Where to Celebrate the First Day of Summer in All 50 States
The summer solstice, which occurs the third week in June, marks the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere. It's also the longest day of the year. Take advantage of the extra daylight by heading outdoors to enjoy one of the many events happening around this date, such as music festivals, family-friendly street parties, and activities at scenic parks. Here are free and cheap fun ways to enjoy the solstice in each state.
Anchorage enjoys a whopping 22 hours of daylight on its summer solstice. The city takes advantage of the extra sun with a number of celebrations. In particular, downtown Anchorage becomes the scene for a family-friendly festival in the streets, the Solstice Festival & Hero Games on June 18.
Related: Great Summer Festivals in All 50 States (and D.C.)
Visit the outdoor sculpture courtyard at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to observe the solstice sky through artist James Turrell’s sculpture "Knight Rise." Visitors can look through an elliptical opening in the ceiling that creates an illusion of the sky descending upon them. The installation is free to view during museum hours and most dramatic at sunrise and sunset.
Visit the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, the site of Arkansas's tallest American Indian mounds, which are the remains of a government and ceremonial site that was inhabited from 650 to 1050 A.D. Entrance to the park is free, but on June 18, visitors can join an evening solstice celebration that includes a presentation on how the mounds align with the solstice sunset. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for kids.
Travel to Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood for a group night sky observation, where visitors can view the Full Strawberry Moon through telescopes. This is also a chance to meet and learn about various birds of prey. Admission to the June 20 event is $2, and the park entrance fee is waived.
Observe the solstice by taking in the night sky at Stamford Museum & Nature Center. Every Friday throughout the summer, visitors can view the stars through a research telescope at the observatory; the fee is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
The weekend after the solstice brings an intense all-day mountain bike race that active types are sure to enjoy. The Summer Solstice Races on June 25 follow the trails of Allatoona Creek in Acworth (northwest of Atlanta) "where open fields give way to forest as the trail converges on Lake Allatoona, providing a picturesque backdrop."
Celebrate the summer solstice a few days early on June 18 at the Midsummer’s Festival in Lindsborg, known regionally as Little Sweden. The festival features music, food, dance, and games, including a kubb, a traditional Nordic game best described as a combination of bowling, bocce, and horseshoes.
City Park in New Orleans is the scene of many activities for all ages, as well as a place to observe beautiful greenery -- it’s the location of the world's largest grove of mature live oaks. Visitors to the park on the day of the summer solstice are likely to come across any number of gatherings -- in previous years; the park has been the site of celebrations honoring the day.
Enjoy a long summer day at Assateague State Park, Maryland's only oceanfront park. The island park offers swimming, sunning, fishing, and -- most uniquely -- wild horses, making it one of a few places in the U.S. where visitors can view feral horses, which have roamed Assateague Island for centuries.
Harvard University opens its doors to the public June 20 for its annual Night at the Harvard Museums of Science Culture Summer Solstice Celebration. Admission and parking are free and the wide variety of activities includes circus performers, dances, crafts, music -- and even beekeeping -- aimed at the kid in everyone.
In Minnesota, dog lovers can get in on the summer solstice celebrations, when two local kennel clubs host the Summer Solstice Cluster of Dog Shows, June 23-26. Come watch the dogs compete or to put your own pooch in the limelight. On June 24, join an evening fundraiser to help "sniff out the cure." A $10 donation includes a barbecue-style meal and music from the Workin' Dogs band. All proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.
Experience the solstice sunrise or sunset at Cypress Swamp, where an enchanting wooden walking path winds through a swamp populated with water tupelo and bald cypress trees. The short 0.4-mile walk can easily be completed in 20 minutes, but more leisurely strollers are more likely to spot native wildlife, including turtles and alligators.
Visit Missouri’s own Stonehenge for the solstice. This partial reconstruction of the ancient structure outside of London was built at Missouri ST University in 1984 and is a place for students and visitors alike to observe and mark the seasons. These modern recreations are the largest monuments ever cut using a water jet.
