Petal Pushers

The Best Flower Destinations in the Northwest

Tulips, rhodies, and wildflowers ahoy: All the best blooms and where to see them.

By Allison Williams

To everything there is a season, and to every spectacular flower bloom in the Pacific Northwest there is a perfect time to catch them at their peak. While the tulips around Mount Vernon are probably the state's most famous floral event, there are plenty of other blossom blowouts around the calendar.


Skagit Valley | March

So sweet, so yellow, and yet so overlooked in favor of their neighboring flowers. March's La Conner Daffodil Festival crams a similar off-to-the-fields experience as the Tulip Festival in March, but they shouldn't be considered a backup bloom; powerhouse producer Roozengaarde actually plants more acres of daffodils than their signature tulip. The plants make a single-day yellow statement in Seattle on March 20, the first day of spring, when Pike Place Market does its annual Daffodil Day giving free bouquets with purchase.


Skagit Valley | April

The classic flower fest takes place in the agricultural acreage near Mount Vernon, a celebration of a Dutch plant that happens to grow exceptionally well here. The event runs through April every year even as peak bloom varies, and two farms—Roozengaarde and Tulip Town—sell tickets to view and photograph their brightly colored fields. Given the popularity of the photogenic strips of color, weekend crowds are common and visitors are given strict instruction not to wander through the farm rows lest they disturb blooms meant for future bouquets. Serious photographers can spring for more exclusive access at a higher ticket price. 

Balsamroot takes over the plateaus above the Columbia River in spring.


Columbia River Gorge and the Methow Valley | April–May

Sounds like a vegetable, looks like a Van Gogh painting. The arrowleaf balsamroot that coats the slopes around the Columbia River Gorge glows with such brilliance, the Forest Service had to institute limited-access permits on one popular site a few years ago. These wildflowers will make you work for it; many are found along popular hikes like Dog Mountain and in Columbia Hills State Park. The Methow Valley and some areas near Wenatchee also explode with yellow in spring. With few rangers to monitor these areas, viewers must remember to stay on trails to preserve the fragile meadows.


Western Washington | April–May

The bushy plant that serves as the Washington state flower—the coast rhododendron—is not as showy as its rhody cousins, and is actually found more in southern Oregon than our state. Never mind; dozens of rhody stripes and colors flourish in Western Washington, especially in the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way. Located on the former Weyerhaeuser corporate campus, the property houses blooms next to a bonsai garden. More prime spots: Whidbey's Meerkerk Gardens, the Washington Park Arboretum. In Olympia, an amateur gardener created a three-acre backyard garden with hundreds of varieties, some that tower 10 or 12 feet high, before the charmingly wild property was acquired by the city and named the Springwood Parcel.


Portland | June–October

Though Portland has been calling itself the "city of Roses" for more than a hundred years—with an attendant festival that dates back almost as long—the nickname only became official in 2003. The famed International Rose Test Garden in the city's Washington Park is an Alice in Wonderland fever dream of a collection, acre after acre of carefully manicured plants (more than 600 varieties) and a cloud of soothing scent. Though events are usually held in early summer, some thorny individuals don't unfurl their petals until early fall. Not that Oregon has a monopoly on roses; after all, didn't someone imply that a bud at the Woodland Park Rose Garden here in Seattle or Tacoma's Point Defiance should smell as sweet?


Sequim | July–August

There are three things you need to know about the small town of Sequim on the top end of the Olympic Peninsula: First, its name is one syllable. Second and third, the area is known for sunshine and lavender. The local grower's association even trademarked the phrase "Lavender Capital of America." A July festival (canceled this year) and an August bicycle ride between farms serve as large gatherings, but u-pick along the Lavender Trail is available throughout the summer. Beyond Sequim's famed rain shadow climate, Pelindaba Lavender on San Juan Island and Vashon's Lavender Hill invite visitors to gather the fragrant stalks. 

Fun fact: "Lupine" does not actually sound like "alpine."


Mount Rainier | July

The classic purple lupine that blanket Mount Rainier National Park stand out between other pops of natural color, like striking orange and pink paintbrush. Bloom comes late in the year to these subalpine slopes, which can be covered by snow into June. Yellow glacier lilies start to pop through as the snow melts, then white avalanche lilies begin to flower; finally the purple sentinels rise. When Paradise and Sunrise, Mount Rainier's two biggest and highest visitor areas, erupt into wildflower color, the effect is so staggering it can be hard to remember to stay on marked paths and off the fragile meadows (but please do).

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