Back in April, I worked on an article for the Wichita Eagle on places within driving distance of Wichita, Kan., to see a great fireworks show on the Fourth of July (Follow the boom: Fourth of July road trips). This ran in a special summer guide tabloid published in May — a little early for many people to make plans for the July 4 weekend so I thought I’d share the information I gathered now that it’s a little closer to Independence Day.
I’m including bonus material, too. Several of these destinations got cut from the article because of space…and the Wichita Eagle didn’t use the photos that I gathered from the tourism folks so I’m sharing some here.
Follow the boom: Fourth of July road trips
A thousand explosions within a minute lit up the sky and rumbled the chest of spectators at the Wamego Fireworks Show. Newbies figured this must be the finale. Seasoned show-goers in this town 10 miles east of Manhattan, Kan., knew it was only a third of the way through the 30-minute set.
“We call it the finale that never ends because there are multiple times when you think it’s so spectacular this has to be the finale,” said Megan Umscheid, executive director of the Wamego Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been voted the best public fireworks display in Kansas, and we should be voted the longest finale ever.”
Wamego’s Fourth of July fireworks show is unique because the meticulously choreographed display is planned and executed by a pyrotechnic crew of local volunteers. It was that way until the 1990s when increased regulations forced organizers to outsource the show. After just a few years, community volunteers committed to the training and licensing necessary to return the show to a local production.
“With a crew of about 24 folks, including 13 seasoned shooters, who spend a year on this one show, you generate some pretty interesting ideas,” said Chris Hupe, a second-generation pyrotechnic crew member and lead technician. “We’re able to do things that other shows can’t because we’re shooting across an area that covers acres. We have more than 60 different shoot sites within the fireworks show, and our crew can shoot into different parts of the sky at once to create a much deeper and wider effect.”
Volunteers donate hundreds of hours and sponsors donate thousands of dollars to offer the free show, which starts at 10 p.m. on July 4. The town grows from 5,000 residents to as many as 25,000 so it’s best to come early and enjoy activities throughout the day: more than 200 antique cars and tractors, carnival, parade, live music and more.
Fourth of July falls on Friday this year and there are no public displays of fireworks scheduled in Wichita; these are perfect conditions for a road trip to Wamego or one of these regional destinations (shown with approximate mileage from Wichita).
El Dorado, Kan. – 30 miles
The city’s Independence Day celebration begins at 10 a.m. July 4 in East Park near downtown with a children’s fishing derby. Activities – from chalk art to a wiffleball tournament – run throughout the day and all are free, including a hotdog feed and swimming at El Dorado Municipal Pool. The city gathers at McDonald Stadium for a 7 p.m. baseball game followed by fireworks.
Edmond, Okla. – 150 miles
LibertyFest covers nine days and includes 10 festivals, culminating on July 4 with ParkFest at University of Central Oklahoma, the largest parade in the state (more than 100 entries) and the largest fireworks display in the OKC metro.
Wamego, Kan. – 150 miles
In case you’re just skimming this post I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss Wamego … so go back up and read the intro to this article, which explains why you should go to Wamego to see an awesome fireworks display. (p.s. While in Wamego, check out Oz Museum which I’ve visited and written about.)
Dodge City, Kan. – 160 miles
The Boot Hill Museum will help visitors celebrate the Fourth of July old west style – think sack races and seed-spitting contests – along with its regular entertainment. The city is hosting the Dodge City 300 Centennial, a motorcycle celebration July 1-6 to honor an important race that occurred there in 1914. The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series is at Dodge City Raceway Park July 4-5. The community hosts a free fireworks display July 4 at Memorial Stadium.
Bartlesville, Okla. – 160 miles
Freedom Fest, from 6-10:30 p.m. on July 4, is centered around revitalized downtown Bartlesville. Visitors will find live music, games, a flyover by the 138th Fighter Wing, fireworks show and activities – including a patriotic kids parade.
Oklahoma City – 160 miles
Stars & Stripes Family Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. June 28 in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River. Free activities include live music, vendors, watching water races, an interactive exhibit of Olympic sports including rowing, kayaking and gymnastics, and the fireworks show. Paid activities include racing and RIVERSPORT Adventures, an area with aerial adventure trails, wall climbing, paddle boarding and more.
Kansas City metro – 185 miles
The biggest fireworks displays on July 4 in the Kansas City area are KC RiverFest at Berkley Riverfront Park along the Missouri River and the Star Spangled Spectacular in Overland Park, Kan., at the city’s 52-acre Founders’ Park. Both include a variety of live music, games and rides for children and concessions. If you arrive early for RiverFest the $5 admission is waived. The Overland Park event offers free admission.
There’s plenty to do on either the Missouri or Kansas side before fireworks, too. The Kansas City T-Bones independent baseball team plays at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Village West at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 5:05 p.m. on Sunday. Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery (30 miles north of downtown) will be open for tasting reds and whites while listening to blues music; Fort Osage National Historic Landmark reenacts Independence Day in 1812; and Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead has patriotic lessons, crafts and activities planned.
Springfield, Mo. – 250 miles
The city’s annual fireworks show is June 28 at Hammons Field, home of the Springfield Cardinals. Family-friendly activities start at 3 p.m., the Double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals plays at 5:10 p.m. and fireworks start at 9:45 p.m. Tickets to the game start at $7.
Seward, Neb. – 260 miles
Twenty miles west of Lincoln, Neb., this town of 7,000 residents becomes a gathering spot for 40,000 celebrating in “America’s Official Fourth of July City-Small Town U.S.A.”, a designation from Congress in 1979. More than 100 events make up the all-day festival on July 4, ending with a giant fireworks show at Plum Creek Park.
St. Louis – 435 miles
This year the annual Fourth of July events at the Gateway Arch will move to the grounds that hosted the 1904 World’s Fair – Forest Park. Fair Saint Louis is coordinating with the city’s year-long 250th birthday celebration for free concerts, parades and fireworks July 3-5.
Wichita – 0 miles
There are no public fireworks displays scheduled in Wichita on the Fourth of July. Here are the options in Wichita that week:
- July 2: Salute to America’s heroes and fireworks show after the Wichita Wingnuts vs. Amarillo Sox baseball game at Lawrence Dumont Stadium, 300 S. Sycamore St. Tickets: $6-$13. Game begins at 7:05 p.m. For information or tickets call: 316-755-7328.
- July 3: Celebrate America jazz concert and fireworks on Bradley Fair Plaza, near 21st and Rock Road. The free concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and is followed by fireworks over the lake at approximately 9:30 p.m.
This, of course, is not an all-inclusive list. Check out the events calendar at travelks.com and other states’ tourism websites for listings.