Lakes & Beaches

Most lakes and beaches in Whatcom County are usually safe to swim and recreate in, but when there are toxins, pollution, or other health issues in the water we post signs to let you know.

  • Pay attention to signs posted at public beaches that warn of health risks or beach closures.
  • Only a few saltwater beaches are monitored. Monitored beaches include: 
    • Wildcat Cove at Larrabee State Park
    • Marine Park in Bellingham
    • Little Squalicum Beach in Bellingham
    • Birch Bay
  • Contact us if you have any questions or concerns about a beach or lake in Whatcom County. Email us or call 360-778-6000.
  • Avoid drinking or swallowing lake or seawater, especially near the shoreline. It is untreated water that could make you sick if you swallow it.
  • For information about harvesting shellfish to eat, check the Washington State Shellfish Safety Map for safety info, or visit our shellfish page.

Freshwater Lakes & Beaches

Lakes in Whatcom County are generally healthy to play or swim in. We do not regularly monitor freshwater lakes, but we do respond to questions or concerns by collecting and testing water samples. If we discover a health risk, we post signs at public access points. To report a concern with a lake or beach email us or call 360-778-6000.

Freshwater lakes may have issues with "Swimmer’s Itch" or toxic algae blooms. Animals may poop on the shore or in areas where water runs into the lake. Water contaminated by poop may have bacteria, parasites, or viruses that could make you sick.

  • "Swimmer’s itch" is an itchy rash that can show up on your skin after swimming in a lake. We occasionally receive reports of swimmer’s itch from Lake Padden. Swimmer’s itch risk can be reduced by showering and towel drying immediately after leaving the water.
  • Toxic algae blooms are caused by blue-green algae called cyanobacteria. The blooms often look like blue-green paint was spilled on the surface of the water. These algae blooms can produce toxins that can be harmful to pets, especially dogs, and humans if any of the water containing the toxins is swallowed. If you see a blue-green algae bloom, stay out of the water in and around the bloom. Email us or call 360-778-6000 to report it to us.

Saltwater Beaches

We work with the Washington State Beach program to monitor popular saltwater beaches in Whatcom County from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. Some ocean beaches can become contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick. When bacteria levels are too high, we post signs at beaches to warn about the health risks of swimming.

We currently monitor four high-use, high-risk marine beaches:

  • Birch Bay County Park.
  • Larrabee State Park, Wildcat Cove.
  • Little Squalicum Park - Little Squalicum Park has a permanent swimming advisory in place. Children, elderly, and those with poor health are advised not to swim because increased level of bacteria are present.
  • Port of Bellingham Marine Park.

Find current health-related closures of saltwater swimming beaches anywhere in Washington State.

Shellfish Collection

Beaches in Whatcom County are often used for recreational shellfish harvest. We work with the Washington State Department of Health to monitor for toxins that are often present in shellfish. When toxin levels are too high, we close the beach to shellfish harvesting and post signs to let you know. Closure signs can be damaged or stolen, so you should always check beach status before collecting shellfish. 

Check the Washington State Shellfish Safety Map or call the 24-hour Shellfish Safety Hotline at 1-800-562-5632. To learn more about safe shellfish harvesting, visit our shellfish page.

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