Chuckanut Coast - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Day Trip Report
July 28, 2008
Pam and I spent Monday paddling from the launch ramp at Larrabee State Park just south of Bellingham, WA. The day started out with a bit of chop left over from blustery overnight winds but that laid down nicely shortly after we launched. Larrabee charges $5 to launch "watercraft" which we assumed also meant kayaks. We also assumed that if there were two "watercraft" but only one car, then only one $5 fee would be required.
We arrived at the launch ramp almost exactly at the time of a -2 foot low tide which required that we walk about 100 yards from the foot of the (steep) ramp to get to water. But the bottom of the little bay is hard packed sand and we found we could roll our kayaks on their dollies easily except for the mound of eel grass on the ramp itself.
From the launch you can paddle south or north. To the south are the remnants of an interurban trolley tracks that once connected Bellingham to Mt. Vernon. To the north are some rock gardens, islets and islands. Wildlife and interesting rock formations are abundant. We paddled both directions.
While I've rated this paddle as "easy" with the right (or wrong) wind it can be challenging. Currents are not much of a problem but a stiff NW'ly or W'ly can create wind waves that would bounce off the sheer cliffs and produce some nasty paddling conditions. At higher tides the landing places are few and far between. For experienced paddlers this coast in wind would be fun, but if it's blowing hard and you are not experienced, don't stray far from the protected cove you launched in until you know what it's like farther out.
For an area sitting smack-dab in the middle of one of the most populated areas in North America (Vancouver, BC, Bellingham, WA, the Seattle Metro area) the Chuckanut coastline offers a quick escape to majestic scenery without long ferry lines and high ticket prices. The access is easy on fuel too (unless you, like me, traveled 250 miles to get there).
Larrabee is only 12 miles south of Fairhaven, WA which figured prominently in the hippie culture of the 1960s and 1970s and retains its flavor as something other than just a bedroom community to Bellingham. It's the southern terminus of the Alaska Ferry system and offers alternative launch sites.
Neither of us had paddled this coast before (although I had paddled out of Fairhaven several times years ago) and we can't imagine how or why we had missed it. Even the drive is scenic; it reminded me of Big Sur on a smaller, more accessible scale. Another gem within reach.
For those who want to camp, Larrabee offers both tent and RV sites but the camping is not exactly convenient to the water. The web site indicates that some camp sites are not reserve-able which implies (to me) that they are available to campers who arrive on a first-come, first served basis. However signs at the park indicated that it is a "reservations" park so if you plan to arrive on a whim you might want to be prepared to find another place. Lots of trees for those who camp in hammocks.
Larrabee State Park is part of the Washington State Park system and offers reserved campsites as well as some spots available on a "first come, first served" basis. Most sites offer disabled access. Camp spots are some distance away (and higher) than the water. There are trails in the park for hiking to several fresh water lakes. The launch site offers a concrete ramp, ample parking, and a toilet facility.
Launching at Larrabee's launch ramp costs $5 which we assumed was "per vehicle" although a ranger might feel it's per kayak. *Caveat paddler.*
Campsites are on a fee basis. Paddlers with disabled parking permits are half price on camping and free launching. Disabled veterans can get a permit for both free camping and launching at all WA state parks.
From Seattle drive north on I-5 past Mt. Vernon to the exit for Washington route 11 (just one exit past the exit for the Anacortes ferry). Twelve miles from the freeway you will enter Larrabee State Park. The launch is on Cove Road about a mile north of the main park entrance.
Coming from Canada take the Fairhaven exit south of Bellingham and follow the signs to Chuckanut Drive. The park is about 11 miles south of Fairhaven.
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