Washington is the United States’ largest producer of tulips and, if you want to see these colorful blooms on full display, the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is the perfect opportunity. Every springtime, the town of Mount Vernon is blanketed by vibrant fields of flowers for you to walk through and enjoy.
But with several different gardens to choose from and over one million visitors flocking to this small city in a tight timeframe, there are some things you should consider when planning your trip- so here’s everything you need to know about exploring the best tulips in Washington, from when to visit to tips on how to snag the best photos!
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Table of Contents:
- What’s with all the tulips in Washington?
- When is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
- Where is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
- How to explore the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
- Tips for visiting the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
- What to do near the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
- Where to stay near the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
First, What’s With All the Tulips in Washington?
While Washington now grows a whopping 75% of the United States’ tulips, that wasn’t always the case.
The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival’s roots go all the way back to 1892, when an English immigrant, George Gibbs, tried planting a handful of tulip bulbs in his apple and hazelnut fields on the neighboring Orcas Island, which, to his surprise, multiplied.
Soon after, he wrote to Holland in hopes of finding out more about their tulip-growing techniques and was originally rebuffed. He was certain he had struck flower-gold, though, and shipped some of his bulbs all the way to Holland.
The Dutch were fascinated that Gibbs had found someplace where tulips grew just as spectacularly as they do in Holland and in 1892, Gibbs moved to the neighboring town of Bellingham with some 15,000 tulip bulbs imported directly from the Netherlands to plant in his fields. After years and years of growing, the Bellingham Tulip Festival was born in 1920.
But, between the Great Depression and several harsh winters, the Bellingham Tulip Festival was not long lived and Gibbs moved a bit further south with his bulbs to the Skagit Valley. The tulips flourished here and, by 1984, the tulip fields had become such an annual springtime attraction, the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce decided to establish the first ever Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
And now, it’s grown into such a behemoth every spring in Washington state that Oprah herself has named it one of the top ten flower festivals in the United States (and, like, who’s going to argue with Oprah?!).
When is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
The festival runs every year from April 1-30, but, depending on the year, the fields may decide to extend their opening dates through the first couple of weeks of May if the tulips are still blooming.
The best time to go visit tulips during this period will depend on the weather during the preceding winter and spring- in years with warmer weather, the flowers usually bloom more towards the beginning of April, as opposed to cooler years, when the blooms can extend well into May.
The tulip fields in Mount Vernon have over 200 varieties and millions of individual flowers, each which last about two weeks- so regardless of when you visit during the festival, there’s usually plenty of flowers in bloom!
You can get a good idea of the current bloom status in the general Skagit Valley region by checking this page run by the festival or, alternatively, some of the individual gardens (more on that below), like Roozengaarde, have virtual maps for you to check the bloom status as well.
Tip- I also lowkey stalked the various flower fields on Instagram and looked at users’ recent pictures tagging each of the fields to determine which one to choose. Perhaps not the most scientific method of selecting a garden of choice, but it’s definitely a helpful tool to get an idea of what the fields without online bloom maps look like.
If you can time your visit during a weekday, I’d highly recommend it- seemingly all of Washington state flocks to these fields each weekend, so traffic can get really bad (like backed up for miles and miles).
If you can only swing a weekend visit, not to worry- just come first thing in the morning. My husband, Justin, and I visited on a Sunday and arrived right when the Roozengaarde opens at 8 AM. It was amazing to see the difference in how crowded it was when we arrived, as opposed to when we left just a few hours later- SO. MANY. PEOPLE!
Where is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
Mount Vernon is located about an hour and 15 minutes north of Seattle in Skagit County. Before researching the festival, I naively thought that, perhaps, there were just open fields of tulips where visitors were free to just frolic through at their leisure and live out their best springtime-loving lives, but of course, there’s only private gardens that each charge an admission fee.
Until recently, there were two major tulip fields: Roozengaardeand Tulip Town. In the last couple of years, there’s a few new players in town: Garden Rosalyn and Tulip Valley Farms. All of the fields are located within about a three-mile radius of each other- you can check out a map of the fields here.
Each of the fields have their own pros and cons.
- Leans hard into its farm aesthetic, with family-friendly activities, like trolley rides
- Offers neat packages for photographers or people who are, like, REALLY into their social media to have exclusive access during golden hour (for an upcharge, of course)
- Dog-friendly, so you can get all the adorable springtime photos and videos with your furry best friend in tow
- Their transparency- for example, in 2022, their tulip fields did not fare so well, due to intense flooding on its farm, which they made abundantly clear on their website and to onsite ticket purchasers. I wish more companies were so transparent!
- Tulip Town’s admission fee is on par with Roozengaarde ($15 per adult), despite having less than one-tenth of the flower fields Roozengaarde has (just five planted acres and the amount that blooms may be even less).
