Touring the Tulips
The festival runs throughout April, but the flowers peak at different times each year. For bloom updates, and detailed listings of street and arts-and-crafts fairs, as well as all other events surrounding the fête, contact the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (360/428-5959; www.tulipfestival.org). Be forewarned: at midday on weekends, huge numbers of people descend upon an area designed for only a few cars and tractors. In the early morning or late afternoon (or on weekdays), however, the fields, farms, shops, and restaurants are pleasantly empty. The following growers and tour operators have the best fields, displays, and outings around.
Tulip Town Acres of walk-in fields (a big draw for photographers), an elaborate indoor flower show, the "tulip trolley" wagon ride, and booths selling hamburgers, coffee, pottery, and jam. Cut tulips cost a fraction of their usual market price (10 stems for $3, or 20 special-variety stems for $8.50). Ship some to a friend or buy a bag of bulbs for yourself (to be delivered in the fall, when they're harvested). 15002 Bradshaw Rd., Mount Vernon; 360/424-8152; www.tuliptown.com.
Roozengaarde William and Helen Roozen, who emigrated from Holland in 1955, designed an elaborate three-acre display garden to complement their fields, which produce more tulips and daffodils than anywhere else in the country. The parking lot can be packed on weekends, but if you go early, you can take in a seemingly infinite array of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths, all marked and blooming beneath a Dutch windmill. It's the Skagit Valley's Little Holland. 15867 Beaver Marsh Rd., Mount Vernon; 360/424-8531; www.tulips.com.
Victoria Clipper Tulip Fest Tours Speed to the fields on a daylong boat tour and leave the driving to someone else. The 237-passenger Victoria Clipper III departs Saturdays and Sundays from Seattle's Pier 69; 21/2 hours later it docks in La Conner. From there you've got a few hours to explore town and grab lunch, and a few more to board a bus and roll out to the fields before cruising back through the sound. 2701 Alaskan Way, Seattle; 800/888-2535 or 206/448-5000; www.clippervacations.com; round-trip tours from $33 per person.
Tronsdal Air Curt Tronsdal takes one passenger at a time on 20-minute flower flights in a 1941 Boeing Stearman biplane. His family has been farming the Skagit for 120 years; those are their fields laid out like Mondrian color grids below you. Weather (and availability) permitting, you can book a flight for that same day. Barker Airfield, 18664 Conway Rd., Mount Vernon; 360/428-0333; $100 per person.
Christianson's Nursery & Greenhouse Established in 1946 as a specialty rhododendron grower on a historic farm, Christianson's today is a horticultural heaven. There are no tulips; instead it stocks 35 varieties of lilacs, 700 types of roses, 200 rhododendron hybrids, and a tractor garage turned gift shop, with antique watering cans, vintage picnic baskets, and candles made from plant and flower oils. 15806 Best Rd., between Mount Vernon and La Conner; 360/466-3821.