- 1 Lilac Festival in Mackinac Island, MI
- 2 Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon, WA
- 3 Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, ME
- 4 Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR
- 5 Kutztown Folk Festival in Kutztown, PA
- 6 Sonoma County Harvest Fair in Santa Rosa, CA
- 7 Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Sun Valley, Ketchem, and Hailey, ID
- 8 New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in Laconia, NH
- 9 Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs, CO
- 10 Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas in Stockbridge, MA
10 Charming Small-Town Festivals Worth Traveling For
Quirky traditions you won’t find anywhere else, hyper-local culinary specialties, and parades down Main Street—fairs and festivals bring out the best in small towns and make for one-of-a-kind experiences for visitors. From seasonal food and flower celebrations to recreations of times gone by, here are 10 charming small-town festivals worth traveling for.
Lilac Festival in Mackinac Island, MI
Mackinac Island is a charming destination anytime during the summer, but flower-fans will want to plan a visit in June when the island is covered in blooming lilacs. For 70 years, Mackinac has celebrated the flowers with the Lilac Festival, a 10-day event that includes the coronation of the Lilac Festival Queen and Court, a 10K run, horse drawn carriage tours, concerts, wine tastings, a parade, and the Mackinac Island Dog and Pony Show where locals show off their costumed pets. Most of the action takes place on Mackinac’s idyllic main street, so visitors should also plan on renting a bike for an eight-mile trip around the island to see the lilacs in all their glory.
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon, WA
Throughout the month of April, visitors can explore the rambling countryside of Washington’s Skagit Valley, following pathways through more than 300 acres of tulips across the color spectrum. The fields go on for miles and miles, so one of the best ways to take in flowers is via bicycle on your own or with a tour guide. In Mt. Vernon, visitors will find the Tulip Town welcome center with maps, as well as RoozenGaarde, a formal 5-acre garden planted with nearly half a million daffodils, hyacinths, and, of course, tulips. Festival-goers can also take in art shows, wine festivals, fun runs, and a pop-up restaurant run by local clubs serving barbecued local wild salmon.
Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, ME
In August, the small coastal town of Rockland, Maine, pays homage to the state's iconic crustacean. Lobster in all forms is at the center of the event, with dishes like lobster mac'n cheese, lobster bisque, lobster won-tons, and traditional steamed lobster served up in the Main Eating Tent (last year 19,000 pounds of luscious lobster was prepared in the festival’s gigantic cooker). There’s also a seafood cooking contest, concerts, a parade up Main Street, and the famous lobster crate race, in which kids and adults compete to see who can run the fastest across the harbor atop floating lobster crates.
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Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR
If you adore Shakespeare, or simply love theater, get thee to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the town of Ashland, where 11 plays including works by the eponymous bard, as well as a mix of classics, musicals and world-premiere plays are performed over nine months in three theaters including the stunning, open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Among the oldest and largest professional regional repertory theatre companies in the United States, the OSF includes over 600 theater professionals, some of whom you’ll meet during backstage tours and the ongoing Festival Noons series that explores plays and playwrights through lectures and demonstrations. Visitors to this part of Southern Oregon can also explore nearby vineyards and wineries, art galleries, and outdoor adventure on the Rogue River.
Kutztown Folk Festival in Kutztown, PA
The oldest continuously operated folklife festival in America, this nine-day event held in late June and early July continues to draw visitors from all over the world to experience the traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch community. Visitors will find work from 200 craftsmen and folk artists in disciplines like blacksmithing, wood carving, paper cutting, and soap making, as well as a farmer’s market and a 19th-century bread oven, one of the oldest in Pennsylvania, where loaves are baked daily and served hot. There’s also music, dancing, and a parade, as well as the largest quilt sale in the U.S. and has an internationally attended Quilt Auction of top prize-winning quilts.
Sonoma County Harvest Fair in Santa Rosa, CA
Each October, thirsty travelers from across the world meet in California wine country for a farm-to-table experience inspired by Sonoma County's farmers, ranchers, vintners and producers. The epicenter of the Harvest Fair is the Tasting Pavilion, featuring innovative cuisine paired with wine from more than 100 local producers, as well as cooking demos, seminars, and a food competition. The Fair is also home to the World Championship Grape Stomp, where teams of two (one stomper and one swabby) compete to see who can collect the most juice by crushing grapes in a barrel with their bare feet.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Sun Valley, Ketchem, and Hailey, ID
Idaho turned its annual relocation of livestock from the mountains to their winter pasture into reason to celebrate, and this five-day October festival offers a host of activities for visitors of all ages. Kids will love the Folklife Fair, with dance performances, arts and crafts, and sheep shearing demos, while adults can opt for cooking classes, a photography tour through the Idaho hills, and lessons on felting and spindle spinning at the Wool Festival. The event culminates with Championship Sheepdog Trials and the Big Sheep Parade, which sees 1,500 sheep trail down Ketchum’s Main Street trailed by ranching family members and herders.
New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in Laconia, NH
Each October, this festival dedicated to all-things pumpkin in historic downtown Laconia attempts to break the world record for most jack o’lanterns. Even if this year doesn’t make it into the Guinness Book of World Records, festival goers will be treated to the spectacle of over 20,000 illuminated pumpkins displayed on a giant tower. Guests can carve their own at the festival, as well as enjoy local brews at the beer garden, go for a horse-drawn carriage ride, browse more than 50 craft and food stalls, and join in events like the pumpkin pancake breakfast, pumpkin cook-off, and a “zombie walk.” The festival also coincides with peak foliage season with plenty of leaf peeping opportunities available along the 75-mile Lake Winnipesaukee loop.
Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival in Steamboat Springs, CO
The oldest continual winter carnival west of the Mississippi, this February celebration is draw for sports lovers thanks to unusual events like skijoring (in which a skier is pulled by a horse), adult snow-shovel races (competitors are seated on snow shovels tied to the back of horses), amateur ski jumping, and a kid’s dog sled race, where children under 5 are pulled by their family’s dog down Lincoln Avenue. There’s also the Night Extravaganza on Howelsen Hill, where you can expect to see daredevils jump through flaming hoops, skiers with flares parade down the mountain, a stunning fireworks display, and the long tradition of the Lighted Man, a skier adorned with LED lights, sizzling sparklers and a backpack with Roman candles shooting off his back.
Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas in Stockbridge, MA
There are few artists that have contributed more images associated with day to day American life than Norman Rockwell, the famous illustrator whose paintings graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. Some of his most well-known works portray the holidays in New England, including his painting, Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, of his hometown in the Berkshires. The first weekend in December, Stockbridge sets about recreating the nostalgic image of Main Street. Activities kick off on Friday evening with a reading of popular Christmas stories at the Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives. On Saturday, visitors can take a tour of the town's historic homes, join in on a round of caroling, and spend the evening at a holiday concert performed by the Berkshire Lyric and the Blafield Children's Chorus. Sunday sees Main Street transformed into the painting, with antique cars parked along the street and a range of festive activities and food. There's also a Santa's workshop activity center for children set up at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Founded by Rockwell and his wife in 1969, it's home to the most significant collection of the artist’s work in the world.
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