Our Comprehensive Guide To Birch Bay State Park In 2021

Birch Bay State Park is a 194-acre Washington state park located nine miles (14 km) south of Blaine in Whatcom County near the Canadian border. Set in a deep blue cove between Blaine and Bellingham, Birch Bay State Park has the feeling of privacy and tranquility while not being far from urban life.

The park is unique with its 8,255 feet (2.516 m) of saltwater shoreline on Birch Bay and almost 15,000 feet (4600 m) of freshwater shoreline banking the Terrell Creek. The Terrell Creek Marsh is one of the few remaining saltwater/freshwater estuaries in Puget Sound.

The park is rich in archeological significance and has a game preserve at the northern end. A clear day offers panoramic views of the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Canadian Gulf Islands to the west, enjoyed by both Americans and Canadians alike.

Our comprehensive guide covers all the many activities available at Birch Bay State Park and offers some tips for first-time visitors. Keep reading to plan your getaway to Washington’s Birch Bay State Park.

History of Birch Bay State Park

Birch Bay State Park, the hidden gem of NW Washington, has been a popular tourist destination since the 1920s. 5,000 full-time residents live in the beachfront community and over 100,000 tourists visit the park annually.

The bay was originally home to the Semiahmoo, a small, peaceful Straits Salish tribe who shared the shoreline with the Loomi and Nordsack tribes since prehistoric times. Archeological evidence suggests this region was settled long before the first recorded explorers arrived in the late eighteenth century. The Spanish were first in the 1790s. They mapped the area and named the bay “Ensenada de Garzon”.

The British arrived right behind the Spanish, claiming the bay as British Territory. Botanist Archibald Menzies (1754 – 1842), a member of British Navy Captain George Vancouver’s famous 1792 expedition, changed the name to Birch Bay for the abundance of Black Birch that grew there.

During the 1850s, explorers and settlers traveled through the area in significant numbers on the way to the Fraser River goldfields in British Columbia. In 1871 the first communities were built around logging mills. Although the community remained mostly isolated it was not unknown. Even as early as 1890, it was a favorite destination because of the excellent clamming available in the bay, but getting there was difficult.

Access improved in the 1920s with the automobile and better roads. Beachfront homes and resorts sprang up to accommodate seasonal residents. Area growth continued through World War 2. With the addition of an amusement park in the 1950s, the Bay area’s tourism grew. In 1954 the Birch Bay State Park was established to provide recreational opportunities to area residents and its many tourists as well.

Getting to Birch Bay State Park

The Park occupies an area on the bay 20 miles north of Bellingham, Washington, and 10 miles south of Blaine, WA, near the Canadian border. It is approximately 100 miles north of Seattle and 20 miles south of Vancouver BC Canada.

  • From the south: Take exit #266 off Interstate 5. Go left on Grandview for 7 miles, then right onto Jackson for 1 mile, then turn left onto Helweg.
  • From the north: Take exit #266 off I-5, turn right onto Grandview for 7 miles, then right onto Jackson for 1 mile, then turn left onto Helweg. The street address of the park is 5105 Helweg Road, Birch Bay, WA  98230.

Birch Bay State Park Facilities and Fees

Birch Bay State Park offers several amenities and facilities to make your visit more comfortable, including:

  • A kitchen shelter with electricity and water
  • A day-use shelter suitable for groups up to 150
  • Eight sheltered and 120 unsheltered picnic tables
  • An amphitheater
  • Six fire circle pits
  • A basketball court (half size)
  • Eight restrooms (two accessible to people with disabilities)
  • Eighteen hot showers ($) (two accessible to people in wheelchairs)
  • Trailer dump station
  • 5 mile-long hiking trail
  • A boat launch

Birch Bay State Park is a spectacular spot to hold your next event. The prime beachfront setting, coupled with the magnificent log cabin architecture of the BP Heron Center is sure to inspire. The center is a gorgeous facility and suited for educational programs, retreats, parties, weddings, fundraisers, and more.

It accommodates more than 100 guests inside and more than 150 guests under the covered patio and surrounding grounds. The center is available year-round for rentals.

The Discover Pass is required for day visits to state parks and access to other state-managed recreation lands. The pass provides access to millions of acres of parks, wildlife areas, trails, natural areas, and water-access sites. The annual pass is transferable between two vehicles. An annual pass is $30 and a one-day pass is $10. The Discover Pass is available online, by phone, or in-person at automated kiosks throughout the park.

Things to Do at Birch Bay State Park

Whether your interests are hiking, biking, beachcombing, clamming, fishing, boating, or beholding the majesty of nature, Birch Bay State Park has something for everyone. Here is a quick list of some of the park’s popular activities.

  • Basketball
  • Beach combing
  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Boating and kayaking
  • Fishing, crabbing, and clam digging
  • Hiking, walking, and nature trails
  • Mountain biking
  • Photography
  • Picnicking
  • Swimming and water sports

Water Recreation

With miles of freshwater and saltwater shorelines, boating is a favorite recreational activity. The park’s boat ramp makes launching into the water easy. Motorboat, sail, or kayak around the bay for an afternoon get-away. Experienced boaters may choose to head out to the ocean for a day of fishing and fun.

