Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve is a 4,500-acre multi-use dog- and family-friendly Whatcom County Park located just south of Lake Louise Road and Sudden Valley, about 2 miles east of Bellingham. Whatcom County Parks manages this park for non-motorized recreation with hiking and biking trails. They continue to make trail improvements each year in phases. When complete, the trail system here will total more than 98 miles of recreational access.
There are currently six trails to choose from in the Forest Preserve, all with different designated uses, levels of difficulty and sights to see.
Two trails depart from the parking area: Rufus Creek Trail departs near the restrooms and an eight-mile long graveled service road that eventually accesses Lookout Mountain. Be aware that service vehicles use the road during the weekdays. After 0.3 miles, you’ll reach an intersection with Rufus Creek Trail, Waterfall Trail and Baneberry Trail.
Rufus Creek Trail
Rufus Creek Trail is the main artery hiking and biking trail that climbs gently for 4.3 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. You’ll pass moss-covered old growth stumps now serving as nurse logs that remind you of the forest’s past. Foxglove, bleeding heart, devils club and elderberry line the trails.
Several trees have been downed during past wind storms but the trail ranges from flat to moderate and is about four-feet wide. You’ll cross wooden bridges that lift you over creeks. At the 3.5 mile mark is Lake Whatcom Overlook with an incredible view of snow-capped Mount Baker. You’ll love the wander through and along streams, wetlands, sandstone cliffs and a variety of forest types. At its terminus is the downhill-mountain-bike-only Cougar Ridge Trail.
Waterfall Loop Trail is a moderate 0.4 mile hiker-only graveled trail that departs from Rufus Creek Trail about 0.8 miles from the parking area. At the halfway point after a gain of about 150 feet of elevation, the trail passes by a picturesque waterfall. Then it drops gradually down about 200 feet to reconnect with the main service road.
This shady four-foot-wide graveled trail loops off Rufus Creek Trail at about the 0.8-mile mark. Use on this trail is restricted to hiking and uphill biking only. The trail departs Rufus Creek Trail and switchbacks uphill varying from easy to moderate elevation gains totaling about 600 feet over 1.2 miles. The trail gains elevation quickly in some areas separated by intermittent flatter sections that allow you to rest without stopping.
As you head up the trail, look for a bench on the left that leads to a small waterfall. You’ll see lots of salmonberry and many kinds of ferns in the understory of big leaf maple, Douglas fir, hemlock and alder. Watch out for nettles in the summer months.
At about the 1-mile mark you’ll see Leila June Trail on the right or you can continue 0.2 miles to where Baneberry rejoins Rufus Creek Trail at an elevation of about 1,200 feet. Take a left on Rufus Creek Trail and hike 0.3 miles uphill to the lookout that has a peek-a-boo view of Lake Whatcom or turn right onto Rufus Creek Trail. After 0.9 miles, Cougar Ridge Trail mountain bikers rejoin Rufus Creek Trail and continue on another 0.3 miles to intersect with Backside Trail or continue further for 2 miles to loop back to the parking area.
Leila June Trail, named for the previous landowner, is a moderate shaded hiker-only trail that departs Rufus Creek Trail at about 1.2 miles from the parking area. Watch for chances to graze in the summer months on huckleberry and thimbleberry. The narrow trail gains moderately about 500 feet in elevation over 0.9 miles where it joins Baneberry Trail. Take a left onto Baneberry Trail to head back toward the parking area or a right and hike uphill about 0.2 miles to rejoin Rufus Creek Trail just short of the Lake Whatcom Overlook.
Cougar Ridge Trail
Cougar Ridge Trail had been closed for maintenance but is now open only to downhill mountain biking. It departs from Rufus Creek Trail at its terminus after 4.3 miles or after taking the Baneberry Trail shortcut before the Overlook. This trail is considered difficult with some very difficult areas due to drops, steep sections, cliff edges and sharp corners. The trail loses 600 feet of elevation over 1.3 miles and rejoins Rufus Creek Trail roughly 2 miles from the parking area.
Backside Trail is 0.3 miles long, gaining less than 100 feet, and is open to hiking and biking. It departs from the Rufus Creek Trail at the 2-mile mark and connects to Bottoms Up Trail and the 4000 Rd that both lead to the Galbraith Mountain Trail system.
Bottoms Up Trail
Bottoms Up Trail leaves Backside Trail gaining an easy 200 feet over 0.5 miles. This hiking and biking trail continues off site connecting with the quality hiking and mountain biking in the recently protected Galbraith Mountain Trail system.
The park was formed from the combination of a private land donation and the transfer of land from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to Whatcom County. In 2002, 369 acres known as the Leila June Olsen Estate were donated to Whatcom Land Trust (the Trust) under a facilitation and conservation easement. The remaining acreage was transferred from DNR to Whatcom County in 2014. The park was eventually formed due to valiant behind-the-scenes efforts of the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County Council, Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, Conservation Northwest and Whatcom Land Trust along with community and business support.
The arrangement permanently protected the headwaters of Austin and Beaver Creeks and highly valuable second growth forests for multi-use community enjoyment and a host of positive environmental benefits for wildlife, water quality and erosion protection to name a few.
In recent years, trail crews from several organizations including the Trust, Whatcom Mountain Biking Club, REI and Washington Trails Association have worked to clean this area up, removing garbage and construction materials, improving and maintaining trails and restroom facilities, leaving beautiful recreation options for Whatcom County residents and visitors.
The park is open from sunrise to sunset. No camping, fires or overnight parking are permitted. New trails are planned that will eventually connect to Squires Lake Park to the south and then to the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail heading south to Alger.