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.
Where to Celebrate the First Day of Summer in All 50 States
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 23.
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. Museum admission is normally $10, but admission is free on Thursdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturday. The installation is most dramatic at sunrise and sunset.
Visit the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, the site of Arkansas' 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 23, 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.
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 Allatoona Creek Enduro on June 23 follows the trails of Allatoona Creek Park in Acworth (northwest of Atlanta) "where open fields give way to forest as the trail converges on Lake Allatoona, providing a picturesque backdrop."
A long summer day becomes a little bit more magical when experienced at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Arco. Described as an ocean of lava flows, the area is popular with hikers and explorers who enjoy investigating this "weird and scenic" landscape.
Celebrate the summer solstice a few days early on June 16 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.
Harvard University opens its doors to the public June 21 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, and music aimed at the kid in everyone.
Enjoy the solstice with jazz music at the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in East Lansing. On June 22-23, this major music event will feature a host of accomplished musicians, including the Lansing Symphony Big Band with Benny Benack III and salsa group Orquesta Ritmo.
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 Science & Technology University in 1984 and is a place for students and visitors alike to observe and mark the seasons. These modern re-creations 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, and it is open only in the summer.
The ninth annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival will be June 24 in Omaha’s Elmwood Park. Admission is free to the family-friendly and alcohol-free event that will feature folk dancing, games, foods like kottbullar (Swedish meatballs) and lefse bread, and music from folk duo Greenblatt and Seay.
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 21. 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 it's one of the best places in the country to stargaze. Mark the solstice by exploring the park’s collection of archaeological artifacts.
Join local artisans, performers, and business owners for the annual summer solstice celebration in Greensboro on June 23. 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. Admission is $5 for adults.
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 June 21 tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin. Entrance fees are $25 per vehicle.
Take a summer solstice guided walk at Oklahoma’s only prehistoric Native American archaeological site, Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, on June 21. 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 event begins at 7 p.m., allowing guests to observe sunset. The event costs an extra $5 for adults and $3 for kids in addition to the center's regular admission charge of $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for kids.
The Codorus Blast Festival in the Park, running June 15-17, promises tons of fun leading up to the solstice. Find a variety of food, kid-friendly arts and crafts, and even a dock-diving competition for dogs for a $5 donation to benefit Codorus State Park.
The town of Cumberland is the setting for the eighth annual Blackstone River Theatre Summer Solstice Festival on June 16. Mark the long summer day by taking in an array of musical performances for $15.
The annual RC-Moon Pie Festival arrives in the tiny town of Bell Buckle every third weekend in June. Now in its 24th year, the event takes place June 16 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.
Get in touch with nature this year with a trip to Texas' oldest botanic garden A water-conservation garden features xeric plants, and a working vegetable garden includes fruit trees and a greenhouse. During the summer, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra plays under the stars, and on June 22, the music of the Rolling Stones will be featured.
The whole family can enjoy the Virginia Summer Solstice Wine Festival on June 23, with plenty of food, arts and crafts, live music, and more to complement wine tasting for the grown-ups. The event takes place at Lazy Days Winery in Amherst, the ideal spot for a long and lazy solstice day.
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.
Madison hosts a yearly free outdoor music celebration around the time of the summer solstice. This year the event takes place on June 21, and features more than 300 artists at more than 100 venues. The event is now in its third year and is open to musicians of all ages and skill levels.
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.
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