When is the best time to visit Washington state? Hands down, it’s during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival each April. Breathtaking views and plenty of things to do, we tell you all about it in this guide.
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One of the most fun things to do in Washington during the spring is visit the Skagit Valley. The Skagit Valley is alive with color because the tulip fields are so vibrant and brilliant. There’s reds, yellows, whites, and purples, and even striped or multi-colored tulips. Everywhere you look, there’s people wearing huge smiles as they walk through the aromatic flower fields. Everyone is ready for winter to be over, and the flowers are the first of many natural products that are grown in this fertile valley.
Jim and I were very excited about visiting Skagit Valley during tulip season because of course we lived in the Netherlands, and every April we would visit the Dutch famous tulip fields. The festivals are vastly different, with all kinds of events, but both are a lot of fun and serve up the best photography opportunities. I would say that getting to the Netherlands would be amazing, but if you want to stick closer to home and see some amazing tulip fields, just head to Washington state.
Where is the Tulip Festival Located?
The Tulip Festival takes place throughout Skagit Valley, which is located about an hour north of Seattle or Tacoma, and a couple of hours south of Vancouver.
It’s a very easy drive which many people do year round, just to meander around the various farm stands and buy a couple of apples or pumpkins or whatever is in season. At the stands, you can pay either the person who is standing there or oftentimes they have a Venmo where you can just take your produce and Venmo the amount to the farmer.
Even though Skagit Valley is gorgeous all year long and there’s plenty of great local produce, it’s especially beautiful during the Tulip Festival when the colors of spring just explode. Of course it’s much more crowded during that time as well, but don’t let that stop you! It’s so worth it!
When is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival?
The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival lasts the entire month of April every year. It is one of the most popular times to visit Washington state, and there is plenty to do around the area to extend your visit. The tulips begin to bloom during the first week of April, but they are usually in full bloom by mid-April.
As you might expect, the majority of people visit on the weekends, both tourists and locals. So, it’s best to plan your trip so that you can visit the fields during the week.
If you get to Washington a little early, you could see the migrating snow geese or the daffodils, which bloom before the tulips. If you get there later, each season brings on a plethora of produce and festivals and fairs. Skagit Valley is always an awesome weekend getaway.
How to Get to the Skagit Valley Tulip Fields
By Car – To get to the tulip fields from Seattle, take I-5 North. Take exit 165B – Mt. Vernon. From there, you will want to explore the valley in your car or on a bike. The fields are within a twenty mile radius, and you can pick up a brochure and map many places in town, especially at the hotels. However, you can print a map before you go as well.
One of the easiest ways to get to the tulip fields and have a great and easy day is to take the full day tour out of Seattle. This tulip and wine tour is highly rated as one of the best in Washington state.
By Train – Amtrak does have a station in Mt. Vernon, but there is no public transportation from there except calling a taxi or other ride share. You can, of course, rent a car in Mt. Vernon.
The Two Most Visited Farms During the Tulip Festival
There are two major farms that people visit during the Tulip Festival. One of them is called Tulip Town and the other is called Roozengarde. Both charge admission, but they have huge parking lots and it is the easiest way to enjoy the tulip fields up close and personal.
What to Expect at the Tulip Fields
Both of the large gardens are kitted out with so many things to do to keep you busy while you visit. Most people go to just walk through the many fields of tulips that are in patches of different colors and take lots of photos. You can take as many pictures as you want, as long as you don’t go in the field itself where you could easily damage the flowers.
However, there’s so much more to do:
- There’s lots of food and drinks available from craft beers to local wines, as well as sandwiches, popcorn, and candy.
- Often local artists and crafters will have booths set up in the gardens as well for selling their wares. At any one time, you can find things like knitted clothing, jewelry, knives, honey, etc.
- Ride bikes around the tulip fields instead of driving. Bring your own bike or rent one. The tulip fields are in a very flat area, so the biking is pretty easy. The other great thing about biking is that you can stop just about anywhere to capture a photo, whereas you cannot park on the side of road in many places.
