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A Mountain Biker’s Guide to Bellingham, Washington

The best trails to ride, places to camp, and breweries to hit up afterward, according to one of our favorite athletes. 

Words by Ross Tester

If you want to check out a new place to mix things up on your mountain bike, Bellingham, Washington, should be high on your list. The community of passionate riders has made biking an integral part of this beautiful town over the years. Efforts from individuals, non-profits, and the local government have culminated in creating one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world.

When I rolled into the town this past summer, one of the first things I noticed was the Waterfront Pumptrack, a bike park set front and center of downtown. A quick look at a trail system map reveals that the city is brimming with trails and bike parks. Getting here is easy—Seattle is just an hour and a half south. Also, if you have some extra time on your hands and want to keep exploring, Squamish is two hours to the north, across the Canadian border, and Whistler is three hours on a good day. Link these three places together, and you have the mountain bike trip of a lifetime.

Trail Systems

Through fundraisers, donations, and rallying community efforts to support mountain biking, Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC) has been able to put together and maintain a ton of awesome trails and bike parks in the Bellingham area. From XC, to downhill, to dirt jump parks, every level of mountain biker is accommodated. The major WCMB trail systems to check out in the area are called Galbraith Mountain and Chuckanut Mountain

Galbraith Mountain

Galbraith is a massive trail system bordering downtown Bellingham, offering over 65 miles of trail, allowing people to disperse into quiet sections. You can find singletrack, machine-made flow trails, and jump lines—there’s something for everyone. The area was secured for use through an agreement between a logging company that owns the land, and the city of Bellingham, ensuring that the area will be open for public use for many years to come. 

On the North side of the trail system, you can ride from town or park at the trailhead and climb up a few different of singletrack trails. The main access point is on Birch Street where there are a few parking spaces and some on-street parking. Avoid crowding and park at the Whatcom Falls parking area if you can. This side of Galbraith provides you with a more raw technical singletrack selection of trails with a few fast flowy berm sections sprinkled in. For some fun blue-rated descents, I recommend checking out SST, Air Chair, and Happy Hour. You can also find a few different jump lines to spice things up. For more advanced/pro riders looking to get some air time, check out Blue Steel or Grasshopper. Or if you have a group of varying levels, check out the Cedar Dust jump area with green to double black rated jump lines. 

If you’re a more downhill-oriented rider and prefer to pedal up dirt roads and smash fast/flowy/technical downhills you may want to check out the southside access point. The parking lot off of Samish Way was recently redone so spots are easy to secure. A few must-ride trails are Mohawk, Unemployment Line, Mullet, and Radical Dragon. Mohawk and Unemployment Line are black diamond-rated, machine-made flow trails featuring tons of jumps and smooth berms. Mullet is a fast and flowy blue singletrack with a few optional jumps, and a ton of fun little lumpy sections to pump your way through. Radical Dragon is a more technical trail with a fun little rock roll. This side isn’t limited to gnarly descents as well, there are plenty of green/blue trails and XC options to explore, too.

Although I’ve split these areas into two, it’s all one trail system, so pedal away and have yourself a day. When it comes to navigation, there are plenty of kiosks with maps throughout the Galbraith system, but it is recommended that you get a map. Whether it’s the Trailforks app downloaded to your phone or a digital/physical copy from WCMB or a local bike shop

Chuckanut Mountain

Chuckanut is another excellent system found in the old-growth forest atop a mountain bordering Bellingham Bay. The mountain offers some of the best views in the area, with the island-speckled bay to the West, and Mt. Baker to the East. With about 1,500 feet of vertical relief top to bottom, the mountain provides long, sustained downhills with fast flowy singletrack and some rocky, rooty sections here and there. This area is great because it is easy to shuttle via a dirt road that brings you right to the top of the mountain. You can either shuttle yourself or make it easy with a shuttle service such as Intrinsic Flow. Or, you can always pedal to the top if you’re looking for more of a workout.

In the Chuckanut system, you’ll find more black diamond-rated trails for the big rides from the top but there are some blue and green trails that you can link up as a trail ride. A fun linkup from the top is Double Black Diamond to Double Down. 

Like Galbraith, it is a good idea to keep a map on you whether it’s a physical one from a local bike shop or use Trailforks. Another to keep in mind, you won’t have any cell service in some areas. Also, be aware that some of these trails are multi-use, so make sure to practice proper yielding when it comes to other trailgoers.

Where to Stay

Larrabee State Park has bayfront camping right at the base of the Chuckanut trail system. Make sure to plan in advance if you are looking to book for a weekend. Another tip is to be mindful of train noise if you are a lighter sleeper. Sites on the north side seem to be a bit quieter.

Bike-friendly hotels with washing stations and/or bike storage rooms include the Heliotrope Hotel, Hotel Leo, and others. 

The Best Time to Visit

You can typically ride in Bellingham year-round but spring, summer, and fall are great times to go. Like most other trail systems, the trails tend to get a bit beat up and dry by late summer and early fall but they are still a blast nonetheless. Winter months are cold and wet. (You’ll want to pack a Flylow Trailworks Jacket, a waterproof rain shell to keep yourself dry and warm.) If you plan a trip in the summer, consider coming during the Northwest Tune Up Festival, which happens in July and supports WMBC and other nonprofits while you enjoy music, beer, bike demos, shuttles, races, and more. 

After Ride

After a bike ride, head to the quaint but lively downtown area, which welcomes you with plenty of bars, breweries, good food, and live music throughout old-school brick buildings. There are seemingly endless possibilities to keep you fueled between long days. Some of my favorite spots were Structures Brewing, Kulshan Brewing Co, La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza, and Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro. Places like Kulshan, Boundary Bay, and Structures often have events and live music, so be sure to check out their schedule. 

If you’re visiting in the warmer months of the year and fancy a dip in some fresh water to soothe your dusty, sore body, there are plenty of places to do that as well. Choose from a selection of surrounding lakes or my favorite spot, Whatcom Falls

Need to Know

Always remember to practice good trail etiquette. Whether that be staying on sanctioned trails, riding when it isn’t too wet, or using proper yielding, it is always appreciated by other trail users. If you want to progress your riding, make sure you scope features that push your limits while keeping them within a reasonable range. Check out  WMBC's website to see how you can help contribute to the incredible public access trails and facilities they have put together for your enjoyment.

Ross Tester is a Flylow-sponsored skier who has competed on the Freeride World Tour and an avid mountain biker. 

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