By Trent Jonas
Blessed with tremendous natural resources and scenic beauty, it shouldn’t surprise you that Wisconsin is an excellent place for an outdoor festival. From birding festivals to events centered around catching and releasing sturgeon, these outdoor festivals in Wisconsin are some of the best.
Fishing is a big deal in Wisconsin. Like, maybe the biggest deal. And muskies are among the biggest, baddest fish you can target in Wisconsin. So, for the last seven decades, the city of Hayward has lauded these toothy beasts with their annual Musky Fest. Celebrating "Wisconsin's northwoods" and the town's "great fishing tradition," Musky Fest features—among other activities—a catch-and-release fishing contest, 5 and 10K runs, street dances and a carnival. The event is made possible by sponsors like Kawasaki, Adventure RV & Powersports, and the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce.
Every May for a dozen years, birders have flocked to the south shore of Lake Superior for the annual Chaquamegon Bay Birding and Nature Festival. More than 100 field trips and programs that highlight the area's flora, fauna and nature take place over the weekend—which also happens to coincide with the peak of spring migration.
The biggest fish you'll find in Wisconsin's freshwater lakes and rivers is the sturgeon. The state is home to two species—the lake and shovelnose—and folks get pretty excited about their sturgeon... so much so, in fact, that there are a few festivals dedicated to the fish. Folks who want to get their hands on a live sturgeon and release it into Lake Michigan and contribute to sturgeon conservation can do so at Sturgeon Fest in Milwaukee. The festival, which is sponsored in part by Kwik Trip, also offers prairie tours and will have a climbing wall and activities for kids.
If you're closer to western Wisconsin, you can celebrate the sturgeon over Labor Day Weekend at Jim Falls' annual Sturgeon Festival. Sponsored by the local Lions Club, the festival includes a fishing contest, flat water boat races and "inflatable fun" on the Chippewa River.
Every year, the Green Lake County Visitors Bureau sponsors the Princeton Whooping Crane Festival. The three-day September celebration is scheduled to coincide with the migration of this endangered species and includes plenty of crane viewing opportunities, as well as speakers, a craft/art fair and food vendors.
The Darlington Canoe Festival takes place every June. Not surprisingly, the festival includes canoe races on the Pecatonica River, inflatables for kids, a parade and a road run. More interesting however, are the Beowulf Motorcycle Club party, the talent show, and the grilling competition in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.
Sturgeon and muskies are big and elusive. But walleye are delicious and one of the most sought-after species of game fish in the Upper Midwest. And that's reason enough for the city of Fon du Lac to celebrate the coveted walleye. Every June, folks flock to the Walleye Weekend Free Family Festival in Fon du Lac. While there are plenty of activities for everyone, including sports competitions, runs and walks and live entertainment, the main attraction is the Mercury Marine National Walleye Tournament on Lake Winnebago.
Every May, Midwesterners go mad over morel mushrooms, and Muscoda is the self-proclaimed morel capital of Wisconsin. To celebrate this much-beloved mycological miracle, the town hosts an annual Morel Mushroom Festival. In addition to hiking and hunting for mushrooms, celebrants can enjoy morel-inspired food and drink, tours of nearby effigy mounds, and tasting tours at Weggy Winery and/or Spurgeon Vineyard and Winery.
The River Falls Fly Fishing Festival helps anglers get ready for the season. In partnership with the University of Wisconsin—River Falls and Lund's Fly Shop, the festival includes a film festival and a fly fishing expo that includes food, drink, fly tying demonstrations and casting lessons. You can meet up with guides and vendors while helping to support the mission of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust.
Each August, paddling teams make for Milwaukee to showcase their skills at the city's annual Dragon Boat Festival. A celebration of Chinese culture and traditions, along with boat races, the festival will treat attendees to food, dance, games and martial arts. You can even practice speaking and writing Mandarin.
The city of Two Rivers kicks off summer with its annual Carp Fest, which includes a two-day fishing tournament, in which anglers target the scrappy bottom-feeders for a shot at national angling acclaim. There is live music, food and even a cornhole tournament.