The “Birthplace of Bellingham” Walk

A Bit of History…

This walk follows Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, Washington, considered by some historians to be “The Birthplace of Bellingham.” The name Whatcom comes from the Lummi Nation word “Whatcoom,” which translates into English as “noisy waters.” Over the years, many people have relied on Whatcom Creek. Indigenous people lived along the creek and fished the wild salmon returning from the open sea to spawn within the protection of their native waters.

European explorers and businessmen built mills and mined for gold along the creek. Henry Roeder and J.E. Peabody established their lumber mill at the mouth of Whatcom Creek in 1852. The pair arrived in Bellingham Bay after visiting San Francisco, where they believed they would earn their fortunes. San Francisco, suffering from the devastation of fire, was in desperate need of lumber. The two entrepreneurs realized a plan to find an unlimited source of lumber by traveling northward, up the coast of North America. When they heard the cascading water of Whatcom Creek as it tumbled into Bellingham Bay and beheld the wall of Douglas Fir and Cedar trees lining the shores, they knew they had found the site for their lumber mill and Bellingham was born. As the city grew, Whatcom Creek suffered. It was dredged for gold and at one point, the majority of the settlers’ waste ran directly into the creek and into the bay.

Many years later in 1999, a gas leak in the pipeline that traverses Whatcom Falls Park caused a catastrophic fire, which resulted in nearly irreparable damage to Whatcom Creek and its environs. Fortunately, with the help of many private and public groups during the last century, Whatcom Creek is returning to a natural and healthy condition. Though many people and their endeavors have come and gone, Whatcom Creek has miraculously endured.

Highlights Along the Way…

Derby Pond
Derby Pond
Train Trestle from long ago
Train Trestle from long ago
Whatcom Falls
Whatcom Falls
Whatcom Creek from the Racine Street Bridge
Whatcom Creek from the Racine Street Bridge

Whatcom Creek originates at the outlet of Lake Whatcom and snakes its way down to its estuary at Bellingham Bay. The creek passes through a number of ecological and cultural areas, which provide a diversity of thought provoking and picturesque points around every turn. In places, the creek bubbles noisily over waterfalls and cataracts amid towering cedar and fir trees. At other places, the creek meanders through flat floodplains bordered by willows and dogwood. The walk passes two fish hatcheries that use the water from Whatcom Creek to nurture the next generation of salmon and trout. Well-maintained City of Bellingham trails parallel the largest percentage of Whatcom Creek, while the remaining bits are accessible by street. The walker can enjoy abundant flora and fauna along the upper two-thirds of the creek. We have seen owls, waterfowl of all kinds, herons, coyote, beaver, and fish in this area. Whatcom Creek also navigates the paved streets of Bellingham, disappearing under one street only to reappear on the other side, seemingly indifferent to the hundreds of cars that pass over it every day. Here is a link to a PowerPoint presentation I created a few years ago about Whatcom Creek’s history and restoration.

Whatcom Creek PP

Getting There and Back…

This walk can be done as a one-way or round-trip. By taking the #525 local bus to Bloedel-Donovan Park at Lake Whatcom, one can access the trail here for a four-mile downhill walk to the center of Bellingham. Conversely, one could walk the four miles up to Bloedel-Donovan Park, and take the #525 bus downtown. Be sure to check current WTA bus schedules if choosing the one-way option.

The round-trip option begins at Maritime Heritage Park on Holly Street in downtown Bellingham and ascends to the turn around point at Bloedel-Donovan Park. This eight-mile walk is our personal favorite. On any hike or walk, I always appreciate going uphill first and downhill second. I appreciate having some rigorous work in a walk and this walk does not disappoint. Did I mention the stairs at the base of Whatcom Falls Park? All 122 of them! In addition, I have always had the experience that when I turn around on a hike, the world looks entirely new, like seeing the front and then the back of a place. But you decide what works for you and your walking abilities and time frame. We walk about 3 miles per hour, so with stops and bus ride, the one-way would take about 2 hours and the round-trip would take the better part of a day.Here is a link to City of Bellingham’s website where you can find trail maps:

Under departments, click on Parks and Recreation to download a complete set of trail maps. They are very useful, especially when Whatcom Creek disappears under streets and bridges.

Refreshments (very important!)

If you plan on doing the round trip, there are a couple great places to acquire refreshments. One is DaVinci’s at 1480 Electric Avenue, very close to the turn around. It’s inside Whatcom Falls Mini Mart and gas station but don’t let that fool you. They are well known for their classic submarine sandwiches, which make a great picnic in the park. The other is K2, Kulshan Brewery’s second pub. It’s a little off the trail on Kentucky Street but well worth the short walk. There is always a local food truck and Kulshan’s local brews.

Happy Walking!


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