On average, Americans are willing to travel up to 903 miles to attend a festival, according to Billboard. But why dole out the cash for a cross-country road trip or flight when there are tons of funky festivals right here in Wisconsin?
These aren’t your ordinary (read: boring) festivals, either. This list of 20 offbeat festivals in the Badger State contains unusual themes, eccentric costumes, free spirits and good old family-friendly fun. Choose a few of your favorites and mark your calendars now!
Cheese Curd Festival
When: June 23-24
It won’t come as a surprise that there are tons of annual cheese festivals throughout the state — it is “America’s Dairyland,” after all! However, this one is all about cheese curds (6,000 pounds of them, for that matter).
To sample the 20+ cheese curd food dishes and 30+ craft beers offered at this Ellsworth festival, head on over to the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin at the end of June. The event also includes a classic car show, vendor marketplace and live music. To learn more, click here.
When: June 24-25
Cost: Adults: $22, Children: $3-$10
Art enthusiasts young and old will want to take part in Wausau’s annual ChalkFest, which transforms the town’s sidewalks into vibrant pieces of art. Although you have to be 12 or older to participate in the main contest, there are additional options for kiddos.
Whether you’re in it to win it or simply want to have a good time making art with friends and family, ChalkFest is the place to be. Don’t forget to register — and make sure you bring a hat and sunscreen! To learn more, click here.
Bristol Renaissance Faire
When: Saturdays and Sundays from July 8-September 4 (plus Labor Day)
Cost: $15-$40 (kids 4 and under are free)
There are plenty of opportunities to take part in this fantastical festival, as it runs all summer long. However, if you’re interested in attending one of the themed weekends (Steampunk, Pirate, Marketplace, or RennCon), you’ll need to plan ahead.
This year’s entertainment takes place in 16 different performance areas and ranges from acrobatic comedy to full-contact jousts. There’s also a fan-favorite pub crawl that requires an extra ticket (Fair warning: pub crawl tickets sell out at lightning speed!). To learn more, click here.
Edgerton Clay Day
When: July 15
Are you itching to get your hands dirty this summer? At Edgerton Clay Day, the whole family can sink their hands (and feet) into clay and create beautiful masterpieces. Tons of local artists will also be there to sell their wares and offer demonstrations. Plus, all the history buffs in attendance will have the chance to learn about the role clay played in the city’s early days.
Of course, food and music will also abound, because what would a festival be without them? To learn more, click here.
The Great Folle Avoine Fur Trade Rendezvous
When: July 20-23
Cost: $6-$10 (free for children 4 and under and Burnett County Historical Society members)
This festival may have a long name, but it has an even longer history. Back when traders filled their canoes with furs and made the journey to Grand Portage, they would stay for a fun-filled Rendezvous celebration that could last a couple weeks before heading home. At Fort Folle Avoine Historical Park, the 200-year-old tradition continues to this day.
In addition to reenactments, attendees can learn period skills like archery, black powder shooting and tomahawk throwing while nibbling on the same types of food that fur traders would have enjoyed. It’s like going back in time! Just know that you need to go back home after four days, not two weeks. To learn more, click here.
La Crosse Storytelling Festival
Where: La Crosse
When: July 21-22
Cost: $15 (but kids are free)
This summer, pause your movie nights and Netflix binges to get back to the original form of entertainment: storytelling! At Wisconsin’s first storytelling festival, people of all ages can listen to stories by nationally recognized storytellers such as Beth Horner and Stuart Stotts, watch puppet theatre, sing together and more.
At the end of the event, participants can take part in the Luna Story Slam for their chance to win the cash prize! To learn more, click here.
When: July 21-23
If you call the woods home and have a wardrobe full of camouflage, DeerFest might be right up your alley. This event features the nation’s top brands in deer hunting, seminars from experts, a live auction, and prizes that include gift cards, free drinks, and a Trophy Hunt in either Illinois, Kansas or Wisconsin.
Free Bow Friday means bringing your own bow gets you in the doors free (we would have called it BYOBow but what can you do?). Once you’re in, you can take the archery challenge and show off your skills. To learn more, click here.
When: July 24
After your kids attend Airport Day at the New Holstein Municipal Airport, they’ll all want to become pilots when they grow up — we’re sure of it. This family-friendly event starts with the Fly-In Pancake Breakfast and is followed by the Super Cub short takeoff and landing competition, live entertainment, a full food court, and best of all, free airplane rides for kids between the ages of 8 and 17!
It will be the most fun they have all summer. To learn more, click here.
When: July 28-30
Cost: Free admission (some attractions will cost you!)
A festival about aliens may sound spooky, but Elmwood’s annual UFO Days is full of lighthearted fun for the whole crew. Whether they participate in the UFO medallion scavenger hunt, volunteer to get soaked in the dunk tank, or take part in “Chicken Poop Bingo,” the whole town shows up for this event (most of whom don alien costumes, of course!).
Considering Elwood is a UFO hotspot, the festival also includes sighting tours and talks. Now that’s a bit more spooky! To learn more, click here.
DAS Fest USA
When: August 4-6
Why spend thousands of dollars making your way to Germany for Oktoberfest when DAS Fest is right in your backyard? Located between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, this festival is the perfect place to meet up with family and friends for the weekend. It’s right by the stunning Lake Geneva at the Walworth County Fairgrounds.
