The Oyster Dome (Pacific Trail)

October 26, 2008
Chuckanut Ridge as seen from the Oyster Dome

Chuckanut Ridge as seen from the Oyster Dome

I don’t even know what to say about the hike to the Oyster Dome.  I can only recommend that you experience it for yourself.  The views…amazing.  The effort it takes to get there…yeah.  You’ll ascend over 2000 feet in about 3 miles.  Hiking distance, round trip, is about 6 miles (unless you visit some of the other points of interest while hiking this leg of the Pacific Trail).

You can reach the Oyster Dome by following the instructions to the Bat Caves.  At the junction with the Bat Caves/Talus Trail, continue uphill instead of taking the Talus Trail fork to the left.  It isn’t much more than 1/2 mile to the top of the Dome once you reach this junction.  It’s the steepest, most exhausting 1/2 mile of the entire hike, but well worth it!  Oh yes, you will encounter one more fork as you ascend.  It is one of those lovely unsigned junctions that are so common along the Pacific Trail…actually, there might be a sign that says something about horses not being allowed, anyhoo…this is the fork that splits to Lily Lake.  Stay to the left and continue uphill to reach the Oyster Dome.

Make sure you save this hike for a sunny day to maximize your views.  Not that looking down at a blanket of clouds isn’t enjoyable too…

Oyster Dome Panorama

Oyster Dome Panorama

Trail Ratings:

Signage: Could be worse, but not so good.

Views: Unparalleled!  Bring your camera/sketchbook/eyeballs

Dogs OK: Yes.  You may want to leash up when you reach the top of the dome.  More than one silly dog has galloped over the edge.

Kids OK: Know your kids.  It’s a dangerous drop of several hundred feet from the sheer cliff’s edge at the top of the dome.


Map Tool

October 22, 2008

Gravity College has a great online tool if you are looking for topographical maps and trails on Chuckanut Ridge or Mount Baker (or anywhere in Washington State really).  They have a lot of other hiking related resources as well.

The Pacific Trail (Oyster Dome, Bat Caves, Mount Blanchard)

October 22, 2008

The Pacific Trail is said to stretch from the Puget Sound to Montana.  While I don’t know anyone who claims to have traversed the entire 1100 miles, the 10 miles or so that wind through Chuckanut Ridge and across Mount Blanchard provide one of Bellingham’s most spectacular hikes.

Pacific Trail Forest

Pacific Trail Forest

There are four points of interest along this section of the Pacific Trail, the Oyster Dome is unanimously the main attraction, followed closely by the Bat Caves, the Lookout, and last and rightfully the least, Lily Lake.  If you are ambitious, you can take in all four sights in one day, a round trip of no more than 10 miles.

You can access the Pacific Trail from Chuckanut Drive, or if you want to cheat, drive to the lookout at the top of Mount Blanchard.  The trailhead on Chuckanut Drive is poorly marked.  You’ll need to look to your left about fifty feet after passing the Oyster Bar Restaurant.  If you see a lot of cars parked on the shoulder, you know you are close.  Keep looking, it really is there.

Don’t expect the signage to get any better once you’ve found the trailhead.  One reason why I took in all four sights in one day is because I wasn’t sure which way to go to get to the places I really wanted to see.  The signs are crude, poorly placed, and spurradic.  The final fork to Lily Lake isn’t marked at all, and if the Bat Caves are what you are looking for, no mention of them is made on any signs until you reach the junction with Talus Trail, and by then you have hiked more than 2 miles, passed two other junctions, and are less than 1/4 mile from your destination.  Be advised.

Trail Ratings:

Signage: Poor

Views: Mixed, Specatular at the Oyster Dome and the Lookout, confined at the Bat Caves, somewhat scenic (seasonally) at Lily Lake.

Dogs OK: Yes, leash may be required at the top of the Oyster Dome.  Don’t bring the dog if you think you will want to try penetrating the boulder field at the Bat Caves.  Skilled rock climbing is required, much too dangerous for dogs.

Kids OK: Know your kids.  Some people take their kids into the boulder fields at the Bat Caves.  This is very dangerous with slick heights atop the boulders and areas of unstable footing, suitable only for experienced rock climbers.  Better to keep the kids on the outer fringe of the boulders where there are caves enough worthy of exploration.  I do not recommend bringing kids to the top of the Oyster Dome.  The cliff is sheer.  It’s very tempting to stand at the edge, where there is no barrier and the drop is several hundred feet, but again, know your kids.

Bat Caves (Located along the Pacfic Trail)

October 22, 2008

Ahh the Bat Caves!  You’ve heard so much about them, but do you dare to go there yourself?  This is a great hike for Halloween…if you like to be scared!

