Being a largely rural region with a deep history of farming traditions, the Hudson Valley is home to some of the best and oldest county fairs in the entire United States. A phenomenon that dates back to 16th-century England, county fairs began as public events celebrating and exhibiting the various aspects of farm life and culture and customarily centered on livestock-breeding and produce-growing competitions and other farming-related features. While most of these elements are still very much part of the average county fair, the format has expanded greatly over the centuries.
The Ulster County Fair (July 31-August 5) is held on the grounds of the Ulster County Agricultural Society in New Paltz. With the Shawangunk Mountains in the background, the fair promises the customary farming-themed attractions plus rides and games, a petting zoo, fireworks, and performances by Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters, the Charlie Daniels Band, Keith Anderson, ex-Journey singer Steve Augeri, and others. Ulstercountyfair.com.
In Middletown is the Orange County Fair (July 12-21), now in its 178th year. The fairgrounds are also home to the Orange County Speedway, the oldest continuously operating dirt motorsports track in the U.S. and the summer-long site of stock car races, motocross (dirt bikes and quads), and demolition derbies. Recently, the fair partnered with carnival ride company Dreamland Amusements to bring in new rides and entertainment. Orangecountyfair.com.
The Dutchess County Fair (August 21-26) was launched in 1842 and happens for six days in Rhinebeck. The fun includes blue ribbon competitions for livestock, crops, recipes, and fine arts, as well as historic exhibits, concessions and food, and a marketplace, plus live music by the Wallflowers, Chris Lane, Kip Moore, and more.
Northeast of the Hudson is the Columbia County Fair (August 29-September 3) in Chatham. Like its Orange County cousin, this down-home festival is in its 178th year and is high on high-octane spectacle: Check out the truck-pulling competition, monster tractors, and two-night demolition derby. Also on the ticket are pig races, a painted pony rodeo, a firefighters parade, country band Parmalee, and more.
The Greene County Youth Fair (July 26-29), which grew out of the venerated international 4-H program, comes to Cairo once again and is one of the only fairs in the state to offer free admission and entertainment. Aimed at a younger audience, it boasts farm animals, fireworks, rides, food, vendors, magic shows, and wildlife education presentations. Thegreenecountyyouthfair.com.