Photography Tips for the Washington Tulip Festival
It’s a good idea to do a little preparation before heading to the tulip fields to capture some amazing photos during the trip. Here’s what we suggest when trying to get that perfect shot of tulips.
- Charge those camera and phone batteries. Also clear out any old SD cards or buy new ones. If you are only taking phone pictures, make sure you have lots of room. I took almost a thousand photos when I visited the first time.
- If you are going to shoot portraits, think about the clothes ahead of time. My daughter decided that she wanted to look like a farmer, so she and her son both wore overalls and straw hats. It looked really cute, but even if you don’t wear a specific outfit decide on colors and whether you want to match or not.
- Get in close – You will naturally take many photos of the entire field, but get down on your knees and take some close ups. If you are shooting a DSLR, shoot for a shallow depth of field (ex.f/2.8) and if you have a phone, you can use portrait mode.
- Pay attention to your background – Yes, there are lots of people behind your subject, but just be patient and wait. You’ll get a chance to get the shot.
- Go as early in the morning as you can. Being the first one there, the fields won’t be full of people yet, and hopefully there will still be some dew droplets on the blooms. The early light is softer as well and it looks so much prettier than the harsher light of the afternoon.
- Shoot from different perspectives – Try to get high and get some looking down, as well as get as low as possible and shoot up.
- Take advantage of the many photo opportunities provided by each farm. While we were there we took photos of an old truck with tulips in the bed, the Dutch windmill found in Roozengarde, and both gardens have signs planted, often with animal characters and such for the little ones.
- Drones are not allowed, so leave them in your car or hotel.
Other Tips for the Skagit Valley Tulip Fields
- Be very careful where you park. Most tulip fields have signs showing where parking is available. Watch for no parking signs and respect them. Many fields do not have parking around them. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the most important one is that the field is close to the road and they don’t want people to walk into the fields damaging the flowers.
- If you love tulips, plan on buying some bulbs while you are in the area. Washington is the number one tulip producer in the USA.
- Bring cash, especially if you are visiting Tulip Town.
- Leave your pets at home. They are not allowed in the fields.
- Be prepared for the changes in the weather.
Other Events Happening during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
The whole valley gets into the swing of things when the tulips are blooming, and many of the villages have their own events. Some other things to do during the festival include:
- Mt. Vernon Street Fair
- Annual Safe Kids Northwest Bike Ride
- Craft Lessons and fairs
- Photo competitions
- Poster Signings
- Craft Beer Route
Pro Tip: Make sure to download a Skagit Valley Tulip Festival Brochure so you won’t miss a thing.
Accommodations for the Washington Tulip Festival
Even though many folks do come up to the tulip festival on just a day trip, the valley is really worth at least a couple of days of exploring. Take the weekend and spend a night in one of these nearby towns.
Burlington – Right off of I-5 with lots of restaurants nearby and easy to drive to the tulip fields. The second time we stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites because it had an indoor pool which we loved.
La Conner – We loved staying at the La Conner Channel Lodge, which is located right on the waterfront and had a gas fireplace in each room. It was so nice to cozy up at the end of the day.
What to Pack for Visiting the Tulip Fields
Visiting Washington in the spring is tricky. The weather changes quite a bit. Temperatures are chilly in the mornings and evenings, but during the day it can get warm. To keep warm and dry, we suggest cocooning or dressing in layers. Short sleeves are okay, but you will want a fleece and rain jacket for when you need them.
April averages ten days of rain each year, so you will want to come prepared for it, as well as the mud in the fields. We highly suggest that you wear rubber boots, which will protect your feet and shins, which is much better for when you get down to get those fantastic photos.
Places Nearby To Visit During Your Trip
- Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
- Whidbey Island
- Drive a portion of the Cascade Loop
- Visit one of Washington’s 3 National parks
Taking a few days to visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is a bucket list item. Everyone who goes enjoys the views, the flowers, the great food, and beautiful drives in the region. It will entice you to come back again and again.
Author Bio – Corinne is an avid camper and traveler. She’s been to all 50 of the US states and has four more Canadian provinces to visit. However, she’s not stopping yet. There’s always more to see of this great continent! Corinne loves local foods, getting outdoors, landscape photography, and road trips.