 6 miles. Have a great time!
THE BELLINGHAM INTERURBAN TRAIL
SYNOPSIS: An interesting forest ride on a variety of surfaces. Some views. Arroyo Park Crossing is a challenge where they work around a missing 500’ trestle, but you can do a short on-road detour and get back up on the trail bed. Smooth sailing from there to the end at Larrabee State Park.
RATINGS ON TOOLBEAR’S TRIPLE TRAIL RATING SCALE (1-5):
3 = Facilities: Not too much in serious trail heads and such. Signage nice – when it was there. Water at Fairhaven Park and Larrabee State Park. Restrooms at Fairhaven, North Chuckanut Mt. Trailhead, Larabee.
2-4 = Trail Bed: You ride on everything … old chip seal blacktop, sidewalks, puncheon, foot trails hanging off steep slopes, new chip seal, well-settled crushed and rolled stone (3/8” minus rock). With the exception of the Arroyo Crossing, it’s a well-graded surface and a smooth ride. Mostly crushed stone/old chip seal.
4 = Scenery: Some urban scenes, but mostly you are riding in a forested corridor. There are views of Chuckanut Bay from the residential sector. Peekaboo views of water further on. Lots of shade.
NOTES ON THE BELLINGHAM TRAILS…
Trail Link shows three Bellingham trails – the South Bay, the Padden Creek and the Interurban. It should be possible to link the three into one fun ride with just a few bits of cross-lots work. Start at the north end of the South Bay Trail, cruise along the waterfront on nice blacktop. Do a bit of street riding to the lower end of the Padden Creek Trail. Take this upstream and it runs into the Interurban. Ride the Interurban south to Larrabee State Park. I will be back in Bellingham next week to ride these and see if they can connect. Stay tuned.
RIDING THE INTERURBAN…
Back in the Good Ole’ Days you could ride the cars on the Interurban from Bellingham all the way south to Mt. Vernon. Not NowADays. We staged out of the Fairhaven Park in Bellingham’s Fairhaven District. GPS = N48 42.841 W122 29.838.
It’s a nice old park. Good facilities and clean. Logical trail head. Parking, restrooms and water at the pavilion. Tennis courts and a kiddie jungle and splash fountain. Don’t find this in most trail heads.
Pick up the connector trail by the pavilion and ride it a few hundred feet to join the Interurban. Head north and downhill and you get onto the Padden Creek Trail and wind up down at the water. Head south and you are riding the Interurban to Larrabee State Park, about 6 miles away. There are distance markers at 0.5 mile intervals.
Navigation can be interesting as there are all sorts of trails in the system which intersect the Interurban. As the width of the Interurban trail bed varies, you occasional wonder which goes where. They have a good system of trail signs mounted on posts. Could use a bunch more down in the Arroyo Crossing, where you really need them.
Heading south to Larrabee, you will ride on the crushed stone for the most part. Looks like old chip seal, however it rides well. Then comes a bit of sidewalk, some street crossings and back on the stone for a long ascent to the Arroyo Park Crossing. Do ride out to the observation deck atop the remains of the footing for the north end of the Arroyo Trestle. GPS: N48 42.150 W122 29.173.
Wish it was still there. Must have been something. I measured 513’ from north to south footings.
That done, backtrack and descent the switchbacks to the Old Samish Rd. Now you have a Decision. Take the detour around the Arroyo Crossing on the roads, or plunge into mountain bike country.
ARROYO CROSSING -THE MANLY MOUNTAIN BIKE WAY…
If you are on a road bike, you will not like this section. I did not like it on my hardtail mountain bike. Cross Old Samish Rd. and you will find a sign post and two benches overlooking the arroyo below. There is a broad trail descending into the bottoms.
This is the Road to Perdition. Don’t take it. It dumps you out into a flat with no signage and choices. Down there the broad trail leads to some pools. Dead end. The rough foot path leading upstream is the correct choice. (Look for tire tracks). About a quarter mile later it will reach a bridge at GPS: N48 42.134 W122 28.944. Cross it and begin to climb the switchbacks on the south side. You can try riding this. I walked it. Love to see someone ride down it.
If you want to avoid the Road to Perdition, backtrack on Samish Rd. toward the observation deck. Look for another trail leading down by way of the deck. This one joins the same track, but further along. All told, there is about a 0.3 mile jog to the east and back again, climbing up foot trails, before you find the Interurban trail bed again at GPS: N48 42.096 W122 29.059. You did about 0.6+ miles off the line of the Interurban to make the crossing. At GPS: N48 42.070 W122 29.194 you will find the footing for the other end of the trestle. It measured 513’ across.
You are not out of the woods yet. Ahead there is another missing trestle at California St. and the foot trail heads to the right, hanging off the side of the ridge. You can avoid this. Look uphill. When you can see a power line and find a trail headed that way, take it. It puts you on California St.
Now coast down around the hill on the blacktop and rejoin the Interurban at the California St. crossing at GPS: N48 41.940 W122 29.406. You have just done the Arroyo Crossing. From here you have good trailbed to the end – with one small screaming downhill detour (another missing trestle).
THE ARROYO CROSSING ALL- BLACKTOP DETOUR…
Rewind. Here you are where the trail crosses Old Samish Rd. Don’t do it. Turn right and ride down Old Samish for appx. 300’ to the junction with Hwy 11. Turn left and ride up Hwy 11 (3’ shoulders) for appx. 850’ to California St., on the left. That was so simple and quick. You will pass the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead with lots of parking and a portapotty. Pit stop? None further until Larrabee – and it’s off route.
Head up California St. until you reach the California St. Crossing. Take the Interurban to the right (South) and ride on. This is a nice section of trail. Now you can cruise and enjoy the views. The trail slowly ascends, then descends to Hwy 11. At Hiline Rd. (GPS: N48 40.043 W122 28.945) there is a trail head and gravel parking lot for about 6-8 cars.
Just beyond here is the screaming descent promised you. Another missing trestle. It’s steep and has a blind curve into the Chuckanut Heights Rd. crossing, then back up the other side. Just your luck to T-bone a Volvo here.
I had two ladies and dogs ascending it, so time to hop off the bike, smile sweetly and walk down, riding the brakes. More fun coming back when it was not a blind curve. Bat out of Hell time. Almost made it to the top.
Now you enter the Almost A Cliff section. They must have blasted the roadbed out of the slope. The downhill side is steep enough that you would need ropes to work on it. Don’t drive off. It’s a ways down. Cruise on downhill to the highway where you will find the Clayton Beach Trailhead (limited parking) at GPS: N48 38.895 W122 29.320. If you need restroom or water at Larrabee State Park, you will have to backtrack about a quarter mile up the highway.
The map shows the trail continues on for another half mile, but when you see the “trail” that descends from this trail head, you will probably agree that this is a logical spot to back it in. I packed it in here, ate a few bars and then headed back to Fairhaven Park.
It was a nice ride. I’ll do it again sometime.
Headed south, with route finding in the Arroyo Crossing bottoms:
Total miles = 7.11. Max speed = 16.2. Moving average = 5.5. Moving time = 1:17 hrs.
Total ascent = 525’ Max elevation = 269’
Headed north, with the Detour:
Total miles = 6.07. Max speed = 18.7. Moving average = 8.0. Moving time = 0:45 hrs.
Total ascent = 233’. Max elevation = 270’.
Stop times for trail survey work not shown.
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