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Loam Sharks

Why Bellingham, Washington, might be the best mountain bike town you never thought to visit.

mountain biking bellingham

Story and photographs by Grant Gunderson

I’m constantly asked by ski industry friends why I live over an hour from the closest ski area. The answer is simple, the mountain biking in Bellingham is unrivaled. My wife and I live here for the perfect loam. There’s an almost endless network of trails out our front door, ranging from the high speed flow of Blanchard Mountain to the rooty technical track and big climbs in the Chuckanuts to the larger purpose-built trails on Galbraith (more than 50 miles of XC to freeride). The only thing more diverse than the trails in Bellingham is the local beer selection. We have nine breweries in a town of 83,000. Instead of pairing beer with your meal, in Bellingham, we pair our beers with our trails. A big day in the Chuckanuts just screams Bastard Kat IPA (Kulshan Brewing Company).

We owe much of this trail diversity to the 30-plus years work of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, which has been proactive in not only preserving access, but also expanding the trail network. WMBC’s director of trails, Eric “the Mayor” Brown corralled an eclectic group of formerly rogue trail builders to create a cohesive web of sanctioned trails to fit different riding styles. Now those one-time rogues quietly compete with each other in trail design.

The collective approach means you can now roll out in the morning onto the naturally bermed and XC-fast Blanchard zone before continually ramping up the intensity on the more backcountry and rugged Galbraith and Chuckanuts networks. The connectors are almost more fun than the destinations. And remember this is rich rainforest soil. The loam offers so much grip you’ll find yourself riding steeper lines than you would in Rocky Mountain hardtack. All this, plus views of the San Juan Islands, Mount Baker, and the Cascade foothills.


Need more confirmation? The U.S. Olympic Mountain Bike Team picked Bellingham to train. And bike manufactures like Transition, Kona, and Canfield Brothers all chose Bellingham so they could duck out for lunch rides to test new suspension designs on all manner of trails.

But Bellingham is more than a bike industry town, it’s a mountain bike town. You’ll run into lawyers, software engineers, ER docs, and students all out for a quick lap before returning to work with muddy grins—which is a good name for a malty stout. I’d pair that with a Galbraith tour in late September.


If you go:

Most people access the Galbraith trails from the Whatcom Falls Park—ride up Birch Street to the North Side trail access. The other main access point (easiest for non-locals) is the parking lot on Samish Way directly across from Galbraith Lane. The Chuckanut trail network is south of town on Chuckanut Ridge; the trails begin in Larabee State Park and end up in the Fairhaven area of Bellingham. The Interurban Trail (among others) links the Chuckanut trail network to town. Blanchard Mountain is farther south of town and best accessed from the DNR parking lots off Barrel Spring Road. The WMBC (wmbcmtb.org) is a great source of information. Also, stop by Fanatik Bike Co (fanatikbike.com) to grab a map of the Galbraith or Chuckanut trails. Your Galbraith map purchase helps support the trails.

Rock N Rye offers a great selection of local food, beers, and cocktails. When riding in the Chuckanuts, Taylor Shellfish is just down the road—stop in for fresh oysters and views of the San Juan Islands. rockrye.com

Breweries: Aslan Brewing Company, 1330 N. Forest Street, 360.778.2088 | Boundary Bay Brewery, 1107 Railroad Avenue, 360.647.5593 | Chuckanut Brewery, 601 West Holly Street, 360.752.3377 | Kulshan Brewing Company, 2238 James Street, 360.389.5348 | Kulshan Brewing Company K2,1538 Kentucky Street, 360.389.5348 | Structures Brewing, 1420 North State Street, 360.383.8741 | Stones Throw Brewery, 1009 Larrabee Avenue, 360.362.5058 | Wander Brewing, 1807 Dean Avenue, 360.647.6152 | Menace Brewing, 1427 Railroad Avenue, 360.306.3731

Larrabee State Park is Washington’s oldest park, and one of the most scenic as well. The campsites are near the heart of the Chuckanut trails. Reservations recommended 888.226.7688; parks.state.wa.us


Drive: Seattle to Bellingham

Ride: Tiger Mountain Loop. Tiger Mountain continues to expand, with two new trails scheduled for 2017. For now, says MTB Project contributor Eric Ashley, the 12.9-mile trail delivers challenging climbs and “plenty of aggressive flow and patches of tech that make for lively descents.”

From our High Summer 2016 issue.

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