Our Guide to Exploring Scenic Chuckanut Drive
Bellingham is filled with beautiful sights and seemingly endless nature to explore. From the stunning views of Mount Baker to the peaceful trails surrounding Whatcom Falls, there’s plenty of opportunity for adventures. One of our favorite scenic car trips in Bellingham stretches across Chuckanut Drive, the state’s original scenic byway. It runs from Bellingham south to Burlington and boasts gorgeous stops along the way.
February 23, 2022
You won’t have any trouble finding great scenery along the drive. No matter the season, if the road is clear and safe to drive, you’re guaranteed to see some beauty. The scenic byway tightly hugs the cliffs of the Chuckanut Mountains and is the only place where the Cascade Mountains connect to the sea. The drive offers great views of Samish Bay, San Juan Islands, and Chuckanut Bay.
We don’t have to convince you to explore Chuckanut Drive sometime. It speaks for itself. But here are some of the beautiful sights and fun activities you can enjoy along the way.
Getting to Chuckanut Drive from downtown Bellingham
Getting to Chuckanut Drive is easy. Leaving downtown Bellingham, head towards Fairhaven. Make your way past Old Fairhaven Parkway and onto Old Samish Rd. Follow old Samish Road until you reach a fork where you will turn left onto Wa-11 S/Chuckanut Drive North. If you plan to get to Old Fairhaven Parkway from I-5, take exit 250 and turn right onto the road. The drive goes for over 20 miles, so if you plan to go the whole way, know you will eventually leave Bellingham.
A local favorite for good reason, Teddy Bear Cove is a must-visit if you want to explore Bellingham. The white-sand beaches come from centuries of crushed clamshells, and when the tide is low, you can explore the cool marine life.
It’s not just Teddy Bear Cove itself that is so fun. The trail heading to and from the beach makes it even better. It’s a steep trail, so prepare to work a bit on the way back – but it’s worth it. The series of switchbacks combs through forested hills that take you to railroad tracks leading to two beaches.
During the summer months, you can enjoy the awe-inspiring bioluminescence. Produced by living organisms, the bioluminescent phytoplankton glow in the water and light up the night. It’s a one-of-a-kind sight, and Teddy Bear Cove is a popular spot to enjoy the experience.
Shortly after passing Teddy Bear Cove, you’ll find Larrabee State Park. This camping park has over 2500 acres of land, including 8100 feet of saltwater shoreline.
The park is huge, but you don’t have to go far to find amazing views. If you’re coming from downtown Bellingham, the first parking lot you enter at Larrabee State Park is within walking distance of a beautiful beach and breathtaking cliffs. Note that you will need a Discover Pass to park here.
Larrabee State Park sits on the seaward side of Chuckanut Mountain. It looks out at Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands and is a wonderful place to stop and watch the sunset.
Here’s a fun fact about Larrabee: It’s Washington’s first-ever state park!
You’ll notice plenty of pullouts and viewpoints along the drive. All are worth checking out so long as you can safely pull over and get out to enjoy the views. Vista pullout is particularly nice, as it provides incredible views across Samish Bay along with sights of Mount Erie and the Olympic mountains. You may even catch sight of some windsurfers, which are delightful to watch on a nice day.
If you like fresh seafood, it doesn’t get any better than Taylor Shellfish. Conveniently located off the side of Chuckanut Drive, this restaurant provides an oasis for adventurers to eat delicious fresh seafood and take in all that Samish Bay has to offer.
It’s not just a restaurant, though. It’s also a seafood market. Stock up on clams, mussels, oysters, geoducks, prawns, and more at their retail shop. And if you want to eat there, the experts will cook you up a delicious meal.
The restaurant is first-come first-serve, so plan accordingly.
As you get further away from Bellingham, you’ll find yourself in Bow, Washington. This is where the Rhododendron Cafe sits off of Chuckanut Drive. The cafe uses local ingredients and offers tasty brunch, lunch, and dinner options. This will be one of the last stops headed south from Bellingham, so eat up!
The views are great wherever you go
We love Chuckanut Drive because there is no shortage of gorgeous views. Whether you pull off to do a hike (may we suggest Fragrance Lake?) or just want to snap a picture from outside your car, you won’t be disappointed by the beauty that this scenic byway provides.
Be sure to play it safe. It can be easy to want to pull over, jump out, and walk straight to the viewpoint, but keep in mind that Chuckanut Drive is a relatively narrow road. You can’t always see oncoming traffic and you’ll want to be sure you cross with caution everywhere you go. Make sure it’s truly safe to pull over before you make any stops, too.
With that said, you’ll want to avoid driving Chuckanut Drive in inclement weather, as it can be a dangerous trip. It’s best to save the scenic route for a nice day. Though cold, Chuckanut Drive boasts gorgeous views throughout the winter.
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