The Fourth of July is a holiday that we all enjoy with family and friends. It arrives during the thick of summer, which is ideal for outdoor activities in the Midwest. There are many towns that offer celebrations, but these towns stand out. The Midwest offers charming communities, lake towns, and Main Streets that you simply cannot find anywhere else. The one thing that I know for sure is that the people in each of these communities will welcome you to their celebrations with open arms.
Clear Lake, Iowa
Clear Lake is located in northern Iowa at mile marker 194 along I-35. This charming lake town is lively all year long, and it really knows how to throw a party when the 4th of July comes along. Highlights include a midway, amusement rides, bingo, live music in the bandshell, a parade, and the largest fireworks display on any lake in Iowa. An outdoor vendor market is also set up near the lake over the holiday. Evans United Shows Carnival has been running a clean, family-friendly carnival for this event for more than 45 years, and the people who attend this celebration have grown to trust everything about it.
If you are visiting and do not have access to a boat, I would suggest booking a ticket on The Lady of the Lake. This will give you the best view of the fireworks that light up the skies across North Iowa on the 4th of July. For extra fun with extended family, book a stay in a yurt at McIntosh Woods State Park.
A tip for the holiday: Mason City is a few miles from Clear Lake and offers a free fireworks show to the public on July 3rd.
Sutherland is located 25 miles west of North Platte along I-80 in Nebraska. A highlight of Sutherland’s 4th of July celebration is the Sutherland 4th of July Rodeo. This rodeo has been taking place for nearly 80 years and continues to thrive. A 5k run, a parade, frog and toad races, a pancake feed, kids’ games, a community barbecue, and a pie and ice cream social are all part of this town’s celebration. Sutherland is one of the few places in the Midwest where you can experience a rodeo along with the 4th of July festivities.
Goodland is home to a 4th of July celebration that you will never forget. This Western Kansas town really knows how to throw a party. They host the Freedom Festival, which includes carnival rides and fireworks on the Sherman County Fairgrounds. This wholesome family celebration screams Americana, and you will find yourself quickly immersed in the community. Goodland may be a town of 4,400, but they sure live grand when it comes to celebrating America. I would highly recommend staying at the Prairie Lodge outside of Goodland. You will have amazing views with buffalo roaming nearby.
Hays is known as the little town that plays big. Located in Western Kansas, Hays’ Wild West Festival has a huge fireworks display, concerts, a carnival, craft booths, a fishing tournament, baseball games, a parade, and more. This family-friendly 4th of July Celebration offers a stage featuring national recording artists. Pack your lawn chair and you are in for a fun time in Hays. Be prepared to indulge in deep fried foods of all types, including funnel cake. Your visit to Hays will be memorable, and you may even want to attend this celebration year after year. Folks have continued to attend for more than 20 years and keep coming back.
McHenry County, Illinois
The Lakeside Festival in McHenry County offers a 4th of July celebration for the whole family. There’s a music lineup featuring 15 bands on two outdoor stages, mouth watering summer foods, carnival rides, face painting, a magician, a parade, and a huge fireworks display. Visitors can even bring their own picnic lunch and hang out on the beach. The best part of all of this: There is even a free water ski show. This is one of the few places that I know of in the Midwest that offers a water ski show. Historians will appreciate that this festival is held on the grounds of the historic Dole Mansion. The festival runs for four days and is sure to be the highlight of your summer and one of your best 4th of Julys.
Alton is home to the traditional July 3 Fireworks on the Mississippi. Alton is a charming river town that welcomes thousands to its spectacular fireworks event. The Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater is where visitors can gather for the magnificent views. Admission is free in the lawn area, with live entertainment from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Make time to explore the world-famous Great Rivers Scenic Byway while you are in the area. You will love the views along this scenic byway. Pack a picnic lunch and claim your spot to enjoy the festivities.
Pro Tip: Plan to spend July 3rd in Alton and attend another stunning celebration on the 4th.
Put-In-Bay is home to an Independence Day celebration that you won’t forget. The community comes together to throw one of the best 4th of July festivities along Lake Erie. A naturalization ceremony for new American citizens takes place early in the day. A concert is offered before the fireworks begin to fly near Put-In-Bay Harbor. It’s important to remember that you will need to ride the ferry to this island, so plan accordingly. Miller Ferries offers service for cars and pedestrian traffic. My suggestion would be to spend the day on the island as a pedestrian and rent a golf cart.
Medora, North Dakota
Medora is a charming mountain town that is home to a little more than 100 people. The 4th of July brings magic to this town that sits at the base of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The world-famous Medora Musical showcases American patriotism on a new level on Independence Day. Families line the main drag in town for a holiday parade, and the skies light up with fireworks at dusk. This historical town brings new meaning to Americana. If you are lucky, you will meet up with Theodore Roosevelt as he strolls the streets of Medora. Be sure to purchase your tickets early on in the year for the night’s musical and steak fondue; this way you will be guaranteed a seat for the iconic event.
Kenosha is located on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. Participants in the festivities will enjoy family fun, food, live music, and more. A family favorite is the Festival Foods Fireworks, which takes place at 9:30 p.m. on July 4th. There is no cost to attend as you gather with friends and family to celebrate America. A fun thing to do while in town is to hop on the electric streetcar and explore the area. The Civil War Museum is something that every visitor in Kenosha should experience. It is unique in the fact that it highlights the lives of people from the Upper Midwest who served in the Civil War. The personal stories that are told here are unique and very memorable.
Abilene was the home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and it’s also home to one of the finest 4th of July celebrations in the country. This small Kansas town comes to life on Independence Day and hosts some spectacular festivities. A pedal power tractor pull, mud and sand volleyball tournaments, and a stellar fireworks show make this an award-winning event. While you are in town, be sure to visit the newly renovated Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum.
This stellar town will reinforce the fact that the American spirit is alive and well. The first cattle drive from Texas to Abilene took place in 1867, and Abilene has never looked back. The Old West and Americana come together over the 4th of July in Abilene, and it’s an adventure you will not forget.
St. Charles, Missouri
St. Charles is home to the two-day Riverfest. Live music, a carnival, food and craft vendors, and fireworks over the river are highlights. This event is typically held on July 3rd and 4th. A spectacular fireworks show over the river is the grand finale on Independence Day. This historical river town is home to numerous significant sites and outdoor recreational opportunities. Be sure to swing into Grandma’s Cookies for a treat you will be talking about all weekend.