By Trent Jonas
Surrounded by water, dotted with lakes and blanketed with alternating forests and fields, Michigan is a place made for outdoor enjoyment. And what better way to see all that the state has to offer than outdoor festivals—especially those in which you can take part. These are our favorite outdoor festivals in Michigan.
Every May, on the weekend after Mother's Day—for almost six decades—hundreds of morel mushroom hunters and enthusiasts descend on Boyne City. The occasion is the National Morel Mushroom Festival, which is one of the largest events of its kind in the United States. In addition to a craft show, mushrooms for sale, and morel dishes served up by the likes of Café Santé and Red Mesa Grill , participants can head on both guided and competitive mushroom hunts.
The last full weekend in April is always sweet in Vermontville, home to Michigan's oldest Maple Syrup Festival. In addition to maple syrup exhibits, displays and demonstrations, you can get involved with the annual arm wrestling competition or carb load at the pancake breakfast before hitting the road in the 5K run (or walk, if you ate too much).
The longest-running fishing tournament on the Great Lakes is the Michigan Brown Trout Festival, which has occurred every July since 1975. In addition to fishing, there will be a beach party, several nights of live music, and many other events brought to the festival by Neiman's Family Market, Suez and PNC. Oh... and if an angler happens to reel in the tagged "Big Brownie" during the tournament, he or she will take home a cool $25,000.
The annual Great Lakes Boating Festival—hosted by the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club —has been a draw for sailing and water enthusiasts for more than three decades. The festival includes a boat show, remote control boats and stadium sailing. In addition, there will also be an art show, an antique car show (it is Michigan, after all) and a Summer Breeze Party.
For more than 30 years, the folks in Freeland have been celebrating one of the Midwest's most sought-after gamefish: The walleye. In addition to walleye fishing—as well as a trout pond for kids—festivalgoers can participate in a 5k or 10k race, a Texas Hold'em tournament, a disc golf tournament and a phish pong tournament. Other events include bingo, a fish fry, live music, a parade and fireworks. Local sponsors include Wildfire Credit Union, Eudici's Pizza, and John P. O'Sullivan Distributing Inc, as well as Cabela's.
Looking for a unique way to enjoy some active outside time with your favorite furry friend(s)? Head over to Frankenmuth for the annual Dog Bowl. Billed as the "world's largest Olympics-style event for dogs," the festival includes more than 20 events in which your pet can compete, as well as hot air balloons and glow balloon events, thanks to Bavarian Inn Lodge and Restaurant, the organizer of this great event.
Each year in June, the Michigan DNR designates a Free Fishing Weekend, during which folks can fish without a license. Bay City State Recreation Area, near Bay City, takes the weekend a step further and hosts its annual Free Fishing Festival. Events include fishing clinics, casting contests, "how to" programs, fly-tying, a family fishing derby and even a free hot dog lunch for the whole family. Fishing gear will be available to borrow at the park, courtesy of the Michigan DNR, Frank's Great Outdoors, and Cabela's.
The beauty of outdoor festivals is that they can happen any time of the year. Take, for instance, Mackinaw City's Winter Festival. For more than a quarter century, folks have flocked to the tip of the Lower Peninsula to race outhouses, sculpt snow, take sleigh rides and play euchre. There is also an ice fishing tournament. Bring your favorite chili recipe and throw down in the cook-off or simply kick back and enjoy the after party. Dixie Saloon, Mama Mia's Pizzeria, and Pepsi make the fest even more festive.
It's not often that denizens of the twenty-first century get to spend much time before the mast, but the biannual Tall Ship Celebration in Bay City affords just this type on anachronistic adventure. In addition to deck tours and live music, you can get your sea legs with a boat-building workshop, boating skills trainer and knot-tying instruction; or tap your inner JMW Turner by paining a nautical masterpiece or building your own locally-made tall ship kit—thanks to BaySail, U.S. Sailing, Covenant HealthCare, Fisher Companies , and Studio 23/The Arts Center.