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Originally published Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM

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Go for a hike, a loop on a bike or a world-class meal on Lummi Island

Whatcom County's Lummi Island, reached by an eight-minute ferry ride, has a new public trail to the top, and other attractions ranging from biking to beach walks to world-class dining.

Special to The Seattle Times

If You Go

Lummi Island

Getting there

Lummi Island is about two hours north of Seattle. Take Interstate 5 to Exit 260, north of Bellingham. Drive west on Slater Road to Haxton Way. Drive south on Haxton to the ferry terminal at Gooseberry Point on the Lummi Nation Reservation.

The Whatcom Chief ferry, operated by Whatcom County, holds 20 cars and 100 passengers. Crossing time is eight minutes. Round-trip fares are $13 for car and driver, plus $7 per passenger. Walk-ons and cyclists: $7.

The ferry leaves Gooseberry Point every 20 to 40 minutes Monday through Friday, and on the hour on weekends. For schedule, rates and information: 360-676-6876 or www.co.whatcom.wa.us/publicworks/ferry.

Hiking

The Baker Preserve Trail is 1.6 miles long (each way) and climbs 1,050 feet. To get there, upon exiting the ferry dock turn left onto Nugent Road and follow for 0.6 miles to Seacrest Drive. Turn left and follow for 1.7 miles to the trail on the right. The sign reads: "Entrance."

More information

See www.lummi-island.com.

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LUMMI ISLAND, Whatcom County — It's touted as "the most accessible San Juan Island," and the 8-minute ferry trip to get there lends that some credibility.

As a Bellinghamster, I've long had the itch to hike to the upper reaches of Lummi Island, a 1,600-foot hill of trees that rises up out of Bellingham Bay, just eight miles from downtown. The views, I've always thought, must be otherworldly, practically Mount Constitution-esque, for when you're up there, Lummi looks close enough to land a Frisbee on with one epic Ninja heave.

Thing is, with no public trails on the hilly side of Lummi Island, there wasn't a way to hike to its higher reaches. Local legend had it that there is a trail to the top of Lummi Peak but that it was on private land and if you tried to hike it, some crazy loon would jump out from behind a tree and bash you over the head with a shovel. Not willing to wear a helmet when I hike, I turned my attention elsewhere.

But now, with the opening of the Baker Preserve Trail, one can reach that lofty Lummi Island ridge without the tiniest fear of having one's brains dashed to bits. Located on land owned by the Lummi Island Heritage Trust (www.liht.org) — the public is welcome so long as they sign in at the trailhead — the 1.6-mile (one-way) forested gem zigs and zags its way up to a west-facing promontory 1,050 feet above the glistening waters of Rosario Strait. As I discovered on a recent hike with my son, the views are as I'd imagined: out of this world.

Below a backdrop of snowy Olympic Mountains melding into low-lying clouds, the lumpy bumps and long, dark ridges of dozens of San Juan Islands gave rise to the biggest, highest and closest one: Orcas Island, a great forested wall nearly a half-mile high and little more than three miles away. To the north, the Strait of Georgia and its lower, sleeker Gulf Islands extended out to a hazy horizon.

"Awesome," said my 12-year-old son, Baker, after we'd hiked the thousand-plus feet of elevation gain and were rewarded with that view. So what if he uses the same word to describe an iPad app that involves a cafe run by zombies — this time he was right on the money; it was awesome.

Truth be told, the Baker Preserve Trail doesn't get you to the actual summit of Lummi Island. That would be Lummi Peak, which tops out at 1,665 feet and is about a mile farther along the ridge on private property. But this trail delivers what I've always pined for: a delightful picnic spot high atop a rocky cliff and offering a spectacular, panoramic vista.

Along the way, it passes through deep, dark Douglas fir forest (sword ferns galore, too) as well as stretches of marshy wetland. Be aware that though short, parts of the trail are steep, especially in the beginning. (A trail that climbs 1,050 feet in 1.6 miles can't help but have some steeps.)