Take advantage of summer’s longest day by driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacial National Park in Montana. The scenic 50-mile drive is a historic landmark that takes drivers through the main parts of the park. It features gorgeous mountain views (including snow-capped peaks), wildlife sightings, and hiking trails.
The Omaha River City Music Festival is held just before the summer solstice (June 18) and features funky tunes from musicians including George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Open space is available for families to play games, as are areas for playing sand volleyball, horseshoes, and badminton. Food and merchandise vendors will also be onsite.
Escape from the casinos to take in beautiful natural scenery at the Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles north of Las Vegas. The area features breathtaking views of red sandstone rock formations that appear to glow. Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire is Nevada's oldest state park and includes almost 36,000 acres -- nearly 43 times the size of New York's Central Park.
The Granite State's version of Stonehenge is possibly the oldest man-made "construction" in the United States, built an estimated 4,000 years ago, and is believed to be an accurate astronomical calendar. Today, America's Stonehenge, as it's called, is the site for an annual solstice celebration that encourages participation in ancient rituals that honor the sun. The program begins at 2 p.m. on June 19. The fee is $12 for access to the site, with an additional suggested donation of $8 to support the solstice event.
Take in the solstice sunlight at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Island Beach, Barnegat Bay, and Long Beach Island from the top of the 150-year-old lighthouse for a $3 entrance fee. Other activities at the park include hiking, picnicking, fishing, and bird watching.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Nageezi has the distinction of being named one of four "Dark Sky Parks," meaning one of the best places in the country to stargaze. Honor the solstice by joining one of the park’s sunrise programs on June 21 or 22, featuring native art demonstrations and concerts that combine music with astronomy.
Join local artisans, performers, and business owners for the annual summer solstice celebration in Greensboro on June 18. The festival, which started in 2005, features three stages with six hours of planned music, a parasol parade, and a bazaar. Stick around after sundown for a "fire finale" at 9 p.m., showcasing fire-spinners and other performers. A recommended donation of $2 is requested.
Head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park to view painted canyons or journey through the Badlands. Several guided tours and campfire events are also offered during summer, including a special Picnic in the Park event on June 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring horse-themed activities for kids, including paint the horse and stick horse races. Entrance fees are $20 per vehicle.
Take a summer solstice guided walk at Oklahoma’s only prehistoric Native American archaeological site, Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, on June 19 and 20. The two-hour tour includes discussion of 12 mounds built by Native Americans hundreds of years ago that "line up to solstice and equinox sunsets." The $3 event begins at 7 p.m., allowing guests to observe sunset.
Guided evening walks are a popular summer solstice activity, and Tryon Creek State Natural Area in Portland offers a free stroll on June 21. A guide will discuss topics such as summer solstice celebrations from different cultures around the world.
The annual RC-Moon Pie Festival & 10 Mile Run arrives in the tiny town of Bell Buckle every third weekend in June. Now in its 22nd year, the event takes place June 18 and offers plenty of all-day fun with music, games, clog dancing, and, of course, food. Featured fare includes Tennessee smoked barbecue, hand-squeezed lemonade, RC Cola, and deep fried moon pies -- and don't miss the cutting of the world’s largest moon pie.
Spend part of the day hiking the 4-mile stretch of the historic Appalachian Trail that runs through the eastern edge of West Virginia. Much of the trail traverses Harpers Ferry, site of John Brown's Raid and several Civil War battles. And the views, especially across the Shenandoah River, are a memorable way to spend the first day of summer.
Crimson Dawn Park & Museum in Mills, Wyoming, is the scene for a summer solstice celebration that’s been running since 1929. Every year on June 21, the park hosts a Midsummer’s Eve event. Visitors gather to enjoy an evening of storytelling and strolling through a network of shrines, and then snack on cookies and hot chocolate at a bonfire. Admission is free, although donations are appreciated.