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The Festive Northwest

Roundup at Custer State Park, courtesy South Dakota Parks

In the mountains and plains of the western United States, celebrations take on a distinctively rugged feel.

Festivals and special events make great times for groups to visit a new destination because they highlight the art, nature, culture and heritage that make a place unique. In many states such as Montana and Wyoming, those events showcase the spirit of the American West and give group travelers numerous opportunities to experience that ethos for themselves.

In North Dakota, the Norsk Hostfest honors the Scandinavian heritage of the Central Plains. Montana’s Crow Fair and Rodeo is among the country’s largest Native American gatherings.

Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park in South Dakota introduces visitors to the wildlife of the West. Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede is a celebration of rodeo tradition. And in Colorado, Denver’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival has become a pre-eminent national arts event.

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and Art Fair

South Dakota
Some 1,300 buffalo go thundering over the hills of Custer State Park each September during the Buffalo Roundup and Art Fair. Park officials and volunteer wranglers round up the animals from around the 71,000-acre park to check for diseases, brand new calves and choose animals to be sold at auction. The action is so entertaining that visitors now go to watch the intricate dance of the wranglers and the buffalo.

Although the finale of the roundup happens on a single day, the celebration lasts over the course of a long weekend. Festivities include an arts festival, which features more than 150 exhibitors, and chuck wagon meals and cowboy music and poetry.

Norsk Hostfest
North Dakota
Scandinavian emigrants played a large role in settling the northern part of the Central Plains, and today the town of Minot honors that heritage each year with Norsk Hostfest. The celebration, which takes place in late September and early October, has become the largest Scandinavian festival in North America. The coming year will mark the 36th installment of the festival.

Groups that visit the festival will find numerous ways to experience the cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The festival features authentic art and entertainment from around the world, as well as chefs preparing authentic Scandinavian cuisine and artisans selling traditional handcrafted merchandise.

Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede
Cody, Wyoming
Summertime means rodeo in the small town of Cody, Wyoming, where rodeo events take place in town every night from June 1 through August 31. But the biggest excitement is reserved for the Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede, which will be held July 1-5.

The stampede is one of the largest professional rodeo events in the country, with 750 contestants and more than 100,000 spectators throughout the course of the week. Visiting groups will see roping, bronco and bull riding and other favorite rodeo events. A downtown craft fair accompanies the rodeo, and several parades throughout downtown Cody feature cowboys and horses in their finest regalia.

Crow Fair and Rodeo
Crow agency, montana
As many as 1,500 teepees take shape in Crow Agency, Montana, for one week each August as the Apsaalooke Nation celebrates the annual Crow Fair and Rodeo. The encampment has become one of the largest Native American events in the nation and gives visitors a firsthand look into native traditions and modern culture.

A daily parade takes place each morning, during which participants don traditional beadwork, buckskin and leather designed to highlight artistic skills. An evening powwow features dancing and performances by representatives of many different tribes. The celebration also includes an all-Indian rodeo, as well as horse racing and other festivities.

Cherry Creek Arts Festival

The coming year will mark the 24th anniversary of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, a three-day celebration of the visual, culinary and performing arts in Denver. The festival is among the most prestigious in the country, as some 2,000 artists apply for the 200 available slots in the juried show each year. Along with the visual artists from around the country, the event features 25 culinary booths selling food and a culinary demonstration stage.

The festival also has a history of great performing arts and of art demonstrations, where artists do live painting or sculpting for an audience. The event takes place on the grounds of Denver’s Cherry Creek North shopping district.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.