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Best Kayaking Spots in Bellingham and Whatcom County

Best Kayaking Spots in Bellingham and Whatcom County

Visiting the Puget Sound area can mean so many things, from planning a trip to Seattle to kayaking in Bellingham and Whatcom County. If you venture north, nearly to the Canadian border on the way to Vancouver BC, you’ll come to Bellingham, which is one of the prettiest cities in Washington State. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, and kayaking is one of the best ways to explore its many lakes and bays. The sheltered waters of Bellingham and Chuckanut Bays are perfect for beginners, while the rugged coastline and towering peaks of the North Cascades offer more challenging routes for experienced paddlers.

No matter what your level of experience, you’re sure to find a route that suits you in Whatcom County. Some of the best kayaking spots in Whatcom County include Samish Bay and Larrabee State Park, and even a few launches in North Cascades National Park (we cover those in our kayaking Skagit County article). Birch Bay State Park is known for its saltwater and abundance of wildlife, while Samish Bay is perfect for watching sunsets over the San Juan Islands. Larrabee State Park offers miles of rugged coastline and pristine beaches, as well as plenty of opportunities for paddling, fishing, hiking, and camping.

Like with all of our kayaking recommendations, they come with the warning of SAFETY FIRST. If you’re kayaking in Whatcom County, a lot of the options are sea kayaking or paddling just off shore. Mind the tides and weather, and keep your own skill level in mind when deciding where to paddle. If we didn’t include your favorite kayaking spot in Whatcom County, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share more!

Bellingham and Whatcom County have tons of great places to kayak. From Lake Whatcom to Birch Bay, the Northern Puget Sound is a beautiful summer kayaking destination.

Where is Whatcom County?

Whatcom County, Washington is located in the Northwest quadrant of Washington State. Across the Puget Sound from the Olympic Peninsula, it is where the USA meets Canada. Actually, Point Roberts is a part of Whatcom County that juts off of British Columbia and doesn’t touch the rest of the State of Washington.

It’s about 2 hours driving from Seattle to get to Whatcom County, or about 45 minutes from Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s gorgeous! If you’re coming from Eastern Washington, Whatcom County is just west of the Cascades from Winthrop and Twisp, north of where Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) meets I-5. Keep in mind that Highway 20 is closed for a good portion of winter and spring.

Lake Kayaking Spots in Whatcom County

One of the things I love about kayaking in Whatcom County is the number of lakes. Kayaking on the Olympic Peninsula is fun and beautiful, but it doesn’t have as many mellow lakes as Whatcom County does. Those looking at picking up paddling as a new hobby won’t have a hard time finding a place to try it in Whatcom County. Basing yourself out of Bellingham there are plenty of choices just miles from downtown. There are plenty of lakes with calm waters including Lake Samish, Lake Whatcom, and Lake Padden.

Lake Padden

Lake Padden is one of Bellingham’s local favorites- paddlers, cyclists, runners, and those going on leisure walks come out given its 3.5-mile distance from downtown. Great for all seasons this is perfect for beginner kayakers with its gentle waters. Lake Padden is also one of the best places for kayaking in Whatcom County if you’re looking for fall colors. Really, this part of Washington puts on a beautiful show in October and early November.

And yes, Lake Padden is a great place to standup paddle too! Get on the water early for the best light and most calm waters.

Where to launch:

Calm Lake Padden in Whatcom County Washington

Lake Samish

As you’re driving from Seattle to Bellingham, you’ll see Lake Samish through the trees from I-5. A popular kayaking destination in Whatcom County, Washington, Lake Samish has a lot to offer. The calm waters of the lake are perfect for beginners, and there is also a ton of fishing, hiking, and camping done here. Some of the best kayaking spots in the park include the south end of the lake in the Blue Canyon area, where you can paddle past rings of mountains, and the north end of the lake, where you can explore the marshlands and wildlife of Samish Bay. Be ready to have your vessel inspected since this lake is very strictly protected from aquatic invasive species. Once you get your inspected you will get your sticker and be ready to launch!

Lake Samish is a SUP Friendly lake. You don’t have to limit yourself to just kayaking in Whatcom County, because these lakes are wonderful and are plenty deep for doing standup paddle with a fin on your board.

Where to launch:

View from on Lake Samish in Whatcom County Washington

Lake Whatcom Kayaking

Lake Whatcom is a beautiful spot for kayaking and canoeing. The lake is large and well-stocked with fish, great for anglers getting out on the water. Before you head out to the lake, you need to be prepared for the new Whatcom Boat Inspections in place to help control Aquatic Invasive Species in the water supply. Boat inspections and permits are required for boaters using boat ramps both at Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish. Boaters and kayakers can choose either a 3-day pass or an annual permit. The water is clear and the scenery is stunning, making this lake the perfect place for a paddle!

