Waterfall trail

The Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve has its beauty, but is a labyrinth of unmarked trails that might confuse amateur hikers. (Eric Trent/Lynden Tribune)

Lookout Mountain was a little confusing, this first-time hiker finds 

 BELLINGHAM — As I come around a corner descending toward the exit/entrance of the LM-2000 Road, the mainline road of the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve, I spot a group of makeshift walking sticks leaned up against a tree.

They must have been left behind by previous hikers after finishing their forest jaunt, hoping to be used by future trekkers.

Those would have been handy for the hike I had just completed — a confusing web of trails that make up the new forest preserve.

The Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve was established in spring 2014 and is 4,430 acres along the mid-western side of Lake Whatcom near Sudden Valley. The county began putting in trails for hikers, the first being the Chanterelle Trail in another 4,400 acres on the northeast side of the lake. The Rufus Creek and Cougar Ridge trails were created in 2018.

With seven trails now — with names such as Baneberry, Leila June, Waterfall, Backside and Bottoms Up — providing eight miles of hiking, plus eight miles of gated forest roads, I decided to explore this territory for myself.

Being an inexperienced hiker who’s also out of shape, I elected for the waterfall trail that’s 1.6 miles round-trip. I figured that would be easy to navigate and make for interesting photos. I was wrong on both accounts.

The parking lot has a big kiosk board with maps of the trails and detailed descriptions of each hike. I could even see a trailhead about 20 yards from the kiosk. Easy enough, right? Not exactly.

The Rufus Creek Trail, according to the map, winds along for .8 mile before crossing the LM-2000 Road and meeting up with one end of the Waterfall Trail. No problem, I thought.

The next half mile was spent carefully avoiding piles of dog poop planted along the trail like landmines, until I finally came to a four-way fork. Unfortunately, neither of the forks was a forest road like the map indicated. To top it off, there were no signs in sight. I picked the one that felt like the right direction and hoped it was right.

About a half-mile later I came upon LM-2000 and realized this was the four-way fork that’s shown on the map. I was glad I picked the right fork earlier.

This junction, luckily, had a kiosk with another map of the trails and I began trudging up the forest road’s gentle incline toward the start of the Waterfall Trail. Halfway up I spotted something wedged between splitting branches of a large pine tree and pulled out a geocache. Cool. Inside were a melted watermelon Jolly Rancher, other small trinkets and pencil and paper to mark the finder’s name.

Continuing along, I merged onto the Waterfall trailhead and made my way up through dense thickets of salmonberry and devil’s club before coming upon another four-way junction not indicated on the map. Again, I picked the best route my senses told me and marched on. 

Before long I came upon a small stream and noted I must be close to the waterfall. It wasn’t until I was nearly upon it that I finally heard the distinct sound of water cascading downhill. At that point I realized I was not at the bottom of the waterfall, where typical viewings take place, but I was at the very top. Guess I took the wrong turn.

Waterfall trail 2

A small creek leads to the waterfall at the top of the Waterfall Trail. (Eric Trent/Lynden Tribune)

I  peered over the edge and looked 75 feet down to the bottom of the ravine. OK, time to backtrack. Taking a left turn back at the junction brought me back to the main trail, which has no distinct features, and I made it to a viewing platform ringed with wooden railings.

Not much to look at during summer with low water levels, but I’ll bet it’s beautiful in the winter. I’ll be back, for sure.

The hike back to the car was uneventful. I reached the four-way junction with Rufus Creek and LM-2000 and briefly considered taking Rufus up to the top, before coming to my senses and heading back to my car. 

Instead, I stopped at the Stimpson Nature Preserve just down the road and enjoyed the trails with marked signage at every fork and baby ducks scooting along the shores of a peaceful pond. For someone who isn’t an avid hiker, this was more enjoyable.

Eric Trent covers sports for the Lynden Tribune.