The quintessential Fourth of July looks something like this: You’re wearing some article of American flag-printed clothing, for the first and only time this year. The kids are running around and the scent of sizzling burgers is in the air. There’s beer and sunshine. It’s uncomfortably hot.
Overall, it’s nice; relaxing. But you know what? You can do better — even if just this once. These seven towns not only claim standout Independence Day celebrations, they also happen to offer some of the country’s best mountain biking, climbing and rafting. What better way is there to celebrate the ol’ U S of A than to appreciate its sublime natural features? And when it comes to fireworks, bigger really is better, so go ahead — put in for some extra vacation time.
Lake Tahoe, CA
One of the coolest things about Lake Tahoe is the ability to stand just about anywhere along its shore and marvel at the world-class ski hills that surround you. During Fourth of July weekend, you can do the same with fireworks displays. Tahoe South’s Lights on the Lake is one of the largest and top-ranked pyrotechnics displays in the country, drawing about 100,000 spectators each year.
According to Conde Nast Traveler, “The reflections cast by fireworks in the crystal-clear water of Lake Tahoe, with the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop, make this one of the most visually arresting shows in the country.”
The fireworks are just one part of the region’s weekend-long extravaganza. There are countless beach parties, parades, pancake breakfasts and other activities. And of course, Tahoe offers an insane plethora of ways to add a little adventure to your Fourth weekend: hiking, biking, boating, SUPing, climbing and fishing — just to name a few.
Historic Deadwood is the height of Americana in the very patriotic Black Hills of South Dakota. The town, which looks a lot like the setting of a Western flick, goes all out for the Fourth. Its weekend-long Gold Camp Jubilee Days celebration includes live music, parties, poker tournaments, a pancake breakfast, multiple parades and fireworks.
Mount Rushmore is just an hour’s drive away and Crazy Horse Memorial has scheduled a “Night Blast” (when the mountain is lit up with “fireballs”) for the occasion.
The Black Hills region is also a climber’s mecca. Deadwood visitors are only an hour from Devils Tower, and less than an hour from The Needles, in Custer State Park, which About.com calls “one of the last bastions of traditional climbing in the United States.” The area is rich with routes — hundreds of them — and climbing history alike.
Jackson Hole, WY
One needn’t look any further than the name of Jackson Hole’s annual Fourth of July parade, Howdy Pardners, to get a feel for the festivities’ vibes. Jackson’s July 4th events are an homage to the Wild West: A pancake breakfast and parade, Grand Teton Music Festival’s Music in the Hole concert, a “Town Square Shootout,” a rodeo and fireworks.
In terms of adventure, the Hole is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, so you’ve got easy access to all of your favorite sky-high pastimes, but Jackson also boasts radical white water rafting on the legendary Snake River. Don’t worry if you’re new to river shenanigans — there are several well-respected companies to guide you on your adventure, whether you opt to tackle the rapids or snap photos of bald eagles and moose on a more leisurely float.
Bend’s Fourth begins with the Spark Your Heart 5km Walk/Run, followed by the city’s largest parade, the Pet Parade, which has been in existence since 1932. The Old Fashioned July 4th Festival at Drake Park includes old-fashioned games, handcrafted goods, a photo booth and performances by local bands. At 10 p.m., fireworks are launched from Pilot Butte, an extinct volcano.
Bend bills itself as a “bicyclist’s paradise,” with almost 300 miles of singletrack, endless road routes and Mt. Bachelor’s lift-serviced downhill park just 30 minutes away. In addition to biking, Bend offers excellent hiking, paddling, fly fishing and more. The city is also renowned for its craft beer scene, and much of the Bend Ale Trail is walkable or bikable.
“Old-fashioned” may be fashionable when it comes to Independence Day celebrations, but the term means different things depending on geographic location. Stowe’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July is classic New England, featuring quaint parades, face painting, a dunking booth, ice cream, the “World’s Shortest Marathon” (a 1.7-mile fun run) and a fireworks spectacular at dusk.
The same elements that make Stowe a top East Coast ski destination in the winter translate to a profusion of great biking and hiking during the summer. Vermont’s Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the country, passes right by Stowe, which sits in the shadow of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak (4,393 feet).
The area’s original trail system, though, consisted of rivers and streams, which means lots of opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. If you’d rather take in the scenery from above, check out the Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival, July 8-10.
Huntington Beach, CA
A Fourth of July spent in an iconic Southern California beach town is like no other. Huntington Beach hosts a stellar community breakfast — and the Surf City 5km run to justify it — followed by a parade, live entertainment and many other festive activities. Nearby Newport Beach is also home to the Old Glory Boat Parade.
Of course, you also have the option of surfing the famous HB Pier or any number of breaks within easy driving range in either direction along the coast, which get ludicrously consistent swell. Whether you go for authentic Mexican food or traditional burgers and dogs, you’ll want to catch the fireworks over the ocean come nightfall.
Brevard’s July 4th celebration is all vintage charm draped in red, white and blue. The annual festival includes a 5/10km Firecracker Run, live music, classic cars, a fine arts and crafts exhibition, a hot dog eating contest and more.
Meanwhile, nearby Morganton hosts more than 20 bands over the course of the weekend at its Red, White and Bluegrass Festival. Both culminate in fireworks on the evening of the Fourth.
While the Blue Ridge Mountains are home to plenty of top-notch hikes, exquisite waterfalls and exceptional trout fishing, mountain biking is king in Brevard. National Geographic named it one of “America’s 10 Best Mountain Bike Towns,” and according to BIKE Magazine, which does gear tests in Brevard, “The trails around Brevard, North Carolina are, if anything, woefully under-hyped.”
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