This is the real deal: bull-riding cowboys and rodeo queens, souped-up demo derby trucks, handmade quilts, 4-H, homegrown tomatoes, fiery fiddles, granny’s pies, carnival rides, and the rhythmic song of the auctioneer. For more than a century, the good folks of eastern Summit County have rolled up their sleeves, tapped local talent, and put on a fair that is equal parts down-home family fun and homage to gen-u-ine country living.
It’s a quintessential Western experience, and one that requires little advance planning (although tickets to the always-a-sellout demo derby need to be purchased ahead of time). But longtime fairgoers and planners agree that it would be a crying shame to miss a few particular standout events. And a word of wisdom: the early bird gets a coveted chicken sandwich at Kathy’s Fillets & Pies stand.
Small Town Proud
The Summit County Fair’s origins date back to the late 1800s, when residents gathered on a site now below Echo Reservoir, although historians cite 1909 as the fair’s official debut. Roughly 25,000 people are expected to mosey through the fairgrounds, which date back to the mid-20th century, during this summer’s event. Beyond giving folks from all walks of life a glimpse of the Utah ranching life that flanks (and predates) the county’s glittering resorts, the fair makes for a great Summit County introduction. According to Kassidy Jones, “I hope it says we’re good people, we take care of each other, and we come together and show what we’re made of.”
Smash ’Em Up and Giddy Up
Bookending the fair are a duo of ticketed main events: the curtain-raising Demolition Derby (Aug 5) and the show-stopping, two-day PRCA Rodeo (Aug 11).The three-hour demo derby roars into the main arena with black-smoke-belching, flame-shooting, and just plain ol’ chunk-o-metal-bashing mayhem. “It’s loud and dirty, but people absolutely love it,” says Summit County Fair planner Travis English. Roughly 40 vehicles are split into four heats: cars, trucks, mini cars, and powder puff (yes, ma’am!). At the end of the night, after a slew of crashes and smashes, just one vehicle reigns. Tickets ($13.50) typically sell out by early July.
In the fair finale, nationally ranked cowboys and cowgirls compete alongside local riders in a slice-of-Americana rodeo. Two hundred and fifty contestants compete over two days of bull, bareback, and saddle bronc riding; barrel racing; tie down and team roping; and steer wrestling. Part of the professionally sanctioned rodeo circuit for the past 23 years, the event is where rodeo’s boys and girls are separated from its men and women. And there’s not a bad seat in the intimate, 3,400-seat arena. As English puts it, “You’re really close to the action….The dirt’s kinda flying right at you.” Adds rodeo organizer, rancher, and former county commissioner Cliff Blonquist, “We’re in the entertainment business, so we try to make [all the events] great—not just the bull riding.” Tickets are $11.50 for adults, $5.50 for kids 4 to 14, and little ones get in free.
“Going once, going twice, sold!”
While the bidding typically fetches more than $300,000 at the Junior Livestock Auction (Aug 11), witnessing the young members of 4-H and FFA kids showing off their painstakingly groomed sheep, pigs, and steers is priceless. Gussied up in crisply ironed shirts, these pint-size farmers revel in the spotlight as the fast-talking auctioneer deftly facilitates the enthralling bidding action. “These kids bust their butts all summer long to raise their animals,” says longtime Coalville resident and Summit County Fair participant Mary Ann Jones. “You see their little faces just light up because they raised a lot of money, or their faces are just so sad because they have to say goodbye to their pet.”
Bronco Busters in Training
Topping off the kid-friendly happenings is the Little Buckaroo Rodeo (Aug 10). Anyone ages 3 to 14 can take part in events ranging from the ribbon pull (little cowpokes try to pull ribbons off a fleeing sheep) to climbing into the bucking shoots for a mini bull ride. Coalville local Kassidy Jones, who dominated the little buckaroo event since she was a stick horse–riding tot, recommends the mutton busting (featuring a sheep in lieu of a bucking bronco) as a “hilarious” must-see. As a contender, the now-16-year-old rodeo queen (who’s been crowned at several county fairs) favors the speed of barrel racing, break away, goat tying, and the 8-second adrenaline rush of riding a steer.
