Boys frolic in front of rows of gorgeous tulips during the 2017 Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Good news! Washington's annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is back on for 2021, and tulip mainstays RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town are both welcoming visitors to see their gorgeous fields. As long as you live south of the border, you can get your tulip fix this spring. (Sorry, Canadians, see you next year, hopefully.)
What you need to know about the 2021 tulip festival:
First, buy your tickets online, in advance. A ticket from either of the farms gets you in for a specific time block on a specific date. That’s to limit the number of people in the fields. Both farms extended their hours this year, to help accommodate thousands of visitors while keeping crowds in check, but you'll want to buy your tickets asap, especially if you want to visit on a weekend.
In addition to new timed-entry ticketing, there are new safety protocols are in place. Masks are required for everyone ages 5 and older, and visitors must social distance. No pets or drones are allowed.
If you're a regular tulip festival visitor, you'll notice admission prices are up. Unfortunately, the increase won't come close to recouping last year's losses, when the entire festival had to be canceled. (More on that later.)
RoozenGaarde tickets cost $15 per person; tots ages 2 and younger enter free. Tulip Town tickets cost $16.28 for ages 12 and older; $6.13 for ages 6–11; and kids ages 5 and younger are free. Tulip Town is also offering an experience pass ($51.47) where you can pick your own bouquet, and a photography pass ($113.06) to come take pictures in the early morning and at sunset when the light is most beautiful.
Tulip Town tickets include a trolley you can ride (opens April 1). You'll also find five acres of flowers, a new cafe with a beer and wine garden and a big field for flying kites (bring your own or buy onsite).
In comparison, RoozenGaarde has 25 acres of tulips, 20 acres of daffodils and a five-acre display garden.
Dressing for the weather
Rain or shine, the tulips are always beautiful. But keep in mind this festival is an outdoor event and ticket sales are final. There are no refunds or exchanges at RoozenGaarde. Tulip Town allows ticket changes up to 48 hours before your ticketed time.
We learned this the hard way. I bought tickets weeks in advance, and our date happened to land on one of those days when it was raining sideways. On the plus side, we had the place to ourselves.
Northwest parents know that spring and farms can each mean mud. Both together? You'll want to bring all the gear and plenty of dry clothes.
You won’t see this anywhere else in the country
Three-quarters of the nation’s commercial tulips are grown in Skagit Valley, according to Washington State University’s Skagit County Extension. About 1,000 acres of tulips and daffodils are grown in Skagit County, more than any other county in the country. That’s a whole lot of flowers.
Numbers aside, the flower fields are breathtaking. You could fly to the Netherlands… or you could drive 60 miles north from Seattle to Mount Vernon.
The best time to go
Right now the fields are bright yellow with daffodils. Tulips will bloom in another week or so; peak bloom typically happens in mid-April. That all depends on Mother Nature, of course, so check the festival's bloom status info for updates.
If you prefer less busy times, book a ticket for mid-week before noon. The least busy days are the days when the weather isn’t great, as we found out.
2020: A tough year for tulip farmers
Things last year were really, really bad for the tulip farms. Typically, the month of April — when the flowers are blooming — is when the farms need to generate nearly all of their annual income. In 2020, the stay-at-home order came at the worst possible time.
All the bulbs had been planted and everything was ready for the 300,000 visitors who typically swarm Skagit County for the fest. Then the whole thing was canceled and no one could come.
Brent Roozen estimates that the spring bloom accounts for 80 to 90 percent of his farm’s business for the year. He’s a third generation tulip grower; his grandfather, William Roozen, emigrated from Holland in 1947 and started RoozenGaarde.
“The bloom looked great, but in terms of everything else, it was something we’d prefer to never experience again,” Roozen said. “We’ll never make that up. It’s basically a year’s loss.”
Two miles to the west, Tulip Town had just been purchased by a group of five friends from Mount Vernon High School’s class of 1994. The 2020 Tulip Festival was supposed to be their inaugural year.
“Really, the only thing not in our business plan was a worldwide pandemic,” said founding partner Angela Speer.
When you buy tickets to this year's festival, you can feel good knowing that you're supporting these local family businesses weather the pandemic.
When the troops get hungry, both farms have food for sale. Roozengaarde has a concession stand selling burgers, hot dogs, kettle corn, fudge, all the tasty things. This year, Tulip Town brought in a chef and opened a new cafe and a beer and wine garden. Chef Josie Urbick had been executive chef at the Seattle Art Museum’s TASTE restaurant, and she’s another Mount Vernon native. FYI, if facilities are important to you, you’re looking at Port-a-Potties with hand-washing stations at both farms.
In town, we like the Skagit Valley Food Co-op (202 S. First Street, Mount Vernon) for grab-and-go deli items. The Chuckwagon Drive-In (800 N. Fourth Street, Mount Vernon) is a good spot for really cheap burgers and watching a model train chug through the dining room.
On the west side of the Skagit River, try The Net (18037 Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon) for old-school burgers and shakes, or find family Mexican cuisine at Mexico Cafe (1320 Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon).
And no visit to the Skagit Valley is complete without a stop at Snow Goose Produce (15170 Fir Island Road, Mount Vernon). Against all logic, even extremely wet and cold children cheer up when you hand them a super-sized ice cream cone. Bring cash and an appetite!
If you go...
Find it: The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival takes place around Mount Vernon, Washington, about an hour's drive north of Seattle.
When: Official festival dates are April 1–30, 2021, but the flowers bloom according to Mother Nature's schedule, as local farmers will remind you. Typically, the most reliable dates for full tulip bloom are between April 7 and April 25. Daffodils are blooming now. Check the bloom status page for updated info.
Tulip farm info:
More fun with kids in Skagit County:
More blossoms blooming: