Firecrackers will not suffice at some patriotic places in the United States. For these classic Independence Day destinations, nothing short of exploding anvils, mucking, clogging, and frog races will do. Here is our list of iconic—and unusual—ways to fire up your summer holiday.
Venture to the remote eastern Sierra, east of Kings Canyon National Park, to celebrate the small town of Independence’s favorite day. Watch fireworks glow against the snowcapped mountain backdrop, chow down on homemade pie in the park, and join the floats and fire engines in the community parade.
Save room at the Volunteer Fire Department’s July 4 barbecue for the free root beer floats on tap at the Telluride Historical Museum. Located in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, this historic gold rush town turned world-class ski resort goes all out for Independence Day with F-16 flyovers, fireworks, and a quirky Main Street parade.
The longest and fastest running Fourth of July tradition in this former Old West copper mining camp is a 1.5-mile coaster-car race down Tombstone Canyon Road. Cheer on the young drivers (ages 9–16), then, after the town’s parade, head over to Brewery Gulch to watch traditional mining contests like mucking (shoveling broken rock into a bucket) and hard-rock drilling.
Follow the flag-waving crowds 40 minutes northeast of San Antonio to downtown Seguin, home to the “Biggest Small Town Fourth of July Parade in Texas.” This multi-day celebration includes a food-and-music Freedom Fiesta and a flag raising ceremony in Central Park.
Named by state and Congressional proclamations as an official “Fourth of July City,” this former prairie settlement about 30 minutes west of Lincoln has hosted a star-spangled Independence Day celebration since 1868. Student and civic groups coordinate the day’s events, ranging from a grand parade and pole vault competition to apple-pie-eating contests and clogging.
National Tom Sawyer Days add a Mark Twain twist to the Fourth of July in Missouri’s beloved river town. The multi-day event (typically five days, including July 4) features the National Fence Painting Contest, live music, mud volleyball, and a competitive frog jump for little kids and their favorite amphibians.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Hire a horse-drawn taxi to clip-clop between Independence Day activities on car-free Mackinac. The island’s patriotic July 4 pastimes typically include an annual sailboat race, old-fashioned carnival games, and a picnic at Revolutionary-era Fort Mackinac. At dusk, spread a blanket at the shore to watch the fireworks.
Step inside the Museum of Appalachia’s split-rail fences to experience the pioneer-era July 4 Celebration and Anvil Shoot. There’s bluegrass music, bell-ringing, rail-splitting, and dulcimer-making, but the highlight is seeing (and hearing) 100-pound iron anvils jettisoned into the air by exploding gunpowder. The living history village-farm is 16 miles north of Knoxville.
Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
In the laid-back “seafood capital of South Carolina,” the Fourth of July parade is quintessentially low-country. At high tide, a flotilla of decorated fishing, shrimp, and pleasure boats—horns blaring and flags flying—floats down the Murrells Inlet shoreline. Stroll the MarshWalk to see the procession and the fireworks that follow.
Bar Harbor, Maine
This historic resort gateway to Acadia National Park rolls out the red, white, and blue bunting for a sunrise-to-starlight community celebration. Festivities begin with an outdoor blueberry pancake breakfast and end with evening fireworks over Frenchman Bay. In between, there’s a town parade, a seafood festival, concerts, and lobster races.
This article, originally adapted from the National Geographic book Four Seasons of Travel on June 16, 2014, was updated on July 1, 2019.