George V. Reilly

Chuckanut Drive

Larrabee State Park on Chuckanut Drive

Chuckanut Drive is one of Washington State’s best yet least-known scenic drives. Take I-5 north from Seattle for 70 miles. Just past Burlington, exit on to state route 11. The highway heads northwest towards the coast across the fertile floodplain of the Skagit valley. For nine miles, you drive past farms and fields. Then the road rises at the coast, changing character instantly.

Now you’re driving along the rocky, forested shoulder of the Chuckanut mountains. One hundred feet below as you drive along the twisty, shady road, you can catch glimpses of the waters of Samish Bay through the trees. If you look closely, you may see the train tracks, prac­ti­cal­ly at water’s edge. Look out across the bay and you can see the San Juan islands and, behind them, Vancouver Island.

There are a handful of viewpoints. Stop, get out, look around. There are oyster beds below, though it’s hard to tell.

When you get to Larrabee State Park, turn down into it. Walk under the train tracks and go down to the rocky promon­to­ries and along the beach. Stop at Cove Road and go down to the boat slip and watch the kayakers.

A few miles further along Chuckanut Drive and you’ll reach Fairhaven, a small brick town built in the 1880s. Once a fishing village, it now has retirees and restau­rants and stores. Fairhaven has been absorbed into the nearby city of Bellingham, but it retains its own character.

South of Bellingham, I-5 runs through the rocky forest along Lake Samish, on the east side of the Chuckanut mountains. It’s the most scenic part of I-5 in all of Washington state.

We made the trip just that this afternoon. The photos are at Flickr.

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