Tip Toeing Through the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

If it’s April in Washington State, it’s time to tip toe through the tulips – literally- in Mount Vernon, Washington. Visitors from all over the world make the journey to the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. So did I.

Of course, nowhere in the literature does it say tulips love the mud – wear appropriate shoes. As I got out of the car, my sparkling tennis shoes did a nosedive into a pocket of sticky icky mud. What the heck, once I looked up to see the waves of brilliant blooms, I was in love. Who cares if I killed my footwear? The tulips were worth it. From a shoe aficionado, that’s quite a concession. Just sayin’.

The weather was somewhat spring like, the global weekend crowds were squish- squashing their way through the fields, cameras and IPhones in hand. Kids were stomping their feet in the mud pockets. As I understand it (this being my first time), its perfect tulip viewing conditions. I highly recommend it for locals and visitors alike.

As background, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is a Tulip festival in the Skagit Valley of Washington state celebrating millions of tulips bursting into bloom. It is held annually in the spring, April 1 to April 30.

The festival was officially inaugurated in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber people saw that people were coming by the thousands to view the tulips so they decided to add events and festivities to enhance the visitors’ trip to the Skagit Valley. In 1994 the Tulip Festival broke off from the Chamber of Commerce and became an entity of its own. Now that’s smart tourism planning.

From humble beginnings of 3 days, it expanded to 10, then 17 and now, for the past 5+ years, to 30 days. The expansion to 30 days was to ensure that the rolling fields of tulips grown in Skagit Valley would actually bloom sometime during the festival, since a shorter festival sometime missed the blooming of the fields. Again, smart tourism planning.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival always starts the first of April with the slogan, “Bloom dates according to Mother Nature.” This year’s chilly watery winter brought blooms a bit later than in past years. As one of the field workers told me, “Cooler weather lets the tulips come up gradually, as they’re meant to, bringing us a beautiful crop.”

The tulip festival is a month-long celebration. If you’re in town come enjoy the parade, street fair and a bike ride in La Conner, Mount Vernon and surrounding areas. The art shows, gala celebrations, concerts, tours of local shellfish and cheese operations are also worth a visit. For those of you who have visited before, keep in mind due to crop rotation, the fields are in different locations each year.

The Tulip Festival draws admirers from around the world each April. Weekends are especially busy, often slowing traffic both ways on the two-lane country roads. Parking is at a premium. Patience is a virtue.

We paid $5 for one of the last parking spots available. Weekdays are less crowded. Depending on which fields are flowering, you might just have to do “drive-by bloom viewing.” Parking on the side of many of the roads is prohibited. The police are out in full force. Watch your P’s and Q’s.

The Tulip Festival office in downtown Mount Vernon is open daily with helpful information, brochures, maps and guides about the festival and other local attractions.

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Photos by Allan Kissam