15 Free Things to Do in Bellingham, WA

Free Things to Do in Bellingham, WA
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The port city of Bellingham is an outdoor heaven for explorers, hikers, and forest hobbyists in the northwest corner of the country.

Earning the label "Outdoorsman's Paradise," it's a household name for various travel lists in Washington focusing on outdoor recreation.

With its own collection of nature preserves, urban trails, and coastal parks, it offers a blend of beautiful woodlands and cool bays to visitors.

During spring and autumn, Bellingham has an influx of tourists because of its moderate temperature and panoramic views of the San Juan Islands.

As the county seat of Whatcom County, it's also a scenic destination that overlooks the snowy backdrop of Mt. Baker.

Bellingham is an affordable city to explore, and to help you out on your trip, here are 15 free things to do in Bellingham, Washington:

Go on a Loop Hike around Whatcom Falls Park

Scenic view of Whatcom Falls Park
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One of Bellingham's most popular tourist attractions is Whatcom Falls Park.

Its name—Whatcom—means noisy water, which is a perfect description of its roaring cascades and waves.

To get to the treasured falls, you'll have to cross the 1939 Stone Bridge, offering serene views of Whatcom Creek.

To the east of Whatcom Falls Park, you'll enjoy family-friendly amenities.

Bridge trail at Whatcom Falls Park
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Let your little ones run around the playgrounds and bike-friendly pathways.

There's also an off-leash dog park for your furry loved ones.

For an immersive exploration, go on a hiking adventure in the park's highlights.

Drive to Electric Avenue to get to this stunning public park and its equally mesmerizing waterfall.

Jogging at Whatcom Falls Park
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Watch the Sculpture Collection at Big Rock Garden

Admire public art and sculptures at Big Rock Garden.

This public park and garden offer a stunning sculpture collection within 2.5 acres.

Its 37-piece permanent collection contains masterpieces from local and international artists.

A stroll along the gardens is a must with its flowers and blossoms.

Big Rock Garden is along Sylvan Street.

Enjoy a Scenic Drive at Chuckanut Drive

Aerial view of Chuckanut Drive
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Although technically not a tourist attraction, Chuckanut Drive is a must-visit spot in Bellingham.

Completed in 1896, this scenic route is the entry point to Whatcom County.

Spanning 24 miles, this byway route welcomes newcomers to Bellingham Bay and Samish Bay.

Enjoy an adventurous ride with views of the sandstone cliffs of the mountain of the same name.

A car along Chuckanut Drive
Edmund Lowe Photography / Shutterstock.com

You'll also find historic establishments and business chains along Chuckanut Drive.

Chuckanut Drive uses Highway State 11 on the maps and starts at Burlington before reaching Bellingham's captivating portside charm.

Discover Sea Wildlife at Marine Life Center

When it comes to marine wildlife research and tours, Marine Life Center gives you a headstart.

Located on Roeder Avenue, this marine center offers an in-depth look at sea creatures through exhibits.

The center's highlight is its touch tank, where visitors can pet sea urchins and cucumbers.

Among the exhibits are a bubble tank and a rocky shore habitat that your little ones will enjoy.

Marine Life Center is a hidden gem in Bellingham worth visiting with your kids.

While admission is free, you can send in donations.

Soak up Relaxing Views at Boulevard Park's Boardwalk

Pier at Boulevard Park
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Overlooking Bellingham Bay, Boulevard Park has served locals and tourists since 1980.

This park features overwater boardwalks and picnic tables, perfect for solo and group travelers.

Its maintained trails also provide a scenic view of the bay alongside playgrounds; it's also conveniently located near a coffee shop.

Sunset over Boulevard Park
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Along its boardwalks, go on an intimate stroll with a loved one and wait for majestic views of the sunset.

Situated on Bayview Drive, this public park is ideal for sunset lovers and couples who prefer a tranquil place for intimate walks.

Pathway of Boulevard Park's pier
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Explore the Old-Growth Forest of Stimpson Family Nature Preserve

With an elevation gain of 300 feet, Stimpson Nature Reserve takes you on an otherworldly adventure over 350 acres of old-growth trees and foliage.

Stimpson Nature Reserve is a result of three family generations' donations and dedication.

The Stimpson family donated it in 2000, and in 2003, the three generations of the family dedicated the preserve.

Within the property, interpretive signs offer information on the various habitats thriving in the area.

You'll see moss formations, western hemlock, and wildlife, including pileated woodpeckers.

Stimpson Nature Reserve's trail is on Lake Louise Road.

See Native Plants and Wildlife along Lake Padden Park

The waters of Lake Padden Park
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Enjoy solitude on the main loop trail of Lake Padden Park.

Running along 7.7 miles, this trail is abundant with native and rare wildlife species, from migratory to waterfowl.

Descend into the forest when you trek across the hills and see a variety of shrubbery, trees, and conifers.

There are also tennis courts and a golf course.

Welcome sign of Lake Padden Park
Robert Ashworth from Bellingham, WA., USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can bring your horse with you across the equestrian trails, too!

This public park—and its 745 acres—provides recreational activities for the whole family, from boat launches to picnicking.

Lake Padden Park is on South Samish Way.

