Blue Ribbon Road Trips: State Fairs in the Summer

The 4th of July may have come and gone, but road trip season is still going strong. Despite the destructive forest fires, massive power outages and 110-degree heat waves that got the summer of 2012 off to a less than perfect start, there’s still time for you to make some good memories. For drivers especially, the fact that gas prices have been going down means it makes sense to hit the road, if only so you have something cool to say when people ask: “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

In the next few weeks I’ll be describing a number of fun and manageable road trip themes—to see some baseball games, follow in the footsteps of historic figures (real and imagined), and generally celebrate the many things that make traveling around America so much fun. But I’ll start with one great road trip idea that really comes into its own toward the end of summer: the state fair. Historically established to celebrate the blue-ribbon-worthy achievements of each state’s farmers, artists and factory workers, state fairs have evolved into full-featured entertainment and educational centers, with ad-hoc museums, musical and comedy acts, thrill rides, fun and games, and tasty junk food (corn dogs galore!). State fairs still award prizes for best jams, most powerful tractors (and best beers, too!), and all across America, a visit to the state fair offers something for everyone to enjoy.

Most state fairs tend to run the two weeks before Labor Day (August 26th to September 3rd or thereabouts in 2012), and the agricultural Midwest is the heartland of state fair country, holding some of the biggest and best events in the entire USA. Minnesota holds one of the country’s most popular fairs in the capital St Paul, across the river from its “Twin City” Minneapolis. Besides daily competitions involving everything from cow milking to bird calling, the fair also has a number of demonstrations and performances showcasing the state’s ethnic variety (Cambodian dancers and African drumming), and a daily Giant Sing Along, where you can join in a mass karaoke with hundreds of other fair-goers.

From St Paul, cruise down the gorgeous Great River Road, past historic town of Galena, Illinois and Dubuque’s Field of Dreams to another gigantic party, the Iowa State Fair, home to sheep-shearing, rooster crowing competitions, and the famous “Butter Cow,” a life-size bovine made from 600 lbs of creamy Iowa butter.

Other great state fairs are held all over the USA, in Pueblo, Colorado, Sacramento, California (the earliest state fair kicks off July 12), Syracuse, New York, plus an unusual multi-state New England fair called “The Big E,” held in Springfield, Massachusetts (the latest running from September 14th through the 30th this year). There’s one near you, for sure, so check ‘em out and get ready for some fun.