19 Must-Go Summer Festivals

by Heather Larson | Photo © T. Charles Erickson

In the Northwest, celebrations dominate. A vast number take place during the warmer months so festival goers can get some much-needed vitamin D. Some are free, others charge admission. Whether a place observes the bounty of a crop produced there, gathers to listen to music or cheer at a rodeo, all have one common denominator. Each town infuses a giant dose of passion and local color into their events.

At Northwest Travel & Life we gathered some of our favorites for you to try. These events are worth a trip just to take in the festivities.


Alaska Crafted Festival, May 21
This brand spankin’ new tribute to brews and spirits throughout Alaska takes place in Anchorage. Visitors can taste samples and interact with beverage makers from all five regions of the state.

Sitka Summer Music Festival, May 31—June 26
Choose from four full weeks of musically inspired events with the Alaskan wilderness as a backdrop. Musical educators dish on composers and their works, free concerts pop up in homes and restaurants, and the weekends promise 3-hour dinner cruises and crab feeds, all while listening to enchanting melodies.

BearFest, July 27—31
Instead of fleeing from bears, the city of Wrangell honors them with a 5-day celebration every July. This year’s events include tours of the Anan area, one of the few places in the world where both black and brown bear feed together; a golf tournament, photo exhibit, berry pie contest, 1/2 marathon and 5K, music and kids’ activities like reading with a ranger and Smokey Bear.

British Columbia

Taste, Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine, July 14—17,
Dubbed the event with a “culinary conscience,” a selective group of Vancouver Island gourmet chefs and wineries that only use British Columbia grapes can participate. Taste and sip where the mantra is local, seasonal and sustainable. You’ll encounter once-a-year opportunities only offered at this fest.

Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 15—17
More than 60 acts from a bounty of different countries
will perform on the shores of Jericho Park. This year’s roster features singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn,
Yemen Blues, English folk-punk group Oysterband, Estonia’s Trad.Attack! and the Mexican Institute of
Sound. Discount passes are on sale until June 4.

Nanaimo Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race, July 21—24
Commodore Bill McGuire says this marks the 50th year of world champion bathtub races. No slogging along the inner harbor though, engines propel these tub-boats. This event launches with a procession of “tubs” in a Sail Past Parade and continues with a carnival for the kiddies, food trucks for everyone and a military display to honor the troops.


Idaho International Summerfest, July 6—16
This festival in Rexberg, Idaho, celebrates music and dance from around the world when 300 visiting performers from 12 countries converge on the town to the delight of festival attendees. It’s consistently ranked as one of the five best festivals in the U.S.

Emmett Cherry Festival, June 15—18
Concerts, a carnival, the great cherry pie bake off, parades, softball tourney and a car show all honor the abundance of the ruby red fruit in the Gem County.

Festival at Sandpoint, August 4—14
Make your musical pilgrimage to hear a range of classical symphonic, jazz, blues, folk, world, family and popular music, at affordable prices, on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Buy food and beverage on Festival Street or pack your own gourmet picnic and settle under the stars for performances as intimate as if they were in your backyard.


Red Lodge Rodeo of Champions, July 2—4
The folks of Red Lodge invite you to share in the thrills of steer wrestling, team roping, bronco riding, calf roping and bull riding at the 87th Rodeo of Champions. And there’s not just one parade highlighting everything western and the rodeo royalty, but a parade every day of the rodeo.

Montana Folk Festival, July 8—10
Festival producers would like this musical gala to mark the beginning of your summer adventure in Montana. Located in Butte, the festival stages are located in the heart of a large National Historic Landmark District. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

International Choral Festival, July 13—16
Choirs singing at the 10th International Choral Festival at venues throughout Missoula will be traveling from their native Hong Kong, Canada, Costa Rica, Estonia, Cuba, The Philippines, Kenya and several other countries. Washington, Iowa and Montana will also have choirs performing. This event only occurs once every three years, so put aside time to enjoy it.


Oregon Shakespeare Festival, June 7—October 15
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a not-for-profit professional theatre founded in 1935.  It offers 11 different plays that include three or four by Shakespeare and seven by other classic writers, as well as modern and contemporary work and world premieres. The Spring/Summer season includes Hamlet, The Wiz and Winters Tale.

Pickathon, August 5—7
A zero-waste, three-day musical extravaganza takes place at the Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley. This year’s lineup includes Jeff Tweedy, Wolf Parade, The Deslondes, Beach House, the Foghorn String Band and more than 40 other entertainers. Festival-style camping is available or stay in nearby Clackamas.

Pendleton Round-Up, September 14—17
Grab your cowboy hat and boots and treat yourself to steer roping, barrel racing, bull riding, parades and kids’ events at the most popular summer event in Eastern Oregon. Get your tickets online for the Pendleton Roundup, one of the ten biggest rodeos in the world, which has been thrilling attendees since 1910.


Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival, June 18—19
For two days, revel in every onion-related event known to man, even some unknown, including onion sack races, an onion eating contest, onion bowling, Mr. and Mrs. Onion-head decorating, chef demonstrations and more. This tribute to Washington’s official vegetable also comes with live music and a 5K Funion Runion.

Sequim Lavender Weekend, July 15—17
Heavenly shades of purple await you at the many farms available to tour at this event. There you’ll find all kinds of lavender-infused products to buy from ice cream to salad dressing to skin care regimens. Enjoy the musical entertainment and street fair in downtown Sequim either before or after your tours.

Jazz in the Valley, July 29—31
Orchestrated much like a film festival, sounds of blues, jazz and Latin rhythms will emanate from various venues around Ellensburg including the Moose Lodge, Clymer Museum, Rodeo City BBQ and Fitterer’s Furniture. Some of the musicians featured will be the Mark Riley Band, Eugenie Jones Jazz Quarter, Kim Archer Band and the Steve Treseler Quintet.

Washington State International Kite Festival, August 15—21
As if the lure of the beach isn’t enough, the vibrant colors and discernable shapes filling the sky offer visitors another reason to go to Long Beach. Watch or take part in stunt kite contests, kite making, kite ballets, flying classes and lighted night flights. Make lodging reservations soon as everything close by fills up quickly.

Best Concert Series
Summer also brings special events for music lovers. Various venues around the Northwest hold concert series ranging from chamber music to jazz to rock. Here are our picks (check websites for performers and dates):
Olympic Music Festival (chamber music), Port Townsend, WA, olympicmusicfestival.org
Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Pepsi Outdoor Summer Concerts, Spokane, WA, northernquest.com/pepsi-summer-concerts
Maryhill Winery, Summer Concert Series, Goldendale, WA, maryhillwinery.com/amphitheater/concert-schedule
Britt Music & Arts Festival, Jacksonville, OR, brittfest.org
Grand Targhee Resort, Summer Music Festival, Alta, WY,