I find that loops are just the way to go and this loop turned out to be one of my favorites. I’ve done the normal all pavement Lakes Loop a few times, but the addition of some gravel roads, trails, and a summit really make this ride something different. Different in this case means a long ride with a little hiking that rewards with some great views.
Like other loops that are on my list, this ride starts and ends at Whatcom Falls Park. Here’s how it goes. This ride takes you out of the park towards Lake Whatcom on Lakeway, but then turns right/south on Austin and out past the backside of Sudden Valley on Lake Louise Road. Lake Louise Road meets up with Lake Whatcom Blvd where you will again turn right/south. As you reach South Bay on your left, you will one more time turn right/south, this time on Cain Lake Road. Follow Cain Lake Road up through Glenhaven and continue towards Alger. As you come down the last grade, with Alger in sight, look for a yellow gated gravel road on your right (see image). This is the entrance to this section of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT).
The PNT goes north and uphill all at the same time. Keep on the obvious main gravel road which heads directly to the summit of Alger Alp. So if you want to hit the summit just keep on going on the main road, it’ll get really steep but it’s short. Whitey has a triple chainring up front, but street gearing in the rear, so I did a little pushing. The grade lessons as you approach the summit, however watch out because there is a shear rock face at the end of the road. The rock face does make for a wide open view to the west and southwest. In my opinion the views make it worth what is really a relatively short the ride/push up to the summit. Do this if you have the time, at least the first time you do this loop.
If you decide to forego the picturesque summit and head straight to Squires Lake you will need to keep your eyes open for road 1300 which turns off the main road just before the steepest push up to the summit. Road 1300 goes north along the ridge, becomes singletrack and then drops into the trail system around Squires Lake and some beaver ponds. The main trail runs dangerously close to a long very sheer cliff. And by dangerously close I mean, if you fall to the right you get dirty, if you fall to the left you get dead. Next time you drive I-5 north of Alger, take a look to the east at the rocky cliffs. Those are the rocky cliffs you will be falling off. I chose to walk this section of trail. There appears to be some sort of a trail paralleling the ridge trail but set back from the edge that I think I will check out next time I do this loop.
As I approached Squires Lake and on the short trail to the parking lot I chose to take things slow and easy even though the trails are very wide and rideable. There are a lot of people and dogs on a nice weekend and none of them are expecting to run into a cyclist. Just nice to be nice.
When you hit the pavement again go north on Old Hwy 99, under I-5, turn right on E. Samish Way and again right onto Samish Way. Keep on Samish Way until you reach Galbraith Lane. According to Google it is 5.6 miles from the Squire Lake trailhead to Galbraith Lane, but really just look for the pack of cars parked on Samish Way near the top of a rise.
You can pick your own way through Galbraith if you are familiar. I followed Galbraith Lane and kept on Galbraith Lane as it turned to gravel and continued north. My route aimed at coming out on Kenoyer Drive as this road leads straight back into Whatcom Falls Park. I did hit a trail named Boot Dryer which veered left off the main gravel road and eventually dumped me right at the end of Kenoyer Drive. Most of Boot Dryer is fun, but some of it was a bit much for a rigid balloon tired bike so I might try just keeping on the gravel road to the power line next time, or pick my way up and exit on the Ridge Trail onto Birch Street. The Schwalbe Big Bens did well on the street and well on everything but the most muddy sections, I won’t be trading them out anytime soon.
All in all, with a few route modification that I noted above, this version of the Lakes Loop route is a keeper in my book of routes as it packs so much variety in a single ride.
I’ve not done a ride write up on what is my normal Lakes Loop. It is essentially this route, less the gravel and trail sections. Instead of the PNT & Squires Lake you just keep following Cain Lake Road down to Alger and then turn north on Old Hwy 99. And bypass the Galbraith section by remaining on Samish Way until turning right/north onto Yew St. On the last bit of Yew St. downhill I turn right on Alvarado and then left on Kenoyer so that I still bypass Lakeway and go straight back into Whatcom Falls Park. There are also several other variations for the imaginative.