Fourth of July fireworks, in and of themselves, are pretty awesome, but add a paddle, a big hike, or a view of volcanoes and they get even better. America. Eff yeah.
Climb Above Estes Park, Colorado
Because of high fire danger across the state many Colorado mountain towns canceled their fireworks this year. Aspen, Crested Butte, and Telluride all canned theirs, but on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is still a go. They go off over Lake Estes, and while the area close to the lake gets packed, if you can get up in the hills above town you'll still get a good view. Hiking Old Man Mountain, to the west of town, will give you a prime perch.
Paddle in New York City
New York City, arguably, has the best urban fireworks. This year, Macy's is setting off 40,000 fireworks from four barges in the Hudson, and Usher is curating the soundtrack. If you're willing to fight traffic, and battle swell from passing boats on the river, you can watch the show from the relative solitude of your own kayak. You can put in at Pier 66, above the Chelsea Piers and paddle out amongst the cruise ships and powerboats. Because it's New York, there will be massive amounts of people so the Coast Guard has enacted a few rules.
Paddle Out in Orange County
Southern California, which is not the kind of place were people do things subtly, is know for over-the-top fireworks displays: Disneyland. Last year's blow-it-all-at-once debacle in San Diego. That's a good thing on the fourth, and if you get out on the water you can see shows all down the coast. A surfboard is the So Cal craft of choice. Paddle out on the north side of the San Clemente pier, and you’ll be able to see the SC ones at close range, and the lights of Dana Point and Laguna in the distance. Bonus points if you get there early in the day to catch the traditional office chair races up the hill in town.
Bike to the Point in D.C.
Cliche? Maybe. Awesome? Yes. There will be tourists from Oklahoma, a ton of police, and a lot of large people in jorts, but there's something to be said about celebrating America's birthday in America's capitol. To get away from the mob on the National Mall, ride your bike to Gravelly Point, on the other side of the Potomac and watch the fireworks from there. There's enough room for picnics, and you can watch planes take off from Reagan National Airport right over your head.
Donner Summit at Tahoe
Get yourself out into the middle of the lake, by paddle or by motor, and you'll get four shows for the price of one. Fireworks go off in South Lake, Incline Village, King's Beach, and Tahoe City. But, according to Tahoe-based skier Amie Engerbretson, if you get off the water it's even better. "The secret spot is actually Truckee at Donner Lake," she says. "It's a much more local vibe and it is the best firework show around. There are a ton of places up on Donner Summit that you can hike to and watch from above. It is really cool because the mountains form a bit of a canyon around the lake so the fireworks just rumble."
Hang in the Park in Addison, Texas
It's not exactly an outdoor Mecca, but we're going for spectacular here, and Addison, Texas, north of Dallas, where they put on a 4th fireworks show called "Kaboom Town" is high on the spectacle list. It's a favorite of the American Pyrotechnics Association, so you know it's good. It takes place on the 3rd and it's big enough that you can see it anywhere in town. Addison Circle Park is the center of things.
Float in Ala Moana, Hawaii
Oahu's Ala Moana Beach Park, between Waikiki and Honolulu, holds the best fireworks display in Hawaii. People watch them from rooftops across the city, but you can get just as good of a view from the park itself. It's protected by a reef, so the water is calm and good for open water swimming if you want to float and watch fireworks. But—fair warning—it gets crowded: locals camp out overnight on the 3rd to hold down their spots on the beach.
Beer and Bikes in Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley puts on a weekly firework show at their ice rink through the summer. They're always impressive, but the one on the 4th of July one is the biggest. You can hike up the ski hill before the sun sets to watch the fireworks from above. Fireworks aside, it’s a fun few days in Sun Valley. The Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival is going on all week; there are crit races in Ketchum and Hailey on the 3rd and 4th; fun rides every night; and the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships (and a beer fest) on Sunday the 6th.
Ski the 4th in Estacada, Oregon
Sometimes small-town fireworks feel more exciting than big ones. Estacada, Oregon, has perfected the art. In addition to their show, which is one of the best in the state, they put on a timber festival that includes axe throwing, and lawn mower races—all highly patriotic activities. And you can ski in the morning at Timberline, then head down the hill to watch the display. If you post up in McIver park, across the river, you'll get views of Mt. Hood, too.