It’s time to solidify our itineraries with some worthy destinations and events around the Great Lakes, and nothing shouts summer fun like a good festival. Whether you’re thinking of staying on your most familiar lake or planning to venture out to a new one, there are plenty of options when it comes to festivals.
From boating to food to music, there’s a Great Lakes festival out there that’ll be sure to appeal to everyone in your circle of friends and family. Let’s take a peek together at the 2020 festivals, but keep in mind some dates may be subject to change based on COVID-19 threats.
Let’s start with festivals that focus on our favorite subject: boating. Lake Michigan’s Grosse Pointe Yacht Club (GPYC) hosts the Great Lakes Festival which fits the bill perfectly, complete with the latest models of boats, stadium sailing, food, music and more.
The Great Lakes Festival starts on Friday, May 15, and goes through the weekend to Sunday, May 17. This year will be the 32nd year the GPYC hosts the festival, and there’s little surprise that this shindig draws many avid boaters since they are a very popular club with the southeastern Michigan boaters in the Detroit community.
Exhibitors come from all over to showcase their latest yachts, marine products and services. The Great Lakes Festival is open to the public and features a wide range of attractions such as a vintage boat display, the Gilmore Car Museum Show, the Dossin Museum display, the Esel & Eleanor Ford House Display, and an art show. There’s also going to be plenty of good food and music.
Another festival to put on your calendar is the Blue Water Fest on Lake Huron. Taking place in Downtown Port Huron, Mich., July 8-11, this festival offers all the fun your heart desires. The Blue Water Fest kicks off with the Rotary parade on a Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and the fun never stops from then until the end of the festival.
Thursday features Family Night, which is produced by Operation Transformation & Fireworks at Desmond Landing. Then, the Friday of Blue Water Fest is the night we most anticipate—Boat Night. Boat Night continues the festival with an exciting carnival, live music, and other activities. There will also be a breathtaking display of sailboats lined up in advance for the 2020 Bayview Mackinac Race that takes place the following day on Saturday, July 11.
Plus, admission is free to the general public for both the Great Lakes Festival and Blue Water Fest. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Arts & Crafts
If you’re an artsy person, you’re going to want to check out Lake Superior’s Grand Marais Arts Festival. The event takes place July 11 and 12, featuring over 70 artist booths in downtown Grand Marais, Minn. You can festively celebrate the arts and appreciate original artwork in addition to some fun hands-on art-making activities, mini classes, demonstrations and more.
The artistic director of the Grand Marais Arts Festival, Ruth Pszwaro, is excited to welcome boaters to the event. “The Grand Marais municipal campground is a great source for boaters who are interested in coming and docking during the festival,” suggested Pszwaro.
Another festival celebrating the arts is Lake Huron’s Art On The River festival in downtown Port Huron, Mich. Scheduled from June 12 to 14, this festival is an extravaganza for the arts that features local artists, crafters and bands.
Citizens for Vibrant Community host the Art On The River festival along the beautiful shores of the St. Clair River on Merchant Street in Kiefer Park. This family-friendly event features art workshops, music, hands-on art, and plenty of tasty food.
The Grand Marais Arts Festival and the Art On the River festival both offer the ideal settings to enjoy the arts with your family and friends. Whether you’re traveling in from out of town or you’re a local, you’re not going to want to miss these fun and crafty festivals.
If you enjoy dressing up as a pirate, then mark your calendar for June 26 to 28 because the Put-in-Bay 12th annual Pirate Fest will have you swaggering around with the best of them. You can join the rest of the pirates in downtown Put-in-Bay, Ohio, for a slew of exciting activities at this festival.
Be sure to tie up your boat at docks A, B or C at DeRivera Park so you can be closest to the action. The event kicks off on Friday, June 26, when authentic pirates invade downtown Put-in-Bay harbor to hoist their pirate flag and search for stolen treasure. There will also be some historical reenactments complete with canon firing demonstrations, parades and educational events. The Pirate marketplace and display also hosts a kid’s fun fest with multiple activities and performances each day.
Plus, the best adult pirate costume will win a trip to the Cayman Islands, so be sure to bring your wooden leg, eye patch and pet parrot. The fun and skullduggery won’t end from the moment Pirate Fest kicks off until its formal close on Sunday, June 28, at 6 p.m. This event is fun for the whole family and you’ll most likely wind up wanting to make a tradition out of it.
Who doesn’t love the sweet taste of summer cherries? Well, the Lake Michigan’s National Cherry Festival has you covered, bringing delicious local agriculture to the cherry capital of the world: Traverse City, Mich. Taking place from July 4 to 11, this festival is brimming with mouth-watering food and fun activities for the whole family.
Beginning on Independence Day, the National Cherry Festival offers countless activities ranging from the air show to the adult Cherry Pit Spit contest to the kid’s cherry pie-eating contest. The week-long festival’s calendar is full of fun and delicious events for the entire family.
Then don’t forget Ashland Bay Days Festival from July 17 to 19 in Ashland, Wis. The festival is held at Bayview Park on Chequamegon Bay along the gorgeous south shore of Lake Superior. This event is sure to offer plenty of old-fashioned family fun for all ages.
Bay Days will feature delicious food, arts and crafts and live music. There will also be a pie-eating contest, a strongman competition, and a dog jumping contest. With this range of activities, you’ll never get bored. As one of the most popular summer events in the area, Ashland Bay Days gives you a fantastic opportunity to spend time with family and friends while eating delicious food and enjoy exciting activities.
If you’re in a groovy mood, there are plenty of festivals that’ll meet your needs for some quality music such as the Burning River Fest on Lake Erie. June 26 to 27 you can celebrate the Cuyahoga River’s comeback on Cleveland’s Whiskey Island in Ohio.
The Burning River Fest will have two stages set up for music, and there will also be Great Lakes Brewery beers and food trucks available. Not to mention that all ticket and beer sales will be donated back to clean water efforts in Northeast Ohio.
The Burning River Foundation dedicates itself to improving and maintaining regional freshwater resources. Through their festival, they’ve helped to increase public awareness of the historic Coast Guard Station on Whiskey Island. This means you can enjoy excellent music and food while simultaneously giving back to the community.
Another festival that celebrates music is Lake Ontario’s Dreams Festival on East Island in Toronto. Taking place June 27 and 28, this bash creates a sandstorm at RBC Echo Beach from all the dancing. There are also smaller stages nestled in various nooks around the venue. This event will have you celebrating the Canada Day holiday the right way.
Of course, Lake Ontario’s Harborfest is yet another festival you won’t want to miss. The festival is slated for July 23 to 26 in Oswego, N.Y., and it typically attracts around 75,000 people. Harborfest has brought more than 600 national, regional, and local performing artists to its stage since its founding in 1988. Between the Burning River Fest, the Dreams Festival, and Harborfest, you really can’t go wrong if you’re into music and having a good time.
All in all, the Great Lakes region has a ton to offer by way of festivals this summer. Check out their websites and make plans to attend some of them!
Please note that festival dates are subject to change due to the novel COVID-19 pandemic. For the most up-to-date information, please visit each festival’s respective website.
For More Information
Art on the River
Ashland Bay Days Festival
Blue Water Fest
Burning River Fest
Great Lakes Festival
Grand Marais Arts Festival
Put-in-Bay Pirate Fest
Torch Lake Cherry Festival