Leg 3: 10 Miles
The picturesque fishing port of La Conner (pop. 958) spreads along the east bank of Swinomish Channel at the edge of the Skagit Valley farmland. That geographic diversity, along with renowned flower fields that light up in vibrant hues of pink, purple, red and orange every spring, makes La Conner a popular getaway destination.
La Conner’s First Street, with its phalanx of shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants, forms the compact business district, crowded between the channel and a rocky outcrop. Visitors enjoy its cozy cafés and historic accommodations, ranging from bed and breakfasts and country inns to a turn-of-the-20th-century hotel. The popular La Conner Boardwalk delivers close-up views of waterfront activities and bustling boat traffic.
La Conner’s attractions are numerous. The Museum of Northwest Art (121 S. First Street), for instance, features paintings, glass and sculpture by regional artists. The museum is open daily and has free admission. A few blocks away, the Skagit County Historical Museum sits atop the hill at 501 S. Fourth Street — and displays regional artifacts from Native American and pioneer times. If you need some fresh air, the museum’s observation deck affords wide-open views of the town and surrounding farmland.
Take Morris Street east — or Maple Avenue northeast — until the streets merge at the eastern edge of town; at the roundabout, continue east onto Chilberg Road and onto the Skagit Flats, part of the Skagit River’s floodplain. These fertile soils are home to one of North America’s major commercial flower bulb–growing districts, which dates back to the early 1900s. Today, three major growers produce for both the cut flower and commercial bulb markets, selling their products worldwide.
The area south of SR-536, between Swinomish Channel and the Skagit River, contains most of the flower fields; in spring, the flats are a patchwork of color, a visual spectacle that draws tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Daffodils and tulips are the most popular plants, though you’ll also see plenty of irises along the way. The blooming season runs from March into mid-May. Daffodils typically appear first, tulips bloom throughout April, and showy irises conclude the season in May. Every April, the area celebrates its popular Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. (If visiting on a festival weekend, keep in mind that roads may be quite congested — and that left-turn restrictions may be in place at certain intersections to preserve the flow of traffic.)
You’ll want to keep a few rules and best practices in mind while driving through the fields. First, exercise caution; valley roads tend to be narrow, lack shoulders and are popular with cyclists. If you stop, pull well off the roadway — and prepare for mud if you walk onto a flower field. (Be sure to observe all NO TRESPASSING signs when considering whether to venture into a field.) And, whatever you do, resist the urge to pick your own bouquet; flowers are sold at roadside stands and at major display gardens — including Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde.
Given the flat terrain and ease of riding the region’s flat country roads, bicycling is a popular way to enjoy the valley sights as well. Best of all, you’ll breeze right by those miles-long traffic jams.
To complete the auto tour, head east on Chilberg Road, which becomes Calhoun Road after crossing Best Road. Continue east on Calhoun two miles, then turn left on Beaver Marsh Road. Continue north on Beaver Marsh, passing the display gardens at RoozenGaarde, about two miles to McLean Road; turn right. To return to I-5, follow McLean Road into the western part of Mount Vernon, where we join SR-536 (Memorial Highway). The latter bridges the Skagit River and leads through downtown Mount Vernon where it joins the interstate.
– Written by John King. Updated by Matthew Wastradowski, June 2020. Photos by: iStock