Since the Baker Preserve Trail is relatively short, it leaves time to explore other aspects of nine-square-mile-long Lummi Island, the northeasternmost San Juan Island and home to just 900 or so year-round residents. The island is accessible by an eight-minute ferry ride from Gooseberry Point, about 25 minutes west of Bellingham. Here are some highlights:

Biking

With few hills on the island's 18 miles of low-traffic roads, not to mention a somewhat expensive ferry ride to get there (which keeps the island from becoming overcrowded), leaving the car on shore and taking a bike on the ferry makes perfect sense. Lummi is perfect for a mellow, country-road bike ride. You're rewarded with spectacular island and water vistas, as well as a pastoral setting of organic farms, artist studios, upland fields and peaceful forest.

A popular seven-mile loop is to turn right off the ferry onto Nugent Road and follow it as it traces the island's shoreline. At Point Migley (terrific views north through the trees to Point Roberts and expansive Georgia Strait), the road veers left and follows the shoreline south and becomes West Shore Drive. Pass the Willows Inn (more to come on that) about 3.2 miles from the ferry dock and ogle views of Orcas Island there on your right across Rosario Strait.

At Village Point, the road turns left following Legoe Bay, a pleasant protected inlet with beachfront summer homes from days of yore and reefnet boats standing at the ready. Just ahead, continue straight as the road heads inland (passing Lummi Island Congregational Church along the way; see below), eventually popping out onto Nugent Road again, 0.4-mile south of the ferry dock. Loop complete.

Walking/beachwalking

Because Lummi Island roads are so mellow, the above bike loop makes a terrific walking route, too. As for beachwalking, here are a couple options:

• A short trail behind Lummi Island Congregational Church leads to a perfect picnicking, rock-skipping and seaside-contemplation beach just around the corner from Legoe Bay. To get there from the seven-mile loop, see above; for a direct route from the ferry dock, turn left onto Nugent Road and in 0.4-mile, right onto Legoe Bay Road. The white church is a half-mile ahead on the left; signs in the parking lot point the way to the beach.

• There's also a county beach with public access just to the north of the ferry dock, across from the Beach Store Café.

Dining/lodging

For many, Lummi Island means one thing: The Willows Inn, a charming, elegant lodge overlooking Rosario Strait and featuring one of the most highly regarded fine-dining spots in world. Yes, the world — in January, The New York Times Travel section named the Willows Inn one of "10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride."

The restaurant specializes in local Northwest fare, much of it grown next door at the Willows-owned Nettles Farm or caught by reefnet fishermen just off Lummi's shores. It's prepared by 24-year-old wunderkind chef Blaine Wetzel, an Olympia native who learned his chops (so to speak) at Copenhagen's Noma, once rated the best restaurant in the world.

The inn and neighboring farm offer accommodations starting at about $145 a night in May, ranging from a farm cabin and yurt to a beachfront house that sleeps four. Information: 360-758-2620 or www.willows-inn.com.

Attractions and events

The Lummi Island Farmers Market kicks off May 7, likely at 10 a.m. (as of press time, organizers weren't quite sure) and runs through mid-September. It takes place next to the Islander (www.islandergrocery.com), a mini-grocery a couple hundred yards to the south of the ferry dock. For details, call the store (360-758-2190) as opening day nears.

The Lummi Island Artists' Studio Tour takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 28 and 29 at more than a dozen studios, galleries and farms throughout the island. Maps will be available at the Islander. For tour information, call 360-758-7121 or, closer to the date, see www.lummi-island.com.

For a look at some interesting artwork anytime, drive to the end of Wild Wabbit Woad (yes, there is a sign) and poke around Good Thunder Arts and Blue Earth Signs and Monuments. Run by husband-and-wife team Ria Nickerson and Basil Atkinson — she's the Thunder; he's the Earth — it's a combination studio, gallery and gift shop-compound adorned inside and out with cool, beautiful and sometimes bizarre stoneware, pottery, sandblasted rocks, jewelry, metal sculptures and more.

"I make some crazy stuff," Atkinson said, showing us a small helicopter made from, among other things, box wrenches, lug nuts, old lawnmower parts and a transmission gear from a pickup truck.

He also showed off a beautiful wood slingshot he'd made with an ornate rattlesnake face.

"It's got woodchuck and raccoon teeth," he said.

Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of "Insiders' Guide to Bellingham and Mount Baker" (Globe Pequot) and "Day Hike! North Cascades" (Sasquatch Books). He can be reached at mikemcquaide@comcast.net. His blog is mcqview.blogspot.com.

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