6 quirky summer festivals to check out in Wisconsin

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Nearly every Wisconsin town, village, and city boasts a festival, but some of them rise to the top in terms of their quirkiness. They are all rooted in some sort of local tradition and therefore provide insight into a micro slice of culture.

Whether it’s cheese curds, dried cow dung, or UFOs, each of these has a reason for being. And yes, all of these fests serve food—lots—so definitely bring an appetite.

Cheese Curd Festival

Where: Ellsworth

When: June 21-22, 2024

The numbers are staggering: It’s estimated that 6,000 pounds of cheese curds are consumed at this two-day festival each year. There’s a reason it’s hosted in Ellsworth, where cheese-curd maker Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is based. In 1984, then-Gov. Anthony S. Earl declared this town the cheese capital of Wisconsin. Taste 20 dishes featuring cheese curds and pair with 30-plus craft beers. There’s also live music and a classic car show.

UFO Days

Where: Elmwood

When: July 26-28, 2024

This festival is so intriguing that The New York Times wrote about it last year. And the location is no happy accident. During the 1970s, several UFO sightings were reported here. Included in the family-friendly fun are UFO sightseeing bus tours and guest speakers who talk about all things alien.

Mile of Music

Where: Appleton

When: Aug. 1-4, 2024

Imagine 200 bands and musical artists over four days—and a veritable outdoor stage that stretches a mile and comprises 40 venues. The best part is that this festival is completely free to attend and you won’t hear any cover songs as the artists all have to play original tunes.

Racine Cardboard Boat Race

Where: Racine

When: Aug. 3, 2024

If you’ve ever been curious about how primitive a device you need to float down a river, attending this festival will clear all of that up. This one-day race launched in 2013 and continues to grow, with a regatta in the afternoon near the Harbor Lite Yacht Club where participants can show off what they’ve built out of cardboard. Since the building begins that morning, this is all about ingenuity.

Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw

Where: Prairie du Sac

When: Aug. 30-31, 2024

At this festival’s main event—the cow chip throw—each contestant is given two chips (did we mention this is dried cow dung?) that are at least six inches in diameter. The winners and winning teams are those who throw their chips the farthest. The record so far is 248 feet, a feat logged in 1991. Other events are an arts and crafts fair, the Tournament of Chips Parade, kids activities, a food court, and live music. 

Sputnikfest

Where: Manitowoc

When: Sept. 7, 2024

In honor of a piece of a 20-pound Russian Sputnik IV that crashed into the middle of a local street in September of 1952, the space-age fascination lives on. Activities include a photo op with “Sputnik police,” a 5K run/walk, a Cosmic Kids parade/contest, a Captain Space Debris parade/contest (for adults), and robotics demos.


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Author

  • Kristine Hansen

    Based in Milwaukee, Kristine Hansen has written about wonders around Wisconsin for TravelandLeisure.com, Fodors.com, NationalGeographic.com and Milwaukee Magazine. She’s also the author of books about Wisconsin’s cheese, agritourism and Frank Lloyd Wright sites.

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