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Celebrating with the local community is one of the best ways to connect with Iowa’s unique culture. From big city art shows to small country fairs, from thrilling sports competitions to ethnic celebrations - embrace the true spirit of Iowa at one-of-a-kind festivals and events.
Have you ever tried a deep-fried pancake taco? Boasting a cow made of butter and more food on a stick than you can imagine, the Iowa State Fair is a world-renowned cultural celebration. Held every August in Des Moines, the Fair includes wacky competitions, carnival games and rides, livestock shows, and more than 600 exhibitors. It also features the largest art show in the state.
Iowa’s county fairs offer similar old-fashioned fun on a smaller scale and take place throughout the summer. Play in game shows and visit the petting zoo at the Buchanan County Fair, which is set along a river in Independence. Watch a demolition derby and pedal tractor pull at the Cherokee County Fair. In Monticello, nationally recognized musicians play on multiple stages at the Great Jones County Fair.
Set along the Wapsipinicon River, the annual Buchanan County Fair is set in eastern Iowa in the city of Independence. Happening in mid-July, the fair features live entertainment, game shows, dog and horse shows, petting zoos, and art. Held at the Buchanan County Fairgrounds, the event also features great food, shopping, and onsite races. Home to the Independence Motor Speedway and of course, the annual Buchanan County Fair, the fairgrounds provide an expansive venue for live entertainment. Other fairgrounds events include 4-H events, garage sales, and weddings.
Held at Cherokee County Fairgrounds, the Cherokee County Fair is located in northwestern Iowa in the city of Cherokee. Established in 1922, the annual Cherokee County Fair includes live entertainment, food, and plenty of competitions. Don’t miss events like the Meyer Petting Zoo, the Pedal Tractor Pull, and the Diaper Derby. The fair also features 4-H Competitions, a demolition derby, and a tractor pull ride through Cherokee County – plus the Little Miss Cherokee County Fair Competition.
Celebrate the arrival of spring at the Tulip Time Festival in Pella, a Dutch festival with traditional dancing, music, and crafts like Dutch letter baking, wooden shoemaking, and yoke carving. Stroll through tulip gardens, craft markets, and cheese shops. Decorah’s Nordic Fest honors the region’s Scandinavian heritage, with Norwegian food, craft demonstrations, and entertainment.
Watch the Nordic Rock Throw competition, clap for dancers in traditional costumes, and shop at more than 100 booths of arts and crafts. Nearby in Guttenberg, discover champion yodelers, brat eating competitions, and wiener dog racing at Germanfest.
Gaze up in wonder as 100 colorful hot air balloons float with the clouds at the National Balloon Classic, Indianola’s annual summer sky festival. For over 50 years, this awe-inspiring event has been a summertime tradition for Iowans. Ride in hot air balloons, browse the open-air market, and don’t miss the Fire in the Sky Nite-Glow Extravaganza. In fall, Creston hosts the Southwest Iowa Hot Air Balloon Days, the state’s second-largest hot air balloon festival. Enjoy balloon races, a marching band parade, and pet show at this fun-filled event.
Rock the boat at Burlington Steamboat Days, a four-day riverfront festival of music and life on the Mississippi River. Two outdoor stages host a wide range of musical performances, including rock, country, jazz, pop, R&B, and big bands. Fireworks, a parade, and carnival rides complete the experience. Clarinda’s Glenn Miller Festival is another top draw for music fans, a big band extravaganza featuring the World-Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra. In Des Moines, the Metro Arts Jazz Festival and the Des Moines Arts Festival infuse the city with energy every summer.
Iowa’s signature sporting event is RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Friendly and fun, this non-competitive bike ride cruises across the countryside on a different course every summer. Prefer the thrill of speed? Cheer for high-powered sprint cars as they zoom across short tracks at the Knoxville Nationals, a two-day auto race held every summer.
In winter, warm up at the University of Okoboji Winter Games. Every January, students and locals come together to shake off the winter chill and cabin fever. Competitions include polar plunges, broomball, chili cook-offs, snowmobile races, and flag football.
Pedal across Iowa’s pleasant countryside during RAGBRAI, the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Every July this seven-day event cuts a course through the state from west to east, with a different path each year since 1973. RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest, and longest bicycle tour in America. It’s not a race - it’s an adventure. Riders are chosen via lottery every spring, with 10,000 bicyclists riding the course.
RAGBRAI is famous not only for its size, but also for its course. Averaging 468 miles for each seven-day ride, RAGBRAI’s route passes through lovely rural enclaves, welcoming small towns, and beautiful parks. Riders are free to pause and explore local museums, hiking trails, and oddball roadside attractions.
Find Fourth of July fun every summer at the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival, one of the biggest Iowa events of the year. Highlights include classic rock and patriotic pops concerts every night, along with fireworks, amazing local food, and fun kids’ activities. Surround yourself with autumn’s brilliant hues at the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, held every October in Winterset.
Artisans demonstrate old-fashioned crafting, and there’s a quilt show, bridge tours, and antique vehicle parade. For the holidays, cities and towns across Iowa light up for tree lighting ceremonies, holiday shopping markets, and festivals of lights.
Sparked from a discussion that took place in September of 1949, the Midwest Old Thresher’s Reunion at Mount Pleasant was born. Midwest Old Settlers & Threshers Association (MOSTA) was founded in 1950 with the first reunion taking place and drawing large crowds in late September of 1950, to this day having grown to be the largest event of its kind.
The aim of the Reunion is to take a journey back in time to preserve and appreciate the agricultural past of the Midwestern region of the United States. Visitors are also encouraged to tour the Heritage Museums to fully immerse themselves in the history and cultural past of the state of Iowa. The Midwest Old Thresher’s Reunion is a five-day event ending on Labor Day, and includes exhibits for steam engines, automobiles, a printer’s hall, log village, food and trading posts among many others.