What do dragon boat races, rhubarb pie and world music have in common? They’re all part of Minnesota’s eclectic summer festival lineup.
Minnesota’s summer festivals sizzle with a smorgasbord of mouth-watering eats, adrenaline-fueled competitions and colorful cultural celebrations. There are even festivals for the literary-minded, celebrating Minnesota authors and celebrities. Below you’ll find some of the most interesting and entertaining festivals chock full of opportunities to make long-lasting memories and stuff your summer days with outdoor fun. The festivals are listed chronologically, starting in June with the Rhubarb Festival and continuing to mid-August.
Lanesboro takes its rhubarb seriously. In 2008, they were named the Rhubarb Capitol of Minnesota by the state legislature and it’s something they celebrate annually, the first Saturday of June. It’s a day filled with entertainment, games, contests, vendors and even a fashion show. The event opens with the annual Rhubarb Run at 8 a.m. where runners race while carrying stalks of rhubarb. After the race, fair-goers gather around the bandstand to sing the Rhubarb National Anthem (yes, there is such a thing) and then participate in the Bee-Bop-a-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie sing-along. Entertainers include an accordion band and a ukulele band and contests are all rhubarb themed. And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to get a taste of the sweet and tart vegetable. There are rhubarb tastings, a rhubarb recipe contest and vendors offer a variety of rhubarb-based foods including pies, jams, salsas and even rhubarb bratwurst.
Sylvan Park, Lanesboro / June each year
Judy Garland Festival
The birthplace of one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars, Grand Rapids, Minnesota hosts an annual four-day extravaganza celebrating their famous native daughter with “The Judy Garland Festival.” Once known as “The Wizard of Oz Festival,” the event has evolved into a celebration of Garland’s life and legacy, drawing fans form all over the world. Activities pay tribute to Garland’s illustrious career and visitors are invited to dress up in different daily themes, attend events at Judy’s childhood home and the first place she performed. Interactive events showcase Garland’s personality and wit. Participants can test their knowledge with Judy Jeopardy and Judy Bingo, show off their Garland memorabilia and share their stories about her in Judy show and tell and enjoy a free outdoor showing of “The Wizard of Oz. Musical performances are provided by professionals and amateurs with an open mic night. In 2022, the local police even talked about their ongoing 13-year quest to recover Judy’s missing ruby red slippers.
Grand Rapids / June each year
Step back in time and relive the golden age of steamboats with five unforgettable days of festivities spread throughout Winona. From dazzling parades to bustling fairgrounds and jaw-dropping fireworks displays, Steamboat Days has something to delight every visitor. Further excitement lies in the festival’s many competitive events from the button design competition to heart-pumping activities such as road races, volleyball and softball tournaments, cornhole tournaments and even a stunt dog show. Special events for kids include their own parade and a fishing contest. Mix in wine and beer tastings, car shows and live entertainment, all expertly curated by the harbormaster, elected each year to lead the revelry. With so much to see and do, Steamboat Days is a celebration that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.
Winona / June each year
The self-proclaimed Turtle Race Capitol of the World, Perham proudly celebrates its love for the shelled reptiles with a weeklong summer festival. The annual Turtle Fest features a flotilla of turtle-themed events, including turtle races, a turtle coloring contest and a turtlemania talent competition. The five-day festival also includes a turtle medallion hunt, with a $500 prize for the lucky winner. But it’s not all about turtles: Foodies can indulge in ice cream socials, wing-eating contests and rib fests; while bargain hunters can browse through farmers markets, craft shows, used book sales and rummage sales. Visitors can enjoy live entertainment, ride trolleys, play bingo and even meet some friendly zoo animals. The festival offers a range of competitions including a 5K and 10K run, basketball and a bean bag tournament. The festivities reach a climax on Saturday night with a spectacular fireworks display. Don’t forget to catch the parade with its colorful floats, marching bands and plenty of turtle-themed decorations.
Perham / June each year
Twin Cities Pride Festival
One of the largest LGBTQ+ celebrations in the Midwest, the Twin Cities Pride Festival takes place over three days in June and includes a wide range of events and activities including live music performances, dance parties, a parade and community exhibits. Held at Loring Park and Parade Park, this year’s celebration marks the event’s 51st anniversary and local talent will fill up four stages at the free festival. The Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade alone attracts nearly 400,000 visitors. Rukes was a former parade organizer and transgender activist. An inclusive celebration of queer culture and identity, this year’s theme is “Elevate and Amplify” with organizers stressing the need to act with intentionality while highlighting voices in marginalized communities.
Loring Park and Parade Park, Minneapolis / June each year
Some sweethearts loom larger than others, at least they do in Hackensack, Minnesota where a weeklong celebration celebrates Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart and wife, Lucette Diana Kensack. It all started back in the early 1950s when businessman Doad Schroeder felt they needed to draw visitors to their small town. He created a 17-foot-tall statue and sponsored a contest to name her. From there, the annual festivities took off. Now the festival celebrates small-town life with such events as parades where people dress up like the statute, a Dachshund Derby, turtle face painting, 5K runs, cornhole tournaments, a street dance, a car and motorcycle show and fireworks. Tuesday is kids day where there are fishing contests and other events along with two parades–one for pets and one for adults. The week is chock-full of community building events in what city officials have said is a “sweetheart of a town.”
Hackensack / July each year
Sinclair Lewis Days
Sinclair Lewis burst onto the literary scene in the early 20th Century with scathing critiques of small-town America’s hypocrisy and conformity. Yet, despite his searing indictments, his birthplace of Sauk Centre proudly celebrates his immense contributions to literature. And why not? He was the first American to capture the Nobel Prize for Literature and had a talent for creating indelible characters and razor-sharp commentary. The four-day festival in Sauk Centre boasts an array of activities that showcase the best of small-town America, from turtle races to craft fairs to ice cream socials and parades. Runners can choose between the challenging 5K or the kids’ one-mile fun run, while the Miss Sauk Centre Pageant and Soap Box Derby races add to the excitement. It’s an event that unites the community each summer, providing a delightful and unforgettable celebration of the season.
Sauk Centre / July each year
Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival
Nestled on the pristine shores of Lake Bemidji, locals honor a storied 2,000-year-old tradition with their highly anticipated annual summer celebration. The Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival offers a breathtaking spectacle as teams of skilled paddlers compete fiercely in dragon boat races across the stunning expanse of Lake Bemidji. But the excitement doesn’t stop there. The four-day festival bursts with a diverse range of lively events, including live music and cultural performances, a thrilling 5K race, an invigorating kids fun run, a captivating parade, riveting cornhole tournaments and an array of tempting food courts. Since its inception in 2006, the festival has rapidly grown in popularity, attracting massive crowds and more than doubling in size with more than 50 teams now vying for victory. A highly-anticipated annual event, it is one of the most iconic and popular summer festivals in northern Minnesota.
Lake Bemidji / August each year
For four days, Chisago City beckons festival-goers to experience a late-summer extravaganza in a location revered as the gateway to the lakes. Ki-Chi-Saga Days, named after the Chippewa Indian term for “fair and lovely lake,” showcases the very best of this picturesque city. Bursting with activities designed to captivate and delight visitors of all ages, the festival takes place across the city, showcasing more than 100 food and craft vendors, a plethora of musical concerts and a lively children’s area at the park. Fun events abound, including an invigorating skateboard competition hosted by a local church, spectacular fireworks displays and a high-energy street dance. The festival also features pro and kids fishing contests, citywide garage sales and a grand parade. The Grand Parade includes a food drive that collects non-perishable items for both humans and pets. Runners can participate in either the 5K or 10K race, while foodies can indulge in a pie-eating contest on the final day. Ki-Chi-Saga Days are designed to wrap up the summer with an unforgettable festival.
Chisago City / August each year
Each year since 1990, Scandia honors its rich cultural heritage with the vibrant and enchanting Spelmansstämma (Spelman/Fiddler and stamma/gathering). This single-day festival showcases the area’s love of traditional Swedish folk music, where participants don authentic Swedish garb and bring out their fiddles, nyckelharpas, accordions and other stringed instruments. Gammelgården Museum is the center of the festivities, where visitors can immerse themselves in workshops, dances and exhibits about Scandinavian folk music. Children can join in the excitement with Tor and Tilda’s adventure, which includes crafting traditional items. Festival-goers can enjoy logging demonstrations, petting baby goats, storytelling, a joyous musical parade and a bustling marketplace and food tent. With an irresistible blend of captivating music, fascinating cultural activities and charming events, the Scandia Spelmansstämma is a day-long celebrate of the timeless melodies of Swedish fiddle music.
Scandia / August each year