A Guide to Montana Fairs: 12 of the Best
Like many rural states, Montana loves its county fairs. But with 56-counties to choose from that's a lot of corn dogs and elephant ears!
Here are some of Montana's best:
Ravalli County Fair and Rockin' RC Rodeo
In Hamilton, the Ravalli County Fair shines because of the brilliant idea of starting it off with a parade. For years, kids, old folks and fire engines have paraded down Main Street in Downtown Hamilton, kicking off the first day of fair weekend with enthusiasm and community spirit.
The fair itself is remarkable because of its diversity. From traditions like the Lion's Club Bingo Booth to 4H, amazing art displays and one of the most varied rodeo schedules in Montana, it's the perfect way to spend Labor Day Weekend.
Sanders County Fair
Plains residents are proud to call their fairgrounds the "most beautiful in Montana" and I'm not one to argue. The setting along the Clark Fork River for the Sanders County Fair is stunning, providing a cooling breeze from time to time. Fairgrounds managers have done a great job in recent years keeping the grounds green and parklike, with amazing food and one of the best rodeos in Western Montana, which runs for three consecutive nights. It's also one of the last fairs to close out with a demolition derby on Sunday night of Labor Day Weekend.
Other county fairs of note
With 56 counties, there's no room to list all country fairs from July through Labor Day. But some of our favorites include:
Lake County Fair: Usually scheduled around the last week in July, this fair could also argue for the "best scenery" honors with Sanders County, as the community gathers for a fun and intimate fair perched under the spectacular Mission Mountains in Ronan.
Mineral County Fair: This one at the end of July/start of August might fly under the radar for regional audiences, but the Fair Board has been adding many new events in recent years, many celebrating the Lower Clark Fork community. Catch the parade in Superior and an enthusiastic pie-eating contest!
Beaverhead County Fair: This big fair is the event of the year for the widely scattered residents of Southwest Montana, and is also going into Labor Day Weekend. If you love the livestock and ag exhibits, including a great rodeo, a trip to Dillon ought to be on your calendar.
Teton County 4H Fair: For residents of the Front, this fair in Choteau is also a showcase of the agricultural heritage and is held the last full weekend in June. The venue is worth a mention alone, being held in the Choteau Pavilion and the "Weatherbeater Arena."
Park County Fair: Livingston might have the busiest fairground in Montana, but sandwiched between all the rodeo events, including the legendary Livingston Roundup, is the Park County Fair the last week in July. It's a full-on county fair, with exhibits, food, rides, and yes, more rodeo.
State Fairs galore
With a state as big as Montana it takes more than one "state" fair and it can get a little confusing. But here are the "big ones":
The Montana State Fair: For nearly a century, the Montana State Fair has been the signature event for people across hundreds of square miles. Held at Montana ExpoPark, there are enough activities to make your head spin, from acres and acres of exhibits and food to a huge carnival. Make sure everyone has their cell phone charged so you can get back together for the ride home. This fair is also known for top-tier entertainment throughout the run, starting late July, including Pro Rodeo events, and is hanging on to Montana's horse racing heritage.
Montana Fair: For residents in the wide open spaces around Billings, the Montana Fair is the big regional event. Held for more than a week in mid-August, the Montana Fair also features top acts, rodeo and rides at what is called "The Last Best Place of Summer." One big feature here is the Patrick K. Goggins Junior Livestock Sale, where young ranchers auction off some of the best beef in Montana.
Western Montana Fair: Also held in mid-August in Missoula, the Western Montana Fair has gone through an amazing transformation in recent years, with new and renovated buildings and spruced-up grounds. That includes a new grandstand (opening in 2024) and maybe the largest selection of food vendors of any of the big fairs. Insider tip: Have your jacket handy. This fair happens during peak thunderstorm season but everyone takes the downpours in stride.
Northwest Montana Fair: This fair in Kalispell has been growing in influence along with the growth in the Flathead Valley. Fair managers pull no punches in bringing in top-tier talent to go along with a very popular rodeo, which also attracts a lot of great Canadian cowboys and cowgirls to come down and compete from Alberta and British Columbia. The grounds are constantly humming with entertainment, a big carnival, and some of the best fry bread and corndogs you'll ever taste.
Eastern Montana Fair: Fair lovers on Montana's eastern border have gathered for generations for this Miles City classic. It builds on a summer full of big rodeo events, adding in the PRCA Rodeo competition, concerts, a huge demo derby, and bringing the legendary "Mighty Thomas Carnival" across the line from South Dakota for fun.