Chuckanut Bay Gallery & Sculpture Garden is your ultimate art and decor supply stop.

Before it became a shopping center, it was a historic building that has been around in the community since 1896.

It officially opened to the public in 1986, showcasing various local and unique art.

It's home to framed paintings, wall ornaments, and large-sized sculptures.

Its outdoor garden comprises various art materials, including glass and furniture.

Chuckanut Bay Gallery & Sculpture Garden is on Chuckanut Drive.

Take in Panoramic Views of Bellingham Bay at South Bay Trail

Aerial view of South Bay Trail
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The pedestrian path of South Bay Trail is popular among commuters and joggers.

This four-mile round-trip trail offers clear vistas of Bellingham Bay.

Running along the abandoned Bellingham & Skagit Interurban Railway, this scenic route connects the small neighborhood of Fairhaven to downtown Bellingham.

Back in the 1890s, this road served as an avenue to export lumber, coal, and other raw materials to other cities.

Now, its waterfront path offers an ideal variation from the woodlands and forest-filled setting of other trails in the city.

South Bay Trail starts on East Maple Street.

Support the Independent Film Industry at the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

Want to test your film expertise or expand your knowledge on it?

The Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival might just be the festival for you.

This annual festival brings to light global and societal issues through free independent film showings.

Celebrated within 10 days, it partners with the Pickford Film Center to provide a deeply immersive and thought-provoking film experience.

Learn about environmental issues and cultural diversity by attending the festival’s post-screening discussions and get another perspective on the film through the filmmaker’s eyes.

The Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival takes place on Bay Street.

Climb the Observation Towers for a Full View of Sehome Hill Arboretum

Trail at Sehome Hill Arboretum
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Among Bellingham's must-see spots is Sehome Hill Arboretum.

Spanning more than 170 acres, this mature tree canopy-driven oasis features outcrops and dwindling paths.

It also offers beautiful views of the Bellingham cityscape and its adjacent bay.

You can enjoy expansive views of nature and wildlife in the arboretum's viewing towers.

You can find Sehome Hill Arboretum next to the Western Washington University Campus on 25th Street.

Watch the Tribal Performances at the Lummi Stommish Water Festival

Every June, Bellingham celebrates culture with the Lummi Stommish Water Festival in Lummi Nation Stommish Grounds.

Stommish means "warrior" in Cowichan.

Started in 1946, this festival aims to honor the safe return of World War II veterans to the city.

This festival is internationally acclaimed and has been part of the Bellingham tradition, featuring aquatic races and unique performances.

Bring the whole family and celebrate by watching the canoe competitions, traditional dances, and a carnival series.

Stay for the night and watch the moonlight concert series.

If you didn't catch it on its first day, there's no need to worry; the Lummi Stommish Water Festival is a free event that happens all throughout the weekend on Lummi View Drive.

Explore the Historic Fairhaven Neighborhood

Building at the Historic Fairhaven Neighborhood
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If you prefer a slow-paced tour of Bellingham, then a trip to historic Fairhaven may be best.

This small neighborhood in the southern section of Bellingham offers a glimpse into the city's art and architecture.

With its Victorian-inspired buildings and streets, you'll feel like you've traveled back in time.

Founded in 1883, the name given by Daniel J. Harris is a native word that means "safe port" or "quiet place."

A cafe at the Historic Fairhaven Neighborhood
Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock.com

In the 21st century, the neighborhood saw a drastic change in building and infrastructure with the birth of many establishments, art studios, and restaurants.

Go on a self-guided tour of the streets and avenues of Fairhaven and experience culture and history.

Fairhaven became a part of Bellingham in 1903.

Shops along the Historic Fairhaven Neighborhood
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Other Things to Do Nearby

Browse through the Art Exhibits at Jansen Art Center

Exterior of Jansen Art Center
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jansen Art Center in Lynden is a free museum and multi-purpose facility that seeks to encourage the public to appreciate the arts.

It offers workshops and classes on pottery, watercolor painting, needle felting, and more.

You can also explore its exhibitions and view artworks from seasoned experts and local artists.

However, some classes may have a fee.

Jansen Art Center is on Front Street, a 24-minute drive from Bellingham.

Watch the Parade and Shows at Whatcom Old Settlers Pioneer Picnic

Within Whatcom County, you'll enjoy a variety of annual festivals and events no matter what month you decide to visit.

At Ferndale, the Whatcom Old Settlers Pioneer Picnic is a festival worth checking out.

This event happens every last week of July and is popular worldwide for being the longest-running picnic all over Washington.

Get a free viewing of Pioneer Park's cabins, which are open for everyone to explore.

Among the entertainment you can enjoy at the event are a talent show, live music, and a non-profit expo.

Don't miss the parade, which starts the festivities.

Whatcom Old Settlers Pioneer Picnic takes place in Pioneer Park on Cherry Street, a 16-minute drive from Bellingham.

Final Thoughts

Bellingham's astounding range of outdoor recreational activities makes the city a desirable city to travel in and reside in permanently.

Whether a novice or an expert at outdoor activities, you have a spot in this breathtaking city.

Take note of these free things to do in Bellingham, Washington, to make the most of your trip!

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