Who’s ready for spring? I know I am. So I recently visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival to take in the eye-candy of thousands of poppin’ blooms. Here’s a quick guide to visiting fields of tulips and daffodils (usually on display from April 1-30).
1. Get a map of the tulip fields. Which ones are open for viewing, photos and more. You can find a printable map of the tulip festival locations. If you’d like to pick up a printed guide, stop at the visitor’s center or most shops in Mount Vernon.
2. Leave your house early. Even though most of the travel time is spent on the multi-lane I-5, car backups can happen in Seattle, Everett or at the US/Canadian border (coming from Canada). Road work or an accident can slow you further. I recommend leaving early (so you’re at your first destination close to opening). That said…
3. Prepare for slow traffic.Lots of traffic. Even on a weekday visit to the tulip fields, we saw traffic jams and general slow-downs, after leaving I-5; lots of people are here, in one place, jostling for their spot on a two-lane country road. People sometimes park on the shoulder to jump out and snap the shutter. Tractors and logging trucks may also contribute to delays. If you’re going with kids, bring plenty of in-the-car snacks, a water bottle and playthings or an audio book. Alternately, bring cash so you can stop at one of the locally owned farm stands for a snack and to stretch your legs.
4. Porta-potties are available in the fields. Grossed out by that? Use the loo in Mount Vernon (but please buy something, anything from the store owner). I didn’t see any changing tables, anywhere out in the fields/display gardens, so bring the equipment necessary to do a back-seat diaper change.
5. Prepare for a weather all-sorts. In the time we were there, it was cloudy, sunny and rainy…all at once. Pack a raincoat, clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and waterproof boots. You may want to bring a change of dry clothes for the kids, and maybe a towel or wet wipes for grimy hands. Even if it’s not raining, you’ll probably step in a standing puddle or get dusty and dirty; these tulips are grown in dirt, no surprise. I would not recommend an umbrella (too unwieldy, if you’re trying to juggle a camera, a child’s hand, change for an ice cream cone). If you bring a stroller, I would suggest a heavy-duty one that can motor through mud.
6. Do not forget your camera. Also, your battery and extra memory card. You’ll need all three. Those cards fill up fast. Just one more, just one more! If your kids are old enough, encourage them take photos as well, or pick up a disposable camera.
7. Dress the kids for maximum tulip-festival cuteness. If you’re bringing the kids, think about bright colors to contrast with the tulips (which are generally vibrant shades of orange, red, pink, purple) or daffodils. At Roozengaarde, there’s even a windmill. I really liked Roozengaarde. Tulip Town has trolley rides, though. Which one do you like better?
8. Remember that in some tulip fields, you are not supposed to walk into the flowers. And they will see you doing it. And they will yell at you.
9. When you take photos, take photos with your back to the sun. Yes, even if it’s a cloudy day. The colors will be brighter in the Skagit County tulip fields; you can also photograph into the sun for a nice backlit effect (with people though, the photo may come out a bit dark). However, shooting with the sun at your back may mean the light is in your child’s eyes. Which brings me to tip #10…
10. Pack sunglasses. You can probably leave the sunscreen at home.
Extra Tips for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival:
Eating: I eat at Skagit Valley Food Co-Op, a natural grocery that sells great pre-wrapped sandwiches (great for in-the-car dining or picnicking at the nearby Edgewater Park, which has a playground). The Co-op also offers a salad bar, full deli, sandwiches made to order and coffee. Two dining areas inside, too: along the windows and upstairs, in a loft-like perch overlooking the store, near a very sweet children’s area (with toys for purchase). There are also bathrooms, if you need ’em. Another option is Calico Cupboard (particularly for an early breakfast, before the tulip fields).
Shopping: If you need a
bribe toy to get you through a few hours of traffic/rain/drive home, the Kids Stuff store in Mount Vernon sells a lovely little selection of travel toys, including the Melissa & Doug Family Road Trip Box Of Questions. If you need an emergency kid-size coat, check the racks at Sprouts, a locally owned consignment store.
Also, downtown Mount Vernon is few blocks long and adorable — kite stores, bookstores and antique shops with cool old toys, vintage comics, funky furniture. Walking along the street is good for a half-hour or hour of fun, post- or pre-tulips.