Where to launch:

Lake Whatcom from the Trees Bellingham Washington

Salt Water Kayaking in Whatcom County

Being at the north end of Puget Sound on the Salish Sea, Bellingham is a hub for seasoned paddlers who like sea kayaking. The waters of Whatcom County offer tons of opportunities for more challenging paddle than its lakes. Below we list a few of our go-to spots in the area, including a tricky little bit called Point Roberts.  Always check tides and weather conditions before heading out. 

Portage Island

Portage Island is part of the Lummi Native American Tribal lands and offers culture and a great place for exploring. While most folks opt for the San Juans, those who choose to kayak Bellingham Bay and Lummi Bay are pleasantly surprised by the quiet inlets and coves they find here. It’s the perfect place to explore from the water especially if you are looking to spot wildlife on your journey!

Note: you’ll need to take the small ferry over to Lummi Island or you can

Where to launch:

Chuckanut Island

Kayaking to Chuckanut Island is an awesome way to experience the natural beauty of the Evergreen State. This whole area is one of the best places for kayaking in Whatcom County, and you’ll love it in the summer! And if you are into birdwatching this is the spot. The sheltered waters of Bellingham Bay are perfect for beginners who just want to glide, while the rocky coastline and ranges of the North Cascades offer more of a challenge. Any level of experience will do well here, and you will easily find a route that suits you near Chuckanut Island.

Where to launch:

Ducks in Chuckanut Bay in Whatcom County Washington

Gooseberry Point

Maybe stunning views are what you are looking for when you are out on the water. Gooseberry Point in Whatcom County, definitely checks those boxes as you launch towards Lummi Island and head west. This secluded area has the most stunning views of the Salish Sea Coast to the west and the snow-capped peaks of the North Cascades to the east, and it’s the perfect place to soak up some sun and enjoy a day on the water. A popular trail is from Gooseberry Point to Clark Island. Be sure to check the tides before heading out.

Where to launch:

Nooksack River Delta 

The Nooksack River Delta is a lesser-known opportunity for kayakers in Washington State. 75 miles of undeveloped area is with unspoiled shoreline and pristine wetlands, providing the perfect setting for a peaceful paddle. Perfect for beginners the delta’s calm waters are fairly easy to navigate. However, there are also some more challenging routes for experienced paddlers if that is what you are looking for, just put in farther up the river.

If you’re starting up river, know that the Nooksack is pretty long. When it’s melting season you’ll find a lot of debris in the river, so consider just how safe the flow is before you launch. If there’s a lot happening and the waters are high, consider the wetland delta area over the upper river areas.

Where to launch:

Nooksack River Delta Kayaking in Whatcom County Washington (1)

Point Roberts’ Lighthouse Marine Park

Located at the tip of Tsawwassen Peninsula the small Point Roberts’ Lighthouse Marine Park is a beautiful area to spend a day. A perfect place to see porpoises, and get into deepwater quickly, this shoreline has beautiful rocky beaches and tons of wildlife to see. It is popular for whale watching with Orca pods present as well. 

Where to launch:

State Park Kayaking Spots near Whatcom County

The Evergreen State is truly blessed with state parks, Whatcom County is no exception. Deception Pass State Park is the most visited park in the state with the iconic Deception Pass Bridge. Whale watching in the sea is common whether you’re launching from Larrabee State Park or Birch Bay. Here are our recommendations for parks in the area. 

Wildcat Cove, Larrabee State Park

Wildcat Cove is located in Larrabee State Park. It is characterized by forested surroundings and really cool rock formations with minimal human development in the area. While currents aren’t too bad in general,  they may prove challenging for beginners or be stronger on days with king or spring tides. Be mindful of the tide report, as well as not to get stuck in the shallow Samish Bay.

Note: if you do get stuck, high centered on rocks, mud or sand, it’s usually more safe to sit and wait it out for the tide to come back in than to get out of your watercraft and try to get back into deeper water. Safety first!

Where to launch:

Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park

Bowman Bay is located in Anacortes, on the northern side of Washington State’s most visited park, Deception Pass State Park. The area is home to beautiful tide pools, short hikes surrounded by forests, and scenic views. For those going out past the bay be wary of the currents. 

DO NOT go kayaking through Deception Pass. The waters here are SO INTENSE. I’ve watched power boats struggle and have spent many hours hiking at Deception Pass observing the currents. Don’t do it.

