Summer Festivals for Family Fun

By Kara Isham

Summer brings more to Northwest Arkansas than just high temperatures. Thankfully, by mid-summer, family-friendly events are in full swing in the area, with plenty to offer those looking to get out of the house and enjoy their growing community. Along with the weekly offerings of farmers markets, outdoor concerts and downtown gatherings, families also have two unique events they can look forward to during the last half of the summer.

Firefly Fling Festival


The most popular event at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks returns this year with all the magic and merrymaking that attendees have come to expect. This year’s Firefly Fling Festival will be July 16 from 5 to 10 p.m. Thousands of people are expected to gather in the garden for unique activities and family fun. A big part of the fun is the chance for festival goers to dress up, whether that be by wearing fairy wings or by dressing up as a superhero, monster, woodland creature or other fairytale being. If attendees forget their wings at home, they can pick some up at the garden’s Firefly Shoppe, which will also be selling toy swords, wands, glow sticks and other festival items.


Before dark, families can take part in engaging and fun activities offered by community partners. Some of the most popular activities include face-painting, fairy-house building, nature stations, giant bubbles, crafts and other hands-on fun. The festival will also feature live fairies that roam the garden and entertainers like children’s musician Katie Dwyer. After dark, families can bring blankets or lawn chairs and gather on the Great Lawn for live music. Many guests light up the garden by bringing glow necklaces, bracelets and sticks.


Liz Atwell, communications coordinator for the BGO, describes the evening as a giant, magical party. And she said the enchanting atmosphere of the garden makes the event one-of-a-kind. “There are not a lot of other events like the Firefly Fling Festival,” Atwell said. “It’s a very unique experience, and it’s a community experience where families and kids get to play together.”


She said while it is a family-friendly event, the festival appeals to those of all ages who want to dress up and enjoy something out of the ordinary. “After the past few years, we could all use a little imagination and escape,” she said.


A variety of food trucks will be on-site to offer delicious fare. Atwell says the evening is usually capped off with a fun dance band, and then attendees come together to make a community wish. Advance tickets for the Firefly Fling Festival are $15 for those 13 and older, and $5 for kids younger than 13. Tickets are $5 more per ticket at the gate. Proceeds from the event go to support the garden’s mission of being a place dedicated to education and environmental awareness and serving as a community destination for unique nature experiences. Photos by Capture Me Photography by Nicole.


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Tontitown Grape Festival


Another family festival that is unique to Northwest Arkansas and usually draws a big crowd is the Tontitown Grape Festival, which will be Aug. 2-6. This year marks the 123rd year of the festival, a community tradition that dates back to the times when grapes were more widely grown in the area. The festival, which was started by the Italian founding families of Tontitown, originated by celebrating the annual grape harvest. Today it is a festival dedicated to honoring traditions and bringing the community together. 


Taking place at the Grape Festival Grounds on U.S. Highway 412 W. in Tontitown, next to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the event offers free, family-friendly nightly music entertainment. The festival has no charge for admission or parking, so families can come enjoy live music without spending a dime. The festival also features one of the largest carnivals in Northwest Arkansas, featuring amusement rides for every age group. Armbands are sold nightly for the carnival.


But Festival Event Coordinator Alice Walker said one of the most anticipated aspects of the festival is the food — in particular the traditionally cooked Italian chicken and spaghetti dinners. “Over 123 years the festival has expanded, but it hasn’t changed a lot,” Walker said. “They are still cooking spaghetti like their great-grandparents did.”


The festival also features an arts and crafts fair, where guests can purchase food and goods, including some dried pasta. Guests can also buy grape ice cream at the festival, a treat many look forward to every year. The week-long event also includes bingo, a 5K walk/run for adults, a fun run for kids, the crowning of Queen Concordia, and a grand-prize giveaway. Guests who want to take part in a truly unique activity can try grape stomping, a fun but messy endeavor. Spaghetti dinners are sold Thursday through Saturday for $12 for adults and $6 for kids 10 and under. Carnival armbands are $20 on Tuesday and Wednesday night and $25 from Thursday through Saturday. Photos courtesy of Tontitown Grape Festival.


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