The best Midwest state fairs have something for everyone, from great food to live entertainment to unique competitions. Where else will you see a butter sculpture contest while enjoying cream puffs, corn dogs, and deep-fried everything?
The best part about these fairs is that each one showcases the unique culture of its state. So what are the best Midwest state fairs? Here are five that stand out from the rest.
Minnesota State Fair
The best-attended state fair in the U.S., this state fair is also known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.” And quite a get-together it is. Spread out over more than 300 acres in St. Paul each year, this fair features agricultural exhibits, amusement rides, haunted houses, and over 900 different shows.
Travel & Leisure once named Minnesota’s fair the best state fair for “foodies,” and it’s hard to disagree. The food stands are neverending, and the variety on display is almost overwhelming. You can thoroughly enjoy yourself by sticking with the tried-and-true favorites like cheese curds and corn on the cob. Or you can get a bit more adventurous. Each year, the state’s tourism bureau puts out a list of the new foods that will be available to try at the fair. Included among 2023’s new offerings are a bacon-wrapped waffle dog and a lutefisk steam bun.
The Minnesota State Fair is typically an end-of-summer event that runs for two weeks. Whether you’re interested in seeing a concert at the Grandstand stage or a 4-H livestock demonstration, there’s sure to be something on the schedule for you.
Iowa State Fair
Dating back to 1854, Iowa’s state fair is one of the nation’s oldest. Held annually in Des Moines, it’s also the largest event in the state, with the most recent editions drawing more than one million visitors.
Iowa State Fair is also one of the state’s biggest political events, especially during election years. Presidential candidates from all over the nation and from every political party and viewpoint flock to the fair to make their case. If politics isn’t your thing, head over to the live music entertainment by well-known artists and bands.
The butter cow is probably the most iconic symbol of Iowa’s yearly celebration. In a tradition that dates back more than 100 years, the fair prominently features a gigantic sculpture of a cow made out of 600 pounds of Iowa butter. An official sculptor is responsible for creating the cow each year, an honor that rarely changes hands. There have only been five official sculptors since JK Daniels made the original butter cow in 1911.
Besides the butter cow, the Iowa state fair may be best known for its corn dogs. Available in multiple locations throughout the fairgrounds, attendees have consistently voted these delicacies on a stick as the food most synonymous with Iowa’s fair. In 2008, the fair set a world record for the most people simultaneously eating a corn dog at 8,400.
Iowa’s state fair also has more than its share of off-the-wall contests. 2023’s fair features everything from a mohawk contest to a backgammon tournament to outhouse races. There’s truly something for everyone.
Missouri State Fair
Priding itself on family-friendly fun, the Missouri State Fair is a can’t-miss annual event that draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The fair is held each summer and bills itself as Missouri’s “largest agricultural expo.” It’s fitting, then, that among the most prominent events of the entire fair are its mule shows. There are numerous contests and exhibitions featuring show mules, jumping mules, miniature mules, and draft mules.
Each year’s fair takes place at the nearly 400-acre Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia. In addition to a number of buildings that host agricultural exhibits and competitions, the grounds include multiple stages for live music and other shows. Shows are free and take place multiple times daily over the course of the fair.
While the culinary offerings may not be quite as famous as some other Midwest state fairs, Missouri holds its own in the fried food department. Traditional fair food like funnel cake and corn dogs are abundant, but Pork Place shouldn’t be overlooked. An on-site restaurant that severed its first pork chops in 1979, it’s the place to go for everything from a shredded pork sandwich to barbeque ribs.
Kansas State Fair
Each year, the Kansas State Fair hosts some of the quirkiest competitions out there. From their famous duct tape competitions to flower arranging contests to lego-building matches, attendees have the opportunity to participate in and watch some truly unique events. Not to mention all the livestock shows and agricultural competitions organized by the 4-H.
Kansas holds its fair at the same time every year, beginning on the Friday following Labor Day and running for 10 days. The Fairgrounds are located in Hutchinson; the city has hosted the fair for more than 100 years.
For families visiting or living in the Midwest, the Kansas Fair is great for kids; there’s a petting zoo, a variety of amusement rides, and kid-friendly shows galore. But that doesn’t mean you need to be a kid to enjoy it. Every evening of the fair, the 10,000-seat grandstand hosts either live concerts, monster truck shows, or races on the half-mile track. It’s well worth a trip to central Kansas to check it out.
Wisconsin State Fair
Last but certainly not least, Wisconsin is home to another of the Midwest’s best state fairs. The fair is perhaps best known for its Original Cream Puffs. These cream-filled pastries are an absolute institution. They’ve been served at the fair for 100 years, and nearly 400,000 puffs are purchased and gleefully consumed each year.
Of course, there’s a lot more food to sample than cream puffs. Everything from cheesecake to country-fried steak is served “on a stick.” This makes it all the easier to enjoy the fair’s other attractions while you’re chowing down. Food purveyors compete for “Sporkies” and “Drinkies,” the awards given to the best food and drink served at the Wisconsin State Fair each year.
The fairgrounds also boast the Milwaukee Mile Speedway, a mile-long oval race track. During the fair, the speedway is home to nightly concerts featuring well-known acts. Other entertainment options include a variety of amusement rides. The Giant Slide, a 50-foot-tall slide that you go down on a burlap sack, is a particular highlight.
Your Next Midwest State Fair Road Trip
Now that you’re aware of all the attractions in the Midwest, you’ve got no excuse to miss out on the fun. It’s time to start planning your trip(s) to enjoy these time-honored state fair traditions yourself. You surely won’t regret it.
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