With 17 bands across three stages, you’d think this is just a music festival, but the event also features German beer and wine, wiener dog and Corgi races, Knockerball, stein hoisting competitions, a carnival and so much more. Raise your stein and toast to an epic weekend! To learn more, click here.
Racine Cardboard Boat Race
When: August 5
Cost: $40-$100 to compete
At the 11th annual Racine Cardboard Boat Race, participants are tasked with building the boat of their dreams with just two measly materials: cardboard and duct tape. Then they have to actually get inside of the thing and race against other teams in the water. Are you up for the challenge?
If so, you can head to the Harbor Lite Yacht Club on Aug. 5 for this offbeat event, which also includes live entertainment and food and beverages. If you’d like to compete, make sure to sign up ahead of time and bring tools, life jackets and paddles. To learn more, click here.
National Mustard Day
When: August 5
Apparently, National Mustard Day is a thing, and Middleton sure loves to celebrate it. Each year, the National Mustard Museum marks the occasion with mustard sampling, hot dogs, live music, interactive family shows, carnival games, and a little something called “Razzle Dazzle Mustard Ice Cream,” which sounds … questionable.
The festival started off in three parking stalls in Mount Horeb in 1991, and now they shut down all of Downtown Middleton for the event, which draws thousands. If mustard is your favorite condiment, this is where you’ll want to be on Aug. 5! To learn more, click here.
Sprecher Root Beer Bash
When: August 5
There’s a plethora of beer festivals in Wisconsin each year, but there’s only one Root Beer Bash — and it takes place at Sprecher, the largest producer of craft root beer in the world.
You can start the day by attempting to beat the world record for most root beer floats served — to a crowd, not to one person, don’t worry — and end it by dancing while a DJ spins. In between, there will be many fun activities for the whole family, including a petting zoo, community art project, face-painting and food trucks. To learn more, click here.
The Bloody Mary Festival
When: August 12
Bloody marys: You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. If you’re in the “loving” camp, you should add Miwaukee’s Bloody Mary Festival to your calendar, mainly because a ticket gets you unlimited bloodies. We repeat: UNLIMITED BLOODY MARYS.
Plus, you’ll get food samples and one vote for the People’s Choice Award (use it wisely!). To learn more, click here.
Village Fair and Buffalo Bill Wild West Show
When: August 12-13
Cost: $10-$14 (children under 4 are free)
Pinecrest Historical Village’s annual fair has a special twist this year: the traveling Buffalo Bill Wild West Show is coming to town!
Attendees will be transported back in time to learn gold-panning, rope-twirling, cordage-making, and sewing using a hand-turned machine. You can also explore the outdoor general store and Annie Oakley Shooting Gallery, where you can check out Buffalo Bill memorabilia.
To learn more, click here.
Soar on the Shore
When: August 19
What better way to celebrate the end of summer than flying kites on the beach? The 9th annual Algoma Kite Festival — aka “Soar on the Shore” — brings professionals to Crescent Beach to show off all their tricks.
You’re also welcome to bring your own kite and join in on the fun! There will be crafts and concessions, so you won’t want to miss out. To learn more, click here.
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw
Where: Prairie du Sac
When: September 1-2
Cost: Free (some attractions will cost you)
This festival certainly wins the award for best slogan, touting that “the best chips come from Wisconsin’s dairy-are.” It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of this hilarious event. Let’s be clear upfront here: We are talking cow poop.
Although the cow chip throw (which includes the Corporate Throw, Children’s Chip Chucking, and Adult & Team Cow Chip Throw) is the main event, there are tons of other fun activities to enjoy, from a professional juggler/yo-yoer and tight rope walker to a 5K and volleyball tournament. There will also be live music and food (but please don’t go straight from cow chip throwing to chip snacking without washing those nasty hands!). To learn more, click here.
When: September 2-4
ShrekFest has been called many things, including “triumphant,” “magical” and “bizarre.” If you choose to attend this year’s event at Milwaukee’s Humbolt Park, you’ll quickly see why all of these adjectives are accurate.
Each year, Milwaukee-based art and entertainment collective 3GI Industries puts on a festival full of music, games, and everyone’s favorite green DreamWorks character: Shrek. Grab some green face paint, practice your Scottish accent, and head on over for the countercultural fun. To learn more, click here.
When: September 9
Reader’s Digest named Sputnikfest one of the Top Five Funkiest Festivals in the country, and it’s no mystery why. The event celebrates the 20-pound chunk of Russia’s Sputnik IV that landed in the middle of a Manitowoc street on Sept. 5,1962.
The annual festival includes other-worldly events like a sci-fi trivia contest, space debris costume contest, alien pet contest, 5K art run and so much more. To learn more, click here.
Where: Appleton and Madison
When: November 10 and 11
Cost: TBD; tickets will be made available soon
Flannel Fest is an Americana music festival with a twist. For one thing, all musical guests and attendees don the coziest fall fabric of all: flannel. But the charitable event also raises money ($96,000 and counting, to be exact!) for the Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund, which works to keep heat and power on for families who are in crisis.
So if you love flannel shirts, Americana music and contributing to a good cause, mark your calendar for either Nov. 10 (Appleton) or 11 (Madison). To learn more, click here.