Sugaring Off at the Sugar Shack: Maple Syrup Festivals

It’s that time of year when it feels like winter but you see little hints of Spring. Like the freezing nights and warm days that cause the sap to run in the Maple trees. Maple syrup production is centered around one thing—climate. You can’t make maple syrup if you can’t grow maple trees. Canada makes about 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup, with the majority (75% of the world production) centered in Quebec. Vermont (the US’s largest producer), Maine, New York, andNew England all produce syrup, while some outlying states with the right climate also produce small amounts.

Maple Syrup Horses

Maple Syrup Festivals celebrate the first signs of Spring, even as the temperature can still be more reminiscent of winter. Expect all the hallmarks of a great festival: agriculture celebrations at their finest. Food, demonstrations, craft booths, farming education, entertainment and family fun. It requires approximately 40 gallons of raw sap to produce one gallon of syrup, and the process has changed over the years from buckets and hand carved taps to plastic lines and vacuum systems. Old school festivals celebrate the labor intensive days and the sweet, addictive product.

Festival Beauceron de l’Erable
Quebec, Canada

Sugaring off, as the syrup season is known in Quebec, is one of the quintessential family vacations. One of the premiere winter playgrounds in the world, Quebec has family activities galore, and the Festival Beauceron de l’Erable is held near Saint-Georges, one of the most scenic areas of the entire province.

Photo credit: Yvon Thibodeau

Photo credit: Yvon Thibodeau

Visit a traditional sugar shack for the traditional “cabane à sucre” foods: pea soup, baked beans, maple-cured ham, “oreilles de crisse” (fried strips of salt pork), omelettes, and maple-sweetened desserts like sugar pie, crepes and “grands-pères” (dumplings poached in maple syrup). Then everyone goes outside for the traditional hot maple taffy, served on a bed of fresh snow and scooped up with wooden sticks. For adults, it’s fun to drink “caribou”. Not the animal, rather, it’s a mixture of wine and alcohol that has you feeling festive in no time.

The festival is a way for locals to celebrate their heritage, eat, drink, sing and dance to folk music with family and friends. The event showcases the traditions that were once a way of life for the rural communities, and the contribution that maple syrup plays in the economy. The program includes fine foods, local crafts and agricultural products, entertaining, maple product tastings and maple taffy on the snow. Most events are free but some have a minimal charge.

National Maple Syrup Festival: Medora, Indiana

Held at Burton’s Maplewood Farm, two miles north of Medora, Indiana, this is the first and only national maple syrup festival in the US. Enjoy hot pancakes with maple syrup all day, see the demonstrations and buy from the vendors as well as participate in activities and entertainment. Experience “Hoosier Hospitality” and sample syrup from every syrup-producing state in the US.

Indian Creek Nature CenterCedar Rapids, Iowa

Experience the steamy boiling of maple sap at the sugarhouse at Indian Creek Nature Center. Demonstrations of Native American and pioneer syruping methods and tree tapping with pancake breakfast. The center also offers programs for groups that teach more in-depth information about the process and the trees themselves.

Vermont Maple Open House Weekend: Throughout Vermont

Activities vary at each sugarhouse, but usually include the opportunity to see maple syrup being made and sample the syrup and other products. Check the list of sugarhouses and feel free to visit several as no two experiences are the same.

Vermont Maple Openhouse Weekend

Make Your Own in Minnesota State Parks

Several Minnesota state parks have “make your own” programs. Fort Snelling, Sibley State Park, Whitewater State Park, Lake Maria, and Wild River State Park all offer programs that are hands-on and you leave with syrup. A couple of the programs require multiple visits and you actually take home syrup that you had a hand in producing. The programs fill quickly and usually require advance registration.

Minnesota also has its share of festivals. Find information on the Minnesota Maple Syrup Festival web site about some of the events.

Maple Syrup Collection in OntarioOntario has many maple syrup festivals throughout the months of March and April. The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association has a complete list of all the festivities and events. The association’s web site also has a comprehensive list of recipes featuring maple syrup. The chicken and barbeque sauce recipes look especially appetizing. Note that many of the festivals combine winter fun with the activities, so dress warm!

