Seven things to know when visiting Whatcom Falls Park

·3 min read

Whatcom Falls Park has been a mainstay of Bellingham since its purchase in 1908. Originally 40 acres, the park now spans about 241 acres from Woburn Street to Bloedel Donovan Park.

Steve Janiszewski, park operations manager for the city of Bellingham, said Whatcom Falls is where everyone brings their family and friends. He said it is a popular spot to visit and recreate, offering great views and photo opportunities.

However, as the popularity of the location grows, so too does the need for visitors to follow best practices for the park.

Use trail etiquette

There are three and a half miles of trails winding through Whatcom Falls Park. On those trails, visitors are allowed to walk and bike through the trees as they enjoy the scenery.

However, there are some general rules while traversing the trails. First, Janiszewski said, is for bikers to yield to all pedestrians while on the trail. Additionally, bikers should walk their bikes when traversing across the stone bridge near the falls.

Pedestrians are expected to step to the right and allow bikes to pass on the left. Signs for these general rules can be found in the park.

Know what you’re getting into

Janiszewski said some portions of trails offer a “mini wilderness” and visitors should be prepared for that. Knowing the land and looking for wayfinding signs will keep visitors on designated tracks.

Some portions of trails have more rugged terrain requiring hikers to wear appropriate shoes and watch their footing. Additional dangers include the heat and sun during the summer months. Drinking lots of water and wearing adequate sunscreen can prevent injury during these times.

Swimmers cool off in a Whatcom Creek pool at Whatcom Falls Park Friday, July 29, in Bellingham.
Swimmers cool off in a Whatcom Creek pool at Whatcom Falls Park Friday, July 29, in Bellingham.

Things to do

Outside of the trail system, visitors of the park can enjoy an additional variety of recreation activities. Playgrounds and sports courts allow for play on the eastern side of the park. Additionally, picnic shelters can be rented for activities and gatherings. Children under 14 can enjoy fishing at Derby Pond.

Swim at your own risk

Swimming in Whatcom Creek is also a popular activity, primarily around the falls. However, Janiszewski said it’s encouraged for swimmers to visit areas with lifeguards like the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center or Bloedel Donovan Park. If swimmers choose to use the waters at Whatcom Falls Park, it is at their own risk.

If swimmers choose to climb the falls, appropriate shoes are recommended for the wet and rugged terrain. Near the falls, swimmers are advised to stay alert for rocks sticking out from the walls and other natural hazards.

Janiszewski said parents are encouraged to keep a close eye on their children if they decide to swim. He also said use of the “buddy system” can help keep children safe while they are swimming in the creek.

He also said activities like rock climbing, slacklining and rope swings are discouraged.

Things you can’t do

There are a few activities completely prohibited in the park. Visitors are not allowed to feed wildlife, smoke, drink alcohol and use fireworks.

People wade in Whatcom Creek at Whatcom Falls Park Friday, July 29, in Bellingham.
People wade in Whatcom Creek at Whatcom Falls Park Friday, July 29, in Bellingham.

Your dog can come

Dogs are allowed throughout the park. Although, if you do plan to bring your dog, it’s advised to be respectful to those you’re sharing the park with.

Janiszewski said a major complaint from visitors has been the presence of dog waste. Those who bring their dogs are encouraged to use trash cans and dog waste stations for waste bags.

Dogs are also required to be on a leash for the majority of the park. The park does offer an area where dogs can be off-leash on the waterline trail. Owners must still be in control of their dogs through voice commands if they have them off-leash.

You’ll see volunteers and staff

Among other visitors of the park, you may encounter individuals in uniform who offer information and bags for dog waste. These people are known as park ambassadors and their role is to give information on rules, regulations and discuss general knowledge about the park.

You may see one of the park ambassadors patrolling the park and reminding visitors of the rules if they witness a violation.