11 Small Cities Packing a Big Punch for Their Pride Celebrations This Year

These Pride Month festivities will get you back in the party - and not just in the familiar out-and-proud metropolises, either.


After a virtual year, we’re ready to go big for Pride. These festivities will get you back in the party – and not just in the familiar out-and-proud metropolises, either. Beyond the famed rainbow-clad enclaves in major Pride destinations like San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago, smaller cities and towns across the country are waving kaleidoscopic flags of their own, conducting vibrant parades and hosting inclusive festivals in states and regions where you’d least expect it. These states may be largely red, but their Pride festivals and parades showcase every color of the rainbow.

Support the LGBTQ community while you celebrate in Salt Lake City, Utah

June 1-7
For the largest hub in an infamously red state, Utah Pride Center does extensive work to support and uplift the LGBTQ community in Salt Lake City and beyond. This includes offering resources for mental health services, education, suicide prevention and programs for both youth and seniors, all made possible by donations and tickets purchased for its annual Pride events. Returning to in-person activities this year, albeit in a tweaked COVID-safe capacity, Pride Week still offers plenty of ways to celebrate from June 1-7. While food vendors and live entertainment are on hiatus until next year, 2021 offers a dynamic slate of events including the Pride Story Garden, which is an interactive outdoor exhibit sharing stories about LGBTQ+ history, the Rainbow March & Rally, flag raising ceremonies and Pride Interfaith Service, a virtual, music-filled religious gathering held June 2.  

Join a month-long party with over 30 events in Des Moines, Iowa

June 1-30
Another unexpected capital city that goes big for Pride is Des Moines, Iowa, where Capital City Pride conducts LGBTQ events throughout the year, including an impressively hefty lineup for Pride Month in particular. This year, the non-profit organization has ballooned its typical weekend-long Pride Fest into a month-long spree it’s billing “30 Days of Pride,” with more than 30 different events held throughout the city. It’s a major shakeup from year’s past, when all the happenings were held in the East Village, a dispersed shift made in part out of COVID precautions, and to spread the rainbow-hued celebrations beyond a single neighborhood. Especially considering its broad slate of events, from a pet parade and the Fun Run to community yoga and the Pride Parade, it’s an apt opportunity to spread the love. It’s one of the more unique Pride events in the country, which includes atypical Pride programming like cooking classes, comedy nights, drag bingo and Progressive Worship Services.

Be there when ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’-inspired fun comes to Columbia, South Carolina

June 5
The deep South isn’t exactly known for its open-minded politics or its drag queen-starring Pride performances, but Columbia is quickly emerging as a haven for LGBTQ culture and connection. After all, this is a city that celebrates two different Pride festivals throughout the year, and proudly waves pink-and-blue transgender flags from the state house steps on Transgender Day of Visibility. While Pride Fest in South Carolina’s capital takes place in October, Outfest Columbia gets in on the Pride month action with a bevy of musical performances, vendors, and activities, all across the street from the downtown state house at The Vista. Getting back to pre-2020-style revelry (while adhering to COVID-safe protocols like mask mandates and hand sanitizing stations), the 2021 fest on June 5 is headlined by RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Utica Queen, with music and performances by the likes of Cierra Nichole and Leslie Lain.  

Ring in Pride at an all-night block party in El Paso, Texas

June 19
When it comes to progressive politics in Texas, cities like Austin get much of the attention, but smaller, underrated cities like El Paso have played a crucial role in turning the state purple. Sun City Pride, a decade-old organization working to increase LGBTQ visibility in west Texas, is at the forefront of Texas’ progression. And what could be more visible than a block party? Pride is back in action this year with the 15th annual El Paso Sun City Pridefest Block Party, held June 19 at Raves Club, from 6 pm until the wee hours. Stacked with DJs, drag shows, food vendors, merch, cocktails and live performances on two main stages, there’s plenty to see, do, and celebrate at the outdoor event. 

Party with queens (and kweens) in Manchester, New Hampshire

June 19
Compared to nearby New England states like Massachusetts and Vermont, New Hampshire was a bit slower to progress its LGBTQ-friendly politics. In Manchester, the state’s most populous city, June wasn’t recognized as Pride Month until 2018, and the first Queen City Pride Block Party didn’t occur until 2019. The resounding success of the festival paved the way for Queen City Pride to form as an organization, which has been conducting activities, meetings, and events throughout the year ever since. This year, the Queen City Pride Festival is back, taking place June 19 at Arms Park from 12-6 pm, providing a safe and joyous space for all New Hampshire queens – and kweens. The free-to-attend event is designed for all ages, featuring wholesome drag performances, music, cocktails, beer, and food.  

Hear queer storytelling in Laramie, Wyoming

June 22
Home to one of the most infamous and horrific homophobic attacks in US history, where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead, the small Wyoming town of Laramie serves as a beacon of hope, and a symbol of how a community can strengthen and grow through tragedy and loss. The town established Laramie PrideFest in 2017, and it’s been hosting events and celebrations each subsequent summer. The marquis event for 2021 is Tales At The Taphouse, a queer storytelling series where members of Wyoming’s LGBTQ community are able to convene with friends and allies, and share personal stories in a safe, welcoming space. This year’s event, titled “Called To Action: Courage and Community,” is to be held June 22 at 7pm at Train Depot. It’s free to attend, and stories run about 10 minutes each. Prepare to feel inspired. 

