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All You Need To Know About The Skagit Valley Tulips

Mar 20th, 2024

As winter loosens its grip and springtime wildflowers paint the PNW with vibrant hues, Washington’s favorite flower festival also starts to bloom in the lush, fertile Skagit Valley.

Mount Vernon and the surrounding valley draws visitors from all corners of the globe to the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, held throughout April each year for four decades since its inception in 1984. 

But what brings these vibrant cut flowers to a state known for its evergreen giants and wild foliage? We’ll go into all of that, plus what you can expect to see and do at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival this year (and every year!).

History and significance of tulips in Washington

How tulips took root in Washington

The story of Skagit Valley's tulips begins in the 1880s when an Englishman named George Gibbs moved to Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, though tulips weren’t on his mind back then. Rather, he grew apples and hazelnuts in the fertile soil, and it was only a decade later that he experimentally grew a handful of tulip bulbs and noticed how well the bulbs thrived and multiplied in the cool, damp climate. 

Realizing the potential for tulip cultivation, Gibbs contacted Dutch tulip growers to inquire about growing practices, though the Dutch were hesitant to give up any commercial secrets about their booming bulb industry. Understandable, of course — Dutch growers had been carefully perfecting the care, cultivation and propagation of tulips for hundreds of years, resulting in some truly magnificent varieties and crossbreeds that were as valuable as real estate at the height of the Dutch Golden Age!

All that to say that Gibbs had a hard time cultivating (hah!) interest in Puget Sound tulips among the Dutch. At least, until he sent over a few samples that were apparently enough to convince the experts that a trip to Washington was worthwhile!

At the tail end of the 19th century, Gibbs wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture to request a contract centered on experimenting with the commercial prospects of tulip cultivation in the Puget Sound, to which the USDA took great interest. They shipped Gibbs around 15,000 bulbs straight from the Netherlands, and the success with which they grew and multiplied convinced the Department to create their own test garden in Bellingham in 1908.

The USDA plot in Bellingham soon became the largest tulip producer in Whatcom County, the success encouraging the establishment of more interest and more farms all over the region. 

Washington’s first tulip festival

In 1920, the USDA provided the flowers for the first ever Bellingham Tulip Festival, which included flower displays, boat races, concerts, parades and family activities that attracted visitors from Seattle, Vancouver and the surrounding areas. Tulips were very much a solid part of the county’s economy at this point, though the industry started facing difficulties toward the end of the 1920s. 

Though the festival grew extremely popular and was well-loved by communities in Whatcom County, the combination of the Great Depression and several years’ worth of freezing temperatures struck enough blows to Whatcom county tulip growers that the festival officially ended in 1930. Growers moved their farms into Skagit and Pierce Counties instead, where more space and fertile valleys allowed tulip bulbs to grow stronger, healthier and in more abundance. 

Today, Skagit and Pierce Counties are the centers of tulip and bulb flower production in Washington and the United States as a whole. In fact, the state’s tulip, daffodil, iris and other bulb flower supply accounts for around 75% of the nation’s total production, with nearly all the farms located in these two counties. Even more impressive is that the state is the third-largest tulip cultivator in the world behind England and, of course, the Netherlands!

Skagit Valley tulip farmers celebrate the success and abundance of tulip cultivation with the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival held each year in April. What started as a two-day festival in 1984 has turned into a stunning example of agro-tourism in action, and today over 300,000 visitors attend the festival bringing in around $65 million in revenue. Crazy!

What you can see and do at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

The best place to get up-to-date information on what the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is offering each year is to check out their website, where you can get maps, schedules, contact information and a host of other useful tips for enjoying the colorful fields of flowers. You can even check on the bloom status of the flowers so you can time your trip just right! Use the Bloom Map below to see what farms are blooming now!

Multiple gardens

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival isn’t held in one single location. Rather, the fun is spread out over a handful of locations around western Mount Vernon. Expect a few minutes’ drive between all the farms and keep an eye out for good parking spots — it gets full quickly, especially on weekends at the height of the festival!

Food, drink & entertainment

Be sure to check out the many attractions aside from the gardens while you’re exploring Skagit Valley. This interactive map will direct you to all the attractions that are part of the festival: tulip gardens, breweries, wineries, hotels, restaurants, shopping, tea houses, flower nurseries and much, much more!

(Be aware that you’ll need to buy separate tickets for each of the gardens!)

Getting around

Like we said, the festival is spread out around the valley, so walking the entirety of the festival is a little bit out of the question (unless you really, really like walking long distances through farmlands). 

Driving between the attractions is the most flexible option, but you can also ride on Skagit Transit Route 615 to McLean Road and hop off there, where you can walk to RoozenGaarde or Tulip Town gardens. 

You can also book a guided tour through Shutter Tours for a more luxurious bus ride, or arrange a private walking tour through Skagit Valley Tulip Tours. Even cyclists can enjoy this festival through bike rentals and bike tours available from Mount Vernon. 


Although the tulips are certainly the highlight of the show, be sure to check out the daffodil fields, which usually bloom earlier in the season around March! You’re likely to encounter fewer people, though the views are just as grand. 

22K views · 1.6K likes | RoozenGaarde on Instagram: "Please Note: video from spring 2022. 🌷Remember the tulips bloom according to Mother Nature (aka weather/temperature) which determines both the timing and the duration/length of the bloom. Follow along for bloom updates. 🌷Weekends can be busy - especially so on ☀️ days. Opening and near closing hours typically have less visitors. We’re open from 8am-7pm on weekends. Weekdays tend to be less busy. Especially days with ☔️. We’re open 9am-7pm on weekdays. 🌷Buy tickets online for quick entry! Online tickets recommended but not required, you can buy in-person as well. Tickets are $15. Kids 2 and under are free. 🌷Dress for the weather! We have gravel and grass pathways thru the garden and lay truckloads of sand on our field paths, but the fields can still get muddy. Rain falls faster than it dries, so even on a sunny days it can be muddy. With over 60 acres of flowers explore, you’ll want to take in all of the beauty. We recommend function over fashion! 🌷We love our pets but they are not allowed at RoozenGaarde. Please plan in advance. #spring #springflowers #tulipfestival #tulips #fleurs"

1,639 likes, 20 comments - roozengaarde on April 9, 2023: "Please Note: video from spring 2022. 🌷Remember the tulips bloom according to Mother Nature (ak..."

If you live in or near our luxury Seattle apartments, then don’t let April pass you by without visiting the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and seeing the blooms for yourself!


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Featured photo by Lisette Verwoerd on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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