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Five Can't-Miss Outdoor Music Festivals

Our favorite bands are turning up in the darndest places

Music-festival season is upon us. (Aranxa Esteve/Unsplash)

Our favorite bands are turning up in the darndest places

Nothing screams summer quite like hanging out in a huge field, lounging in a camp chair, and listening to your favorite musicians rock out. Whether it’s tucked into the woods of Michigan or on a beach in Rhode Island, the summer months hold a thousand ways to blend love of the outdoors and good tunes.

Mountain Jam: Hunter, New York

Perched on a hillside of Hunter Mountain in the Northern Catskills, Mountain Jam (June 16–18) offers rides on one of the country’s highest and longest ziplines. If you’re looking for a mellower way to experience things from above, there are lift rides available to the top of the mountain. The festival also offers vendor exhibits of local nonprofits and environmental groups. 

Artists to Catch: The Head and the Heart, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Matisyahu, and River Whyless

Electric Forest: Rothbury Michigan

At EDM-centric Electric Forest (June 22–25 and June 29–July 2), expect to be totally immersed in a carefully curated selection of music, art, and panel discussions in the forests outside Rothbury, Michigan. There are numerous volunteer opportunities, if you want to expand your festival experience beyond entertainment. Or just kick your feet up for a while in one of the dedicated hammock zones.

Artists to Catch: Sub Focus, Big Wild, Tycho, Banks, and Trevor Hall

Newport Folk Festival: Newport, Rhode Island

Held in Fort Adams State Park at the mouth of Newport Harbor, the Newport Folk Festival (July 28–30) offers awe-inspiring views of the water—and an incredible lineup. The festival has two beer gardens and four stages of music, and is easy to access by bike, bus, or even boat.

Artists to Catch: Ben Gibbard, Michael Kiwanuka, the Avett Brothers, Robert Ellis, and the Wild Reeds 

Forecastle Music Festival: Louisville, Kentucky

Forecastle (July 14–16) started out as a humble neighborhood gathering and has grown into a staple of the southeast's music scene, drawing thousands of fans to Louisville’s waterfront park each year. The organizers’ dedication to the environment is more than just a tagline on the website: for every ticket sold, $1 goes to the Forecastle Foundation, which works to protect ecologically diverse areas by partnering with such nonprofits as the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and the Guayaki Foundation. 

Artists to Catch: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, X Ambassadors, Mandolin Orange, and Whitney

Pickathon Music Festival: Happy Valley, Oregon

Too much sun in front of the main stage? Pendarvis Farm, home to the Portland, Oregon, Pickathon Music Festival (August 3–6), has plenty of shade available in the adjacent forest. Unlike most festival campsites, which are usually packed together in a field without any privacy, Pickathon’s are cool and comfortable, and the pristine environment is complimented by a dedication to sustainability, including a ban on single-use plastic since 2010. (Festival attendees are given a plate and a cup to use over the entire weekend.) And with all the local food trucks and microbrews available, your plate and cup will never be empty. 

Artists to Catch: Deer Tick, Dinosaur Jr., Andy Shauf, Pinegrove, and Y La Bamba


Filed To: Travel
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.