Enjoy festivities from downtown to the river in OKC

June 25-27
After last year’s Pride events went virtual, Oklahoma City’s OKC Pride festivities are returning to in-person pageantry this June, and with a move to a much larger and centralized locale, it’s looking bigger and brighter than ever. Taking place June 25-27 at newly minted Scissortail Park, a 40-acre urban oasis connecting downtown to the Oklahoma River, 2021 marks the first time OKC Pride has taken place downtown, enhancing the spotlight on a festival that’s been largely confined to a small strip of gay-friendly businesses and bars along NW 39th Street. Pridefest will be packed with weekend-long vendors, food, and entertainment. The OKC Pride Alliance Parade takes place at 10 am on June 26, roving through the Arts District before culminating on the west side of the park.

March to the music with food and booze in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

June 26
South Dakota: come for the National Monuments, stay for the surprisingly robust Pride Parade. On the east side of the state, in South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls Pride brings a pop of color and inclusivity to a region of the U.S. that’s way too often deemed as “flyover country,” perhaps especially for members of the LGBTQ community. The symbol of the organization, a rainbow buffalo, perfectly encompasses the mission of Sioux Falls Pride: to provide a welcoming and inclusive space for LGBTQ people in an area that may not seem as safe as, say, West Hollywood. The biggest Pride celebration in South Dakota, Sioux Falls Pride is capped by a downtown parade that’s seen its attendance soar in recent years, attracting families and allies for marching music and adjoining activities like food vendors and outdoor performances. This year’s parade takes place June 26 at 10 am, immediately followed by Pride in the Park at Cherapa Place, a larger location from year’s past to accommodate the heartwarming uptick in attendance. Here, from 11 am – 5 pm, attendees can visit food trucks and a beer garden, check out the kids corner and take in a drag show.

Jump into the summertime fete in Biloxi, Mississippi

June 26
The June forecast on the Mississippi Gulf Coast looks like humidity with a 100% chance of rainbows. Pride Day is back for 2021, courtesy of Biloxi-based Gulf Coast Association of Pride, a non-profit that toils year-round to provide healthy and uplifting resources for the LGBTQ community in southern Mississippi, culminating with an annual summertime fete filled with music, DJs, guest speakers, food, art, drag showcases, and kid-friendly frivolity such as face painting and a splash pad. This year’s event takes place June 26 from 11am – 6pm at Point Cadet Plaza.

Support LGBTQ youth in Omaha, Nebraska

July 9
Since 2010, Heartland Pride has been putting the “heart” in America’s Heartland. After originating as a task force to strive for inclusion in a region of the country in sore need of it, Heartland Pride has grown into a 501(c) non-profit organization all its own, celebrating Pride in Nebraska’s largest city. It’s a region known more for cornfields than Pride parades, but each July, Omaha comes aglow with events like the only Youth Pride in Nebraska and a lively all-day Pride Festival. The theme of this year’s Pride festivities, “Let’s Get Back 2gether,” is an apt one that illustrates the parallels between emerging from a pandemic and the opportunities for connectivity and freedom that members of the LGBTQ community seek to find. This year’s events include Youth Pride – geared towards teenagers and their guardians – on July 9 at the Baxter Arena, followed by the 2021 Heartland Pride Parade the next day, which runs through the Old Market neighborhood at 10 am. The main Festival then takes place at Baxter Arena from 12-10:30 pm, anchored by family-friendly outdoor activities and live music on the main stage.

Take in queer comedy and street drag in Big Sky, Montana

July 15-17
Most folks visit southern Montana for epic hiking and skiing, but once summer hits its peak, there’s more to Big Sky than mountainous panoramas. Just as beautiful is its convivial downtown Pride parade, which takes place July 17 at 11 am, lending some luster to a corner of the country not often highlighted for its vibrant LGBTQ community. Big Sky’s big parade – and adjoining Pride activities which go all month long – are here to debunk the stereotypes. The Parade is pure riotous joy, as it weaves through the streets to Anchor Park, which serves as the setting for a post-parade rally led by local government leaders and LGBTQ advocates. Other activities include a rainbow-colored kid’s T-shirt party at the Holter Museum of Art that same afternoon, and more Pride activities in July like a street drag show at Last Chance Gulch (July 16), the Perfectly Queer Comedy Show at the Holter Museum of Art (July 15) and Margaritas & Manicures at Kismet Nail Bar (July 12).

Orbitz believes everyone should be able to travel freely, no matter who you are, who you love, or where you’re going. Discover LGBTQIA-welcoming hotels, plan queer-friendly trips, and get inspired to vacation. You’ll feel welcomed whenever you book with Orbitz. Travel As You Are™.

Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for national parks, Disney, and food. He’s the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a national parks community blog, podcast, and app. Follow him on IG @matt_kirouac.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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