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July Road Trips: Fireworks and Festivals

Though parades and fireworks can be seen and heard all over the country on and around the 4th of July, there is no more all-American place to spend the nation’s birthday than in the heartland: Hannibal, Missouri. Here in the hometown of writer Mark Twain, the traditional 4th of July activities and events take place as part of Tom Sawyer Days, a weeklong festival of fun and games inspired by Twain’s fictional creations. One of many events is a fence-painting competition, remembering the scene where Tom Sawyer persuades his friends to do his chores for him, and even pay him for the privilege!

A boy participates in the fence whitewashing contest at Hannibal's Tom Sawyer Days Festival
Photo courtesy of Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Hannibal not only has Mark Twain, it also has the Mississippi River on its doorstep, which makes for a great summertime drive. Known collectively as the Great River Road, a network of scenic roads winds along the river, heading south to New Orleans and upstream as far as the headwaters in Minnesota. North from Hannibal, the Great River Road takes in the fully recreated historic Mormon community of Nauvoo, once the largest settlement on the Western Frontier. Beyond Nauvoo is the river town of Davenport, Iowa, where a pair of all-American adventures await you. All summer long, there’s a full weekend of minor-league baseball in a historic riverside stadium, courtesy of the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Other July Road Trips

Fireworks blossom in Washington DC

The largest 4th of July fireworks show in the country, fittingly enough, is held at the heart of the nation’s capital, at the National Mall in Washington D.C. The array of monuments and memorials around D.C., and the diverse collections on display in the Smithsonian Museum, make the city an even more ideal place to spend the 4th—and if the weather gets too heavy, you can head east on US-50 to the many different coastal resorts, like Rehoboth Beach in Delaware or bustling Ocean City in Maryland. Just two hours from D.C., but another world away on the idyllic Eastern Shore of Virginia, the town of Chincoteague holds its famous Wild Pony Swim the last Wednesday of the month (July 25-26 in 2018), in which dozens of wild ponies are herded across the marshes of wild and beautiful Assateague Island National Seashore.

Way out west in Colorado, the towering mountain Pikes Peak inspired the song “America the Beautiful.” Every summer it’s the site of a compelling contest between man and nature, the Pikes Peak Hillclimb, in which daredevils on motorbikes and in cars race up to the 14,110-foot summit on the last sunday in June. The wonderful Wild West town at the foot of the mountain, Manitou Springs, and the iconic sandstone sculptures of the nearby Garden of the Gods will be open and ready to welcome you throughout summer.

The dramatic jutting rocks at Colorado's Garden of the Gods

300 miles west of Pikes Peak via some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery you’ll ever see, the amazing “Million Dollar Highway” snakes above the Wild West mining towns of Ouray and Silverton. Every year Ouray celebrates “America’s Greatest 4th of July” with a big Main Street parade featuring cowboys and bikers, a fun run and fireworks show, and a huge water fight between rival Volunteer Fire Departments.

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