Nothing screams spring like a day trip to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. This month-long celebration has miles of tulip farms to explore and a variety of special events making it not only fun, but totally kid-friendly. And thanks to our mild winter, the tulips will be blooming early this year, giving you a jump-start to enjoy them. So load the kiddies in the car and plan to spend the day smack dab in the middle of tulip country, aglow in rich color.
photo: Beth Grotelueschen
The festival runs April 1-30. However, according to festival organizers the tulips will be in full blossom by March 20, a whopping 13 days earlier than normal! Even though the festival doesn’t officially kick off until April 1, the flower fields in the Skagit Valley will open before that to take advantage of the early season. Tuilip Town will open on March 19 and RoozenGaarde, open year-round, will more than likely start charging at the same time.
Approximate Travel Time
Depending on traffic, it should take you 60 minutes from Seattle.
It’s easy to get to the Skagit Valley. Travel north on I-5 for approximately 60 miles. The tulips are generally grown in a 15-mile triangle bordered by Highway 20, the Skagit River, and the Swinomish River Channel. Good to know: The festival is designed as a driving tour as many events and attractions are miles apart, scattered throughout the lower Skagit Valley.
photo: Melinda Wong
Where to Find the Flowers
Tulip Town not only offers over 80 varieties of tulips growing in the fields, but loads of kid-friendly activities too. From daily trolley rides and kite-flying areas (if you want to bring your own) to cool kite demonstrations, face-painting and children’s art activities. Plus, there’s espresso and snacks for that much-needed pick-me-up. Tulip Town operates daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Parking is free; $5 admission for adults, children ages 5 and under are free. Sorry, not pets.
RoozenGaarde has a colorful 4-acre display garden with over 250,000 bulbs and an authentic Dutch windmill. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for military with I.D., children ages 5 and under are free; parking is free with admission. RoozenGaarde is open daily from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sorry, no pets permitted in the garden. Check the bloom map for a daily bloom update.
Possible Lunch Spots
Kiwanis Salmon BBQ at Hillcrest Park is a famous BBQ and wildly popular with Seattle families. Located at the historic lodge at Hillcrest Park in Mt. Vernon, this annual event not only offers a delicious meal, but an opportunity for the little ones to run around at the park playground and burn off some steam before heading back home. BBQ hours are daily from 11 a.m.–7 p.m. starting on April 2 and running through April 24. Two serving sizes this year: $12 and $15.
The waterfront town of La Conner will be bustling and crowded during tulip season, but it’s so charming you won’t mind once you find somewhere to park. There are lots of restaurants to check out, including Calico Cupboard Cafe & Bakery, La Conner Brewing Company, La Conner Waterfront Cafe (watch the boats go by from this dockside location) or Seeds Bistro with a delish menu kids love.
You’ll also find plenty of options in Mt. Vernon, no matter what you’re in the mood for. Check out the Chamber site for some ideas. The previously mentioned Calico Cupboard Cafe & Bakery also has a Mt. Vernon location; for a family-friendly pub try Skagit River Brewery, right near the freeway; and for an extra special treat, stop by Snow Goose Produce for a scoop of specialty ice cream from Lopez Island Creamery. Served in a homemade waffle cone, these generous scoops will fill the kiddies up for the car ride home. Good to know: Remember to bring cash if you plan to stop at Snow Goose Produce; they do not accept debit, credit or checks for ice cream.
photo: Kalyn Gustafson
How to Dress
It’s best to dress in layers, and wear waterproof clothing in case there are April showers. Bring a change of shoes, socks and clothes. Depending on the weather, the fields could be mucky and uneven, making even experienced toddlers a little wobbly on their feet.
What to Bring
You will definitely want to pack some snacks and items to keep little ones busy in the car. Since the photo ops are endless, you’ll also want to bring along your camera and iPhone (it’s always good to have a backup!). If traveling with little ones, we’d recommend a backpack for babes and toddlers rather than a stroller. Older kids can walk the paths around some of the fields… it’s a great excuse to break out those cute rain boots you’ve had in the closet all winter!
photo: Eric Riddle
Need to Know
If possible, try to go during the week. The traffic can be a bit of a zoo on the weekends, but if that is your only option, bring along some car activities and a dose of patience. Bring cash — some fields may have a parking fee. Another option is to bring the bike and trailer if you are feeling adventurous. Also, Shutter Tours offers a motor coach tour that departs from the Sheraton Seattle Hotel with stops at the big tulip farms and downtown La Conner.
Good to Know
The fields are generally not for “picking,” just admiring and taking pictures. Often there are paths around the fields, but generally they don’t want you walking in the rows of flowers, as the bulbs are fragile. Tulips are usually for sale at the entrances, so you can take some home.
photo: Melinda Wong
What Else to Do
It’s always fun to check out a new children’s museum. The Children’s Museum of Skagit County is located in the Cascade Mall in Burlington and has lots of fun exhibits to explore. The Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday, noon–5 p.m. Admission is only $6.25 for kids and adults; babes under 12 months are free.
There are all kinds of special events in honor of the festival. Saturday, April 9th is a big day in the land of the tulips! The Tulip Frolic takes place in the nearby town of La Conner from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Check out the free entertainment under the tent on the big stage along with crafts, exhibits and more. In addition, the Kiwanis Tulip Parade takes place on the 9th starting at the Port of Skagit complex in LaConer. Grab a curbside seat and expect to see wacky impromptu participants — from farm animals and mascots to your favorite pets.
Also, on the 9th, the PACCAR Technical Center has its Annual Open House from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. with free admission. The truck testing facility only opens to the public once a year and allows you to get up close with the big rigs (kids can even sit in them!).
April 15-17 (Fri.-Sun.) is the annual Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair (on S. First St.) with hundreds of juried arts and crafts, unique gifts, live music, gourmet food and children’s activities. Open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m on Sunday.
photo: Beth Grotelueschen
Cost of the Trip
Depending on whether you pack your own snacks and lunch, the trip is inexpensive to moderate.
Do you plan on taking the kids to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival this year? What’s your favorite part of the festival? Tell us in the Comments below.
— Kristina Moy