Top tips on how to do Carbondale Mountain Fair this weekend

51st town festival takes place Friday through Sunday at Sopris Park

Scenes from the Rhythm of the Heart community drum circle at the start of the 50th annual Carbondale Mountain Fair in 2019.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Longtime Carbondale Mountain Fair volunteer and partaker Jeff Dickinson offers two ways to do the fair if you want to maximize the number of old friends you bump into or new people to meet — which, let’s face it, is a good bit of what Mountain Fair is about.

“You can either stay in one spot and let everyone come to you, or you can move around and try to see everybody who’s staying in one spot,” says Dickinson, who these days helps run the Cantina.

Speaking of which, the Cantina, with its array of beer selections and drink specialties, is a good place for reunions and making a new acquaintance or two.

There’s also the food vendor lines, the dancing area in front of the gazebo stage, and of course that chance meeting on Main Street.

However you choose to do Mountain Fair, though, get ready to have fun, take your mind off things and see and hear some stuff you don’t see and hear too often. 

For those first-timers wondering how best to take in Mountain Fair — the three-day arts performance and visual arts spectacle that takes place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Sopris Park — just ask the many locals who help make it happen year after year for some sound advice.

Here are five things to consider to make your Mountain Fair experience the best it can be. 

Getting there

If you live in Carbondale, or happen to be staying in town for the weekend, your best transportation bet is to walk or bike.

Vehicle parking is limited, though there are some good options for those who arrive early in the day, and at least one good paid option for a good cause — the Mt. Sopris Nordic Council parking lot at the Colorado Mountain College Lappala Center at Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue.

“Bike is the No. 1 best way to get there,” said Bob Schultz, another longtime Mountain Fair volunteer. “Even if you drive, if you have a bike rack, bring the bike.”

Bike corrals are located off of Seventh Street near the town pool and on Weant Boulevard behind the Forest Service building, noted Sarah Overbeck, communications director for Carbondale Arts, which puts on Mountain Fair. 

Those coming from out of town also should consider taking a RFTA bus to Carbondale.

“Especially if you plan to be partaking in the Cantina offerings, I’d say take the bus,” Dickinson said. 

As was the case last year, the Mountain Fair footprint expands onto Main Street again this year, meaning the downtown section will be closed between Fourth and Seventh streets starting at 8 a.m. Friday until 9 p.m. Sunday.

Also, leave dogs and other pets at home, not in your car, and definitely don’t bring them to the park. Dogs and glass containers are not allowed in the park.

Bring water in your own bottle, too. There are water filling stations located throughout the park. 

Hanging out

While Mountain Fair doesn’t have a “tarp run” when the gates open like big music festivals, there is a little bit of jockeying for position to get the prime “hang out spot” in front of the gazebo.

“It is a day-by-day thing,” said longtime Mountain Fair Director Amy Kimberly. “We don’t allow tarps or blankets to stay overnight, so those have to be removed at the end of the day.”

Fair goers can set out blankets and low-profile chairs (not the high-back variety) and umbrellas starting at 3 p.m. Friday, but keep in mind you’ll need to leave room for the community drum circle at 4 p.m.

Mountain Fair no longer has a shade tent lottery, but a community shade tent is provided on the Euclid Avenue side of the park.

“Afternoon is when the sun is most direct, so that’s usually the hottest part of the day,” Schultz said. “But there is a nice row of big trees on the west side of the park that provide some nice shade later in the afternoon.

“If you do go over to the shade tent, be nice and give up a seat for someone who may need it more than you,” he also advised.

Dickinson suggested volunteering to help out with one of the many duties necessary to keep the fair running smoothly.

Contest watching

Again, there’s always a little jockeying for position to get the prime spots to watch the most popular Mountain Fair contests, especially men’s and women’s wood splitting and limbo.

New to the contest lineup this year is the Potters Relay Throwdown at 6 p.m. Saturday in the judging canopy, where teams of clay workers will try to be the fastest to work the potting wheel. 

Timing is everything to head over to the open space for the big contests before whatever band is playing wraps up, or maybe draw straws to dispatch someone to head over and grab a patch of grass.

“People are pretty good about letting little kids wiggle up front to watch,” said Schultz, offering another piece of etiquette advice — short people up front, tall people in back.

“If you really want to see the wood splitting, get there early and hang out for a while,” Dickinson said. “It’s good to pick which bands and contests you really want to see, and plan accordingly.”

It’s also important to take breaks from the heat, he said.

“Hydrate and have plenty of sunscreen handy,” Dickinson said. “Even if you don’t feel like you’re doing much, just wandering around the park takes a lot out of you.”

A reprieve to a downtown restaurant or watering hole is also a good way to get out of the weather, be it sunshine or rain, he suggested.

Community radio station KDNK also broadcasts live from the park all weekend, so it’s possible to listen to the music from the comfort of your home for a spell before heading back out.

Vendor shopping

The arts and crafts and food vendors open at noon on Friday, before the rest of the fair gets going in earnest.

Smart shoppers know that’s the best time to hit the many arts and crafts vendors that will be on hand for Mountain Fair.

“That’s the best time to shop, because the park is still relatively quiet,” Kimberly said. “Anytime during the weekend is also good to go by the Carbondale Arts silent auction booth for some of the best deals.”

Saturday and Sunday mornings are also popular times to do some serious shopping before the crowds come out and before the heat or rain storms hit.

Last year, organizers made the decision to space the booths apart a little farther and to place some out on Main Street and Weant Boulevard. That also helped people feel more comfortable given pandemic concerns.

As Schultz puts it, “We may be done with COVID, but COVID is not done with us. It’s still good to spread out so the people who want a little space can still come to the fair.”

Vendors can also be found in the Makers Park at Main and Sixth streets, which is also where the silent auction and the valley artists booths are located.

Fair food

Mountain Fair is known for having a good mix of favorite festival food and some unique eats to keep the taste buds happy and the energy level up.

The most popular booths tend to have long lines, especially later in the day around supper time.

“If the line for your favorite fair food is long, try something a little out of your comfort zone,” Dickinson suggested. “You might just learn about a food you didn’t know you liked.”

Those lines can be a great place to meet and chat with people, too, Schultz said.

“It’s actually a pretty social time,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of new people in town and people visiting from out of town just waiting for my food.”

For those wanting to enjoy a beer or other alcoholic drink with their food, Dickinson suggests hitting the Cantina first and sipping the drink while in the food line, instead of the other way around.

Also, if you don’t want to lose track of the kids for long stretches of time, give them only a little bit of money for food, snacks, games and such at a time. 

“That way they’ll always come back and find you,” he said.

Mountain Fair is also big on using compostable plates and utensils to minimize waste.

“So we need people to be mindful of sorting your waste at the trash stations,” Overbeck added.

The Cantina is also run by different community nonprofit organizations that get to keep a portion of the proceeds from their shifts. Beverages are all sourced from Colorado.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or