Maple Syrup Collection WisconsinWisconsin has a plethora of maple syrup festivals. Find details about the industry and some festival information on the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Festival web site.

Other Fun Festivals

Maple Syrup Making IndianaLeanne & Michael’s Sugarbush, Salem Indiana

Demonstrations of Indian maple syrup making, scavenger hunt for kids, children’s activity area, mule-drawn wagon rides, lots of food, pioneer maple syrup making display and lots, lots more. Plus, there’s no admission fee and parking is also free!

Maple Syrup Festival MichiganShepard Maple Syrup Festival, Shepard, Michigan

The proceeds of the festival finance an ten-week summer recreation program for children in the local school district and maintain a community park. The event is truly a community affair. Volunteers do everything from haul sap buckets to make sausage, prep the festival and make candy. It’s a good old-fashioned small town party in the “Sweetest Little Town Anywhere Around”. The Michigan Maple Syrup Association’s web site has more information on local maple syrup production and events.

Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival, Vermontville, Michigan

The original maple syrup festival in Michigan; there’s something for everyone. Mid-America rides, talent show, arts and crafts, flea market, two parades, petting zoo, princess pageant, various displays, games, free entertainment and arm wrestling. The syrup producers are located throughout the village selling syrup, candies, crème and the ever popular maple syrup cotton candy.

Hartman Reserve Nature Center Maple Syrup FestivalHartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Hearty pancake breakfast, featuring the flipping talents of Chris Cakes (recently featured on Food Network). If you’ve never had a Chris Cake, here’s the recipe for their famous flapjacks. The proceeds go towards environmental education. The event involves the entire community, and previous years have fed over 1,700 breakfasts.

Maple Syrup TaffyByron Forest Preserve District, Byron, Illinois

Byron Forest Preserve District hosts a pancake breakfast, maple tree tapping, hay rides, kid’s crafts and more. Free admission with small fee for breakfast. Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa has a special Maple Syrup Festival package that includes Friday and Saturday lodging, Sunday pancake breakfast, family maple syrup surrey ride, one bottle of maple syrup and spa discounts.

Hebron Maple FestivalHebron Maple Festival, Hebron, Connecticut

Witness maple cotton candy being made and enjoy the crafts, food, activities and entertainment. There’s also a self tour of operating sugar houses both days (no admission charge), historical quilt exhibition and sale, sugar on snow, silent auction, letter boxing and scavenger hunt.

Pennsylvania Maple Festival, Meyersdale, Pennsylvania

Started around a pot-bellied stove in a local store, the Pennsylvania Maple Festival has grown to draw over 10,000 visitors annually and has been central in growing the local community. Now the festival includes a Annual 5K Maple Walk and Run, historical pageant, auto show, pancake breakfast, dance, horse and tractor pulling contests, quilt show and parade. The Maple Festival Park features a historic homestead, antique doctor’s office, cobbler’s shop, country store and sugar camp. The Maple Queen contest draws entries from local high schools. The Endless Mountains Maple Festival in Troy, Pennsylvania continues to grow and is a fun local alternative to the larger production in Meyersdale.

Highland Maple FestivalHighland Maple Festival, Monterey, Virginia
One of the largest festivals of any type in the Southeast, the Highland Maple Festival draws over 35,000 people over two weekends. Attend one of the region’s largest craft shows and shake your sugar tree at the Festival Fling Dance, Festival Sugar Shakeup Dance or the Maple Queen Ball. Visit sugar camps throughout the county on the Maple Sugar Tour (pick up a map at any of the participating sugar houses). Even stay on a working farm to get the experience of a working farm.

Maple Sugaring Festival, Lucas, Ohio
Ohio State Parks staff lead demonstrations at Malabar Farm and offer free samples of maple syrup. Admission is free and features sugaring demonstrations, historic tours, horse-drawn rides and sweet maple treats. The summer bell house, behind the nearby Pugh Log Cabin, is set up as a pioneer cabin, where families can take part in daily pioneer chores like washing clothes, making candles, cooking and tending to the fire. Live entertainment and snacks are also available.