Featuring farm animals, farm equipment, multiple gardens, superhero scarecrows, a playground, two towers – one with views of Mt Baker, an interpretive center, a wetland boardwalk, a lake, a slough, a river, and a shaded trail, these parks have just about everything you could ask for. The catch? It’s a long drive from the Seattle area for a park that doesn’t have the big mountain/beach/rainforest payoff. It is still worth the visit and can be easily combined with other half-day destinations on the way home if you prefer more for your literal mileage.
From I-5, take exit 262 for Ferndale and head west on Main St. Under a train overpass, take a sharp left onto Hovander Rd – I found the signage here a little confusing so watch for that overpass as a landmark. Almost immediately, turn right on to Nielsen Ave. Follow signs for Hovander Homestead Park to find the main parking area by the farm. Flush toilets are available and no pass required. Formal tours are available in the summer but the park is open year round.
All-Terrain Stroller Options:
All of the trails here are all-terrain stroller friendly. They are wide, flat, and graveled.
This historic turn-of-the-19th-century homestead has a lot to explore just steps from the parking area. Pro tip: the restrooms are near the farmhouse so it’s a great place to start after a long car ride! The old farmhouse, built in 1903 by Swedish Architect Hakan Hovander, is surrounded by a specimen garden of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Next to the farmhouse gardens are a dahlia garden with an amazing variety in a rainbow of colors, a weed identification garden, a “sunflower house”, a small orchard, a greenhouse, a vegetable garden, a “children’s story” garden, and the worlds tiniest corn maze.
My favorite was the Dahlia Garden as dahlias are my favorite flower and I’m a flower photo fiend. Kiddo enjoyed them all but his favorite by far was the Children’s Story Garden. Each bed in it held plants that were on theme to a storybook. The Pumpkin Soup bed had a variety of pumpkins, Jack and the Beanstalk had a variety of beans, and The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear bed held, you guessed it, strawberries. Laminated plant bingo cards are included to borrow so your kiddo can be sure to find them all (cards are located in a flyer box at the garden entrance). The garden is guarded by scarecrows made from upcycled milk jugs and old clothes like old Halloween costumes. My kiddo’s favorite was the Batcrow of course.
Having explored the gardens and made use of the facilities, head over to the big red barn and check out the antique farm equipment or “drive” the big shiny tractor. Exhibits talk about the history of the farm and the different breeds of cattle. After prying your kiddo off of the tractor, walk across to the smaller barn shed for some more farm equipment and then around its backside for three different bunny rabbits, one of which my child dubbed a “sleeping cow” (he has black spots on white fur).
Opposite the bunnies is a pen with two goats and a sheep. If they come over, you can pet them but have some hand sanitizer on your person for afterwards. Next are chickens, some with wacky “hairdos,” geese, and cattle. Watch little fingers with the chickens and geese, they will snap at eager intruders.
Between the goats and the river trail is a small but interesting playground. Beyond it is another small play area and a tall, obelisk-like tower than you can climb in. It is reportedly narrow and steep at the top. Daddy and kiddo had fun but I don’t do towers, or narrow places if I can avoid them.
Tennant Lake Park:
Unfortunately, when we visited, the Tennant Lake area was closed for construction. There was no signage to indicate when it will reopen but I am guessing early 2018 as the boardwalk normally closes from October to mid-January. We will have to return when we can fully explore this section.
When it is open, Tennant Lake Park features and interpretive center with exhibits for the kiddos, a handicap accessible Fragrance Garden which puts the plants at wheelchair (and stroller) height, a 50′ observation tower with views to Mt Baker, and a one mile boardwalk through the wetlands along the lake. There is also a small parking area, Discover Pass required.
For a short loop of about 1.25 miles, you can walk from Hovander Homestead to Tennant Lake, down to the Nooksack river, and back to the homestead. After you have explored all the homestead has to offer, follow the trail between the chicken and goose enclosures to a bridge over a slough. Take a moment to look for ducks, frogs, and turtles here. Continue up from the bridge and watch the trees on your right for a large bat box. A little further on, meet up with the slough again and peek through the duck blind to see what wildlife you can spot. Keep walking and very quickly arrive at the Tennant Lake Park. If it is open, explore for a while.
From Tennant Lake’s parking area, follow the wide gravel road past the gate as it becomes the next trail. There is a primitive (muddy) boat launch area to the left before the gate which makes for excellent frog spotting. Just before the gate, to the right, is a gigantic wooden sign describing the park that the kiddos will want you to read to them. As you continue past the gate, you will be flanked by a field of tall glowing green grass to your right, and tree snags for bird watching to your left. After less than half a mile, the trail dead ends at a T with the Nooksack River Trail.
If you would like to extend your walk, you can turn left and walk 0.65 miles to the Slater Road parking area (Discover Pass) with a few peek-a-boo views of the river along the way. This section is less shady and less scenic than the others and features an unfenced off-leash dog area – something to keep in mind if you have dogs or kids that are nervous around other dogs. You can also hear the road more and more as you approach it. It is pleasant enough and adds 1.3 miles to your total walk, but it would not be my first choice if you are short on time.
Turning right at the intersection (or continuing straight from the spur to Slater Rd), leads back to Hovander Homestead Park and beyond. This direction is more scenic than the one that heads to Slater Rd and more shaded. In another short, less than half a mile, walk you are back at the homestead. Along the way, there are a few side trails to the left that lead to the river. At the right time of year there are also blackberries. When we went a few days ago, they weren’t quite ripe yet but will be soon. If Hovander is your end point, walk across the field here to return to the farm, playgrounds, and gardens before loading everyone back in the car.
Beyond Hovander, you can continue another mile to the end of the trail at a boat ramp on the Nooksack River. The trail along this direction is shaded and features more peek-a-boo views of the river and more blackberries. At the boat ramp trailhead, you can look across the river to Pioneer Park, another historic park featuring old log cabins that can bee seen from this trail.
If you walk the entire length of the Nooksack River Trail, all of the Tennant Lakes trails, and wander all of Hovander Homestead’s farm and gardens, you may end with about seven miles walked.
There are a couple spots along the Nooksack River where access paths are eroded and steep. Most of the trail is protected from the river by vegetation but in these few spots, a kiddo could fall down in to the river. The trail is wide enough it should be easy to avoid them.
Located directly across the Nooksack River from the boat launch trailhead, Pioneer Park it is an easy add on for the history buff. The park features eleven log cabins built by early pioneers in Whatcom County. They have been relocated here to save them from destruction and allow the public to tour these historic structures. More information about the park and the history of each cabin can be found on the City of Ferndale’s website.
Many trails and parks along the I-5 corridor south of Belingham make a great addition to a trip to Hovander. To get in a “real” hike, Fragrance Lake in Larabee State Park is a fantastic half-day hike for kids and adults. Or for a quiet evening throwing rocks in the bay, check out Bay View State Park.
If you don’t already have a shelf, or entire bookcase, full of local hiking guides and maps, here are some of my favorites featuring this hike and/or others in the area: