Northern State Recreation Area- A favorite haunted hiking haunt

Quick Facts:

Location: Skagit Valley

Land Agency: Skagit County Parks

Round Trip: more than 5 miles of trails

Elevation Gain: up to 150 feet

Contact: Skagit County Parks and Recreation

Guidebook source: Urban Trails Bellingham (Mountaineers Books)

Notes: dogs permitted on leash; trails shared by mountain bikers

Access: From Exit 232 on I-5 drive Cook Road 4.3 miles east to SR 20. Then head east on SR 20 for 2.8 miles and turn left onto Helmick Road. Continue 0.4 mile to trailhead.


Good to Know: dog-friendly, disc golf course, historic, haunted, kid-friendly

Wander for a couple of miles on old roads converted into grassy trails through what was once a large dairy farm for the Northern State Hospital. Farming ceased in the 1970s and 723-acres of the hospital farm became a Skagit County Park. There’s plenty of history here with barns dating back to the 1920s. And there’s a lot of natural wonderment here too. And the area is full of mystique, including claims of hauntings adding a little excitement to your adventuring and making this destination perfect for a Halloween hike.

spooky barns

From the parking area trails lead north to some large yellow barns on a bluff. In 1909, the Northern State Hospital was built just to the west here. It was designed by the Massachusetts-based Olmstead Brothers, an influential landscape architectural firm responsible for designing many highly acclaimed projects; among them Portland, Oregon’s and Seattle’s park systems, as well as scenic drives in Acadia, Yosemite, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

The old pumphouse

The hospital treated patients with mental illnesses and was generally regarded as one of the better facilities in the country at the time. Although lobotomies and other practices now deemed barbaric were performed here. The hospital had its own farm worked by patients providing its own food and clothing. After the hospital closed, the farm became a park, while the hospital grounds with its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture provided office and facility space for several operations. It is closed to the public and is currently being assessed for rehabilitation and new uses.

There is plenty to explore here, but stay out of all buildings, as they are historic landmarks and unsafe due to deteriorating conditions. You can walk an old road-trail west passing the old slaughterhouse. If you’re looking for solitude—and perhaps a bear (be aware) and elk (especially in the winter months) continue toward the creek. Here a bridge once stood—as the road once went to the Northern State Hospital. Go right here on another old farm road—now trail.

Follow this grassy path lined with Himalayan blackberry bushes slowly ascending and passing more farm structures falling into disrepair. Take a path heading right passing along a field edge granting good views of Lyman Hill hovering above. This path ends in .3 mile at the old pump house—which indeed looks creepy and like it belongs in a 1970s horror flick. If it doesn’t give you the creeps, nothing will! Happy Halloween!

 For more detailed information on this park, including many others in the Skagit Valley and Western Whatcom County, consult my Urban Trails Bellingham guidebook. The book also has detailed information on all of the trails in the Chuckanut Mountains. Get your copy today!


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