Tulip fest a concentrated burst of spring color in the Northwest

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Pack up your camera and head to the Northwest for a colorful preview of spring amid sprawling fields of flowers, and budget some extra time for island hopping and mountain scenery.

The main attraction is this year's 23rd annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival -- www.tulipfestival.org/ -- in northwestern Washington state about an hour north of Seattle on Interstate 5, or an hour south of Vancouver, British Columbia. First, go to the bottom of the page and check out the photo galleries, to see why you'll need your camera and plenty of memory card space or film.

The festival's "Attractions" has links to the growers. That page also has a link to a section called "Throughout the Festival" where you'll find links to some other local attractions such as llama farms, wineries and the Kiwanis Club's 18th annual Salmon Barbecue. Yes, there's a store, with posters and T-shirts, but if you want to order tulip bulbs you'll want to go back to "Attractions" and connect to the growers' Web pages.

After you've seen the flowers, what's left? Plenty, from the Cascade Mountains on the east to Puget Sound just down the road to the west.

Head down state Highway 20 to Anacortes -- www.anacortes.org/ -- the historic city that can serve as your gateway to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Click on "Things to Do" for a list of 101 suggestions, including browsing the local antique shops and whale-watching, and go to "Visitor Information" for a link to "Watchable Wildlife." And since it's on the water, you need to click on "Ferry Information" to see the schedules and route maps for Washington State Ferries, which will take you to the islands or over to Canada's Vancouver Island.

Once you've found the ferries, explore the San Juans -- www.travelsanjuans.com/ -- where you can visit small towns, stroll along beaches or just admire the view from the ferries. San Juan Island has the fishing village of Friday Harbor and the Whale Museum.

If the water isn't to your liking, turn around and go the other way on Highway 20 to North Cascades National Park -- www.nps.gov/noca/ -- where Goode Mountain stands 9,200 feet high. Look through "In Depth" for more detail, and try the unaffiliated North Cascades National Park Links -- www.north.cascades.national-park.com/ -- for more on fishing, hiking, wildlife, lodging and glaciers.

For community information in the area, the North Cascades Chamber of Commerce -- www.marblemount.com/ -- has some minimal information on towns such as Marblemount, and suggestions for day trips. For a longer scenic trip that you can start in the Skagit Valley, try the Cascade Loop -- www.cascadeloop.com/ -- which will take you deeper into the Cascades and back again.

Explore more towns between the mountains and Puget Sound with the links at Skagit County Tourism -- www.skagittourism.com/ -- including Mount Vernon and LaConner.

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