It seems like over the past few years, attending flower festivals have greatly grown in popularity. I think we can thank Instagram for that, but it also means that my neck of the woods has been getting a lot of love and that’s the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
If you see any pictures of major tulip festivals in the USA, it’s likely taken in either Washington’s Skagit Valley or at the Oregon Wooden Shoe Festival. Tulips do really well in the climate here as we have pretty dry summers a and wet fall/winter without getting too cold either. This combination leaves us with glorious fields upon fields of colorful blooms and the perfect opportunity to snap some seriously stunning photos.
So if you’re in Seattle (or the Northwest in general) and you want to know all there is to know about attending the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, this is the ultimate guide for you!
WHEN TO VISIT
This is a spring time festival that never has hard and firm start and end dates. These flowers bloom on their own time schedule depending on the weather so it can run any time between March and April. The best is to check out the bloom map, which gives you a real time idea of which fields are currently blooming.
If you’re looking to beat the crowds, then weekday mornings are ideal, otherwise prepare for some crowds. If you’re headed to the festival on a weekend, try to make it before 10am when the throngs really start to arrive. We arrived in the 9 o’clock hour and it wasn’t too busy but by the time we left it was packed. They also recommend arriving after 3pm if you’re looking to take some photos with ideal lighting and fewer people in the way.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
The festival takes place about 60 miles north of Seattle (and only 80 miles south of Vancouver, BC), so naturally, I packed up my blogger babes Megan, Asa, and Jenn, and we headed north. If you’re visiting from out of town, getting rental car for the day is the most convenient way to go.
Seattle has become known for it’s traffic in recent years and with thousands of people flocking to the festival, expect traffic jams. There are signs on I-5 that tell you which exits to take and those tend to be the routes with the most traffic. We didn’t hit too much going (it actually ended up being really helpful to just follow the signs and the cars) but coming back we were sitting in snarled traffic for about an hour. Just mentally prepare and you’ll be fine or look up an alternative route. There are several that you can look up here.
WHAT TO EXPECT
–There are two main gardens that charge a small fee, between $5-$8 per person, to enter. These are Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde. I’ve been to both and they are both equally stunning. Each also has different attractions for attendees including food, tractor pulls, and other decorative gardens that display an impressive variety of flowers.
–While this is called a tulip festival, if you go earlier in the season you can expect to see fields upon fields of daffodils! This was a wonderful surprise to me the first time I visited but the juxtaposition of the bright yellow sunshine flowers against a grey sky is breathtaking!
–Did I mention grey skies? This is Seattle in the spring so expect anything from sunshine to overcast skies to wind and rain. It’s likely that you’ll get hit with all of the above so plan on warm layers you can shed throughout the day as well as an umbrella. You may be impressed (if you don’t already know) how fast the weather can change from sunny to sideways rain and back in these parts.
–Since you’ll be walking around the fields of flowers, also expect plenty of mud. Depending on how the weather has been prior to your trip, you can find anything from small patches of mud to mini lakes of the stuff. Plan accordingly and bring rain boots or shoes you don’t mind sacrificing. The first time we went, we stopped at the Walmart and picked up a couple cheap pairs for the occasion.
–You see some seriously gorgeous photos of people literally tie toeing through the tulips but your not actually supposed to walk between the blooms. There are designated paths that you’re supposed to stay on and plenty of signs asking that you not trample the flowers. Both gardens hire people to make sure you stay out of them too. However I will say that if you’re respectful, not too far into the flowers, and away from the crowds, you can get away with some snaps amid the blooms.
–At both Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde parking is free. However if you’re driving along and see an absolutely stunning field you want to stop and explore, make sure you can actually pull over and park first. Lots of the local side roads have “No Parking” signs to make sure there isn’t more traffic than strictly necessary. Both Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde have outlying fields close-ish to their parking so you could just walk over is you really wanted too.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
If you want to make a full trip of it, you can quite easily. Here are a selection of other things to do/sights to see around the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
The Tulip Festival takes place between the towns of Mount Vernon and La Conner. La Conner is where I recommend people head for lunch and some sight seeing after their time in the flower fields. La Conner is a charming little town on the Skagit River with a board walk, stores to explore, and several excellent food options. I highly recommend the Calico Cupboard! They have a vast selection of homemade pastries if you want something quick or you can wait for a table (opt for outdoor if the weather allows) and have some seriously delicious food.
If you continue out of LaConner and head west on highway 20, you can cross Deception Pass and visit the state park. This is one of the most visited state parks in the state of Washington because it’s got it all in one. You can hike, swim, fish, and even whale watch all from one place. If you’ve seen any pictures of Washington that looked like they could rival the Cliffs of Mohler, they were probably taken here. You can find more information about visiting Deception Pass here.
Whidbey Island could be an entire day trip on its own with state parks, beaches, and a ferry ride all included in one. This is even a weekend spot for locals to get out of the city and unwind. There are plenty of weekend events that occur later in the spring (aka when the weather is more predictable) and you could even find a nice B&B on Whidbey Island if you’re coming from out of town. You can find more information about visiting Whidbey Island here.
CLINTON – MUKILTEO FERRY
If you’ve made it all the way to Whidbey Island on your visit to the Tulips, don’t think that you have to turn around and go all the way back! The ferry between Clinton and Mukilteo will get you back on the mainland and only 30 minutes from Seattle. No one can come visit Seattle and not go on a ferry ride! Just make sure to check out time tables and account for traffic. Weekends are popular times to get away from the city and often lead to long waits at the boat. More information about sailing times and fares here
Have you been to the Tulip Festival? Let me know if you have any additional questions! I’d be happy to answer them!
Until next time,
Thank you to Jenn of Hello Rigby for shooting these photos!