Iowa is a state where the locals embrace their festivals. I am a native Iowan, and I have lived in Iowa all of my life. Throughout my travels, people are often surprised that we have so many celebrations throughout the state. Many folks in Iowa are proud of their heritage and of the accomplishments of others who have grown up in Iowa. I hope you will find the time to attend one of these festivals as there is something for everyone who does!
1. North Iowa Band Festival
Mason City, Iowa
Meredith Willson is honored annually at the North Iowa Band Festival in Mason City. The community comes together to celebrate his love of music and his life. A free carnival, free musical entertainment, a craft market, and many more activities are held throughout the weekend. This festival is proud to offer the largest free marching band competition in the Midwest. Bands come from all across the Midwest to march in the parade, which is kicked off with “76 Trombones.”
This year marks the 82nd annual North Iowa Band Festival. The festival is typically held Memorial Day weekend, which means the weather can be variable. Dress in layers and, for prime parade viewing, position yourself on State Street near East Park.
2. Nordic Fest
Nordic Fest is an annual celebration of Scandinavian heritage, culture, and food. Three days of festivities take place each year, with more than 10,000 visitors participating in Decorah. According to festival organizers, since 1967, more than 1.5 million visitors from all over the world have attended this fun festival. The Midwest is home to many families of Scandinavian descent, which makes Decorah the ideal location to celebrate. The colorful parade is popular with all attendees, as is all of the lefse (traditional Norwegian flatbread) one could want to indulge in. Lodging fills quickly, so make your reservations as early as possible.
3. Sweet Corn Days
Estherville is home to Sweet Corn Days, which highlights all the sweet corn you could ever want to eat, plus a lot of family friendly fun. This northwestern Iowa town offers yoga in the park, corn dog races, and a “corny” kids’ fishing competition. The crowning of Little Miss and Mr. Sweet Corn is always a fun part of the festival. At the end of the parade, more than 6,000 ears of sweet corn are given out. Three days of summer fun are sure to bring smiles to the faces of everyone who attends. If you enjoy water fun and floating down a river sounds like your idea of a good time, be sure to bring your own innertube or float to participate in the Des Moines River Float, which is popular (but weather dependent).
4. Iowa City Jazz Festival
Iowa City, Iowa
This festival is home to a three-day weekend of live jazz performances and tasty food. The festival includes jazz music for attendees of all ages and even includes a fireworks display over the University of Iowa Pentacrest. Iowa City is located in eastern Iowa along I-80, which makes it easy to visit. As with any festival like this, local hotel rooms fill fast. Book your lodging as soon as you decide to attend this year’s free jazz festival.
5. Clear Lake Harvest Festival
Clear Lake, Iowa
Who doesn’t love wine, art, and jazz? That’s what visitors will find during the Harvest Festival in Clear Lake in northern Iowa. The festival’s salsa-making contest and a grape-stomping competition bring in attendees year after year. Craft enthusiasts will appreciate the exhibits, which are accompanied by several delightful food vendors. This lake town is unique in the fact that they have festivals during all four seasons of the year. The locals will tell you to come hungry. Plan to eat lunch at Starboard Market.
6. Tivoli Fest
Elk Horn, Iowa
Memorial Day weekend brings Tivoli Fest to Elk Horn. This small community comes to life during this annual Danish celebration. Highlights of the festival include the parade, tours of the Danish Windmill, Annual World Aebleskiver Eating Championship, folk dancing, and Danish food to be enjoyed by all. With more than 40 years of celebrating, this community knows how to throw a party. As the locals say, “Come and be a Dane for the day in Elk Horn.”
Plan to visit Danish Countryside Vines and Wines while in town; it’s a beautiful vineyard with great wine.
7. National Balloon Classic
The National Balloon Classic is held for nine days every summer in south central Iowa. More than 100 hot air balloons brighten up the town of Indianola. Dawn Patrols and Night Glows are sure to provide memorable experiences for all. This type of festival is unique in that the gates open at 5 a.m. for the morning balloon launch and they reopen again at 4 p.m. for the evening balloon glows. The best tip I can give for anyone attending is to arrive early, as the parking areas fill quickly.
8. Autumn Artistry
Osage comes to life each fall when Autumn Artistry comes to town. Area artisans showcase their products and food vendors line the streets of this charming town in north central Iowa. This family-friendly event is a wonderful time for folks to enjoy Osage, the City of Maples. Local shop owners offer specials and a taste of the season throughout the weekend, as well. This town is home to Fox River Mills, which claims to make the best, longest-lasting socks in America. In fact, their socks are so popular that they have their own annual festival — Socktoberfest — later in the fall.
These are some of the wonderful festivals that you can experience in Iowa. Make time to participate in one, and I’m sure you will be hooked.
Looking to make some special Iowa-only memories? Consider visiting the Field of Dreams in Iowa: six things to know.