Though only the judges get to sample the pie-baking contest, a veritable smorgasbord of delicious nibbles and homegrown beverages can be found along the midway. The following are a few not to be passed up:
Kathy’s Fillets & Pies (former owners of the now-shuttered Spring Chicken Inn) chicken sandwich. Flock to this stand early, advises English. Every year, the Woolstenhulme family sells out of this beloved fowl fare, although a slice of granny’s banana cream pie is also worth the sometimes-long wait in line.
The Lion’s Club rodeo burger. Cheap ($3) and good. Enough said.
Denise’s Home Plate’s Navajo taco. The quest for a Utah delicacy ends with this open-faced, fry bread–based wrap sandwich featuring homemade chili, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese. Another Utah original: Denise’s Scone Dots, which consist of fried dough, powdered sugar, and homemade fruit jams or honey butter (not an English scone).
Neena’s street tacos. The Ponce family’s matriarch mixes the spices herself—and will tell you all about her meticulously fresh-picked ingredients, no matter how long the line.
And, yes, vendors serve up snow cones, funnel cakes, cotton candy, hot dogs, and plenty more on-a-stick fare, too.
Thirsty? Pull up a hay bale at the Beer Garden (Aug 5, 11 & 12), where all the libations are homegrown—even the cocktail garnishes. Among the local sips: the Summit County Garden Cooler (High West Distillery vodka, rhubarb, strawberry, basil-infused simple syrup, and fresh-squeezed citrus), the Wanship Whiskey Sour (High West double rye whiskey, lavender, sugar, and fresh-squeezed lemon), or a cold pint from Park City Brewery.
Arts and Wares
Akin to an airplane hangar with character, the Quonset Hut houses a remarkable showing of local talent. Fairgoers stroll through an impressive selection of hand-crafted goods, prize turnips, and ribbon-worthy lilies and lavender. From amateur photography to children’s artwork, this showcase is 100 percent Summit County. The 30-ish vendors who set up shop sell wares ranging from Wanship local and X-Games medalist Ashley Battersby’s handmade apparel to locally sourced elk jerky.
Kids of All Ages
For folks who prefer wheeling to wrangling, the Sunrise Rotary Club’s Tour de Sunrise road bike ride cruises in the wake of the Parade (Aug 12), a small-town (in the best sense of the term) procession of vintage tractors, fair royalty, and high school marching bands. The cyclists serve as the parade’s caboose before setting out on an easy, eight-mile, out-and-back ride along the flat Rail Trail to Echo Reservoir. Rotary-staffed tents along the way offer refreshments and small giveaways.
Beating the afternoon heat, the North Summit Fire Department gets in touch with its inner adolescent at the official Children’s Water Fight (Aug 12). Armed with trucks and hoses, firefighters take on the kids, who retaliate with water balloons and squirt guns. The cool-down wraps up with free watermelon for everyone. The Petting Zoo, Carnival, and Youth Pet Fest (particularly the “Owner/Pet Look Alike” contest) round out the small-fry highlights.
The Summit County Fair opens August 3 and runs through the 12th at the fairgrounds in Coalville, located 23 miles northeast of Park City. For the full effect (i.e., to experience all exhibits, rides, nibbles, libations, entertainment, and competitions), the latter weekend is the best bet. For a quieter mosey, midweek fair-going still delivers good, clean fun, albeit a bit pared down in terms of excitement. Fair entry is free of charge. Parking on Main Street with shuttle access is straightforward and hassle-free, even during the fair’s busy weekends, and parking at the fairgrounds midweek is fair game. New this year: Park City Transit buses are running from Kimball Junction to the fairgrounds on August 6, 12, and 13.