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Northwest Washington

Find lots of local color at Skagit Tulip Festival

By CARY ORDWAY

Perhaps nowhere in Washington state is the spring season more evident or more welcome than the Skagit Valley, home to the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival each April. This region, just an hour’s drive north from Seattle, comes alive each spring with the vibrant colors of tulips, daffodils and irises – and more than a million people will stop by to take it all in.

Visitors come for the day or turn this adventure into a weekend stay in places like nearby La Conner, a charming waterfront village close to the tulip fields and a popular tourist attraction in its own right.

The incredible flower fields are visible in several areas but the chief producer of these blooms is Roozengaarde, which was established in 1985 by the William Roozen family. The Roozens grow tulips, daffodils and irises and are the largest such producer in the world. There are more than 1200 acres of field blooms in the Skagit Valley, as well as 15 acres of greenhouses. The Roozen family has been in the bloom business dating back to the 1700’s, with William Roozen ultimately emigrating to the U.S. in 1947.

Flower-viewing begins with yellow daffodils in mid- to late-March and is followed by the tulips in April. Then the lilies take over the show and can be viewed into the month of May. The tourists bloom in April although the busiest weeks can vary because the best colors are dependent on Mother Nature. If you book a weekend stay in the area, there’s a slight risk your timing will be off, but planning your visit in April would seem to be the best bet. Throughout that month there are street fairs, art shows, a salmon barbecue, tastings at local wineries and breweries and sporting events.

La Conner

If you’re driving up for a day, plan on spending time in traffic as the country roads of Skagit County can get congested with visitors. If you want to turn your trip into a weekend getaway, La Conner would be our first choice. Located close to the tulip fields, the town is one of the most scenic in Washington. It’s a tiny enclave built along the Swinomish Slough — or rather Swinomish Channel as it was later renamed. The channel gives La Conner much of its color and atmosphere, a distinct seaside ambiance that comes from watching the fishing boats and pleasure craft navigating the channel toward Anacortes and then out to the world-famous San Juan Islands. The Rainbow Bridge is the Golden Gate of La Conner, standing like a sentinel over the town and a must-inclusion in any respectable photograph of the city.

With its historic buildings, a colorful downtown assortment of channel-front restaurants and intriguing shops, La Conner is a prime destination for the stroller — i.e. the person who just likes to stroll casually through town, soaking up the saltwater scents and sounds as seabirds sweep overhead or visitors enjoy good conversation and a drink out by the channel. It also will come as no surprise that the local aesthetics are a big attraction for artists of every type including famous residents such as author Tom Robbins.

The best way to savor the town is to spend a little time in La Conner — day trips are nice, but an overnight lets you unwind and start doing things on La Conner time. Things just seem to move a little slower in the village, and we found the La Conner Channel Lodge to be tailor-made for this kind of outing. As the name implies, the lodge is right on the channel and offers great views of the Rainbow Bridge and the frequent boat traffic on the channel.

When they designed the La Conner Channel Lodge, they went with a Cape Code type of shingle exterior that fits the location perfectly. Inside, the units are quite unique and unusual in the way that they are not just rectangular but of varying lengths and widths with distinct rooms and angles. In our room a fireplace with two stuffed chairs and a table were positioned at an angle, while across the room a bench seat was built into the wall. There was plenty of room for a king bed and a window nearby that looked out onto the channel. A small lanai allowed us to sit outside and watch the slow-cruising boats that seemed only a few yards away.

Another big plus at the La Conner Channel Lodge was the bathroom area which offered a Jacuzzi style tub stylishly situated in a room that used dark and gray marble and tiles, as well as dark wood accents to give the room a luxurious look and feel that helped make this getaway seem extra-special.

La Conner's history is evident in the buildings downtown and the historic homes that are located throughout the residential areas. With just 900 residents, the town is small and visitors can walk the neighborhoods and, because of the town's hills, get some good exercise doing it. At the top of one hill is the Skagit County Historical Museum, which has many reminders of the city's past including American baskets, Shirley Temple dolls and a rich collection of historical documents and photographs.

One of La Conner's most historic buildings is the Gaches Mansion, which was constructed in 1891 by George and Louisa Gaches as their residence. Over the years, the mansion changed hands several times until it was opened to the public as the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum in 1997. The first floor of the museum is decorated in Victorian era furnishings, while you'll find the main exhibition space on the second and third floors. The museum offers new exhibits about every eight weeks, and features quilts and quilters from around the world — in fact this is one of only 12 such museums in the world.

Even if you’re not in town for the Tulip Festival, La Conner is a good base of operations for short drives to many scenic locations in the general area. For example, about 15 miles to the west is Deception Pass State Park, a 4,134-acre marine and camping park with considerable shoreline, both freshwater and saltwater. Deception Pass is a popular destination for locals because it's so picturesque with the rugged cliffs and churning waters below. The old-growth forest and shoreline offer spectacular views.

Just to the southeast of La Conner is the 13,000-acre Skagit Wildlife Area, which is primarily tidelands and intertidal marsh habitat. Visitors can view 180 species of birds, including bald eagles, golden eagles, and osprey. Also seen in the area are coyote, raccoon, opossum, skunk, beaver and muskrat in addition to many other species. Local residents use the Wildlife area for hiking, birdwatching, photography and canoeing. There are six developed access sites and 12 footbridges in this low-lying area.

Larrabee State Park, in the Bellingham area, is an easy drive north from La Conner and features 2,683 acres with a scenic saltwater shoreline on Samish Bay. The park features two freshwater lakes as well as tidelands and coves.

For more information on the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, go to www.tulipfestival.org or phone 360-428-5959.

Photos, from top: colors in the fields near LaConner; picturesque village of La Conner

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival photo by Anand Kannan.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.





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