As much as I love the Pacific Northwest I’ll be one of the first to admit that Seattle isn’t quite what it used to be. While it’s still an impressive and enjoyable (if quirky) city it has also become quite hectic and stressful.
So, while we used to head to Seattle when we needed a break, we now need a place to head from a break from Seattle. Enter Bainbridge Island.
Bainbridge isn’t exactly a secret of any sort. Most people who are traveling the area simply don’t consider it as a destination as it’s more of a suburb that anything else. However, there are some amazing opportunities on the Island to slow down and enjoy a bit of the nature that Washington has to offer.
The place where that is most exemplified is, without a doubt, Bloedel Reserve.
What Is The Bloedel Reserve?
In short, the Bloedel Reserve is a 150-acre public garden. However, it is so much more than that. In fact, it is generally considered to be one of North America’s top 10 botanical gardens!
On its two-mile walking loop Bloedel Reserve seamlessly blends 23 distinct and varied landscapes into the natural terrain in such a way that you can easily forget that the city is only 30 minutes away.
The original owners of the property (timber baron Prentice Bloedel and his wife, Virginia) want to “capture the essence of the Japanese garden – the qualities of naturalness, subtlety, reverence, tranquility – and construct a Western expression of it”
While I can’t say I’ve ever been to a Japanese garden, we did find Bloedel Reserve to be peaceful and tranquil in the few hours we spent there.
Planning A Trip To Bloedel Reserve – What To Expect
In an effort to keep the gardens as tranquil as possible, daily entrance is limited. Walk-up ticket sales are not currently allowed so be sure to reserve a time slot ahead of time and show up when you’re supposed to!
The gardens are open year-round Tuesday through Sunday (rain or shine) and hours are typically 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Once you have reservations and show up at the gatehouse the host/hostess will give you a map and briefly explain how the reserve is laid out. If you have any special needs, now is a great time to mention them! They have some wheelchairs available and the host can advise you on the best ways to view the reserve if you need one (or if you’re pushing a stroller).
It’s also worth noting that the gatehouse is your last chance to use the restrooms before embarking on the loop so make sure you utilize it, especially if you have kids!
You then hop onto a trail that will lead you into a meadow and then into thick woods, exactly how you would expect of a garden in the PNW.
The feel of much of the reserve is similar to the tropical feel of the Olympic Peninsula as there is prolific and vibrant growth of all varieties.
The entire loop is about 2 miles and most people take about 2 hours to make it around. We ended up being a bit faster than that as the attention spans of a 3 and 5-year-old will not accept looking at plants and being quiet for 2 hours.
Inside the reserve rarely feels crowded but you’ll run into other people taking pictures, resting, etc. Of the many varieties of landscapes you’ll pass by you’ll see a reflection pool, various ponds, a moss garden, a Zen garden, and more. About halfway through the loop, you come to the “Bloedel House” which, let’s be honest, is more of a mansion. It sits in a clearing and commands magnificent views of Port Madison Bay and the greater Puget Sound (no, I didn’t get a picture of it, boo)
One of the last things that I will comment on is the overall peacefulness of the garden. Rowdiness (including crazy kids), leaving the path, or any type of hooliganism is not tolerated so, if you need a break from the rude people you encounter in Seattle, this will be a great chance to reset.
Is It Worth It? Getting There From Seattle
In Washington, everything is expensive. The Bloedel Gardens are no exception. $20 per adult felt a bit steep but, given the chance, we’d probably end up doing it again.
The Bloedel Reserve is worth it as it provides an experience that is not available anywhere on Bainbridge Island or close-by Seattle.
However, you’ll want to visit with the right mindset. The Bloedel Reserve is all about having a peaceful and immersive nature experience. If you want to find a bit of calm and stare and some plants while introspecting, this is your place. If you want to see the shocking natural wonders of the PNW then you might want to keep looking.
Bloedel Reserve – Interesting Tidbits
If you’re wandering around the grounds and want a few tidbits about the reserve and area to wow your traveling companions with, here you go:
- The Bloedel Reserve allows two weddings to take place on its grounds per year. As of 2017, a buyout of the wedding venue was $50,000 plus an additional $10,000 for the couple to become members of the Bloedel Society.
- Prentice Bloedel, the founder of the reserve (and the Candian Timber giant MacMillan Bloedel Ltd.) once said, “Nature can do without man, but man cannot do without nature.”
- The reserve sits on what was once (and I assume still is) sacred land of the Suquamish People. The Squamish People ceded much of their land to the U.S. government with the Point Elliot Treaty in 1855.
Getting To The Bloedel Reserve From Seattle
For most people, the Bainbridge Ferry is the best way to get to the Island. The ferry is a 35-minute ride and you can either walk on or bring a vehicle. While taking a vehicle requires you to get to the ferry terminal 30-60 minutes before you want to leave it’s still quicker than the 1 hr 45 min drive across The Agate Pass Bridge that connects Bainbridge Island to the Kitsap Peninsula.
If you choose to walk on the ferry you can use public van transport on Bainbridge for a quick and easy way to get around. The vans will come to you and will take you anywhere on the island for $2 per person (it’s a small island…).
If you’re looking for an experiential bit of nature to wash away some stresses from a business trip or hectic flight into Seattle, pay a visit to Bloedel Reserve!
While we’ll be waiting until our kids are older to make a second trip the pictures we managed to get will be treasured for a lifetime!