(above photo: Telluride, Colorado)
Americans honor the Fourth of July as a representation of our pride -- a celebration of us as former underdogs, standing tall through sheer grit and hard work -- exemplified by fantastic explosions of light and sound. Small towns, specifically, embody the great American patriotism that I seek out when it comes to the Fourth of July.
Nationalism isn’t found in major corporations, but rather in the hearts of the American people. Tiny hamlets offer a true slice of humanity not found in major cities. You slow down. You breathe deeper. You look at your new friends directly. You hear their stories instead of waiting to talk. You smile more broadly.
Small towns offer plenty of activities and festivities meant to stimulate our senses and pride. Whether you quest for eating contests, rodeos, hilarious yet genuine parades, or the cumulative ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as the fireworks fill the sky, these small towns embrace American pride with open and loving arms.
Here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of the best festivals in the most patriotic states of our nation.
The Cowboy State doesn’t disappoint in its Fourth of July celebrations. This year marks the ninety-eighth year of the festival, filling Cody/Yellowstone Country with Stampede Parades, live music, kiddie parades, a Wild West Extravaganza Craft Fair, a 5k/10k run/walk, and of course…the Fireworks. The Cody Stampede has four fully sanctioned PRCA Rodeos in four days! The town might look different from when Buffalo Bill founded it over 120 years ago, but the peoples’ pride sure hasn’t.
Stowe, VT. Old Fashioned Fourth of July. (photo courtesy)
If you’re in the Northeast, spend your fourth in Stowe - quite possibly one of the more breathtaking towns this author has ever visited. The mountains act as a scenic backdrop to good people having a good time with quaint and honest charm. From the first to fourth you can join the townsfolk for the Seven Miles of Sales event - seven miles of pop-up shops to fit every travelers’ budget. Take part in the "the world's shortest marathon" in the adjoining village of Moscow or participate in the Moscow Parade, where each participant can spend no more than $10 on their decorations, or watch the Old-Fashioned Village Parade. There will be food, drinks, musicians, face painting, a 1.7 mile fun-run, and finally, fireworks at the Mayo Farm.
If you’re looking to spend your fourth in the closest thing to a beach town that the Mid-West can offer, head to Baileys Harbor, WI. With its unparalleled picturesque views of Lake Michigan, a stellar culinary scene, and natural activities galore, you won’t regret traveling to this amazing and secluded part of Door County. This year, the celebration will tote two full days of arts and crafts, horseback riding, live bands, a Strawberry Fest -not be missed!-, a Firemen-hosted pancake breakfast, parade, and, of course…the Fireworks! Baileys Harbor, to put it simply, makes you just...feel...good.
I look inwards and scoff while comparing myself to the amazing men and women of the Loggerodeo. Sedro-Woolley, Washington is steeped in American tradition, linking its roots initially to logging and later supplying tracks for the Northern Pacific Railroad -- connecting East to West in the Industrial Revolution. For five days, this quaint, yet temporarily loud Washington town hosts a myriad of events. They have logging exhibits and shows, live music, carnival rides, a kiddie parade, a foot race, and a grand parade. That’s all fine and good, but then we get an additional two days of rodeos and four full days of chainsaw carving events! All of this is capped with the 80 year tradition of the famous beard growing competition. You might guess what comes next…the Fireworks!
Come to Old Town Manassas for Celebrate America, the largest fireworks display in Northern Virginia! It’s no surprise that one of the most patriotic states displays such a big bang. This year, there are watermelon eating, bicycle decorating, and apple pie baking contests -- along with concessions, rides, and a kid bike rodeo. Home of the first Civil War land battle in 1861, Manassas' rich history, proximity to Washington DC, and Antebellum architecture set the scene for a fantastic night where all are welcome. You can check out the festivities from afar using Manassas' twenty-four hour web cam if you want to participate but can't make the trip.
Located at the base of the San Juan Mountains, Telluride is a vibrant town filled big smiles and alpine architecture. Telluride, and neighboring Mountain Village, offer one-of-a-kind transportation system in the US -- a gondola linking the two towns together for business and pleasure. This year’s fourth of July organizers offer the full package -- beginning the day with the Telluride Foundation’s Rundola, a real run up a very real mountain, where proceeds benefit the preservation of the local land and peoples. There’s a Fourth of July Parade for both the prideful and playful, ribs, brisket, and chicken are stacked high at the Fire Department’s hosted BBQ, and finally…The Fireworks! Cuddle up under a blanket and watch them cascade over one of the most spectacular vistas our nation can offer.
Troy, MT. Old Fashioned Fourth of July (photo courtesy)
The city of Troy’s population raises from 941 people to over six thousand on the Fourth of July, and for good reason. They’ve been celebrating the event since 1915! Known as the Gateway to Montana, the town came into existence in the 1860’s with the discovery of gold. Teddy Roosevelt, the original Rough Rider and creator of our National Park system, carved his initials on the side of the city hall building which can still be viewed today. Come to Big Sky Country this year for car shows, a parade, great food, and games galore -- all taking place in beautiful Roosevelt Park. Troy just happens to have the largest Firework displays in the entire region, nestled in the majestic cradle of the Kootenai National Forest.
Dahlonega, is the site of the first major gold rush in the United States, which started in 1828, and birthplace of the phrase “There’s gold in them thar hills,” -a famous misquote, actually-. The town has since gotten bigger, and much more refined, since those rough and tumble times, but has remained quaint and proud. Patriotism in Dahlonega is physically palpable throughout the year, so you can imagine the pride felt on the Fourth. The celebrations kick off with the Firecracker 5K, leading you through historic downtown, and around the award-winning Historic Public Square. Dahlonega is also hosting the All American Market, where local vendors and regional artists will be selling their all-made-in-the-USA wares. You can also check out the Patriotic Ceremony, a car show, Adventure Zone for kids, and a Patriotic Parade. And then, yup, you guessed it, FIREWORKS!
If I was a more fortunate American, I would do it all. Maybe I’d be icing my knees after the Rundola with Tom in Telluride gazing up at Wasatch Mountain. Maybe Dottie and I would be slapping knees, mocking my losing beard length, or maybe Claudia would be educating me on the rough and rich history of Cody, WY. In any case, I will try to rush a little bit less, think a little deeper, and see my neighbor with clearer eyes. Good people treating each other well -- there’s simply nothing better than small towns in America.