Where to launch:

View from Kayaking at Deception Pass State Park - DO NOT PADDLE UNDER BRIDGE
View from Kayaking at Deception Pass State Park – DO NOT PADDLE UNDER BRIDGE

Birch Bay State Park

Birch Bay State Park is near the US/Canadian border. It is perfect for camping as well as clamming and fishing. The area is filled with wildlife, specifically the popular bald eagle. Getting out on the water here you can enjoy calm waters and gorgeous sunsets. Like with the cove at Larabee State Park, Birch Bay State Park also can foil your kayaking plans if you hit it at an outgoing tide. There are sandbars, mussel beds, and rocky troughs to be wary of, so be a safe and smart kayaker. Paddling in Whatcom County is fun, but it’s full of natural surprises.

Where to launch:

Great Blue Heron in Birch Bay Whatcom County Washington

Kayaking in Deception Pass State Park – If you are going through Deception Pass State Park, check out this kayaking tour. Start at beautiful Bowman Bay and make your way towards the famous Deception Pass bridge as professional guides will help you tackle the tricky currents of the area. Be sure to ask your guide to point out any wildlife as there are opportunities to see bald eagles or whales. 

3-Hour Sea Kayak Tour in the San Juan Islands – Launching from Anacortes this tour takes you from just south of Whatcom County into the gorgeous San Juan Islands which are teeming with wildlife. Look out for seals, porpoises, and even orcas. On the trip, you will visit several uninhabited islands such as Burrows Island. 

Need to Know for Visiting Whatcom County

In addition to being a college town (Western Washington University), Whatcom County is a great destination for kayakers of all levels of experience. The area has so many sheltered bays and rugged coastlines, that you will find exactly what you are looking for in this picturesque corner of Washington State. If you’re a beginner looking for an easy paddle or an experienced kayaker looking for a challenge, or maybe traveling with both, you will find some great places everyone can enjoy in Whatcom County.

Kayaking in Whatcom County, or hiking too for that matter, will bring some great opportunities for wildlife. With the Nooksack River and North Cascades National Park right there, bald eagles and bears are all over the place. Bears are seen less frequently, but they’re present, particularly along the shore when paddling. Bald Eagles tend to congregate along the Nooksack, so while I personally wouldn’t paddle it (more rough than I can do), it’s a great spot to see the eagles in winter and spring.

When to Visit Whatcom County

There’s no wrong time to visit Bellingham and Whatcom County, Washington, but some times are definitely better than others (winter is wet!). The county is home to a wide variety of events and activities, many of which take place in the summer months. If you’re looking for a fun and festive way to spend your vacation, be sure to check out the calendar of events below.

Some of the most popular events in Whatcom County include the Reefnet Festival, Lummi Island Wild Salmon Celebration, the Chuckanut Foot Race, and the Birch Bay Sand Sculpture Contest. The Lummi Island Wild Salmon Celebration happens every August and has things like cooking demos, educational workshops, and of course a seafood feast. The Chuckanut Bay 5k Run/Walk is held every June to benefit the Whatcom County Humane Society. Last but certainly not least is the Birch Bay Sand Sculpture Contest ( a family favorite) held every July, attracting sand sculptors from all over the world.

So whether you’re looking for festivities or a quiet escape, be sure to check the county calendar when you plan your visit!

Weather in Whatcom County

Bearing in mind that Whatcom County is located in the northwestern corner of Washington State, its climate is mainly mild temperatures but it is wet! The average temperature in Bellingham, the county seat, is about 50 F degrees with significant rainfall throughout the year. The summer months are pretty mild and pleasant with less rain, but in winter be sure to pack a waterproof jacket!

Whatcom County is perfect for outdoor activities and attracts visitors looking for hiking and biking trails, and beautiful parks. Summer months here are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. And if you like to hit the slopes as well, skiers and snowboarders can check out Mt. Baker Ski Area. No matter the time of year you visit, there are a on of outdoor activities to get into in Whatcom County!

If we didn’t include your favorite kayaking spot in Whatcom County, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share more!

Bellingham and Whatcom County have tons of great places to kayak. From Lake Whatcom to Birch Bay, the Northern Puget Sound is a beautiful summer kayaking destination.


Sunday 23rd of July 2023

A nice overview of kayaking spots. Minor quibble: none of Whatcom County is on Puget Sound. The body of water that Puget Sound (and the waters up by Whatcom County and going into Canada) is called the Salish Sea.

Rob Taylor

Monday 24th of July 2023

Interesting, as I grew up there and it was always all called the Puget Sound AND the Salish Sea, including far down the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas. I'll add the note, but I'm still going to leave it called the Puget Sound for searchability reasons.

Adrian S

Saturday 20th of May 2023

House sitting for my brother in Ferndale in July. Only heard of Lake Whatcom, now I have a dozen places to check out. Thank you for the list and especially where to launch

Rob Taylor

Saturday 27th of May 2023

Awesome! Whatcom county is so pretty and you'll love it. North Cascades is starting to open up, so depending on how long you're up there, be sure to pop over and check it out too!