From the snowy slopes of Mount Baker to the gentle waves of the Salish Sea, Bellingham and Whatcom County are home to breathtaking natural beauty. And the opportunities to recreate among this beauty are among the most plentiful, not just anywhere in the country, but in the world.
Visit Bellingham has developed BasecampBellingham.org, an easy portal into the multitude of outdoor recreation available year-round. The website provides all the information you need on races, gear rentals, tour guides and instruction to help you get into nature as quickly as possible. Whether you’re looking for hiking, biking, running, paddling, snow sports, or multisport outdoor adventure recreation, you’ll find it all on Basecamp Bellingham.
“Our access to nature is what makes Bellingham such a great destination and such a great place to be,” says Annette Bagley, marketing director for Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “We’re very lucky to have such a wide variety of outdoor recreation activities here.”
For those interested in athletic races, there’s no better place to be than Whatcom County. The area is home to triathlons, marathons, swim-runs, and multi-sport relay races, the latter of which is anchored by Ski to Sea, the oldest race of its kind in the United States.
Since 1973, the race has showcased the geographic diversity of Whatcom County with seven different sport legs along a 93-mile route stretching from the Mt. Baker Ski Area to Bellingham Bay, and sees both local athletes and Olympians compete.
Anna Rankin, Ski to Sea race director, says the longevity of the event, the uniqueness of the course, and the team camaraderie inspired by the race all make it special. Last year individual participation was widened from just one leg, and some athletes take the added challenge of competing in two or three legs.
In addition to Ski to Sea, Whatcom Events – of which Rankin is executive director – is responsible for several other events, including July’s Tour de Whatcom. The social cycling event offers four routes ranging from 22 to 100 miles. Last year more than 800 people participated in what’s known as “the Northwest’s Most Beautiful Ride,” Rankin says.
In September, the Mt. Baker Hill Climb will see cyclists ride the Mt. Baker Highway from Glacier to Artist Point. The race is one of only two times all year that the Washington State Department of Transportation closes the highway.
If beer is important to you, register for Trails to Taps, a fun relay race that’s the brainchild of Boundary Bay Brewery’s Jenny Schmidt. It’s a 10-leg race that features transition points that take place at local breweries.
“The first thing on our minds is to introduce people to the incredible trails, parks and streets of Bellingham—and to connect those with the local breweries,” says Rankin. Everyone who participates gets a free beer at the after-party, she adds.
If swimming is your thing, consider the Bellingham Swim Run. The event, which began in 2017, is one of only a handful of such events in the Pacific Northwest. A swim-run held at Orcas Island last year even brought Lance Armstrong to the area.
Brent Molsberry, who organizes Western Washington swim-runs with Quest Races, says the Bellingham Swim Run takes place at Lake Padden and features two distances: long and short. The long course is just over seven miles, and consists of multiple swimming and running sections.
It’s a unique event that sees teams of two people attempt to stay relatively close to one another at all times. Participants have to run in wetsuits and swim in running shoes. Molsberry says the swim-run is just more proof of how amazing the area is for recreation.
“We’re so spoiled around here,” he says. “The amount of recreation within an hour’s drive of here is pretty unmatched. It’s sometimes overwhelming trying to figure out which recreational activity I’m going to do from my front door.”
If you’re a runner, check out the September Bellingham Bay Marathon. The event features 5k, 10k, a relay, and half and full marathon distances. Each race runs its final miles along Boulevard Park and Taylor Dock, which provide beautiful views of Bellingham Bay.
For triathlons, there are several options. The Lake Padden Triathlon, which has been going on for at least 35 years, takes place in June. The event has two races: a long and short course. The long course features a half-mile swim, 21-mile bike ride, and 5.2-mile run. The shorter course features a quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike ride, and 2.6-mile run. Event registration is limited to 650 athletes, and the 2019 edition is already sold out.
For an even greater challenge, tackle the Lake Whatcom Triathlon. This USA Triathlon-sanctioned race showcases the recreational environment of Lake Whatcom while also crowning state champions in the Olympic distance course. The triathlon starts at Bloedel Donovan Park and continues the entire distance of Northshore Drive. There’s even a short children’s “splash and dash” for the younger athletes.
Even if you’re not into racing, there’s still plenty to appeal to your sense of adventure. Take a guided kayaking tour from Moondance Sea Kayak Adventures, which provides equipment, instruction, and guides versed in the natural and cultural history of the area.
For mountain biking, seek out Intrinsic Flow Mountain Bike Guiding and Instruction. Mike Storm, Intrinsic Flow’s founder, covers the gamut of lessons and guided rides to attract any skill level or type of riding.
“Whatcom County has some of the most spectacular trail-riding in the country and, arguably, in the world,” Storm says. And best of all, much of it is easily reached just within or outside the Bellingham city limits, as is the case with Galbraith Mountain.
March Northwest also provides local biking lessons and guided tours, including youth and adult instruction classes. Founder Shaums March is a world-renowned trainer who has served as a skills coach for U.S. Olympic teams.
No matter what recreation you love, Whatcom County provides the chance to do it all—sometimes all in the same day, if you’re up for it. The traffic is much better than Seattle, too.
“We have a little bit of everything here,” says Kristi Kucera, owner of Moondance Kayak. “It’s endless, where the possibilities could take you.”
Get inspired at BasecampBellingham.org.