Ah, summertime. Among all the pool days, beach trips, and grilling nights, the Fourth of July stands out as the defining event in the American summer. It’s a time when old traditions are honored, and new traditions are made. A time for lounging and enjoying the company of friends and/or family while celebrating the birth of a great nation.
Sure, it seems enticing to head to the heart of the action. The temptation to take off to the nearest big city and indulge in all the red, white, and blue festivities is palpable. But if we’ve learned one thing during our [many] Fourth of July vacation, it’s that it only takes one tourist-packed and traffic-filled weekend to know that on big holidays like the Fourth, sometimes it’s best to take the road less traveled.
After all, big cities may have the glitz and glamour (that you can take part in any day of the year), but it’s the small towns across the United States that hold together the fabric of our diverse and intricate culture. This Independence Day, we challenge you to tune into the simpler things, turn off the hustle mentality, and drop in to an all-American weekend with the whole family!
Pull up a seat to the #1 rated fireworks show in Kansas
When you think of Kansas, flat swaths of crop-filled fields may come to mind. Or maybe a yellow brick road, but we digress. The Flint Hills region of the state, known for its endless grasslands and scenic byways, takes that widely-known image of the state and flips it on its head. As the region’s name suggests, there ARE hills in Kansas and they’re absolutely worth the travel. Rock formations, turn-of-the-century architecture, and limestone fences await in this stretch of prairie land.
Ask any Kansan and they’ll tell you that Manhattan’s (still talking about Kansas here) biggest claim to fame is K-State: the home of the Wildcats. And while summertime means that the hustle and bustle of student life is virtually nonexistent, the college town coolness doesn’t falter. For your Fourth of July celebrations, however, take the (postcard-worthy) drive through the prairies of Flint Hills into Wamego, where tens of thousands of people congregate each year to watch a fireworks show that has its own soundtrack.
Celebrate nature and arts at the Festival for the Eno in North Carolina
Some may say that the Piedmont region of North Carolina has it all. Two hours from the mountains, two hours from the beach, with three major universities and a not-too-big capital city that’s getting attention from all the nation’s “Best Of” lists. If Raleigh hasn’t been on your radar yet, it will be very soon. As with any capital city, Raleigh on the Fourth of July is a red, white, and blue dream: parades, carnivals, and concerts are the standard. However, as with any city in the South, it. Is. HOT.
So, it makes sense then that one of the most unique Independence Day celebrations in the region loved by locals and visitors happens on the banks of the historic Eno River – because when it’s July in the South, water and shade are a necessity, y’ all. The Festival for the Eno alike isn’t a patriotic celebration in the most traditional sense of the phrase, but rather a two-day celebration of the Eno River basin.
2019 marks the festival’s 40th year and will host over 60 hours of music across five stages along the shaded banks of the Eno. Once described by the New York Times as “a giant backyard barbeque for the creative class,” we can’t think of a better way to celebrate our beautiful land than at an event that not only raises funds for the Eno River Association but makes a concerted effort to teach the community about how to preserve its beauty.
Party in the park(s) in Chicago’s Suburbs
When you want to be close enough to a big city but still avoid the crowds, check out the surrounding suburbs! We know, the word “suburb” doesn’t necessarily connote the most excitement but hear us out. While many cities are quintessential concrete jungles, many of their surrounding suburbs are replete with pockets of natural beauty and cozy, hometown vibes that you just can’t find in a city. The Chicago Southland is a perfect example of this.
Just beyond the Chicago city limits, just outside the birthplace of the American skyscraper you’ll find a collection of 63 midwestern towns weaved through 40,000 acres of scenic forestry. With 63 towns at your disposal, you can only imagine the endless possibilities of ways to spend a Fourth of July weekend, but in true Chicagoan fashion, we recommend finding a celebration in a park, bringing a blanket, and truly living out the city’s official motto, Urbs in horto (city in a garden).
Relive American History in Gettysburg, PA
We would be remiss to talk about celebrating our country’s freedom without mentioning a destination that packs a big historical punch. Gettysburg is for the people: the history buffs, the Civil War enthusiasts, the foodies, the nature lovers, and the craft beer connoisseurs. It’s a place where time seems to move slower as you stroll through the bucolic country roads that once hosted one of the bloodiest battles in American history.
Yes, we’re talking about that battle. A Fourth of July weekend in Gettysburg is not – no, cannot – be complete without the reenactment of the battle that is known as the turning point of the American Civil War.
If you’re got little ones or simply aren’t into watching simulated violence (it’s not for everyone) you can still experience the palpable emotion that’s engrained in the land by taking a horseback or Segway tour through the battlegrounds. Once you’ve had your fill of American history, just head down to Memorial Field on Constitution Avenue (yes, that’s real) for the annual community concert and fireworks display!
Cheer on the homegrown talent in St. George, UT
Among the red rock monoliths and vast expanses of brick-red desert sits the quaint town of St. George Utah. St. George could be described as an oasis north of Las Vegas and south of Zion National Park that’s built for comfort rather than speed; a golfer’s paradise surrounded by the jaw-dropping drama of Snow Canyon State Park.
Small but mighty, the town takes its Independence Day celebrations very seriously. First things first: the parade. Celebrations start at 7:45 a.m. on the dot, followed by an en masse singing of the national anthem, and a full day of carnival games, sidewalk art competitions, and the city’s very own Star Search talent show. For the active family, locals and visitors alike can run in the Uncle Sam 4K – you’ll each receive a hat and beard to cross the finish line in!