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Published: Friday, February 3, 2012, 1:03 p.m.

No snowshoes needed for these hikes

The Fragrance Lake and Oyster Dome trails offer snow-free hiking in the dead of winter

  • The hike to Fragrance Lake, south of Bellingham, is moderately strenuous but generally snow-free this time of year. The 5.5 mile trail is well-used an...

    Michelle Dunlop / The Herald

    The hike to Fragrance Lake, south of Bellingham, is moderately strenuous but generally snow-free this time of year. The 5.5 mile trail is well-used and is part of Larrabee State Park, which has 15 miles of trails.

  • Jessi Loerch / The Herald
The hike to Fragrance Lake, south of Bellingham, is moderately strenuous but generally snow-free this time of year. The 5.5 ...

    Jessi Loerch / The Herald The hike to Fragrance Lake, south of Bellingham, is moderately strenuous but generally snow-free this time of year. The 5.5 mile trail is well-used and is part of Larrabee State Park, which has 15 miles of trails.

  • Michelle Dunlop / The Herald
The hike to Fragrance Lake, south of Bellingham, is moderately strenuous but generally snow-free this time of year. The 5...

    Michelle Dunlop / The Herald The hike to Fragrance Lake, south of Bellingham, is moderately strenuous but generally snow-free this time of year. The 5.5 mile trail is well-used and is part of Larrabee State Park, which has 15 miles of trails.

One of the wonderful things about living in Western Washington: there are lots of trails.
But at this time of year, even here, there are few snow-free trails that gain a decent enough amount of elevation to get the heart pumping. That's especially true if you don't want to travel south of Snohomish County to I-90 or east of the mountains.
Head north instead to Chuckanut Drive, near Bellingham, where there are several options for snow-free hikes.
From the moment your car leaves I-5 and makes its way onto Chuckanut, the drive itself is worth the effort, regardless of the hike. The road meanders through lush farmland as it heads northwest toward Larrabee State Park. As it approaches the water, the views become more breathtaking, the driving more hairy. It's a few miles of narrow, winding road to reach the park. Without a doubt, you'll share the road with bikers.
The trailhead for Fragrance Lake is on the right side of the road, across from the entrance to Larrabee's camping area and beach access.
Fragrance Lake is a moderately strenuous hike -- 1,000 feet of elevation gain -- up to a small lake. The trail is well established and well used, given its proximity to Bellingham and the fact it can be hiked year-round.
The trail starts with several steep switchbacks that lead you to an intersection with the broad, flat Interurban Trail. Cross it and continue through the trees. If you're not up to hiking to the lake, you can stop about a mile up and take a side path 0.2 miles to a ledge overlooking Samish Bay and the San Juans. The view is definitely worthwhile.
Back on the main trail, you'll come to another intersection with an old road about 1.9 miles up. Take the left toward the lake, a short distance away. The trail loops around the lake, where you'll find several benches and places to stop for lunch.
On the Fragrance Lake trail, you'll likely come across couples hoping to watch the sunset at the overlook, families hiking with children and dogs, and trail runners who buzz past like they're running on a flat surface.
Fragrance Lake is part of 15 miles of trails in the Larrabee Park system. Check the park trail map if you want to add on to your hike or take a different route up or back.
If you're looking for a slightly longer, but more difficult hike, try Oyster Dome. The trailhead is a couple miles south of Fragrance Lake's, also on Chuckanut.
The Oyster Dome trail is a mile longer than Fragrance Lake but gains 1,900 feet on the way to a cliff on Blanchard Mountain. There's also a side trail to the bat caves. This hike has sweeping views from the San Juans to the Olympic Mountains.
For more hikes, check out "Winter Hikes of Western Washington" -- a deck of hiking cards written by Craig Romano. It's part of The Mountaineers books and sells for $15.95.
Fragrance Lake
5.5 miles roundtrip
1,000 feet elevation gain
Directions: Take I-5 north to exit 231. Follow Chuckanut Drive north about 15 miles to Larrabee State Park. Trailhead parking is on right side of road, across from entrance to park and campground. Discover Pass required for parking.
Oyster Dome
6.5 miles roundtrip
1,900 feet elevation gain
Directions: Take I-5 north to exit 231. Follow Chuckanut Drive north just over 10 miles to trailhead, on right side. Parking is limited along west side of road. Discover Pass required for parking.
Herald writer Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

Story tags » Hiking

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