Mountain Biking Bellingham, Washington: Loamy, Steep, and Beautiful

Bellingham, WA is located about an hour and a half north of Seattle, and 30 miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a small city with easy access to excellent mountain bike trails, and for that reason many brands and individuals in the industry have made it their home.  If it’s dark, forested singletrack trails and deep, soft loam you seek, Bellingham has the goods.

Galbraith Mountain

Perhaps the best known trail system in Bellingham is Galbraith Mountain. In fact, for many years Singletracks readers have rated it the best mountain bike trail in the state of Washington, and with good reason. Sixty-five miles of singletrack spread like tendrils across 3,000 acres of land owned by a logging company, accessible thanks to an agreement between the owners and WMBC, a local trail advocacy group.

A network of logging roads crisscross the mountain.

Many trails are covered in the lush, thick tree canopy the Pacific Northwest is known for, but as an active tree farm and logging area, rides here often transition between dusty, wide open stretches to young forest thickets and back to clear-lenses-in-the-middle-of-the-day territory. Similarly, the singletrack morphs from neighborhood trail to a where-the-heck-am-I backcountry feel thanks to excellent connectivity with surrounding residential areas.

Welcome to the neighborhood.

The trails in Galbraith — and the Bellingham area in general — are among some of the best designed and constructed mountain bike trails I’ve ridden. The trail building scene is vibrant, with riders-turned-builders who know what they like, and how to make it happen. There’s no need to wonder if the lip ahead has a good landing, or if it’s possible to double that bump in the trail. Every inch of trail feels like it’s been expertly designed to minimize guesswork and maximize fun.

If it’s flow you seek, Galbraith has plenty of it, with smooth trails and sculpted turns that dare a rider to go brakeless. These same trails are perfect for beginners and young riders alike.

Technical challenges abound too, with steep, slabby rock rolls and root webs that demand riders’ attention.

Cedar Dust Jump Zone.

There’s even a dedicated bike park area called the Cedar Dust Jump zone, with four trails graded from beginner to double-black diamond. Many of the trails in Galbraith have jump features built in as well for mountain bikers who like to get airborne.

The new Mohawk trail is sponsored by Dawson, a local building construction company.

One of the trails I rode on my visit to Galbraith earlier this year is the newly opened Mohawk trail. Eric Brown from the WMBC says, “this advanced jump trail from the top of Galbraith has something for everyone with options for expert-level jumpers and table tops for folks looking to learn to jump on.”

The trails in Galbraith are well signed, but visitors should strongly consider purchasing an interactive PDF map from WMBC ($14.99USD). Printed maps are also available online for $15 plus $7 shipping, and can be found in local bike shops.

With so many trails, it’s easy to miss the good stuff, plus purchasing a map from the WMBC helps support trail work and access to the area. While the logging company allows recreation on their land for free, local groups like the WMBC cover the cost of liability insurance.

It’s clear from the trail signs in Galbraith that business sponsorships play a supporting role in funding maintenance and development of this massive network. Sponsors include a diverse roster of businesses, from local builders to mountain bike industry brands.

Chuckanuts / Larrabee State Park

Rider: Jeff Barber. Photo: Sterling Lorence.

Another popular riding zone in the Bellingham area is Chuckanuts and Larrabee State Park. In fact, it’s Bellingham local and YouTube mountain bike star Jeff Kendall-Weed’s favorite.

Rider: Jeff Barber. Photo: Paris Gore

“I love how most of the trails still have a natural feel, and that the forest hasn’t been heavily logged in recent years, resulting in a healthy tree canopy that keeps the dirt nice and tacky and [with] plenty of technical challenges.  The natural PNW style of these trails requires an active riding style that dissects the puzzle of how to smoothly get through the roots and rocks, along with some amazing views of Bellingham Bay to the East and of Mount Baker to the north.”

With a convenient trailhead parking area at the top of some of the best descents, this is a popular spot for shuttle services like the one offered by Intrinsic Flow. Combining the Double Diamond and Double Down trails, riders drop about 1,500 feet over just a couple of miles as the singletrack snakes between massive trees. These trails are steep and in just a few short sections, demanding, but sure to leave riders grinning and hustling to the van for another run.

For more trail-oriented riders who enjoy pedaling, the 20-mile Lost Lake loop offers both climbing and descending, stringing together several other trails in the area.

Cougar Ridge trail

Rider: Jeff Barber. Photo: Paris Gore

The Cougar Ridge trail, which was recently authorized for mountain biking, gained a new climbing trail and connector this year thanks to work by the WMBC. This trail is located on Lookout Mountain southeast of town, accessible from a trailhead off Lake Louise Road. The climbing trail takes riders along a nice grade, while the Cougar Ridge trail itself is steep, loamy, and fast! This is one of those spots that’s literally dripping with a dank, Pacific Northwest forest vibe, cloaked in moss, ferns, and duff.

One of the Cougar Ridge connector trails as seen near the end of the construction process.

While it seems Bellingham doesn’t necessarily want to be known as a mountain bike destination, it’s certainly worth a stop on the way to the North Shore of Vancouver or Squamish and Whistler. It’s even a great place to spend a few days on the bike on its own.

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