The 10 Best Summer Festivals
Summer is the season to embrace the sunlight, celebrate, and make a few hundred new friends
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A Festival Built for You: The 10 Best Summer Destinations
Whether you like to mountain bike, sail, meditate, or just eat, there’s a festival somewhere in North America that’s calling your name. There, you’ll be able to relax, get away, and meet others who share similar outdoor passions, no matter how obscure they might be. (Who knew so many people were interested in learning how to logroll?) Pick one, make a weekend of it with our picks for the best nearby hotels and lodges, and let your summer officially begin.
June 1-24: Victoria International Cycling Festival
June 21-24: Wanderlust Festival
July 9-15: Crested Butte Wildflower Festival
July 13-15: International Folk Art Market
July 19-23: Tall Ships Nova Scotia
July 27-29: Lumberjack World Championships
August 1-5: Maine Lobster Festival
August 10-19: Crankworx Whistler
August 22-26: Wake Up Festival
September 7-9: Wooden Boat Festival
The Best Summer Festivals: Victoria International Cycling Festival
Victoria, British Columbia; June 1-24
A three-week rolling party with races, rollerjams, bike art, and, of course, thumping outdoor bass and good beer. Road cyclists sign up now for the Victoria Gran Fondo, a 268- kilometer full-day ride around Southern Vancouver Island, following the Pacific Marine Circle Route that’s limited to 85 participants. Tricksters can compete in Jumpship, a free-ride competition set up on a floating barge surrounded by beer gardens in Victoria’s Inner Harbor.
Where to Stay: Splurge at the Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa, a sleek and glassy oceanfront resort 20 minutes north of Victoria. Doubles from $249.
The Best Summer Festivals: Wanderlust Festival
Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, Vermont; June 21-24
Keep it sane and healthy. That’s what this meandering mountain festival, which kicks off in Vermont, is all about. Visualize this: Morning meditation hikes, yoga with stars like Seane Corne and Rodney Yee, music by Ziggy Marley and Ani Defranco, and inspirational talks by activists like MoveOn.org founder Eli Pariser. All of this fueled by delicious and organic farm-to-table meals. If you didn’t arrive sane, you might be by the time you leave.
Where to Stay: Camp at the Wanderlands, a full-service campground just a mile from the main festival site. Sign up with Show Sherpa and a Eureka tent with cots will be set up by the time you’re ready to crash.
The Best Summer Festivals: Crested Butte Wildflower Festival
Crested Butte, Colorado; July 9-15
The flora will be going off in the Rocky Mountain peaks surrounding Crested Butte during this week-long total wildflower immersion. Scout the best blooms along more than 80 miles of easy to technical hiking trails, sign up for a wildflower or landscape photography workshop, take a yoga class in a Lupine-filled alpine meadow, or get schooled in how to make the perfect picnic. When class is over, head to town for a Teocalli rum martini at the Montanya tasting room. For a more adrenaline-packed week, bring your mountain bike.
Where to Stay: The dog-friendly Inn at Crested Butte offers complimentary wine every evening, hand-picked by a local sommelier. Doubles from $185 per night (with 12 percent off for CBWF participants).
The Best Summer Festivals: International Folk Art Market
Santa Fe, New Mexico; July 13-15
This pop-up global village in Santa Fe is the next best thing to buying a round-the-world airline ticket. For three days, more than 150 master artists from every corner of the globe show off and sell their intricately handmade beadwork, pottery, paintings, baskets, scarves, jewelry, and textiles. Sales from the Folk Art Market radically improve most artists’ lives—many of them earn less than $3 per day back home. Watch for the hand-strung beaded jewelry of Rebecca Lolosoli. From Northern Kenya, Lolosoli founded an entire village for abused and homeless women. Bring your plastic and be prepared to spend.
Where to Stay: The enclosed garden courtyard of the Don Gaspar Inn, which sits on a quiet residential street near the Plaza, is the best secret spot to eat breakfast in Santa Fe. Rooms from $189.
The Best Summer Festivals: Tall Ships Nova Scotia 2012
Halifax, Nova Scotia; July 19-23
Since May 7 a fleet of tall ships have been sailing north from Savannah, Georgia, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the Tall Ships Challenge race series. The fleet, which includes an 84-year-old British naval minesweeper and the HMS Bounty, which starred in Pirates of the Caribbean II, are scheduled to arrive in the Halifax harbor, a gorgeous international seaport with green space and a public beach, on July 19. Spectators can board the ships and meet the crews and feast harbor-side on Nova Scotia delicacies for a few days. On July 23 the entire fleet, with bells ringing and sails unfurled, heads back out to sea in the Parade of Sail.
