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Farm animals & food on a stick: See these state fairs

Fried food and midway rides. Baby farm animals and cream puffs. These state fairs have it all–here’s where you can find some true family fun.

Giant slide at the Minnesota State Fair
Credit: Explore Minnesota

For more than a century—much longer, in some cases—state fairs in Mississippi River Country have provided timeless family fun while celebrating the agricultural bounty of the region. Especially in the northern states, these fairs draw hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of visitors every year. Here’s a look at some of the best.

Minnesota State Fair (August-September)

Held adjacent to the campus of the University of Minnesota in the capital city of Saint Paul, Minnesota’s state fair runs for nearly two weeks before its traditional end on Labor Day every year. The Minnesota State Fair is second in total attendance only to the State Fair of Texas, and typically draws 2 million visitors or more. One of the most unique events at the fair is the creation of a butter sculpture of that year’s “Princess Kay of the Milky Way,” chosen annually to represent the state’s dairy industry.

Wisconsin State Fair (August)

Head to the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis to find this 11-day celebration of all the good things the Dairy State has to offer: fried cheese curds, delicious corn, baby farm animals, midway rides and more. The fair’s top food draw is the ubiquitous Cream Puff—a cream-filled pastry you can watch being mass-produced as you wait in line for yours (the Wisconsin State Fair goes through 400,000 of them a year!).

Illinois State Fair (August)

Illinois’ capital city of Springfield has hosted the Illinois State Fair since the 1890s, and nearly half a million people still visit this nearly two-week long festival every year. This family-friendly event features hundreds of agricultural exhibitors, food stands, local produce and live entertainment (recent performers have been as varied as Snoop Dogg and Reba McEntire.) Don’t miss the butter cow, which is exactly what it sounds like—a life-size bovine sculpted from butter, a popular photo op every year at the state fair.

Missouri State Fair (August)

Every summer hundreds of thousands of people flock to the west-central Missouri city of Sedalia for the Missouri State Fair, which has called this city of 20,000 home since 1901. You’ll find plenty of state fair staples here, including farm animals (don’t miss the world-renowned mule show), agricultural exhibits, live music and plenty of food, throughout the 11 days of the fair.

Other state fairs to visit: