The neighbouring midwestern states of North and South Dakota play host to a huge number of fun-packed festivals and fairs every year, many of which are suitable for the entire family.
The Dakotas may share a collective name, but in terms of landscapes, history and culture, they have almost as many differences as things in common. But one shared characteristic is that both states have vibrant cultural calendars packed to the brim with great events. Among them are some fantastic festivals and fairs – and we’ve picked out 20 of the best.
Unglued: Craft Fest
This inspired day of creative fun will captivate kids who have an interest in arts and crafts. The event provides a blank canvas for professional artisans across Fargo and beyond to showcase their wares, with everything from eye-catching geometric necklaces to vintage wares to chocolate mint cookies on display. There are also free workshops for children and adults, plus a craft beer garden and live music.
LOCATION West Acres Mall, Fargo DATES 12-14 March 2021
Fargo Film Festival
In 1996 the cult movie ‘Fargo’ thrust the eponymous city into the limelight and three years later it even inspired its own film festival. Created by a group of film lovers, moviemakers and educators, the festival has grown significantly and now features more than 300 submissions, with screenings taking place at the city’s beautifully restored art deco theatre – boasting a Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ – as well as venues across the Fargo-Moorhead community.
LOCATION Venues across Fargo DATES 18-28 March 2021
Established to honour the rich culture and history of the seven Celtic Nations, this action-packed festival plays host to traditional Celtic music by local bands, presentations on folk traditions, activity booths, and authentic Celtic food and drink. Entrance is free, although payment is required for access to the festival’s craft stations where your handywork may even stand a chance of a prize.
LOCATION Fargo DATES 20 March 2021
Every year on the north shore of Lake Sakawea, kids and adults alike flock to witness the magical spectacle of a kaleidoscope of kites fluttering in the air. Held over Memorial Day, the festival is a mecca for kite enthusiasts, with some of the world’s best kite makers attending alongside amateur enthusiasts. All visitors are encouraged to build and fly their own kites, or if you’re content with being a spectator, you can bring a lawn chair and kick back and enjoy the show. Special activities including a raffle are also planned each day.
LOCATION Fort Stevenson State Park, Fort Stevenson DATES 29-31 May 2021
Happy Harry’s RibFest
This lip-licking foodie extravaganza has become known as the official kick-off to summer since it was first held at the FargoDome athletics stadium back in 1996. Taking place over 4 days, the event honours that most American of culinary treats – ribs – with endless variations of the delectable dish served up by local, regional and nationwide rib afficionados. There’s also live stage music by internationally-renowned acts, awards for the best ribs, and a family-friendly carnival.
LOCATION Fargodome, Fargo DATES 9-12 June 2021
South Dakota Shakespeare Festival
South Dakota Shakespeare Festival proudly presents Twelfth Night, or What You Will, this June, in Vermillion’s Prentis Park, and through video streaming. The Festival includes food and beverage vendors, live music, and a variety of education and outreach programming, in partnership with the University of South Dakota, local community organisations, and area schools. In keeping with the company’s values of access and inclusion, all programs are “Free Will” donation. Bring lawn-chairs or blankets. www.sdshakespearefestival.org.
LOCATION Prentis Park, Vermillion DATES 17-20 June 2021
International Vinegar Festival
One of Dakota’s more quirky cultural venues is the International Vinegar Museum, said to be the world’s only museum dedicated to everyone’s favourite French fries condiment. Each year the museum stages an equally eccentric festival that celebrates the edible acidic liquid, complete with vinegar tasting, cooking demos, museum tours, a parade and – perhaps the main highlight – a hotly contested Vinegar Queen competition.
LOCATION International Vinegar Museum, Roslyn DATES 19 June 2021
Roughrider Days Fair and Expo
Rodeo across Dakota is a seriously big deal and nowhere is it celebrated more fervently than at the Roughrider Days Fair and Expo, which culminates with a 4th July extravaganza. Featuring rodeo shows, a colourful parade, a demolition derby, Speedway car races, and an array of family-friendly activities, the main attraction of the event is the concert which routinely attracts a stellar line-up of internationally renowned names.
LOCATION Stark County Fairgrounds & Events Park, Dickinson DATES 23 June-4 July 2021
Lewis and Clark Riverboat Days
An annual community celebration, this weekend-long event features a jam-packed programme of fun activities for all ages and tastes. Run and organised by the Washburn Civic Club, there’s a parade, a street dance, a car show, a firemans’ rodeo, a demolition derby, a chili feed, children’s games, a fishing tournament, go cart races, vendor shows, and plenty more besides.
LOCATION Various sites across Washburn DATES June 2021
ND Country Fest
Bringing you some of the region’s most talented country music acts, the ND Country is an eagerly awaited annual event on North Dakota’s entertainments calendar. As well as the top class live music to enjoy, there’s also a dedicated beer station serving up ice cold beverages and a wide range of food trucks where you can get American classics like BBQ, burgers and hotdogs.
LOCATION Morton County Fairgrounds, New Salem DATES 8-11 July 2021
North Dakota State Fair
Held every July, the North Dakota State Fair is the state’s largest annual event. For nine days every summer over 300,000 people head to Minot for traditional carnival fun. As well as fairground rides, street food trucks and agricultural shows, there’s a stellar line-up of live music – five concerts from big-name country artists and two dedicated rock concerts. Other highlights include the NPRA Bull Riding and Ranch Rodeo, which sees cowboys and cowgirls compete in typical ranch tasks, like trailer loading, team mugging and wild cow milking.
LOCATION North Dakota State Fair Center, Minot DATES 23-31 July 2021
Fiber Arts Festival And Exhibition
This free festival has something for all ages. Expert fiber artists will find fellowship, yarn and other supplies to buy. Beginners can experience new techniques and earn prizes for doing so. You will see spinners, weavers, knitters, embroiderers and quilters all doing their craft and eager to share it with you. Which animals will be here this year, sheep, alpaca, bison, bunnies? There is free parking, air conditioning, restrooms and food available. You could stay all day!
LOCATION Red River Valley Fair Association, Fargo DATES 31 July-1 August 2021
Turner County Fair
The Turner County Fair is the oldest event of its kind in South Dakota, running almost every year since 1880. It’s also one of the largest. Every year in August, the tiny town of Parker, which has a population of under 1000 people, explodes with activity as thousands descend on it in for the four-day festival. True to traditional county fair form, there are carnival rides, figure-9 car races, barbecues, live music and pie contests. The rodeo events always draw the biggest
crowds, particularly the “mutton bustin’” – bull riding competitions for children under 7. Famed fair food includes lamb chislic, tri-tip sandwiches, elephant ears, pork loin sandwiches and pork pies.
LOCATION Turner County Fairgrounds, Parker DATES 16-19 August 2021
Yankton Riverboat Days & Summer Arts Festival
This three-day community festival celebrates the Missouri River and the history of Yankton, also known as the ‘River City’. Taking place every year at the end of the summer, the festival features live art performances, fireworks, carnivals and concerts. Visitors can also explore over 150 crafts stalls, 50 food booths and beer gardens. The Riverboat Days features a huge annual parade, with colourful floats, confetti and firecrackers. If you’re feeling particularly active, you can compete in the new six-mile kayak ‘fun run’ race along the river too.
LOCATION Riverside Park, Yankton DATES 20-22 August 2021
Fargo Blues Festival
Now in its 26th year, the Fargo Blues Festival is recognized as one of the best blues festivals in the United States. A rip-roaring celebration of the best of blues, the two-day event features three national headliners and six bands on each day. More than 50 Grammy Award-winning bands have performed here over the years, including Blues royalty Jonny Lang,
Shanno Curfman and Delbert McClinton. Aficionados will be impressed by the lineup but you don’t have to be a fanatic to have a good time. The festival takes place at the Newman Outdoor Baseball Field, with camping fields located two blocks from the stadium.
LOCATION Newman Outdoor Field, Fargo DATES August 2021
Promising two nights of nostalgia, Dak Jam is a music and arts festival dedicated to bringing back the vibes of the 80s, 90s and early 00s. It started life as an evening event but has now expanded to offer two full days of family fun. The lineup features local cover band legends like Hairball, Pop Rocks and Captain Geech, serving up everything from 70s rock anthems to 90s one-hit-wonders. As well as live music, there will be dozens of street-food trucks and opportunities to get creative. Last year featured a ‘time booth’, inviting guests back to yesteryear to create some very instagrammable photos.
LOCATION Minot State Dome, Minot DATES August 2021
Ellendale’s annual Applefest festival unofficially marks the start of autumn in Dickey County. The theme changes yearly, which means there’s always something new to see and experience, from ‘pancake feeds’ to Ribfest cook-offs. Festival fixtures include a parade, quilt show, inflatable games, pie auctions, a craft show – and plenty of apples. For the past few years, the festival has hosted a free air show, with vintage planes, model planes and parachutists, too. The jam-packed day is followed by St. Helena’s annual fall turkey dinner the following day.
LOCATION Buckstop Junction, Bismarck DATES 25-26 September 2021
Norsk Høstfest is North America’s largest Scandinavian festival. Part-carnival, part-expo, the annual event aims to showcase the best of Scandi culture and heritage. It was founded in 1978 by former North Dakota senator and mayor of Mino, Chester Reiten and a group of friends to celebrate their Nordic heritage. Featuring music, authentic cuisine, Norsk crafts and Norwegian folk dance, there’s plenty to get stuck into. There’s even a fine dining pop-up, En to Tre, run by leading Scandinavian chefs. Don’t miss the Viking Village and the Troll Parade.
LOCATION North Dakota State Fair Center, Minot DATES 30 September-2 October 2021
Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival
Spend a weekend stargazing at a three-day festival dedicated to North Dakota’s starry nights. Now in its ninth year, the event takes place in the heart of Theodore Roosevelt National Park which is renowned for excellent stars – and other astronomical phenomena – visibility. In the ‘Discovery Dome’, visitors can enjoy planetarium films, solar viewings and
keynotes from impressive supernova researchers and Aurora Borealis experts. There’s an impressive family-friendly programme of activities running throughout the daytime, including an opportunity for children to build and launch their own rocket. Then, at night, visitors head to the Cottonwood Campground for an expert-led star tour under the North Dakota sky.
LOCATION Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora DATES September 2021