Hunting the Super Squash at Bloedel Reserve
Your kids can be gourd hunters this fall at Bainbridge Island’s Bloedel Reserve, a world-renowned public garden about seven miles from where the ferry docks in Winslow. The 150-acre reserve, a combination of natural and designed landscapes, was intended to be a place that “provides refreshment and tranquility in the presence of natural beauty,” according to its founder, timber scion Prentice Bloedel.
Artfully hidden throughout the reserve’s roughly two miles of trails and paths are clusters of funky squash from tiny to enormous – bright orange, yellow, green and white, some smooth, others lumpy and bumpy. Kids pick up a clipboard, scavenger hunt sheet and pencil at the front entrance gate and mark squash spots on their map. (Spoiler alert: We especially liked the long-necked squash hanging from tree boughs.) Bring the sheet back for a prize. Each kid gets a sticker and either a gel marker or a giant pumpkin seed for planting.
With my nearly 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son in tow, the scavenger hunt was a great way to get to see the gorgeous landscape without the ubiquitous, “Are we there yet?” My daughter was hoping for more secret hiding spots and clues – many squash are hidden in plain sight – but she enjoyed herself just the same. The kids had their mission and the adults could soak in the sights and smells traveling past meadow and marsh, ponds and bluffs, and Japanese and moss gardens.
There are lots of benches along the way for a rest or to soak up the scene. The kids especially liked the various boardwalks and bridges along the route. We finished the squash hunt in just under two hours with plenty of photo stops (this is a great place for fall family photos). We didn’t see strollers on our visit, but the staff says they are fine; most of the trails are bark or paved.
Be sure to check out Paul Bannick’s amazing owl and woodpecker photos and audio recordings on display in the visitor center, the former home of the reserve’s namesakes, Prentice Bloedel and his wife, Virginia. We enjoyed paging through a photo album on the house’s main floor. The Puget Sound views at the back of the house are spectacular.
There are no picnics allowed at the reserve. If your kid needs a snack along the squash route that’s OK, but plan to tote out your garbage since there are no trash receptacles along the route. There is drinking water at the visitor center and bathrooms are located only at the visitor's center and the entry gate house. If you luck into good weather, Fay Bainbridge State Park just up the road makes a great picnic spot.
For eating options, you’ll need to head back to downtown Winslow near the ferry dock; shops and restaurants are concentrated along a short stretch of the main drag – Winslow Way – a less than 10-minute walk from the ferry dock. Blackbird Bakery (on Winslow) and the Fork & Spoon café (on Madrone Lane) make nice eating stops. Round it out with a scoop from Mora Iced Creamery (also on Madrone Lane).
The Saturday Bainbridge Island farmers’ market has lots of yummy prepared food vendors, from BBQ and made-to-order omelets to tamales and veggie Vietnamese (open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). In November, the market moves from its summer location at City Hall to the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church (a half-mile northeast of the ferry dock).
Prentice Bloedel, a pioneer in renewable resources and sustainability, was deeply interested in the power of landscape to trigger emotions. As you eye-spy for squash, take a moment to tune your senses to the landscape. We heard frogs croaking by the moss garden, trees groaning in the fall wind and smelled freshly mown meadow. Bloedel is a great place to treat your senses to the changing season.
If You Go...
Where: The Bloedel Reserve, 7571 N.E. Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island.
When: Super Squash Scavenger Hunt runs through Nov. 30. The reserve is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays).
Admission: The scavenger hunt is free with admission. Adults $13; students ages 13 and older $5; children 12 and younger free. Annual memberships, with free admission, are also available and start at $60.
Transportation: The Bloedel Reserve is a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. If you drive onto the ferry, a round-trip ride in a standard car is $26.30, plus per-passenger fares of $7.70 for adults and $6.20 for kids (5 and younger ride free) each way. If you walk-on the ferry, you only pay the passenger fares. To learn more, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
If you visit Bloedel car-free, you can take Kitsap Transit bus # 90 from the ferry dock. The service runs every day except Sunday. The bus makes a stop roughly one mile from the reserve (you walk just a few feet along Highway 305 before turning onto Agatewood Road Northeast then Northeast Dolphin Drive). Plan ahead to coincide with your ferry; the bus schedule can be found at www.kitsaptransit.com. On weekdays, if you call one day ahead (800-422-2877), you can book Dial-a-Ride Bus Service, which takes you to the entry gate for $2 per person. Taxi fare runs $20 each way between the ferry dock and the reserve. It’s recommended you call 206-842-7660 ahead of time to reserve a ride from Taxis & Tours.
Contact: 206-842-7631; www.bloedelreserve.org.