95 Great Midwest Summer Events
- Courtesy of Choose Chicago
Ravinia Festival HIGHLAND PARK All Summer For more than 100 years, America’s oldest outdoor musical festival has lured fans with its lush grounds and lawn-chair spirit. Hear some of the world’s greatest artists across a variety of genres; each season includes 120 to 150 events.
Superman Celebration METROPOLIS June 6–9 Comic book and superhero fans come to this southern Illinois town (which shares a name with the fictional home of Superman) for costume contests, film screenings, live music and an art show featuring comic book-style works.
Great Galena Balloon Race GALENA June 21–23 Watch pros race hot-air balloons at dawn and in the evening, listen to live music and check out tethered balloons at Eagle Ridge Resort.
Taste of Chicago CHICAGO July 10–14 Dozens of vendors serve tamales, deep-dish pizza, doughnuts and more to 1.6 million attendees in Grant Park. Aim to visit midweek between 3 and 6 p.m. to avoid the largest crowds and longest waits.
Tug Fest PORT BYRON August 8–10 Port Byron squares off against LeClaire, Iowa, in literal tug-of-war battles with a 2,400-foot rope across the Mississippi River. Fireworks and a carnival round out the schedule.
Chicago Air and Water Show (pictured) CHICAGO August 17–18 Now in its 61st year, the free show attracts top civilian and military pilots and aircraft for a two-day thrill drill. North Avenue Beach is front row to the action; bring your own chairs.
Peoria Irish Fest PEORIA August 23–25 The Peoria Riverfront looks a little greener during this yearly salute to the Emerald Isle. Sample whiskey, listen to an Irish storyteller and see kilt-clad athletes compete in the Highland Games.
Arthur Amish Country Cheese Festival ARTHUR August 31–September 2 Try free cheese samples, curl with four-pound cheese wheels and watch a cheese-eating competition in the heart of Illinois’ Amish Country.
- Courtesy of VisitIndy.com
Abbey Road on the River JEFFERSONVILLE May 23–27 Celebrate the Fab Four at a five-day festival on the Ohio River. Join more than 50 tribute bands, plus acts including The Buckinghams and The Cowsills, for “Beatlemania.”
Indianapolis 500 (pictured) INDIANAPOLIS May 26 The world’s largest single-day sporting event draws a raceway crowd of about 300,000. The three- to five-hour race might leave time for car buffs to explore the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Symphony on the Prairie FISHERS June–September The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and other musical guests play at Conner Prairie Amphitheatre on summer weekends. Bring a blanket and sit on the lawn or buy a spot at a table close to the stage.
Pierogi Fest WHITING July 26–28 Honor Whiting’s Eastern European roots with polka bands and the polka parade starring Mr. Pierogi and other costumed characters. Pile on the pierogi (filled dumplings) at food booths and stop by the wine and cheese garden.
Great Lakes Grand Prix MICHIGAN CITY August 1–4 Some of the world’s fastest boats zip past Washington Park Beach at more than 150 mph. Spectators can chat with racers, team members and boat owners as well as get up-close views of the watercraft during a boat parade and block party.
Swiss Wine Festival VEVAY August 22–25 The nation of Switzerland has produced wines for centuries; Switzerland County, Indiana, follows that legacy. Now in its 48th year, this riverside fest features local wineries, country music, Swiss dancing and boat cruises on the Ohio.
Quad Cities Museum Week DAVENPORT June 8–16 More than 20 museums in the region will offer special events and exhibits. Geocaches (hidden prizes found via smartphones) encourage exploration. The Figge Art Museum and Iowa 80 Trucking Museum are among the participants.
Ice Cream Days and Sesquicentennial Celebration LE MARS June 12–16 The town that calls itself the Ice Cream Capital of the World (home to Blue Bunny ice cream) marks its 150th birthday with ice cream socials, bike rides, downtown tours and an Ice Cream Bash concert.
Iowa City Jazz Festival IOWA CITY July 5–7 Well-known and up-and-coming musicians play on four stages; the three-day celebration includes fireworks over the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest lawn.
RAGBRAI (pictured) STATEWIDE July 21–27 America’s largest, oldest and longest recreational bike ride draws about 8,500 cyclists for the week and another 1,500 daily riders to pedal up to 500 miles across Iowa’s heartland. Host communities help with food and camping space.
