Summer’s 10 Best Family-Friendly Outdoor Festivals


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Big air, bigger views kick off this weekend in Vail. Photo: Teva Mountain Games

With long days and warm nights, summer is festival season. But if you want more from your weekend than sitting on your butt on a blanket, swilling beer, and listening to live music, check out these 10 family-friendly outdoor festivals that put the emphasis on adventure.

Summer Teva Mountain Games
Vail, Colorado; May 31-June 2
Stand-up paddleboarding, mud running, freestyle mountain biking, and slacklining are just a few of the events on tap this weekend in Vail at what’s arguably the standard-setter for summer sports festivals. The mountain mash-up attracts elite athletes, local die-hards, and weekend warriors from across the country—and the mix is what keeps it fresh. Kids can take a shot at any of the events, but the youth bouldering contest and XC bike race breed are where the next generation of rippers can be found. Plus: adventure flicks, gear demos, free yoga, casting clinics, and big-air contests for dogs round out the action.

Salida, Colorado; June 14-17
The country’s oldest whitewater festival, FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) is yet another reason to put Salida—one of the Rockies’ great adventure towns—on your summer hot list. With its own whitewater park right in town and miles of new singletrack within city limits, Salida brings together the best in rivers and trails at FIBArk. On the agenda: boater cross competition, stand-up paddling demos, triple-crown hill climb, mountain bike races, river dog contest, raft rodeo, kids’ recycled costume show, beer-tasting, SUP freestyle and cross, slalom and freestyle kayak races for adults and juniors, and the locals’ favorite: Hooligan Race, open to anything that floats that’s not a boat.

Crested Butte Fat Tire Week
Crested Butte, Colorado; June 21-24
There’s no better place to pay homage to the mountain bike than CB, home to some of the country’s sweetest singletrack (and, as locals will tell you, the birthplace of the sport). All things two-wheel are fair game at Bike Week, including a 24-hour “Townie Tour” on cruiser bikes, downhill skills camps, the Wildflower Rush cross-country race (kids ride one lap), evening concert with Toots and the Maytals, yoga classes, and the Chainless World Championships (18+ over, no pedaling, please!).

Cowboys’ Roundup Days & Fourth of July Celebration 
Steamboat Springs, Colorado; June 30-July 4
Ditch the hordes at Cheyenne Days and the Calgary Stampede and cowboy up to this week-long celebration of Steamboat’s ranching roots, featuring evening rodeos on the pro circuit, free concerts (including the Dark Star Orchestra), the annual Mountain Madness half marathon and 10K, an art fair, a summer Nordic combined comp with roller ski racing and ski jumping, open-air yoga, ice cream socials, and a half-mile open water swim in Bald Eagle Lake. The action winds down with a hometown Independence Day parade, fireworks, and a town-wide block party.

Independence Weekend
Craftsbury Common, Vermont; July 6-8
Sustainability and sports are the focus at this event-packed weekend at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont's Green Mountains. Take farm tours; learn composting, cheese-making, and pizza-baking in a wood-fired oven; visit local renewable solar and wind projects; pedal more than 200 miles of dirt roads and singletrack. The non-profit, solar-powered Outdoor Center, situated right on Lake Hosmer, stocks a fleet of canoes and kayaks, and offers a full calendar of world-class running, rowing, and cycling camps for adults, kids, and families all summer.

International Surf Festival
Los Angeles & vicinity; July 31-August 5
Dozens of events spread over five L.A.-area beaches—including Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach—this is the country’s premier ocean festival. Get in on the action with sand soccer, bodysurfing comps, the L.A. County Lifeguard Championships, pier-to-pier swim races, the lifeguards’ dory race, and a two-mile beach run. The kids’ division seves up rough-water swimming, boogie boarding, and surfboard racing.

Maine Lobster Festival
Rockland, Maine; August 1-5
About 20,000 pounds of lobster. Need we say more? Pancake breakfasts, 10k road race and fun run, kids’ costume parade and “cod fish carry” (picture kids wrangling slippery fish). Stuff your face with lobster rolls and then burn it off on the annual lobster crate race, in which participants try to run across a string of 50 partially submerged lobster crates. Now that’s living.

CORK International Regatta
Kingston, Ontario; August 13-16
One of the largest youth sailing regattas in the world, CORK (Canadian Olympic Regatta Kingston) draws more than 1,000 boats from all over North America for four days of racing Lasers and 420s on Lake Ontario at the head of the St. Lawrence River. The racing is serious—the regatta doubles as the Laser Youth North American Championships—but so is the post-race fun for sailors and visitors alike.

Burning Man
Black Rock Desert, Nevada; August 27-September 3
Despite the prevalence of hallucinogens and nudity, Burning Man is actually not the worst place to spend a few days with the kids. They’ll groove on the eccentric art installations, desert bike riding, the no-cash barter system, and the leave-no-trace ethic that requires the entire city of 48,000-plus people to be dismantled and the desert returned to its pristine condition. Create, don’t consume: a good lesson at any age.

Gauley Fest 
Summersville, West Virginia; September 14-16
The world’s largest whitewater festival draws thousands of river rats each September with boat demos, paddling races, silent outdoor auction, live music, and boat raffles. It’s the also the biggest fundraiser for American Whitewater, a non-profit organization that supports river conservation and boating access.

—Katie Arnold