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Harriet Baskas
July 13, 2018

Ready your car (and your stomach) for the ultimate state fair road trip this summer.

If the promise of nonstop carnival rides, big name music acts, crazy competitions, fried foods galore, and dazzling displays of prize-worthy pies and well-tended livestock sounds like a great time — and it is — then make sure to visit a state fair at least once this summer.

And if that’s the kind of entertainment you’d like to experience all summer long, then pack up the car, grab some friends or family to join you, and take this cross-country road trip that follows a calendar of nine fairs from California to Maryland.

From corn dog eating contests in July to fresh crabcakes in December, this is the summer road trip to beat out all other summer road trips.

1. California State Fair

Start your trip at the California State Fair, which kicks off July 13 in Sacramento and runs through July 29. Don’t miss the weekend fireworks, the corn dog and pie-eating contests and the free horse-racing.

Mardis Coers/Getty Images

2. Montana State Fair

The Montana State Fair takes over the Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls July 27 through August 4, promising everything from pigeons, ponies and poultry to competitive displays of Lego models and chocolate cakes. The drive here from Sacramento is more than 1,000 miles, but this road trip is still young and there are plenty of places to stop along the way, including Reno, NV, Twin Falls, ID - the gateway to the Snake River Canyon - and Butte, Montana, home of the World Museum of Mining.

3. North Dakota State Fair

From Great Falls, it’s about 500 miles to the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, which runs July 20 to 28. Some of the highlights at this fair include a ranch rodeo, bull riding competitions, a truck and tractor pull and foods ranging from kettle corn and quesadillas to porkchops on a stick.

4. Wisconsin State Fair

Take a few days to drive the 830 miles from Minot to the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis for the Wisconsin State Fair, which has its opening day on August 2, and continues through August 12. Or head directly to Milwaukee, and spend the fair-free days visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Harley Davidson Museum or the Pabst Mansion.

5. Iowa State Fair

Backtrack a bit (367 miles) to Des Moines to pay a visit to the classic Iowa State Fair (August 9–19), which dates back to 1854 and is famous for its 600-pound butter cow and its companion butter sculptures. This fair is also well-known for its thrill rides, grandstand entertainment and over-the-tops foods such as Iowa’s Pig Pork Legs and Cheesy Fried Enchilada Cakes.

6. Illinois State Fair

Mosey along 332 miles to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield (August 9–19) and enjoy the opening Twilight Parade and concerts, auto and harness racing in the grandstand.

Peter Ptschelinzew/Getty Images

This fair is (also) famous for its butter cow, a 500-pound, unsalted, dairy barn icon since the 1920s.

7. Indiana State Fair

Fair #7: From Springfield, it’s just 206 miles to Indianapolis, home of the Indiana State Fair (August 3–19) which this year is hosting a single-ring, world class circus on site for three free shows a day. The fair’s list of new (and over-the-top) foods is already published and includes deep fried chicken & waffle sandwiches, deep fried sugar cream pie and inside-out grilled cheese.

8. Kentucky State Fair

You’re in the home stretch now, with a quick 124 mile drive to the Kentucky State Fair (August 16–26) in Louisville. New this year: Agland, with exhibits highlighting Kentucky’s farm and field heritage, and Bluegrass Village, celebrating the state’s craft breweries, bourbon distilleries and culinary creations.

9. Maryland State Fair

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve no doubt had your fill of fried foods and Ferris wheels. But press on 600 miles to Louisville, the final stop on this summer road trip, to the Maryland State Fair (August 23–September 3) in Lutherville-Timonium, just north of Baltimore. In addition to a mobile glass blowing studio, the fair offers Thoroughbred horse racing and fresh foods from the Chesapeake Bay.

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