Fields awash with color await cyclists who head to farm country in the next few weeks. Our annual early-spring blooming of daffodils and tulips is at hand, and the best way to enjoy the spectacle is on a bike.
Before we get to the big event, there’s a seasonally named ride that also is worthy of your consideration.
Get Daffy in Tacoma
The annual Daffodil Classic, now in its 36th year, gets hundreds of cyclists heading to Tacoma on the second weekend in April. It starts Sunday, April 10, in Orting.
At the heart of the ride is the Foothills Trail, which runs through the Orting valley from the Puyallup area toward Mount Rainier. The mountain looms over the trail on a clear day. A typical rail-trail, the Foothills is flat and broad, and runs through a number of small communities. Part of it is “rail with trail,” with a working railway running parallel to it. Other sections parallel for a time the Carbon River and South Prairie Creek, providing cyclists with extra sights and sounds.
Although the trail is a great starting point, it’s only a part of the Daffodil Classic route. For families or people wanting to take it easy, they can stay on the trail for up to 30 miles. But if you want to get hilly with it, take the 40-mile Buckley loop or the 60-mile Eatonville loop, or combine them both for a century ride.
The welcoming Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club runs the event in style, with well-stocked rest stops and strawberry shortcake feed at the finish line. You can also fuel up at the start line with a pancake, ham and eggs breakfast served at the Orting Middle School. The small price ($5-$7) helps the nonprofit Weller Foundation supply kids with school-related costs such as sixth-grade camp, sports fees and physicals.
Do the Tulips
By mid-April, the Skagit County tulip fields should be in full bloom, giving you another opportunity to head out of town in search of flowers. And what a show the fields provide! You’re greeted by row after row, acre upon acre of red, yellow, purple and orange, as well as multicolored displays at a couple of large gardens. You might wonder why these tulips aren’t all cut and for sale at the Pike Place Market. It isn’t the pretty petals that count; it’s what is under the ground. The farmers are growing the flowers for the bulbs.
There are a couple of ways to “do” the tulips:
- bookmark the official bloom report and play hooky from work when the fields are at their most colorful
- take part in the Tulip Pedal, an organized event leaving from La Conner on April 16 that raises funds for Skagit County Medic One.
I’ve done it both ways—as well as riding through the flat, windy Skagit Valley at other times of the year—and I think you can get advantages from either approach.
It’s always fun to take part in the Tulip Pedal. Like most organized road rides, there is safety and camaraderie in numbers. People really get into the spirit, with some even dressing in gaudy costumes. With dozens of cyclists around you at every turn, it’s easier to get respect from the streams of cars and the parking attendants at the display gardens.
The 30th Annual Safe Kids/Group Health Tulip Pedal starts in La Conner, and sends you on 20-, 40- or 60-mile loops. I suggest making sure your route includes one of my favorite valley eateries, the Rexville Grocery. With a jaunty sign declaring “Foods Galore,” the grocery provides a gourmet deli and snack stop right where you need it: in the middle of nowhere. It’s a great place for après-riding snacks, or grab some supplies to stuff in your pannier. In the summer, the grocery also hosts a farmers market and has picnic tables to enjoy the sun.
The best choice for crowd-averse cyclists is to find a sunny weekday when the fields are in full bloom (monitor the bloom map). Park at Edgewater Park in Mount Vernon (or take the convenient Amtrak there) and begin to crisscross the grid of roads that slice the valley into nice, square chunks. One look at a map will show you how difficult it is to get lost in this valley, where you can easily see across to the next road and spot the colorful tulip swaths from miles away.
If you’re looping the valley from Mount Vernon, save the tulip fields for later and head south along Dike Road to Fir Island, which will bring you around to Rexville via a bridge on Best Road. (That bridge will be the highest point of your ride, by the way. At 70 feet above sea level, it towers over the 20-foot elevation of the roads.)
North of Rexville, you can head toward La Conner via my favorite road in the valley: Dodge Valley Road. Take a left onto it about a quarter-mile north of the grocery. Look for the raptors overhead or in the trees that line the road, and marvel at the mounds of earth rising from the fields between you and the coastline. These humps remind me of miniature versions of mountains I’ve seen in old Chinese art. Their lumpy edges making them look as though the earth was just scooped up and piled there. One can easily imagine them floating above the valley floor on foggy days, or literally floating when the lowland floods.
The picturesque town of La Conner is worth a stop for a hot drink, especially welcome on our chilly spring days. Good cafes and a wonderful little brewery await.
If you’ve taken my suggested route, by the time you leave La Conner you’ll be saying, Hey, time for some tulips! The tulip fields are a few miles north and east of the town, on your way to Mount Vernon. Head out along the generous highway shoulder and hang a left at either of the first two stop signs. Ride until the fields glow along the horizon like a summer sunrise, and then point your handlebars toward it.
Bring a few bucks for entry fees into the display gardens at Roosen Gaarde or Tulip Town. They are worth the stop. Both farms put on quite a display, showing off their rainbows of flowers in designed gardens around their barns and gift shops.
If you’ve begun your loop at Mount Vernon, from here it’s an easy couple of miles from the fields back to town.
Cyclists often feel a bit superior to people in cars when there’s traffic, and you will definitely get that vibe on a busy day at the tulip fields. On the roads with good shoulders, you can zip by the long lines of cars waiting to park or make the turns from one road to another.
One caution: tulip-peepers are inattentive drivers. I have seen cars swerve suddenly to stop on the shoulder (which is strongly discouraged by the locals), and sometimes you’ll find a number of cars pulled off on the edge with gawkers standing in the ditches with their cameras. Take extra care to be visible as you pull into the traffic lane to get around this obstruction. And please, when you decide to stop and pull out that camera, get your group and their bikes well off the road.
Cascade Bicycle Club has a two-for-one event night April 12 at the flagship REI store in Seattle. The evening starts with a free presentation about this summer’s . It continues with a ticketed presentation by the incomparable Willie Weir. He will reprise his “I am God – India” show, chosen by fans who voted in droves at the CBC Bike Expo. Get tickets in advance for Willie, as he regularly fills the house.
Bill Thorness is the author of Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.