Western USA in detail

Month by Month

Top Events

Sundance Film Festival, January

Telluride Bluegrass Festival, June

Burning Man, August

Great American Beer Festival, September

Halloween, October

January

Skiers and snowboarders descend on ski resorts across the region, but some mountain roads are impassable. Palm Springs and the southern deserts welcome travelers seeking warmer climes and saguaro-dotted landscapes.

Rose Parade

This famous New Year's Day parade of flower-festooned floats, marching bands and prancing equestrians draws about 700,000 spectators to Pasadena, CA, before the Rose Bowl college football game.

Sundance Film Festival

Park City, UT, unfurls the red carpet for indie filmmakers, actors and moviegoers who flock to the mountain town in late January for a week of cutting-edge films.

National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Wranglers and ropers gather in Elko, NV, for a week of poetry readings and folklore performances. Started in 1985, this event has inspired cowboy poetry readings across the region.

Chinese New Year

In late January or early February, you'll find colorful celebrations and feasting anywhere there's a Chinatown. NYC throws a festive parade, though San Francisco's is the best, with floats, firecrackers, bands and plenty of merriment.

February

It's the height of ski season, but there are plenty of distractions for those not racing down slopes: low-desert wildflowers bloom, whales migrate off the California coast, and dude ranches saddle up in southern Arizona.

Carnival in Colorado

Mardi Gras meets the mountains in Breckenridge, where folks celebrate with a street party, live jazz and, well, fire dancers.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

In Ashland, tens of thousands of theater fans party with the Bard at this nine-month festival (that's right!), which kicks off in February and features world-class plays and Elizabethan drama.

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

At the largest mineral and gem show in the US, held the second full weekend in February, about 250 dealers sell jewelry, fossils, crafts and lots of rocks. Lecture seminars and a silent auction round out the weekend.

March

Beer! Jet skis! Parties! March is spring-break season, when hordes of college students converge on Arizona's lakes. Families ski or visit parks in warmer climes.

Spring Whale-Watching Week

Gray whales migrate along the Pacific Coast. Around Oregon's Depoe Bay, it's semi-organized, with docents and special viewpoints. The northward migration happens through June.

Spring Training

Major-league baseball fans head to southern Arizona in March and early April for the preseason Cactus League (www.cactusleague.com), when some of the best pro teams play ball in Phoenix and Tucson.

Frozen Dead Guy Days

Celebrate a cryogenically frozen town mascot, known as 'Grandpa Bredo,' in Nederland, CO, with coffin races, ice turkey bowling, a polar plunge and copious beer drinking.

M3F

This nonprofit Phoenix music fest pulls in big names – think Beck, the Avett Brothers and Trombone Shorty – and donates the proceeds to local charities. Also a good spot to check out up-and-coming local bands.

April

Wildflowers bloom in California's high deserts while migrating birds swoop into nature preserves in southern Arizona. For ski resorts, it's the end of the season, meaning slightly lower room prices.

Coachella Music & Arts Festival

Indie rock bands, cult DJs, superstar rappers and pop divas converge outside Palm Springs for this musical extravaganza, now held on two consecutive long weekends in mid-April.

Gathering of Nations

More than 3000 Native American dancers and singers from the US and Canada compete in this powwow in late April in Albuquerque, NM. There's also an Indian market with more than 800 artists and craftspeople.

May

A great time to visit most national parks. With children still in school, the masses don't show until Memorial Day weekend, the last weekend of the month.

Cinco de Mayo

Celebrate the victory of Mexican forces over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, with margaritas, music and merriment. Denver, Los Angeles and San Diego do it in style.

Bay to Breakers

Tens of thousands run costumed, naked and/or clutching beer from Embarcadero to Ocean Beach in San Francisco on the third Sunday in May. The race dates from 1912.

Boulder Creek Festival

Start the summer in the Rockies on Memorial Day weekend with food, drink, music, a rubber duck race and glorious sunshine. It closes with Bolder Boulder, a 10km race celebrated (and run) with all kinds of wacky merriment.

Sasquatch! Music Festival

Indie music fans converge on the outdoor Gorge Amphitheater in George, WA, near the Columbia River Gorge, for live music on Memorial Day weekend (www.sasquatchfestival.com).

June

High season begins for most of the West. Rugged passes are open, rivers are overflowing with snowmelt and mountain wildflowers are blooming. There may be gray fog (June gloom) over southern California beaches.

Pride Month

California's LGBTQ pride celebrations occur throughout June, with costumed parades, coming-out parties, live music and more. The biggest, bawdiest celebrations are in Los Angeles (lapride.org) and San Francisco.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival

In mid-June, join 'Festivarians' for four days of camping and the high lonesome sounds of bluegrass in the mountain-flanked beauty of Telluride, CO.

Electric Daisy Carnival

The world's largest EDM (electronic dance music) fest, the Electric Daisy Carnival is a nonstop three-night party with DJs, carnival rides, art installations and performers at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Custer's Last Stand

On the last weekend in June, there's a sometimes-fun, sometimes-poignant re-enactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn at Montana's Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, southeast of Billings.

Plains Indians Powwow

Around the middle of June, the Shoshone and other tribal nations of the Northern Plains gather in Cody, WY, for one of the most important gatherings of Native Americans in the American West.

July

Vacationers head to beaches, theme parks, mountain resorts, and state and national parks – book well ahead and be prepared for crowds if visiting at this time. Broiling desert parks are best avoided.

Independence Day

Across the West, communities celebrate America's birth with rodeos, music festivals, barbecues, parades and fireworks on July 4.

