Trip Report: Hemlock Trail to Cedar Lake

Once again I found myself in the Chuckanut range this weekend. We planned to go to Lake Serene, but that sounded miserable in the snow. We switched to Wallace Falls, but a full day of icy rain was in the forecast there. With weather apps on our phones and a little research, we found a spot with clear skies all day just south of Bellingham. It was snowing to the north and raining just south of us, but by hanging out in the rain shadow east of the San Juans, we managed to have a fair weather day in the middle of the storm system. The trail itself was mostly snow-covered but passable. The white covering the ground and the trees made for a winter wonderland atmosphere.

Snow on the Cedar Lookout side trail.

In my last post, I mentioned that the Chuckanuts have more than 60 miles of trails. This system stretches across several land boundaries managed by state, city, county and even private landowners. This gives many options to explore.

We started at the North Chuckanut Trailhead at the northwestern most tip of the range. Starting late (about 11:30), we mostly followed the Hemlock Trail to Cedar Lake, with a slight detour to a lookout on the Huckleberry Trail (We started to notice a theme with these trail names!).

Lookout from the Huckleberry Trail

It was a nice workout with about nine miles and just over two thousand feet of cumulative elevation gain. Again, with the extensive trail system, this could be lengthened or shortened to your liking. There is also a Pine and Cedar Lakes trailhead off of Old Samish Road, which can get you to Pine and Cedar lakes faster with more aggressive elevation gain. When we got to the junction between these trails, I noticed a man short of breath and carrying nothing but a small water bottle. I assume he came up the faster but steeper route.

We arrived at Cedar Lake mid-afternoon and marveled at its icy sheen. Okay, so it was covered in slush, not ice. But it was still beautiful to behold.


At Cedar Lake, we decided to walk around the lake but bailed on that idea due to the icy walkways and a wooden plank walkway over part of it that looked like it wouldn’t hold my weight (one of the support beams had come completely off). So, we did about a half circle around the lake before heading back by way of a shortcut through the Cedar Lake Overlook. This side trail actually gave us two viewpoints, one bonafide lookout and a nice peek-a-boo view of the San Juans.

Cedar Lake Lookout Trail Peek-a-Boo View

On the way back, my friend Sheryl and I found ourselves in a mood we often experience together at the end of a hike: immature yet somehow intellectually stimulating flippant jocularity. We had fun with a dog who didn’t want to pass us to keep up with its owner. The way it was looking at us, Sheryl thought it was thinking “are you my friends” and related that to me. I thought Sheryl said “are you muffins?” so we laughed about that for a time. We also spotted a bird and didn’t know what it was so started to make up names for it. I suggested “Buckwheat Ptarmisuckle”, but Sheryl was convinced that nothing would be named buckwheat in this region. Ultimately, we settled on “Golden Breasted Ptmarmisuckle” and that it was a cousin of the Buckwheat Ptarmisuckles. We recently signed up for a naturalist class together, so we viewed this as practice. I’m sure we will do just fine.

As we descended, the sun was beginning to approach the horizon, casting a golden glow across the trees, commonly referred to as the golden hour. Aesthetically one of my favorite times of day, whether in the city or in the woods. I became psyched at the possibility of finishing a hike just in time for sunset and as it happens, this worked out perfectly. From the trailhead, it was only a two-mile drive to a nearby beach where we could watch the sun splash oranges, reds and pinks on the clouds as it set behind Mount Constitution on Orcas Island.

Not a bad way to end the weekend.

Sunset over the San Juans in Puget Sound from Marine Park in Fairhaven, Bellingham, Washington.