I’m recovering from hip surgery I had in mid-March and my surgeon says walking is a great way to rebuild my strength and flexibility. Since I’m not yet physically up to steep hills and our mountains are still buried under deep snow, I’m finding places to walk that are gentle. That means they’re also friendly to families with kids.
Two of my favorite easy walks near Bellingham are along the north shore of Lake Whatcom and the forest of Stimpson Family Nature Preserve near Sudden Valley. They’re both great outdoor portrait locations, too.
North Shore Lake Whatcom Trail
The north shore trail is offically called the Hertz trail. It’s in the new Lake Whatcom Park, but the trail along the lake has been there for many years. Since it follows an old railroad grade it’s nearly level, wide, and has a good gravel surface. Strollers and wheelchairs should both have a pretty easy time on this trail.
The trail begins at the end of Northshore Drive. There are two trailheads. The first, or upper, trailhead gets you started meandering through nice forest as you wind gently down to the lake. The second, or lower, trailhead gets you to the lake quicker. Either way, the main trail follows the lakeshore for just under 3 miles to the end. It’s an out-and-back route so you can turn around any time.
Since this trail is at the bottom of a south-facing slope, it warms up early so trees, shrubs, and wildflowers get going sooner than some other area locations. As you hike, you’ll cross two covered bridges. Each of the creeks you’re crossing has a waterfall uphill from the trail that the more adverturous can reach with a little off-trail hiking.
You’ll see a few remnants of the old railroad trestles over the water and a couple of cozy little beaches that make great places for a picnic (or a portrait).
This trail gets a fair amount of use, including runners, dog-walkers, and bicyclists but it’s wide enough that I’ve never experienced a conflict.
Stimpson Family Nature Preserve
The Stimpson Family Nature Preserve is one of my favorite old-growth forest parks close to Bellingham. The trailhead is on Lake Louise Road, closer to the Geneva neighborhood than to Sudden Valley, although there’s a connector trail into the Sudden Valley neighborhood. No dogs or bicycles are allowed here, so you’ll only encounter other hikers.
The first part of the trail is wide, well-graded gravel as far as an overlook to an active beaver pond. This time of year, look for bright yellow skunk cabbage flowers in the wetland. You’ll probably also see and hear lots of birds.
At 0.3 miles from the road you’ll reach a junction with the 3-mile long main loop trail. I almost always hike the loop clockwise, perhaps because I was part of a crew that built several bridges on the first part of the loop as part Casey Oswald’s Troop 3 Eagle Scout project when the trail was brand new.
Parts of the forest along the trail are mostly undisturbed old growth, with the rest maturing second growth. You’ll find lots of wildflowers along the trail in the spring, and masses of ferns, mosses, and lichens year-around.
The Stimpson loop trail has some gentle ups and downs, but nothing too challenging. Parts of the trail follow old logging railroad grades. Can you see where rocks were blasted away for the railroad?
In addition to the main loop, there’s a side trail that heads to Geneva Pond. Including the side trip will add about 1.8 miles to your hike. Or you can just visit the pond. Reach the junction with the main loop trail in the shortest distance by hiking it clockwise.
Portraits in the Woods
Both the North Shore and Stimpson trails offer several nice locations for portraits, whether for your family or an individual like a high school senior. They’re not as popular with photographers as some other locations so we’re not likely to be competing for the best spots.
Some of my favorite portrait spots along the North Shore trail are little beaches not far from the trailhead.
At Stimpson, I’ve photographed people right on the trail and along the edges with the forest in the background.
Both trails are nice walks with your family year-around, but spring is definitely my favorite time. Maybe our paths will cross on one of these trails one day soon.