Where to Stay: Drive north to Cape Breton Island and Cabot Shores, a 55-acre island sanctuary with 2,000 feet of shoreline and accommodations ranging from a luxury chalet to a tipi (tipis from $90).
The Best Summer Festivals: Lumberjack World Championships
Hayward, Wisconsin; July 27-29
Lumberjacks have the most dangerous job in the world. That’s why this 52-year-old, three-day event is so much fun to watch. The best timber kings on the planet descend on “Lumberjack Bowl” in this lake-addled Wisconsin town to scale 90-foot cedar poles; chop through a vertical standing aspen 12 inches thick; and compete in Jack and Jill Sawing, where a one man, one woman team speed-saws through a 20-inch white pine log.
Understandably, amateurs are not allowed to participate in any of the serious competitions, but they are allowed to try their hand (or, rather, feet) at logrolling, set up in a special tank by the local Hayward Logrolling School, the training ground of world champions. Warning: It’s harder than it looks.
Where to Stay: Mallard’s Landing has four North Woods-style cottages nestled in a pine forest on the bank of the Namekagon River, within walking distance from Hayward. Doubles from $97 per night.
The Best Summer Festivals: Maine Lobster Festival
Rockland, Maine; August 1-5
This 65-year-old festival serves up 20,000 pounds of steaming hot lobster, most of it dripping with Cabot butter. There are also clams, crab cakes, mussels, shrimp, haddock, and calamari, served in every variation imaginable. Whip up a better lobster étouffée or seared scallop and possibly win the $200 first prize in the cooking contest.
To burn off the food, run the 10k foot race on Sunday morning or try the oddly popular lobster crate race: The person who runs back and forth over a string of 50 partially submerged lobster crates before falling into the Atlantic, wins. The record: 4,000 crates crossed.
Where to Stay: The Inn at Ocean’s Edge sits on seven acres and looks like a rich uncle’s oceanside getaway, complete with infinity pool and Adirondack chairs on green grass overlooking the ocean. Doubles from $295.
The Best Summer Festivals: Crankworx Whistler 2012
Whistler, British Columbia; August 10-19
Leave your daredevil eight-year-old at home. Whistler’s annual 10-day free-ride mountain biking festival is a testament to just how free-spirited (and crazy) this crowd can be. With one of the most progressive free-ride competition lineups in the world and the largest cash purse prize—$30,000—for the Jeep Canadian Open Downhill, Crankworx lures the world’s best mountain biking greats. But amateurs are welcome too.
The festival starts off with the “running of the bulls,” an 800-meter Fat Tire Crit that circles Whistler village, moves into the Teva Best Trick showdown, where participants execute gravity-bending tricks, and winds down with the Red Bull Joy Ride, a competition that fuses slopestyle, dirt jump, and North Shore mountain biking into one race.
Where to Stay: Mountainside Lodge is 60 seconds from the best mountain biking in North America and has lofted suits with kitchens and en-suite dry saunas; from $109 per night.
The Best Summer Festivals: Wake Up Festival
Estes Park, Colorado; August 22-26
Looking for radical renewal? Look no further than the first-ever Wake Up Festival. This supercharged lineup of dancers, musicians, yogis, poets, energy healers, neuroscientists, and spiritual teachers, from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield to yoga goddess Shiva Rea, will give participants the boost they need to get out of a rut, rejuvenate, and really start to live. Practice Qigong purification or mindfulness meditation, take a workshop on topics like “Harnessing Energy As We Age,” or dance under the stars to “Groove Sessions” with Alex Theory. It’s all good.
Where to Stay: The lodge rooms or cabins of the YMCA of the Rockies are affordable and offer close-ups to bighorn sheep or whatever wildlife wanders in. Cabins from $159 per night.
The Best Summer Festivals: 36th Annual Wooden Boat Festival
Port Townsend, Washington; September 7-9
It’s been written that there is “nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.” Kenneth Grahame said it best, but those who agree need to be at this late-summer Wooden Boat Festival that takes place in a historic Victorian village 40 miles northwest of Seattle. The eye candy here is endless: More than 300 wooden kayaks, native canoes, tall ships, sailboats, and powerboats will be on display or in use. Watch a boat-building demonstration, sign your boat up, or, if you don’t have one, sign on to crew during the Classic Mariner’s Regatta, or network with the countless other passionate wooden boat fanatics.
Where to Stay: Fort Worden State Park is on the beach a mile from the festival, with 30 forested tent sites adjacent to hiking trails. Book quickly.