Day Trip Discoveries: Explore Stanwood and Camano Island

Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens A & C kiosks feature two glass art sculptures on pedestals in a pond.

Discover a relatively unknown, native botanical garden just three miles north of Stanwood. Then explore Stanwood, its history and Scandinavian to Polish enterprises. Next, enjoy Iverson Spit Preserve, a Camano Island beach just a bit off the beaten track.

Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens are the Pacific Northwest’s only completely native botanical garden.

Former high school biology teacher David Thomsen is the force behind its creation. While on private land, the garden is free and open daily to the public from dawn to dusk under a Washington Recreational Use Statute.

Stroll a 3/4-mile boardwalk loop to view indigenous trees, shrubs, vines and ferns beside a long meandering pond and three types of wetlands. The nine-acre gardens also feature native flowers, grasses, ground-covers, mosses and mushrooms. Everything is well marked with identifying signs.

Opened in 2014, the Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens serve as an outdoor educational resource as well as preserving native plants. Sixteen interpretive kiosks are spaced along the wheel-chair accessible boardwalk. Each provide information about native flora, birds and butterflies as well as local and natural history.

A glass art duck at Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens

Intriguingly, the top of each kiosk roof is planted with different native plants to attract specific butterflies. Kiosk 1 draws Monarchs with the milkweed growing on its roof — there the butterflies lay eggs, which hatch into caterpillars and feed on the milkweed. Mourning Cloaks are attracted to the birch, willow and spirea at Kiosk 4. Two-banded Checkered-Skippers go for dwarf bilberry and Douglas’ knotweed at Kiosk 11.

Also look for glass art in each kiosk above the large informational plaque. The glass forms were made by artists at the nearby Pilchuck Glass School. You’ll also see glass art ranging from vases to colorful creatures positioned on pedestals throughout the pond.

If you become curious about the big capital letter on each kiosk’s backside – collectively, the letters spell out “Botanical Gardens” (although you can’t see all the letters/kiosks at once to realize this).

Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens also includes a sobering area that documents all the Northwest native species already lost to extinction.

The D.O.Pearson House Museum.

Nearby Stanwood was settled in 1866 as a trading post on the “flats” at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. Originally named Centerville, the town was renamed in 1877 by Postmaster D.O. Pearson — who was also Stanwood’s first mayor. He deemed Centerville way too common and chose his wife’s maiden name of Stanwood.

Today the 1890 D.O. Pearson House Museum is maintained as a Victorian Period Home by the Stanwood Area Historical Society. It houses many of the area’s historic artifacts. Changing exhibits feature settlers from the eastern U.S. and Europe and their interactions with local Skagit and Stillaguamish tribes.

The Pearson House Museum is next to the 1888 Tolin House, where volunteers coordinate Pearson House tours 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays or by appointment. Also next door is the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center, which features historical exhibits on its third floor.

Just down the street, the historic Stanwood Hotel and Saloon has been operating since 1889. The saloon serves pub fare amid faded newspaper articles about its history. Upstairs, the guest rooms have been renovated in historic period décor – but are reputed to be haunted!

Uffa Da Shoppe in Stanwood’s Viking Village.

If you’re seeking Scandinavian Stanwood, visit the Uff Da Shop for all manner of gifts and souvenirs with lefse to lutefisk labels. Or have a unique dining experience at Polska Kuchnia, the “only totally authentic” Polish restaurant in the greater Seattle/I-5 vicinity. 

From Stanwood, cross the Hwy. 532 bridge to Camano Island to discover the 120-acre Iverson Spit Preserve. This tucked-away beach and trail overlooks Livingston Bay, a vital estuary habitat and migratory bird mecca. More than 125 species of birds have been recorded here, including song birds, raptors, migrators, and both salt and fresh water aquatic birds.

Two viewing platforms are atop the man-made dike, separating former farm land from beach. Read their informative plaques to appreciate the spit’s history and environmental importance. Then walk down onto the beach. Enjoy its many sandy areas and plentiful driftwood — ideal for families with kids who like to build beach “forts.” Time your visit with low tides to have the most beach access.

Boys playing at low tide on Iverson Spit beach.

Iverson Spit is perfect for picnicking, beachcombing and swimming. Its shallow, sheltered waters and sandy beach make the saltwater surprisingly warm in summer.

Also take the one-mile loop trail that runs behind the dike. You’ll see thickets of wild roses, groves of madrone trees and a good view of the saltwater marsh. The trail also wends through a bit of forest, berry thickets, a freshwater marsh and open fields. Part of the trail is signed as the Hobbit Trail — you briefly walk under dense tree canopies suggesting that movie set.


Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens

2420 300th St. N.W., Stanwood (exit 215 from I-5)



D.O. Pearson House Museum

27108 – 102nd Ave. N.W., Stanwood


Stanwood Hotel and Saloon

26926–102nd Ave. N.W., Stanwood


Uff Da Shop     

8820 Viking Way, Stanwood


Polska Kuchnia

8620 271st St. N.W., Stanwood


Camano Island – Iverson Spit Preserve

— By Julie Gangler

Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.

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