Fields of dahlias at Roozengaarde in Skagit County. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Agriculturally rich Skagit Valley is famous for its annual Tulip Festival, which typically draws some 400,000 tourists every April. Tulip season came and went in 2020 — without any visitors. It's September now, and the fields are filled with gorgeous flowers, but they're not tulips, they're dahlias.
Mount Vernon, the main town in Skagit County, is located about an hour north of Seattle and it makes for a great family escape from the city. Dahlias plus pony rides and ice cream provide a winning combo for happy kids and families.
And if you eat too much ice cream, we've got great ideas for easy hikes and nature walks around Skagit County. These area paths feature few crowds and lots of beautiful scenery.
Stop and smell the flowers
I’d only ever visited the Mount Vernon area in the spring, when the fields are a rainbow of tulips. It felt strange not seeing traffic backed out onto Beaver Marsh Road, no line of Port-A-Potties in the gravel parking lot, no flagger in an orange vest waving hordes of pedestrians across.
We recently visited Roozengaarde Flowers & Bulbs (15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon), and we saw one other family, plus two older couples. That’s it.
Right now the display garden at Roozengaarde is filled with beautiful dahlias. We loved strolling through the picture-perfect garden, with the Cascade foothills and red barns in the distance. There’s no admission fee at Roozengaarde and parking is free. It’s open seven days a week: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Roozengaarde's gift shop is open, and you can buy fresh-cut bunches of greenhouse tulips or dahlias. Some bulbs are available for purchase now, and there will be more on offer by the end of September.
The dahlias will be around through late September or early October, then daffodil and tulip bulbs go in the ground for the winter. Fingers crossed that there will be a Tulip Festival in spring 2021!
Driving along the country roads, we spotted lots of roadside fruit stands and horses in pastures, and not many people.
But we did find a huge crowd at a particular produce stand on Fir Island. One thing never changes, and that’s the line for ice cream at Snow Goose Produce (15170 Fir Island Rd., Mount Vernon). We smelled the waffle cones as soon as we got out of the car, and waited 30 minutes in line for the biggest kiddie cones I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m used to artisanal Seattle portions — you know the golf ball-sized scoops — but $3.99 at Snow Goose buys a cake cone topped with practically an entire pint of ice cream. They say you can’t buy happiness? Well, I believe that you can.
Snow Goose Produce is open seven days a week. The season typically runs through October 1 every year, though it may stay open an extra week if the weather is especially nice.
More Mount Vernon eats
In town, we stopped at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op (202 S. First St., Mount Vernon) for a socially-distanced picnic in the car. This happened to be in a parking lot with a view of a colorful mural being created. Two blocks away, Skagit River Brewery (404 S. Third St., Mount Vernon) is a kid-friendly brewpub with casual fare and patio seating.
The overhead model train at The Chuckwagon Drive-In (800 N. Fourth St., Mount Vernon) makes getting burgers extra fun for the family. On the west side of the Skagit River, try The Net (18037 Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon) for old-school burgers and shakes, or find family Mexican cuisine at Mexico Cafe (1320 Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon).
My little ponies
This next stop warrants a visit to Mount Vernon all by itself: Lang’s Horse and Pony Farm (21463 Little Mountain Rd., Mount Vernon). Lang’s reopened in May, and is currently offering family trail rides and lessons.
Since pony riding is all outdoors with built-in social distancing, it felt completely COVID-safe to me. Parents will need to fill out a lengthy waiver before riding. There are plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers around, and masks are required until you get on the trail, where the animals stay a body length apart from each other.
Kids as young as age 3 can ride, and no prior experience is needed. Kids younger than age 8 will need an adult leading their pony. Pony rides are by appointment only and start at $15 for a 20-minute ride.
We signed up for a 45-minute ride led by a guide through a pretty wooded trail. Our ponies were absolutely gentle and patient with their inexperienced young riders. It was a very special treat for my boys after so many months without any kid activities.
If you go...
Find it: The city of Mount Vernon is located along Interstate 5, about 60 minutes' drive north of Seattle or Bellevue, 35 minutes from Everett or an hour and 45 minutes from Tacoma.
Dahlias: According to Roozengaarde, dahlias will be in bloom through the end of September or early October, of course depending on mother nature.
More family activities in the area: