Flower Power: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (Mount Vernon, WA)

Last weekend was likely the best for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. It was warm and sunny and the flowers were reportedly in full bloom. But weekends invite the most crowds. Though we hadn’t gone in years, with the remainder of the week forecast to be rainy, we decided to skip one of America’s great flower displays for another time. At least, that was our resignation last week. On Friday, it was cloudy over Seattle with partial sunbreaks. Would the weather be better up north and could we make a late run to the festival? We piled into the car and headed for Skagit County in mid-afternoon.

The Skagit Valley has been growing tulips and other bulb plants since the early twentieth century. Tulips, daffodils and other bulb plants became a popular tourist attraction over the years. There wasn’t a full-blown organized festival until 1984. Now, it attracts about a million visitors a year from all over the world during all of April, with additional festivities that preclude what used to be a simple drive to the tulip fields. Traffic jams and crowds are now the norm.

As we approached Skagit Valley, the cloud cover largely disappeared. Traffic was painfully slow in Mount Vernon, the town closest to the tulip fields. I wondered how much worse the weekends typically were. We managed to find the main tulip route. Our disappointment was palpable when the tulips in the first fields we came across had already been de-petaled by workers, though the views of rows of petals on the ground alternating with green stalks and leaves were strangely beautiful. Were we too late?

Then, on the corner of Calhoun and Beaver Marsh, we saw the brilliant Roozengaarde displays. We pulled over to the side of the road, along with lots of other cars, and got out to admire the flowers.

Further north along Beaver Marsh is the main Roozengaarde “attraction.” You used to be able to park your car in a small lot and admire their gardens, but the lots have greatly expanded since yesteryear, flaggers directing where you can park. More than that, there is now an admission fee of $5 to view the spectacular fenced-in fields that seem to go on for acres where many varieties of tulips and some daffodils were in full bloom, though clearly this would be the last weekend for such a spectacle. The gift shop and cut flower pavilion were across the street, where there was a stunning garden of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and muscari of every imaginable color, concession stand and a touristy windmill for picture-taking.

We didn’t get back home until 9pm after a half-day well spent.

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