Nordic Fest DECORAH July 25–27 The city celebrates its roots with Scandinavian folk art, food treats such as kringla and lefse, Viking combat demonstrations, folk dancers, a Bunad Show (Norwegian clothing), and sporting events like The Ultimate Norseman Competition, a Kubb Tournament and Nordic Rock Throw.
National Balloon Classic INDIANOLA July 26–August 3 Nearly 100 hot-air balloons color the sky south of Des Moines. Come for morning and evening competition flights, plus balloon rides, night glows, fireworks, food and music.
Hinterland Music Festival ST. CHARLES August 2–4 In a lush, rural landscape, this aptly named festival—expanding to three days in its fifth year—features poppy folk music, camping and crafts vendors.
- Courtesy of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism
Lawrence Busker Festival LAWRENCE May 24–26 This year’s theme is the World’s First All Female Busker Festival. A stage show featuring all the visiting street performers kicks off the weekend.
Riverfest WICHITA May 31–June 8 The party in and around the Arkansas River begins with a parade and continues with boat tours, races and big-name concerts.
National Festival of Breads MANHATTAN June 8 Home bakers and food bloggers compete for the title of Best Amateur Bread Baker in America. Spectators can watch the finalists and participate in baking sessions.
Symphony in the Flint Hills (pictured) FLINT HILLS June 15 A sunset concert by the 80-piece Kansas City Symphony draws 7,000 people to the prairie. Locations vary each year; the 2019 concert, themed Ad Astra (to the stars), will be at Irma’s Pasture near Bazaar. Art displays, dancing and stargazing round out the day.
Midsummer’s Festival LINDSBORG June 15 Summer in Little Sweden USA begins with this free event featuring Swedish folk dancing and music, a maypole frolic, Swedish pancakes and meatballs, arts and crafts, and a Kubb lawn-game tournament.
Kansas Wheat Festival WELLINGTON July 9–13 Dubbed the Wheat Capital of the World, Wellington shares its bounty with a free picnic in the park and a wheat-theme parade.
Dodge City Days DODGE CITY July 25–August 4 Get your cowboy on at the Western parade, outdoor concerts, five nights of pro rodeo, a classic-car show and the traditional longhorn cattle drive through downtown.
Kansas Biggest Rodeo PHILLIPSBURG August 1–3 Since 1929, Kansans have marked their calendars for this annual spectacle that celebrates Western culture. Saddle up for three nights of professional rodeos, a Saturday parade, dances and barbecue.
National Morel Mushroom Festival BOYNE CITY May 16–19 Pros face off in the National Mushroom Hunt, but also help newbies search for the elusive morel. Restaurants dish out ’shroom-filled snacks, and live music keeps the action going until midnight.
International Bridge Walk SAULT STE. MARIE June 29 Score a bird’s-eye view of the Soo Locks during a leisurely, 3-mile stroll across the International Bridge. Shuttles carry pedestrians back to the starting line, where museums, parks and restaurants await.
National Cherry Festival (pictured) TRAVERSE CITY June 29–July 6 “Eat, drink and be cherry” is the theme of this stone fruit-filled festival featuring pie-eating contests, farm tours, a cherry farmers market and a parade. Watch fireworks above West Grand Traverse Bay on July 4.
Blue Water SandFest PORT HURON July 12–14 And you thought your kid’s sand castle was cool. Pros compete in this premier championship, where in past years, elaborate castles and princesses have flanked Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. Expect live music and hands-on lessons, as well as sand-sculpting demonstrations and competitions.
Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival GRAND HAVEN July 26–August 4 Salute the Coast Guard with events including ship tours, a memorial service, concerts and sports tournaments. An evening fireworks show is synched to the Grand Haven Musical Fountain.
Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show and Festival of Arts HESSEL August 10 Shipwrights and woodworkers display restored boats: rowboats, canoes, sailboats, cruisers, racers and more, some dating back 100-plus years. This year’s fest showcases watercraft produced by custom builder Gar Wood.
Detroit Jazz Festival DETROIT August 30–September 2 Billed as the world’s largest free jazz festival, this event sends off summer in style with more than 60 performances on multiple stages downtown. Expect late-night jam sessions, food vendors and chances to mingle with musicians.
- Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Northwest
Chalkfest at Arbor Lakes (pictured) MAPLE GROVE June 8–9 Artists sketch an open-air streetscape of elaborate 3-D chalk creations in Minneapolis Northwest. Watch the pros at work (and vote for favorites) or create your own.
Scandinavian Hjemkomst and Midwest Viking Festival MOORHEAD June 21–22 Celebrating the area’s Nordic culture, the festival highlights a different country each year. In 2019, look for Danish food, music and art.
Twin Cities Bacon and Beer Classic SAINT PAUL mid–July More than 100 craft brew samples and 30-plus creative bacon dishes join forces with music and giant lawn games at CHS Field.
Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival BEMIDJI July 31–August 3 Watch teams paddle dragon boats in fast-paced races on Lake Bemidji. Shoreside attractions include a cornhole tournament and hot-off-the-grill vendor fare.
X Games MINNEAPOLIS August 1–4 ESPN’s premier action sports competition will pit pro against pro in televised events like BMX, skateboarding and Moto X at the U.S. Bank Stadium. Concerts and meet-and-greets accompany the competitive events.
Bayfront Blues Festival DULUTH August 9–11 The outdoor music event draws nearly 20,000 fans each year for 30-plus acts on two stages at Bayfront Festival Park. Sit back and enjoy the view of Duluth Harbor and Lake Superior.
Potato Days Festival BARNESVILLE August 23–24 This potato-growing region touts its taters with potato-theme contests, food and displays. Watch mashed potato wrestling contests, create a mashed potato sculpture and see how many pounds of potatoes you can peel in three minutes (cash prizes awarded!).
- Courtesy of International Institute's Festival of Nations
Old-Time Music Ozark Heritage Festival WEST PLAINS May 31–June 1 Jig on over to downtown for old-time music by pickers, fiddlers and string bands. The revelry continues at a jig dance contest, square dancing and a mule-jumping competition.
Lantern Tours of Meramec Caverns STANTON June 1, 8, 15, 22 On 80-minute lantern-lit nighttime expeditions, guides explain how some of the world’s oldest—and rarest—cave structures formed in the Meramec Valley. The cave was once a hideout for Jesse James.
Tour de Corn and Sweet Corn Festival EAST PRAIRIE June 28–29 Music, food, crafts and games at the Sweet Corn Festival bookend a one-day charity bike ride along rural routes of 15 to 100 miles.
National Tom Sawyer Days HANNIBAL July 3–6 Join Tom, Huck, Becky and the gang in Mark Twain’s hometown for the National Fence-Painting Championship, a crafts festival, the Hannibal Cannibal run and Fourth of July fireworks.
Carver Day DIAMOND July 13 Held at the George Washington Carver National Monument, the annual event marks Carver’s contributions as a scientist, educator and humanitarian through speakers, storytelling, music and kids’ activities.
Birthplace of Route 66 Festival SPRINGFIELD August 9–10 In 1926, America’s favorite highway received its name at a meeting of Springfield officials. Celebrate the legacy with vintage cars, a parade, food and product vendors, car-theme movies, and music.
International Institute’s Festival of Nations (pictured) ST. LOUIS August 24–25 Experience the traditions of Spain, Jamaica, Indonesia, Israel and more at the city’s largest multicultural fest. Foods, dance performances and lessons, sports demonstrations, and booths showing off global goods fill two days at Tower Grove Park.
- Courtesy of Nebraska Tourism
Taste of Omaha OMAHA May 31–June 2 More than 40 of Omaha’s restaurants sell hamburgers, kabobs, pastries and other treats in two riverfront parks with six entertainment stages.
Nebraskaland Days NORTH PLATTE June 12–22 Scoot your boots to concerts by country headliners. Round out the party with four days of pro rodeos, a microbrew fest and a free family night of activities.
Oregon Trail Days GERING July 11–14 A barbecue and street dance kick off the 98th year of the festival, the state’s longest-running celebration. Peruse quilts, crafts and cars, plus enjoy free music, a horseshoe tournament and chili cook-off.
Wayne Chicken Show (pictured) WAYNE July 12–14 Wacky events and fowl play abound. Birds compete for best in show, and humans go toe-to-toe in competitions such as the National Cluck-Off Championship, Hard Boiled Egg Eating Contest and Rubber Chicken Chuck.
