Best of Home, Volume 2: Cougar Ridge

Colin Wiseman  /  3 Min Read  /  Mountain Biking

In the second installment of our “Best of Home” series, photographer, writer and editor Colin Wiseman takes us to Washington State’s gloomy, fern-filled Whatcom County for a signature Pacific Northwest ride.

“It begins with sweeping, raw and moderately steep turns, punctuated by rock moves through often-foggy conifers, before opening up along a few strips of cliffside conglomerate rock that keeps you on your toes.” Rider: Brooklyn Bell. Photo: Colin Wiseman.

Envy has never been easier for mountain bikers—from magazines to social media, it’s almost impossible to escape imagery that fuels daydreams and sparks excursions.

But mountain biking isn’t built on vacations: It’s built on the trails out the back door, the ones you can ride over and over and never stop smiling. To celebrate these backyard beauties, we asked photographers, athletes and industry advocates from around the world to highlight their favorite close-to-home trails—why they love them, and what keeps them coming back lap after lap. This is Volume 2.

Cougar Ridge

Location: Sudden Valley, Washington

Distance: 2 miles

Descent: 1,010 feet

Climb: 206 feet

Whether you approach it from the new Rufus Creek climbing trail out of Sudden Valley or Galbraith Mountain’s trail network, the north-facing Cougar Ridge feels isolated and raw. Pockets of old-growth cedar mix with stands of moss-draped big-leaf maple, the ground a riot of a hundred shades of green, as the trail hugs a rocky fin on a high line through classic Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest.

Best of Home, Volume 2: Cougar Ridge

Before it was logged, Whatcom County was home to some of the continent’s largest trees. It’s been 100 years, but the now-protected forests along Cougar Ridge are once again nearing giant status. Rider: Brooklyn Bell. Photo: Colin Wiseman.

I first rode Cougar seven or eight years ago, when it was still off-grid and unsanctioned. That changed after a nearly 9,000-acre county land reconveyance put Cougar Ridge within the bounds of the newly created Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and after the local trail advocacy group, the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, successfully fought to bring it into the legal fold. It was the realization of hundreds of hours of hard work by this strong and diplomatic organization, whose members are doing the heavy lifting as biking booms in Bellingham.

Although the sanctioned status led to a few spicy-yet-unsustainable trail features being smoothed out, Cougar still stands as a long and diverse descent. It begins with sweeping, raw and moderately steep turns, punctuated by rock moves through often-foggy conifers, before opening up along a few strips of cliffside conglomerate rock that keeps you on your toes (go too far right, and it’s a good 50-foot fall). The entire trail stays shady and damp, with tacky dirt into the heat of summer, and on winter or late spring rides you’ll sometimes find a thin snow cover over the upper reaches.

Best of Home, Volume 2: Cougar Ridge

Fog, ferns and a whole lotta moss. If you’re going to ride in northwest Washington, don’t pack any tank tops. Rider: Brooklyn Bell. Photo: Colin Wiseman.

Indeed, Cougar is a signature PNW ride, and one that also represents the potential future expansion of the Whatcom County trail network beyond Bellingham’s city limits.

Photographs were taken on ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish and Nuxwsa’7aq (Nooksack) Peoples.

New to the series? Catch up with Volume 1: Backbone Trail.

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