MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

10 great ways to celebrate the Fourth of July

You'll find parades, powwows, picnics, patriotic music and, always, fireworks.

Children celebrate Canada Day at Fort William.

© Fort William

Children celebrate Canada Day at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay.

Over the Fourth of July holiday, every town worth its salt holds a celebration.

There are band concerts, parades with antique cars and cute kids dressed in red, white and blue: It's all good.

But it's an especially good time to travel along the border of the United States and Canada, which celebrates Canada Day on July 1. 

That's a Wednesday in 2020. In the United States, the Fourth of July is on a Saturday. 

Fireworks in two countries

On July 1, Canadians celebrate the day in 1867 when their country was created from three British colonies. In Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, celebrate Canada Day at Fort William Historical Park and in Marina Park.

In Marina Park, you'll have a lovely view of the Sleeping Giant as you listen to music on four stages, and you can try drumming in a circle or paddling dragon boat, kayak or canoe.

Then, drive 80 miles south to Grand Marais, Minn., for music and fireworks on July 4.

On opposite end of Lake Superior, you can do same thing but without the driving in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

The Ontario side features family entertainment and activities in Roberta Bondar Park along the St. Mary's River July 1, and the Michigan side features a 7 p.m. parade downtown before the fireworks July 4.

And don't forget your passport!

Island time in the Apostles

Some of the best celebrations are the smallest. For an old-fashioned Fourth, go to Madeline Island, the largest of Wisconsin's Apostle Islands, for A Day on the Green.

Fourth of July parade on Madeline Island.

© Beth Gauper

Madeline Island holds an old-fashioned celebration.

At 10:30 a.m., there's a home-grown parade that ends with historical figures giving patriotic speeches at the Madeline Island Museum, which tells the story of the Great Lakes fur trade and the local Ojibwe. Music and fireworks follow.

Times past at Old World Wisconsin

Near Milwaukee, the large open-air heritage museum Old World Wisconsin holds an Independence Day Celebration that includes making ice cream, a picnic and old-fashioned games, such as tug-of-war and a greased-pole contest. 

It's July 4, with a pie-eating contest, ice-cream-making and an old-fashioned parade.

Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka

Since 1888, this former resort town on Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, has been hosting the Lake Minnetonka 4th of July.

Dancers at Upper Sioux.

© Beth Gauper

The Fourth of July is a big holiday for attending powwows.

Festivities are based at Excelsior Commons, the lake's largest city park. There will be a petting zoo, a kids' parade, a sand-sculpture contest, a Popsicle social and music before fireworks.


The Fourth is a big weekend for powwows, and the indigenous people of the United States are some of its most patriotic citizens.

Among them: the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa traditional powwow near Bayfield, Wis.; the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa traditional powwow in Cass Lake, Minn.; and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians contest powwow in Manistee, Mich.

Be sure to catch the Grand entries, generally at 1 and 7 p.m.

Music festivals

Some of the biggest music festivals are over the Fourth.

In Milwaukee, the giant Summerfest runs June 24-28 and June 30-July 5, with 12 stages and zones. On July 4, Guns N' Roses performs.

In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Nelly will perform July 4 at Ribfest in Knoch Park, where there will  also be magic shows, kids' games, food and fireworks. It's July 2-5.

Along the Fox River in Aurora, Ill., RiverEdge Park is offering a free Fourth of July Celebration on July 3 featuring a Rolling Stones tribute band and fireworks.

Concert in Chicago

At the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, listen to a free Independence Day concert by the Grant Park Orchestra. It's playing Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture'' and Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever'' as well as other pieces. 

Many people bring tablecloths and vases of flowers and make a dinner party out of it.

Min-Aqua Bats skiers in Minocqua.

© Beth Gauper

In Minocqua, the Min-Aqua Bats perform after the parade.

Water-skiing in Minocqua

The Fourth of July in this northern Wisconsin lake-resort town includes a street parade, a band concert, boat parade, a water-ski show by the Min-Aqua Bats and fireworks — the very best small-town Wisconsin has to offer.

The Fourth on Mackinac Island

In the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island celebrates a Star Spangled Fourth with 38-gun salutes, patriotic music and Victorian children’s games. Guests join the party and participate in Victorian dances and games on the fort parade ground.

At Windermere Pointe Beach, there's a Stone Skipping Tournament, with categories for amateurs as well as professional skippers.

On July 5, there's a free guided bike ride to the island's War of 1812 battlefield.

The Fourth at Fort Snelling

Before the Twin Cities existed, Fort Snelling was built at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

On the Fourth, it holds an Independence Day Celebration, with a mock battle, cannon salutes, egg races and an infantry parade.

Navy Pier in Chicago

Chicago's most visited tourist attraction, Navy Pier, cultivates a party atmosphere all year, but especially on the Fourth of July.

Go on a dinner cruise, sail on the tall ship Windy or ride the Ferris wheel. The grand finale is the fireworks show at 9:30 p.m.

Historic replica ships on the Mississippi

Although Christopher Columbus didn't discover what is now the United States, his 1492 voyage to the New World is part of our history. A replica of the Portuguese caravel in which he sailed, La Niña, and her sister ship, La Pinta, often visit Mississippi River towns over the Fourth.

Last updated on February 28, 2020