Bat Caves

Bat Caves

Bat Caves

Bat Caves

Actually, there aren’t bats at the Bat Caves (anymore).  Some people say there once was some rare species of bat that inhabited the caves at some point, but no one seems to know what type of bat they were or when they were last sighted, if ever.

None-the-less, the ‘caves’ are nestled within a gloomy patch of dank forest, with lots of dead trees, spiders, mud, and shadowy, spooky things to help you work up a good fright.

The ‘caves’ are not actual holes in a hillside, but are formed by massive chunks of rock that have piled up below the Oyster Dome, forming crevices and caverns that feel very much like true caves.  It is possible to crawl over, under and through this maze of boulders, though it is slick and dangerous.  If you hike alone, or if you don’t know where you are going (or much about rock climbing) play it safe and stay on the outer fringe of the boulder field.

Directions to the Bat Caves:

There are two three ways to reach the Bat Caves:

1)  Start at the Pacific Trailhead on Chuckanut Drive, about 50 feet past the Oyster Bar Restaurant.  Hike uphill 1.8 miles to the first junction in the trail.  Stay to the left at this junction, going right will take you to the top of Mount Blanchard and the Lookout.  Once you go left you will hike another mile or so until you reach the junction marked “Talus Trail” and “Bat Caves”.  Take this trail over the ghetto bridge and arrive at the Bat Caves in less than 1/4 mile.  You will know the Bat Caves when you reach the boulder field and are able to look up and see the Oyster Dome.  Total hike is about 5 miles, round trip.

Look up to see the Oyster Dome

Bat Caves: Look up to see the Oyster Dome

2)  You can cheat by driving up Mount Blanchard and parking at the lookout where the hang gliders launch.  The trailhead is to the west of the parking lot, and is marked “Oyster Dome“.  Take this downhill .5 miles to a subtle junction.  If you don’t miss the sign for this junction, it will point out the Oyster Dome, Talus Trail, and LIly Lake, but says nothing about the Bat Caves.  Stay to the right at this junction and continue about a mile (though it feels like more) until you see a sign marked “Talus Trail” and “Bat Caves”.  Cross the crude bridge and you are almost there!  You will pass some large rocks, but these are not the Bat Caves.  You will know the Bat Caves when you reach the boulder field, where you can look up and see the Oyster Dome looming above.  Total hike is about 3 miles round trip.

3)  It may be possible to reach the Bat Caves from the far side of Lily Lake.  I’m not sure how to access the head for this trail though.  If it is possible, it would make for a fairly level walk, except for the last .5 miles or so.. If anyone knows if this is possible, share your secret!

Trail Ratings:

Signage: Awful.  Don’t give up though, you’ll find it.  Your best bet is to ask the other hikers on the trail which way to go.

Views: Great!  If you hike up from Chuckanut Drive on a clear day, you will experience peek-a-boo views of the San Juan Islands.  There is a bench maybe one mile into the hike, where you can pause to drink in the water and islands from a different angle.  The rest of the hike is forest views, and pretty confined at the Bat Caves.

Dogs OK: YES, not recommended if you want to try to penetrate the boulder field at the Bat Caves.

Kids OK: Know your own kids.  Kids are not recommended if you want to try to penetrate the boulder field at the Bat Caves.  When I was at the Bat Caves there were other hikers there who managed to get their kids pretty deep into the maze of boulders.  These people were skilled rock climbers though, and had the necessary safety gear for such a feat.  I do not recommend it.

After you’ve found the Bat Caves, be sure to check out the other points of interest along the Pacific Trail.

North Lost Lake Trail

October 21, 2008

The North Lost Lake Trail is a lengthy but gentle hike of about 10 miles round trip.  The trail is one of many that intersects with the Hemlock Trailhead, which can be accessed from either Chuckanut Drive or Old Samish Way.

The trail initially follows an old logging road.  It is wide enough for groups or couples if you like to walk side by side.  Do expect a moderate workout for the first 3 miles or so before the trail levels off for the last 1.5 miles as you approach the lake.

I love hiking this trail because it is not popular, I hiked to Lost Lake on the 12th of October, and after leaving the Hemlock Trail I saw only two other hikers.  The trail also provides some notable sights.  Two of my favorites are the swamp at the junction with the Chuckanut Ridge Trail (a swamp worth pausing to admire), and the rock walls which flank the right side of the trail as you near the lake.

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

Lost Lake itself is somewhat boggy and may be difficult to circumnavigate, but as you can see by the photo, you will not be disappointed by its lonely and timeless apparition.

Trail Ratings:

Signage: Excellent!  The lake is lost but you are not!

Views: Average.  Mostly forest (until you reach the lake).

Dogs OK: YES

Kids OK: YES

The Swamp

The Swamp

Click here to access a printable map of the Chuckanut Ridge Trail System.