Nebraska Star Party VALENTINE July 28–August 2 Merritt Reservoir’s campsites are far from sources of light pollution, so experts have a chance to spot galaxy clusters and beginners get to learn star-spotting basics. During the day, swim or boat at the reservoir or tube the nearby Niobrara River.
Kool-Aid Days HASTINGS August 9–11 Try all 20 flavors at the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand, take a trolley past the building where Kool-Aid was invented and stop by Lake Hastings to watch teams race in homemade cardboard boats.
- Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Rustic Spur Photography
North Dakota events
Art on the Red GRAND FORKS June 8–9 More than 200 artists, food vendors and musicians provide entertainment on the banks of the Red River. A Kids’ Corner offers hands-on activities.
Bike the Border MOHALL June 21–23 Trace the North Dakota-Canadian border by crossing The Roughrider State on a bicycle. A marked, paved trail, plus a leisurely pace, help make the ride family-friendly.
Fort Seward Wagon Train (pictured) JAMESTOWN June 23–29 This year marks the 50th anniversary of the wagon train, a week-long pioneer family experience. About 100 travelers register for covered wagon rides that span some 15 miles a day, ending in campfires and history talks.
Mandan Rodeo Days MANDAN July 2–4 Three professional rodeo performances bring in the crowds, along with a Fourth of July parade, fireworks, baseball, street dances and a crafts festival.
Ryan Keplin Summer Fest BELCOURT July 4–6 Fiddling legend Ryan Keplin is the namesake of this event dedicated to—what else?—fiddling. Ryan even helps anchor the lineup. Join family-friendly activities, such as a dance contest and horseshoe tournament, at the Maple Sugar Ranch.
Fargo Blues Festival FARGO July 26–27 Twelve bands, including national headliners, play over two days at Newman Outdoor Field baseball stadium. Many enthusiasts spend the night at a camping area two blocks west of the stadium.
Motor Magic MINOT August 30–September 1 Fans come to the largest motorsports festival in the upper Midwest for a Dakota Cruisers classic car show and auction, historic military vehicle display, drag racing, dirt track auto racing, and more (like racing pigs).
- Courtesy of Greater Grand Lake Region Visitors Center
Columbus Arts Festival COLUMBUS June 7–9 More than 300 artists display their work along the downtown riverfront. Explore the emerging artists’ area, kids’ art activities, food, concerts and dance performances.
Duck Tape Festival AVON June 13–15 Welcome to the place where duct—or duck—tape is made. (Potato-potahto.) The town celebrates its famous product with a parade, sculptures and a fashion show, with everything made of the sticky stuff.
Vectren Dayton Air Show DAYTON June 22–23 The home of the Wright brothers, Dayton salutes its aviation heritage with an air show by military jet and parachute teams. Check out the aircraft displays at Dayton International Airport.
Lilyfest ROCKBRIDGE July 12–14 Bask in the blossoms at Bishop Educational Gardens for two days of art, music, food and flowers. Taste Chef Moe’s strawberry salad, sway to live music (even participate in a drum circle), take a garden tour and soak up summer in the Hocking Hills.
Great Mohican Pow-Wow LOUDONVILLE July 12–14 and September 20–22 Listen to a storyteller or flute music and watch tomahawk-throwing and fire-starting demonstrations, plus dancing and drumming competitions, at Mohican Reservation Campgrounds.
Celina Lake Festival (pictured) CELINA July 26–28 1960s-era Amphicars kick off this event with a Friday evening Splash-in. A classic car show, parades, boat poker run, cardboard boat races and fireworks over the lake round out a weekend on the western shore of Grand Lake St. Marys.
Dublin Irish Festival DUBLIN August 2–4 Billed as the world’s largest three-day Irish Festival, the event attracts more than 100,000 visitors to watch 65 acts—dancers, singers and musicians—on seven stages. Also check out Celtic cooking, hear storytellers, watch a sheepherding demonstration and see how Irish linen is made.
- Courtesy of Crazy Horse Memorial
South Dakota events
SDRA Foothills Rodeo WESSINGTON SPRINGS May 25–26 See real-life cowboys—and girls— compete in bull riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, goat tying and team penning. Kids participate in mutton bustin’, and Saturday concludes with a night dance.
