Nestled between the Chuckanut Mountains and the serene water of Puget Sound lies a hidden, picturesque drive just off the beaten path of the I-5 corridor.
Sightseers in cars, bikes and motorcycles take the path less traveled on this scenic stretch of road that hugs the edge of the emerald foothills above. These roughly 21 miles of road are a haven for hikers and casual visitors who find its winding trails, above and below, a worthy destination.
Whether it’s a weekend getaway to take in the views of the San Juan Islands, to experience the local culture or to take an alternative route north, Chuckanut Drive offers a unique detour off the freeway. Best of all, it is only a three-hour jaunt from Tacoma on the way to Bellingham or the Canadian border.
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On the south end of this stretch of highway sit the unincorporated communities of Bow and Edison. Located a slight jog west of I-5 on Bow Hill Road, these Skagit Valley hamlets are dotted with shops, including a bakery and a store selling repurposed art.
Bow and Edison are great places to visit in the summer, said Scott Mangold, owner of the Edison bakery Breadfarm. With a combined population of around 6,000, residents take pride in their villages’ small size.
“What I really appreciate about our little village is that there’s a level of authenticity,” Mangold said. “The people that are here are producers less than they are resellers. There’s a little something that maybe doesn’t exist in a lot of places anymore that is still happening here, and it’s unique.”
Located in the heart of Skagit County, local eateries have easy access to freshly grown food in the fertile valley. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Skagit Valley produces more than 80 different crops each year on 93,000 acres of land.
The abundance of produce from the surrounding valley and shellfish from neighboring Samish Bay is a draw for visitors, said R. John DeGloria, owner of Slough Food in Edison.
“I love this little corner of the valley,” DeGloria said. “It’s the spot where the Cascades touch the (Sound), the Chuckanut (Mountains) touch the water. The soil here is incredibly fertile, and the bay is fertile and clean.”
INTERACT WITH SEA CREATURES
Chuckanut Drive has been around for more than a century and is home to scenic overlooks, hiking trails and beaches. The winding road is lined with towering evergreen and deciduous trees; through gaps to the west, one can see the San Juan Islands.
“It’s so beautiful,” Judith Gauthier said. “When you come along Chuckanut and you get here (to Bow-Edison), it kind of opens up more, and I like that.”
Bellingham resident Gauthier and her sister take Chuckanut Drive to Bow-Edison every month or two when the weather is nice.
This stretch of road is more than just natural scenery and vistas of the Puget Sound. Larrabee State Park is on the way and is a popular place to stop, giving visitors a chance to watch Pacific Northwest marine life, such as sea stars, hermit crabs and sea anemones.
Deb Donovan, a biology professor at Western Washington University, encourages people to interact with the local marine life, just not with the mammals.
“When you go to a tide pool, you just have to sit down and look at one place for a long period of time,” Donovan said. “If you really look at it, all of a sudden you’ll see all of these things moving around in it.”
‘WALK BACK INTO TIME’
At the northern end of Chuckanut Drive, as the towering trees thin out, Fairhaven’s many historic buildings come into view.
This waterfront hamlet on the south side of Bellingham retains a 19th century charm popular with shoppers and sightseers.
“That’s what people can do when they come (to Fairhaven). They can go shopping in a building from 1890,” said John Servais, a Fairhaven historian. “And there’s a certain ambiance and enjoyment in that.”
Its brick buildings and quiet alleys are markers of a time gone by.
“It’s just a wonderful place to walk back into time,” said Gordon Tweit, 89, a retired Fairhaven pharmacist who worked as a delivery boy for the pharmacy back in 1941. “Especially since there’s enough people who have (historic) pictures and so forth in their stores.”
Beyond its historic appeal, it is also a safe waterfront community that is easy to walk around and shop in, said Fairhaven resident David Cannon.
“There’s lots to see, lots to do,” Cannon said. “The Interurban Trail runs through town, so it’s a great place to bike and to walk.”
After a great walk, Cannon said, he often drops in at Perfectly Paired, one of Fairhaven’s many quaint food shops.
“It’s a nice part of Bellingham, because it’s much more laid back,” Ruthie Myers said. “There’s less traffic, there’s still cobbled streets, and it has kind of an old-style feel to it, very relaxed and kind of European.”
Margaret Degman, Chanel Retasket and Stephanie Villiers are students of Western Washington Universtiy.