Mount Vernon’s Flower Fields, Scenic Sights, Hikes and Bikes
Mount Vernon’s main event is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in April, but there’s so much more to see and do year-round in Skagit County’s largest city.
Rolling hills blanketed with blooming tulips and daffodils are often the first thing that comes to mind when picturing Mount Vernon, the city in the center of Washington state’s Skagit Valley.
Although the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and nearby towns such as La Conner (which hosts the La Conner Daffodil Festival each March) and Edison tend to attract the majority of tourists, Mount Vernon’s year-round wildlife and awe-inspiring trails are too easily overlooked.
Because of COVID-19, please take recommended safety precautions if you are planning a future trip, and always check the availability of services, events, amenities and other details before you go.
Photo courtesy of Snow Goose Produce.
Mount Vernon’s Agricultural Abundance
The Skagit River winds through Mount Vernon, bringing snowmelt, sediments and nutrients from the Cascade Range down to the fertile fields of the Skagit Valley.
The main tulip field attractions in rural Mount Vernon are Tulip Town and Roozengaarde, which trace their success to Dutch immigrants who buillt dikes and canals throughout the Skagit Valley.
If you plan on visiting downtown Mount Vernon during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, the free Tulip Festival Street Fair normally held during the third weekend of April closes First Street, so plan transportation and parking in advance with street closures in mind. However, this event was canceled because of the pandemic in 2020, and it’s not clear whether there will be a 2021 Tulip Festival Street Fair.
In South Mount Vernon, Skagit Acres (formerly Skagit Valley Gardens) has greenhouses and 25 acres of gardens, plus a gift shop and a remodeled farm-to-table café reopening around the end of March 2021. If you’re looking for a reason to visit in winter, holiday arrangements and decorations go on display starting in November.
Christianson’s Nursery between La Conner and Mount Vernon is a great year-round stop, offering a variety of plants, antiques and knickknacks.
Farm-stand fare and monstrous ice cream cones at Snow Goose Produce draw long lines from spring through summer. This roadside country market is on Fir Island, where the Skagit River splits in two before emptying into Skagit Bay.
Biking at Little Mountain Park. Photo by Peter Wheeler Mount Vernon Park Foundation.
Scenic Rides, Hikes and Drives in the Skagit Valley
Biking the Skagit Valley has grown in popularity as a different way to see the tulips and surrounding beauty. Consider a two-hour trip through the valley or a multi-day journey from town to town.
Skagit County offers downloadable bike maps; Tulip Town encourages cyclists to park at their field year-round. While bicyclists appreciate the relatively flat rides, there are plenty of hiking trails in and around Mount Vernon.
“Little Mountain Park really can’t be beat,” said Andrew Miller, a Mount Vernon native and one of the co-owners of Tulip Town.
Little Mountain Park’s trails are mixed-use for hiking and biking and comparable to what you can find in the North Cascades, he said, with views overlooking the entire Skagit Valley.
The 2.3-mile Skagit Riverwalk near downtown Mount Vernon is a mostly-paved trail on the Skagit River. For those willing to venture a tad further, Washington Park in Anacortes has a scenic 2.25-mile pedestrian/vehicle loop with views of the San Juan Islands.
Chuckanut Drive is a longer scenic byway from Burlington to Bellingham that is famous for fall foliage. Along the way, hike Oyster Dome for breathtaking views of Samish Bay at the beginning and end of the trail.
Mount Vernon is a good stop for motorists from the Seattle area who are headed to the North Cascades Highway, a scenic drive through the Cascade Mountain Range from Sedro-Woolley to Winthrop on Washington State Route 20. Highway 20 closes each winter but usually reopens by early May.
Snow geese at the Skagit Valley. Photo by July 7th/Getty Images.
The Best Birding in Washington
Birding is another popular pull for visitors in all seasons, but particularly for wintering snow geese from fall through spring.
The mix of prairies, forests, farmland, estuaries and wetlands provide a diverse habitat for hundreds of bird species year-round, including bald eagles, owls, hawks, falcons, herons and shorebirds. The Skagit Audobon Society has a robust list of Skagit County birding sites and species.
Guided Skagit Valley birdwatching tours ranging from a few hours to a full week are available in 2021 with COVID safety precautions, including smaller groups, private tours and the ability to drive your own car in caravan outings.
Spot a slew of ducks, geese, swans, raptors, and shorebirds on Fir Island at the Skagit Wildlife Area, which is also home to a variety of mammal and fish species.
Northwest of Mount Vernon on the shores of the Salish Sea, the Padilla Bay Trail has Mount Baker views, wild roses and mudflats with great blue herons. Save some time to visit the Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve — which has the West Coast’s second-largest eelgrass meadow, an important underwater habitat for young salmon and crabs — and the nearby Bay View State Park.
On the way to or from Padilla Bay, consider stopping at the Port of Skagit Trails, a network of about 10 nature trails ideal for walking, jogging and berry picking. Since the lengths of the trails vary and the paths intersect, they rarely feel congested even on busier summer days.
–Written by Maggy Lehmicke and Jim Hammerand
–Top image of Pickering Viewpoint at Little Mountain Park, Mount Vernon.
This post was published in March 2021.
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