Fort Sisseton Historical Festival LAKE CITY May 31–June 2 Cavalry troops and infantry units model a military encampment in Fort Sisseton Historic State Park. Visitors learn more about 1800s frontier life through live period-style music performances, dance instruction classes and melodrama stage shows.
Czech Days TABOR June 14–15 This small town in southeast South Dakota honors its Czech heritage each year with events like a polka dance-off contest, kolache-baking demonstrations, Czech music and a pioneer reenactment.
Crazy Horse Memorial Night Blasts (pictured) CRAZY HORSE June 26 and September 6 Fireballs and pyrotechnics light up the Black Hills memorial twice a year after the regular nightly laser light show on the mountain.
JazzFest SIOUX FALLS July 19–20 A two-day jubilee brings top jazz acts to two stages in Yankton Trail Park. Past headliners have included MarchFourth, The Robert Cray Band and Taj Mahal.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally STURGIS August 2–11 First held in 1938 with nine participants and one race, the rally now attracts about 500,000 fans each year for rides through the twisting roads of the Black Hills.
Dakotafest MITCHELL August 20–22 Last year’s ag expo drew around 29,000 visitors, more than 500 exhibitors and even pig races. Expect product demos and the latest in farming tools and technology.
- Courtesy of Lumberjack World Championships/James Netz
World’s Largest Brat Fest MADISON May 24–26 Guests gobble more than 130,000 brats at this annual festival, which also features three free music stages. Added attractions at Alliant Energy Center: a Kids Zone and fireworks. Proceeds benefit local charities.
Fyr Bal Festival EPHRAIM June 15 Sunrise yoga and a day of family entertainment (a beanbag tournament, cake walk, pie-eating contest, live music) end with a bonfire and fireworks over Eagle Harbor, recalling the tradition of early Norwegians celebrating Midsummer’s Eve.
Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival ELLSWORTH June 21–22 Curd’s the word at this fest celebrating one of Wisconsin’s iconic foods. Enjoy 20-plus cheese curd dishes, Wisconsin craft brew-curd pairings and a curd-eating contest, plus live music, a classic car show and brat party.
Summerfest MILWAUKEE June 26-30, July 2-7 The largest music festival in the U.S. draws more than 800 acts and up to 900,000 visitors for an 11-day sonic binge in the sprawling Henry Maier Festival Park near Lake Michigan.
EAA AirVenture OSHKOSH July 22–28 The Experimental Aircraft Association shows off an unrivaled collection of planes: fighter jets, warbirds, home-builts, antiques and ultralights, plus thrilling air shows and a generous dose of patriotism.
Lumberjack World Championships (pictured) HAYWARD August 1–3 Cheer on more than 100 pro and amateur lumberjacks competing at sawing, chopping, logrolling and pole climbing.
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw PRAIRIE DU SAC August 30–31 Some 40,000 people attend this end-of-summer event, which includes kids, adults and team throw competitions, as well as an arts and crafts fair, parade, and live music.
- Courtesy of Explore Minnesota/Robert Ferdinandt
Loosen your belt and wear comfy shoes for two months’ worth of Midwest state fair eats and adventures.
Midwest state fair season kicks off with the North Dakota State Fair in Minot (July 19–27). Close behind, the Ohio State Fair (July 24–August 4) opens in Columbus with fanfare courtesy of the 200-member All-Ohio State Fair Band. In the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, cream puffs are a must-try at the Wisconsin State Fair (August 1–11). The Indiana State Fair is the region’s longest and one of the oldest, celebrating 163 years August 2–18 in Indianapolis. A border battle ensues between the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, which both celebrate August 8–18. Also on those dates, the Iowa State Fair is expected to draw more than 1 million visitors to Des Moines. The Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba (August 12–18) is the first of Michigan’s two fairs. About 2 million people come to the Minnesota State Fair (pictured) in Saint Paul August 22–September 2. A revamped concert series will energize the Nebraska State Fair (August 23–September 2 in Grand Island). Fair season wraps up with the Michigan State Fair (August 29–September 2 in Novi), South Dakota State Fair (August 29–September 2 in Huron) and Kansas State Fair (September 6–15 in Hutchinson).