Aspen Music Festival

From early July to mid-August, top-tier classical performers put on spectacular shows while students from orchestras led by sought-after conductors bring street corners to life with smaller groups.

Oregon Brewers Festival

During this fun beer festival in Portland, about 85,000 microbrew lovers eat, drink and whoop it up on the banks of the Willamette River. Held the last full weekend in July.

Comic-Con International

'Nerd Prom' is the alt-nation's biggest annual convention of comic-book geeks, sci-fi and animation lovers, and pop-culture memorabilia collectors. It takes over San Diego in mid-July.

Cheyenne Frontier Days

Celebrate the American cowboy and the legends of the Wild West with roping, riding and a parade at this 115-year-old Wyoming rodeo.

World Series of Poker

Everyone from Hollywood celebs and European soccer players to professional gamblers and maybe even your next-door neighbor vie for millions from June through mid-July, with the main championship event taking place in mid-July.

Pageant of the Masters

This eight-week arts fest (www.foapom.com) brings a touch of the surreal to Laguna Beach, CA. On stage, meticulously costumed actors create living pictures – imitations of famous works of art – accompanied by narration and an orchestra.

Grand Teton Music Festival

There are many reasons to visit Jackson, WY, in summer, and this fabulous classical music festival ranks high among them. It begins in July and continues in August.

Utah Shakespeare

From July or late June through mid-October, Southern Utah University stages the Utah Shakespeare Festival with the bard's plays and contemporary works at venues in the college town of Cedar City.

August

Learn about Native American culture at art fairs, markets and ceremonial gatherings across the Southwest. Rodeos are popular in the West, while national parks remain crowded.

Santa Fe Indian Market

Santa Fe's most famous festival is held the third week of August on the historic plaza where more than 1100 artists from about 220 tribes and Pueblos exhibit.

Perseids

Peaking in mid-August, these annual meteor showers are the best time to catch shooting stars with your naked eye or a digital camera. Try darksky.org for info. For optimal viewing, head into the southern deserts.

Old Spanish Days Fiesta

A celebration of early rancho culture with parades, a rodeo, crafts exhibits and shows in Santa Barbara in early August.

Hatch Chile Festival

On Labor Day weekend, join green chile lovers in Hatch, NM, for a parade, a mariachi competition and numerous chile-eating contests.

September

Summer's last hurrah is the Labor Day holiday weekend. It's a particularly nice time to visit the Pacific Northwest, where nights are cool and days are reliably sunny. Fall colors appear in the Rockies.

Burning Man

Outdoor celebration of self-expression known for elaborate art displays, an easygoing barter system, blowing sand and the final burning of the man. This temporary city rises in the Nevada desert the week before Labor Day.

Great American Beer Festival

This three-day celebration of beer, held in Denver in late September or early October, is so popular it always sells out in advance, with 700 US breweries getting in on the sudsy action. More than 3500 beers available.

Bumbershoot

In early September, Seattle's biggest arts and cultural event hosts hundreds of musicians, artists, comedians, writers and theater troupes on various stages.

Santa Fe Fiesta & Burning of Zozobra

The original Burning Man (Old Man Gloom) – torched every September since 1924 – is the highlight of this 10-day fiesta in Santa Fe.

October

Shimmering aspens lure road-trippers to Colorado and northern New Mexico for the annual fall show. Watch for ghouls, ghosts and hard-partying maniacs as Halloween, on October 31, approaches.

International Balloon Fiesta

Look to the skies in early October for the world's biggest gathering of hot-air balloons at this festival in Albuquerque, NM.

Halloween

Hundreds of thousands of costumed revelers come out to play in LA's West Hollywood neighborhood and elsewhere for all-day partying, dancing, kids' activities and live entertainment.

Litquake

Author readings, discussions and literary events at this writer and arts festival, such as the legendary pub crawl in San Francisco, in mid-October.

Sedona Arts Festival

This fine-art show overflows with jewelry, ceramics, glass and sculptures in early October when 125 artists exhibit their works at Sedona's Red Rock High School.

November

Temperatures drop across the West. Most coastal areas, deserts and parks are less busy, with the exception of the Thanksgiving holiday. The ski season begins.

Día de los Muertos

Mexican communities honor dead ancestors on November 1 and 2 with costumed parades, sugar skulls, graveyard picnics, candlelight processions and fabulous altars.

Thanksgiving

On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with family and friends over daylong feasts – roast turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, wine, pumpkin pie and loads of other dishes. NYC hosts a huge parade, and there's pro football on TV.

Wine Country Thanksgiving

More than 160 wineries in the Willamette Valley open their doors to the public for three days in late November.

Yellowstone Ski Festival

This Thanksgiving week celebration at West Yellowstone (www.skirunbikemt.com/yellowstone-ski-festival.html) is a great time for ski buffs and newcomers alike. Highlights include ski clinics and races. Nordic skiing kicks off around this time too.

December

'Tis the season for nativity scenes, holiday light shows and other celebrations of Christmas. The merriment continues through New Year's Eve. Expect crowds and higher prices at ski resorts.

Holiday Light Displays

Communities decorate boats, parks and shopping malls with twinkling lights. In California, watch colorful boat parades in Newport Beach and San Diego, or check out displays in LA's Griffith Park Zoo. The Desert Botanical Gardens are aglow in Phoenix.

Snow Daze

Vail, CO, marks the opening of the mountain with a week-long festival featuring an expo village, parties and plenty of big-name live performances.

New Year's Eve

Americans are of two minds when it comes to ringing in the New Year. Some join festive crowds to celebrate, others plot a getaway to escape the mayhem. Whichever you choose, plan well in advance. Expect high prices.