The Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens draw visitors to Woodland, Washington.
For most of the year, Woodland, Wash., isn't much of a destination. But that changes each April when the unassuming town becomes lilac central with a full-blown floral chorus of those perfumed dowagers found in old-time gardens.
Located about 25 miles north of Portland, Woodland is a gateway to outdoor recreation on the southern flank of Mount St. Helens and along the Lewis River, which empties into the Columbia about three miles west of town. It also makes a convenient headquarters for exploring the Lewis River valley, a rolling landscape of farms, forest, and small towns where you can shop for antiques, see traditional Indian dances, and even taste a bit of wine.
The focus of all the springtime attention on Woodland is Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, a National Historic Site that draws 25,000 visitors during its annual Lilac Days. (This year's event runs April 19 to May 11.)
The four-acre garden and the Victorian-era farmhouse it surrounds were once home to Hulda Klager, a housewife with a passion for developing new lilac varieties. By the time of her death in 1960 at age 96, she was famous in horticultural circles as a leading hybridizer of the genus Syringa. To the public, she was simply "the Lilac Lady."
Today, the Hulda Klager Lilac Society keeps the garden's mature trees, rhododendrons, camellias, and more than 250 lilac bushes looking as if Hulda herself were still in charge. Stroll the paths and you'll find fragrant lilacs with fanciful names like Agincourt Beauty and Maiden's Blush in colors that range from deep violet to pinkish lavender.
The creamy white, three-bedroom house now serves as a museum honoring the Lilac Lady and is open only during Lilac Days, though you can visit the garden all year.
Down the road, you'll find another floral extravaganza at Holland America Bulb Farms. Founded about 20 years ago by Dutch immigrants, the company grows tulips, irises, and lilies for the wholesale trade. However, you can buy field-fresh bouquets there in spring and imported flower bulbs later in the year. From a distance, the 125 acres of tulip fields resemble a vast rainbow carpet, and they're usually at their blooming best in April.
Outside Woodland there are plenty of other activities to augment your flower viewing. Seven miles south, button-size Ridgefield lays claim to being the Birthplace of U-Haul because the first of that company's trailers was built on a nearby ranch in 1945. However, the town's real lure is the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, 5,150 acres of marshes and grasslands that adjoin the Columbia River. In spring, songbirds and sandhill cranes stop here on their way back north. You can explore the refuge on foot or by kayak, but you'll see a greater number of residents such as beavers and red-tailed hawks on a 4.2-mile driving loop. Oddly enough, most critters seem unfazed by cars, so your vehicle serves as a moving blind.
Antique hounds should make for Kalama. More than 200 dealers—most located in five antique malls—offer everything from vintage postcards to big-ticket items like a $3,200 Victorian hall tree made of cherry wood and burl walnut. The town also boasts three totem poles carved by Native American artist Don Lelooska. The tallest, overlooking the Columbia River, soars 140 feet and was made from a 700-year-old western red cedar.
A trio of historical attractions lie to the south and east of Woodland. At the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, a restored 1876 turbine-style mill fed by water from a 650-foot flume, docents grind grain during weekend demonstrations; for a donation you can take away a small sack of flour. From May to September, the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Yacolt offers excursions on a 1940s diesel train. Also in Yacolt, the Pomeroy Living History Farm lets you sample 1920s rural life through do-it-yourself activities like grinding corn and scrubbing clothes on a wash- board. When you're done with farm chores, wet your whistle with the award-winning pinot noirs at Salishan Vineyards, a mom-and-pop winery in the tidy town of La Center.
For a scenic day trip, head east out of Woodland on Highway 503 toward the southern side of Mount St. Helens; the area was largely unscathed by the cataclysmic 1980 eruption. The road snakes along the waters of the Lewis River and two of its lakes, Merwin and Yale, where anglers bait their hooks for steelhead and salmon. Continue on and you'll come to the hamlet of Ariel, identified by the FBI in 1971 as the spot where hijacker D.B. Cooper likely disappeared after parachuting out of a Northwest Orient jet with $200,000 in ransom money. The Ariel Store, a funky country tavern with a parachute spread from the ceiling, maintains a "Cooper's Corner" of news clippings near its wood-burning stove.
At the Lelooska Foundation, also in Ariel, you can watch an evocative program of songs, stories, and dances performed by firelight in a Kwakiutl ceremonial house. Don't miss the 600-piece collection of baskets, feathered headdresses, and other Native American artifacts.
From the town of Cougar, there's easy access to hiking and camping around Mount St. Helens. Among the nearby natural wonders is Ape Cave, which at 12,810 feet is one of the longest intact lava tubes in North America. This eerie, dark, and drippy subterranean world can be explored year-round, though a spring visitor may encounter snow. Should you find this taste of lingering winter unpleasant, just hop in your car and head back to where the lilacs bloom.
Planning Your Trip
All phone numbers are area code 360 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook and map. For more information, call the Woodland Chamber of Commerce at 225-9552 or visit lewisriver.com/woodlandchamber.
Things to Do
Ariel Store, 288 Merwin Village Rd., 225-7126. Cedar Creek Grist Mill, Grist Mill Rd., 225-5832, www.cedarcreekgristmill.org. Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, 207 NE Railroad Ave., Yacolt. Regular runs begin in May. 686-3559, www.bycx.com. Fishermen's Depot, 1511 N. Goerig St., 225-9900, www.fishermensdepot.biz. Fishing supplies and guided trips. Holland America Bulb Farms, 1066 S. Pekin Rd., 225-4512. Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, 115 S. Pekin Rd., 225-8996, www.lilacgardens.com. Lake River Kayak & Sporting Goods, 214 Pioneer St., Ridgefield, 887-2389, www.pacifier.com/~lrkayak. Lelooska Foundation, 165 Merwin Village Rd., 225-9522, www.lelooska.org. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Headquarters, 42218 Yale Bridge Rd., Amboy, 247-3900, www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/mshnvm. Pomeroy Living History Farm, 20902 NE Lucia Falls Rd., Yacolt, 686-3537, www.pacifier.com/~pomeroy. Season opens with Herb Festival, May 17-18. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, 301 N. Third Ave., Ridgefield, 887-4106, ridgefieldrefuges.fws.gov. Salishan Vineyards, 35011 North Fork Ave., La Center. Open May-December, Saturday 1-5 p.m., and by appointment. 263-2713.
Cougar Bar & Grill, 16849 Lewis River Rd., Cougar, 238-5252. Home-style cooking. East Fork Bakery, 582 NW Pacific Hwy., La Center, 263-8669. Baked goods, sandwiches. Los Pepe's, 611 Goerig St., 225-7753. Mexican. North Fork Bar & Grill, 3209 Lewis River Rd., 225-7188. At golf course, overlooking river. Oak Tree Restaurant, 1020 Atlantic St., 225-8446. Big, varied menu. Pioneer Street Cafe, 207 Pioneer St., Ridgefield, 887-8001. Pizza, pasta, sandwiches.
Best Western Woodland Inn & Suites, 1380 Atlantic Ave. Rates $69-$129; 51 rooms. 225-1000, (800) 528-1234. Lewis River Inn, 1100 Lewis River Rd. Rates $53-$73; 49 rooms. 225-6257, (800) 543-4344. White House Inn, 305 W. Fifth St., La Center. Rates $75-$85; 1 room with private bath, 2 with shared bath in a 1903 house. 263-8163, www.lacenterwhitehouseinn.com.
Photography by Robin B. Cushman
This article was first published in March 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.