Launching a boat at a state park requires one of the following:

  • An annual launch permit
  • An annual Discover Pass and a daily launch permit
  • A one-day Discover Pass and a daily launch permit

Annual permits may be purchased at State Parks Headquarters in Olympia, at region offices, online, and at parks when staff is available.

Birch Bay State Park, known for its relatively warm water, is a favorite spot for swimmers. Look for the roped-off area in the creek reserved for swimming. When the tide turns low, head to the mudflats to harvest a bucket of clams and other shellfish. Shellfish is always in season. Bring your pails, shovels, mud boots, and licenses and start digging.

Biking Through Birch Bay State Park

With its well-maintained paths and trails, biking or walking are the preferred ways to get around the park. The wide, smooth paths are wheel-chair accessible. Bring your skateboard for another way to get around.

Wildlife Observation

Birch Bay State Park is home to many bird and animal species. Raccoons and coyotes are abundant. Cougars, bear, and even a moose have also been known to frequent the park. In the forested camping areas expect to see some furry visitors.

Along the shoreline, you may find seals and sealions taking in the sun on the rocky beach. A frequent wildlife find is an “abandoned” baby seal on the beach. Seal pups are rarely abandoned by their moms who are probably fishing nearby. The mother seals will abandon the pups if they are touched by humans. Let park officials know the location of a lost seal pup but do not touch it or attempt to help.

Birdwatchers should bring their binoculars to observe many types of land and sea birds. On the forested trails you may see eagles, hawks, owls, and many more common land birds. Head to the freshwater and saltwater estuaries on Terrell Creek to see Great Blue Herons, egrets, and other waterfowl in the natural wildlife preserve.

Beachcombing

Birch Bay State Park has abundant opportunities for beach lovers. With over 8,000 feet of both fresh and saltwater shorelines there is always something new to discover. As you stroll the shores of Puget Sound or investigate the tidepools from the Pacific Ocean, gather some ancient driftwood and a variety of shells as souvenirs of your visit.

Digging for Clams, Mussel, or Oysters

Birch Bay State Park has a large (8,255 feet of shoreline) and very productive beach, flanked by a low bank and wetlands. The park, located a few miles south of the Canadian border,  is very popular with recreational clam harvesters. The clam band is a wide stretch of sand and gravel extending from the drift line down to low water.

There is good digging for native littleneck clams and Manila clams in the sandy gravel of the upper intertidal and you will find butter clams, cockles and horse clams at lower tidal elevations. There are some oysters on this beach, but they are not abundant.

Fishing and shellfish harvesting require additional fees and licenses and are only permitted during designated seasons.

Camping

The State Park is the best place to camp/picnic in Birch Bay. The whole camping area is just a short walk to the beach. The park has 147 tent spaces (12’ x 12’) in the forested camping area, plus 20 partial hookup sites for trailers and RVs (up to 60 ft.). There are 2 primitive camping sites with one accommodating up to 40 people.

The park has an amphitheater, six fire pits, a basketball court, drinking water fountains, an RV dump station, 8 restrooms (2 ADA), and 18 hot showers. Campsites can be reserved for arrival dates from May 15 through September 15. They are first-come, first-served the other times of the year.

Group accommodations are available with one primitive campsite for up to 40 people. Two other group camps with five standard sites each are also available. Fees vary with the size of the group. Check-in is 2:30 pm and check-out is 1:00 pm.

Picnicking

The park has six sheltered and 120 unsheltered picnic tables. There is one kitchen shelter with electricity and water that is on a first-come, first-served basis, and one reservable picnic shelter without electricity that can accommodate up to 150 guests.

In addition to camping and picnicking, the park offers hiking on the beach and trails with spectacular views of the North Cascades Mountains. Interpretive trails also access the rare saltwater and freshwater estuary, one of the last remaining estuaries of this type in the Puget Sound.

A Discover Pass is necessary if you plan to park your vehicle and use the park. You can purchase a one-day pass for $10 or an annual pass for $30. Both are available at the park entrance or online.

Exploring Birch Bay State Park With Children

Birch Bay State Park has a wide variety of family-friendly activities. The 0.5-mile Terrell Marsh Trail has interpretive signs throughout and with its short length, it is suitable for even the youngest family members.

During the summer months, the park hosts a wide variety of educational programs in the amphitheater. Year-round enjoy harvesting clams, mussels, and oysters. With a sand bucket and shovel, digging clams is a diversion everyone is sure to enjoy.

August 2020 saw the addition of new playground equipment, the first new equipment since 1995. The equipment includes a pair of slides, a set of swings, wall climber, mini zip line feature, gyro pad spinner, net wall, a double slide, a spiral slide, and a treehouse ranger station.

Weather Conditions at Birch Bay State Park

Not surprisingly, summer is the most popular time to visit with average temperatures in July and August of 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit.  The park receives an average of 161 sunny days a year and 159 days of precipitation. The precipitation is divided between 8” inches of snow and 38” of rain annually.

Birch Bay State Park Fast Facts

  • Birch Bay is a popular destination for hard shell clamming. The bay is also abundant in Dungeness crab. Harvest season begins in mid-August.
  • Pets must be on a leash and under physical control at all times. This includes trail areas and campsites. Pet owners must clean up after pets on all state parklands.
  • Quiet hours are 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
  • Engine-driven electric generators may be operated only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Additional Washington State Park Resources