If you’re visiting Girdwood the first weekend in July, you’ll feel a palpable energy in the air—a little extra jolt of excitement. It’s because of the Forest Fair—a huge festival celebrating Alaskan music, arts, and crafts. Artists and visitors pour in from all over Alaska to perform or just have fun, and the entire community comes together to make it happen. It’s the kind of event that visitors may stumble across, then return the following year just to experience it again.
The Forest Fair started in 1975, founded by a group of local artists who wanted to sell their wares, and it’s been held in the same location ever since. There’s always been music, art, and a wide a range of performances, from a tightrope walker to fire throwers.
Today, this free, family-friendly fair happens rain or shine from Friday to Sunday (with Saturday being the biggest day, especially between 2–4 p.m.). The primary focus is music, and there’s a wide variety of it: jazz, funk, folk, rap, Irish, country, and more. And the performers are top-notch: many bands apply, but not everyone gets in.
The fair has three stages: Marlow Pavilion (Main Stage), Beach Stage, and Hoppin’ Barley Stage (Beer Garden). Each offers a lot of variety, though generally you’ll find acoustic music in the Beer Garden, rock music and big events at the main stage, and smaller events, belly dancing, and flame throwing at the Beach Stage. The Main Stage has benches, but generally there’s not a lot of seating, so come prepared to stand—and, if you’re so inclined, dance!
And bring the kids, as there’s a lot for them to do, like make their own artwork such as masks and wands. There’s also some sort of kid’s game every hour, like an egg toss, a three-legged race, a bubblegum-blowing contest, and a pie-eating contest. There’s even a kids parade each day at 3 p.m., led by 14-foot dolls.
But kids aren’t the only ones who get a parade: the main parade starts Saturday morning at the Alyeska day lodge and ends at the forest fair grounds. There’s a different theme each year, and everyone is welcome to join in. Bring your costume or float, show up to the lodge on Saturday morning, and everyone leaves together!
And be sure to buy a Forest Fair T-shirt, which helps the festival cover its costs. Also, try to find one of the “Forest Fair Pins,” free pieces of watercolor artwork you can pin to your coat or jacket. There aren’t enough for everyone, so this is a coveted item.
Ultimately, the Girdwood Forest Fair is about the community coming together to have a good time and enjoy the arts. For visitors, it’s a can’t-miss event.