- If seeing lots and lots of tulips is what you’re after, this is definitely the place to go. Roozengaarde has a staggering amount of flowers- 30 acres of tulips and 20 acres of daffodils, which, frankly, dwarfs the other fields. And due to its expansive size, you’re rarely on top of other visitors, even when it’s super crowded.
- It usually has the most impressive offering of fresh-cut flowers and other potted plants as compared to the other fields.
- As mentioned above, Roozengaarde is the most popular field, so if you’re not a fan of crowds or traffic (I’ve heard stories of folks waiting for up to an hour for a parking spot), this may not be the right field for you.
- Unlike Tulip Town, anyone over the age of 3 is charged the full adult ticket price ($15). So if you’re bringing a bunch of kiddos with you, it might turn out to be quite a pricey day!
- It’s dog-friendly- who doesn’t want some cute springtime pics with their pup?!
- It’s also the cheapest of the gardens ($13 for individuals 5 and up).
- Being one of the new kid on the block, it’s not as crowded as Roozengaarde or Tulip Town.
- Like Tulip Town, Garden Rosalyn is more on the smaller side, with just six acres of tulips.
- I’ve read reports online that the fields are not operated consistently with the posted opening hours, which can make planning your visit certainly more challenging (especially since most visitors travel quite a distance to visit).
- Tulip Valley Farms has the second most tulips of all of the farms in the Skagit Valley, clocking in at a whopping 12 acres!
- Out of all of the fields, Tulip Valley has by far the most events and activities to enjoy. Hourly tea times, yoga and meditation, painting classes, an illuminated night walk through the fields- you name it, Tulip Valley’s got it!
- If you’re looking for the largest fields with the least crowds, Tulip Valley is going to be your winner.
- The visitor experience to Tulip Valley is a bit confusing, given there’s actually two properties you can visit (each which require their own ticket): Tulip Valley Farms and Tulip Valley Gardens.
Tulip Valley Farms is the option that has 12 acres of tulips and offers the illuminated night walks and U-pick fields (both for extra fees). General admission is $15 for visitors 6 years and up, which makes this tied as the most expensive option of the Skagit Valley tulip fields. And that’s before you add on any all the extra fees.
Tulip Valley Gardens is a smaller site, with just 2 acres of tulips, and hosts most of the activities onsite, like the aforementioned yoga, painting, and tea times, all of which are subject to extra fees. General admission is $12 for visitors 6 years and up.
- While dogs are allowed, they, too, are subject to an extra $5 fee and are only allowed in the designated doggie area of Tulip Valley Farms.
Ultimately, if I had to recommend one place to see the tulips in Washington, it would be Roozengaarde– but, depending on whether any of the factors listed above are important to you, the other two can be great options as well.
Beyond the individual gardens, there’s also a bunch of activities that occur throughout Mount Vernon during the month of April, like art shows, an annual parade where “wacky” entries are encouraged, a chili cook-off, and an annual street fair, with local vendors offering arts, crafts, and food. You can read more about the different events here.
How to Explore the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
While most visitors choose one or two gardens to drive to and see on foot, there’s a couple of other options you have to explore the incredible blooms:
- Short on time- or cash? You can simply drive by the fields and still take in their acres and acres of vibrant blooms. Just be sure to keep your eyes on the road, only park in designated spaces if you want to stop to take photos, and otherwise be a respectful and safe driver.
- Lean into the whole Dutch thing and rent a bike! There’s companies, like the aptly named Tulip Country Bike Tours, that both rent and offer guided tours past Skagit Valley’s fields.
Tips for Visiting the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
So what else should you know before visiting?
- Obey the signs. Each of the gardens ask that individuals not walk through the individual rows of tulips, as it can crush- and permanently ruin- the bulbs- with a comical amount of signs to that effect. And if I had a nickel for every time I saw someone prancing into the rows for photos or to take a TikTok or whatever, I would’ve been able to handily pay for our Roozengaarde admission! People not following the rules are usually why nice things are taken away- so don’t be that guy, please!
- Wear boots: Most of the paths you’ll be walking on are made out of pure dirt- and with the whole April showers things, there’s a solid chance that they’ll be basically pure mud. So if you visit during a particularly rainy week (honestly, visiting while it’s raining is an excellent way to avoid crowds), you should bring waterproof boots that you don’t mind getting a bit muddy. And what could be more spring-y than rain boots?
- The gardens don’t have the best accessibility: When you’re visiting the gardens, you’re basically walking through a large farm field, with many of their paths being on extremely uneven (as in, with enormous tractor wheel indentations) and dirt paths. So if you have any kind of mobility issues or need to take a stroller with you, you may be limited in what parts of the gardens you can explore.
