With its rich loamy soil and mild weather, the Skagit Valley  is Washington’s primary bulb-growing region and home to Washington Bulb Co., the largest producer of bulbs in America. From late March through April, more than 2,000 acres of the valley are carpeted with flowering daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilies; more than 40 million bulbs are produced annually. The first commercial tulips were test-planted here in 1908, but commercial success did not come until after World War II, when Dutch immigrants brought their bulb-growing skills to the valley.
The 17-day countywide Tulip Festival (360/428-5959, www.tulipfestival.org ), held annually in early April, corresponds with the blooming of the tulip and daffodil fields and includes bus tours, Skagit River trips, bike rides, street fairs, foot races, llama exhibits, antique shows, a salmon bake, volleyball tournaments, and art shows.
Tour buses dump hundreds of sightseers on the area, and many more drive up from Seattle  to photograph the colorful fields. Daily shuttle buses help alleviate some of the congestion, but with several hundred thousand visitors, it still gets crazy, especially on weekends between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
After mid-January, get maps of the floral fields from the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce Office. Or, just head west from Mount Vernon  toward La Conner ; most of the fields are in an area bounded on the north by Memorial Highway 536, on the west by La Conner-Whitney Road, on the south by Chilberg Road, and on the east by the Skagit River. Crops are rotated to preserve the soil and to keep insect pests down, so last season’s field of yellow daffodils may be home to a crop of flowering broccoli this year—more nutritious, but not nearly as photogenic.
Fuji sponsors an official photo platform at Tulip Town (15002 Bradshaw Rd., 360/424-8152) along with music, art, pony rides, kite flying, espresso coffee, cut flowers, and refreshments.
In Mount Vernon itself, the Tulip Festival action centers on a downtown Street Fair that includes more than 200 art and craft vendors, plus live entertainment and food.
During the Tulip Festival, the Victoria Clipper (360/448-5000 or 800/888-2535, www.victoriaclipper.com ) offers a special 12-hour voyage to La Conner  from Seattle’s  Pier 69. This includes the cruise and a guided bus tour of the tulip fields for $44 adults, with discounts for kids and advance reservations.
On weekdays during the festival, Tulip Transit buses (360/678-4211) depart from Burlington on two- to four-hour tours of the valley’s flower fields ($10 adults, $5 seniors, $3 kids, free for children under 3). On weekends, the buses transport you around the fields for $3. The weekend versions aren’t guided tours, but the buses are frequent enough to cover the area easily. Get details at 360/428-5959 or www.skat.org .
Berry Dairy Days (360/757-0994) on the third weekend of July celebrates Burlington’s agricultural roots, with a big parade, carnival, arts and crafts, classic car show, music, and plenty of strawberry shortcake.
In early July, the Highland Games & Scottish Fair (360/416-4934, www.celticarts.org ) comes to Mt. Vernon, with a parade, dancing, competitions, food, fireworks, and enough bagpipe music to drive you batty.
The second weekend of August brings the Skagit County Fair (360/336-9453, www.skagitcounty.net ) to the fairgrounds on the southwest side of Mount Vernon  off Blackburn Road. Fair activities include live entertainment, agricultural exhibits, food, and lots more.