- Bring warm clothes: So remember how I mentioned Instagram-stalking the fields above? If you look at those photos, you’d think the weather was positively balmy- there’s tons of photos of women wearing sun hats and rompers, cheerily smiling. But when we visited, one of the staff members mentioned to us how it had been one of the warmest days of the season- and it was in the low 50s.
Being the extra af person that I am, I wore a red flowy dress for the most springtacular photos possible- which also meant that I was FUH-REEZING. So, by all means- wear that sunhat and that romper and look like your fiercest springtime self- just bring a big ol’ puffy coat to throw on over it when you’re not taking photos.
- How to take cool photos: Let’s be honest- we all want some rad photos with tulips, right?
Here are some tips to make sure you get the best photos possible:
- Arrive early. Being in a field of tulips looks way less dramatic when there’s a gazillion people in the background.
- Get creative with your angles. While you shouldn’t walk between the individual rows of the flowers themselves, there’s still large walking paths between blooming flower fields- so, with the right camera positioning, it still has the appearance that you’re walking through a row.
Alternatively, if you’re into photography and don’t mind blowing lots of money on camera gadgets, like us, consider bringing a long lens with you (all of these shots were taken with our Sony Alpha and zoom lens). With a photographer on one end of a row and the subject at the other end, it creates an illusion that the subject is walking through the tulips (plus- check out how massive the mountains look with lens compression!).
- Dress up: Listen, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t plan my outfits to look as photogenic as possible with wherever we’re headed. Consider wearing something springy in red, yellow, pink, or white that either complements or contrasts with the colorful flowers.
- You can’t use drones. Honestly, getting drone footage here would be absolutely epic, but it’s not allowed at any of the fields. So heed my #1 tip above and instead, just get creative with your photos! Get really low and up close to the tulips. Try to find shots where a cool barn or the Cascade Mountains are towering in the background. Highlight the contrasting colors in the fields. With so much beauty, you don’t really need drones to showcase the gorgeousness of it all!
What to do near the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
This part of Washington is packed with cute coastal towns, offering amazing craft breweries, charming restaurants and outdoor adventures. so I’d suggest making a whole weekend out of it and exploring some of the incredible gems this area has to offer:
- Check out the town of Anacortes, which is bursting with antique stores and mom-and-pop cafes, like the Shambala Bakery and Bistro.
- Deception Pass is one of my favorite parks in the entire state, with dramatic cliffs, excellent whale spotting opportunities (we’ve seen orcas the last two times we visited!), and a super cool bridge from 1935 (any other bridge nerds out there? Just me? Cool, cool.).
- About half an hour north of Mount Vernon is the port town of Bellingham, which is a-frickin’-dorable.
With plenty of incredible hikes nearby, like Oyster Dome or Fragrance Lake, ridiculously good restaurants and breweries (go to Otherlands Beer and thank me later), and the perfect jumping off point for other adventures in northern Washington, like exploring the San Juan Islands, Bellingham is the perfect weekend accompaniment with the tulip festival. In fact, that’s exactly what Justin and I did- and it was awesome!
Where to stay near the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
I’m going to be honest- accommodations in Mount Vernon itself are seriously lacking. And, with a population of just 35,000 residents, perhaps that isn’t all that surprising!
There are, however, tons of great options nearby.
In Anacortes, consider:
- The Marina Inn: Conveniently located near downtown Anacortes, this little hotel provides one of the best values around, with impeccable customer service, clean and updated rooms, AND free breakfast!
- Anacortes Ship Harbor Inn: If you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest or just want to soak up all those coastal vibes, this charming seaside inn may just be perfect. Many of the rooms have sweet touches for maximum coziness, like Jacuzzis and fireplaces.
- Majestic Inn and Spa: While this is one of the more bougie options on this list, it’s still an excellent value. Housed in a former hardware store from 1890, this boutique hotel perfectly melds the intricate grandeur of the Victorian era, with modern touches, like a world-class spa, rain showers in every room, and French press coffee for a morning pick-me-up.
In Bellingham, consider:
- Coachman Inn: If you’re looking for affordability, this motel fits the bill. While its interior is on the outdated side, it’s sparkling clean, has wonderful staff, and offers tons of extra perks, like a heated swimming pool and free continental breakfast.
- Oxford Suites: Clean and spacious rooms, tons of perks (like a sauna, hot tub and free hot breakfast), and incredibly friendly service.
- Hotel Leo: This boutique hotel is the most stylish in Bellingham, with swanky amenities, like a prohibition-era bar (cheekily named “Amendment 21”), a “social room” with shuffleboard and billiards, and its own private theater. Plus, it’s got a lot of historic charm, housed in the former Leopold Hotel, built in 1883 (which was frequented by Clark Gable!).
Now, go get your tulip on! Do you have any questions about exploring the biggest display of tulips in Washington? Let me know in the comments below!
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