10 Best Outdoor Music Venues of 2018

Welcome to our guide of the best outdoor music venues in the country. We will dive into the intersection of the outdoors and music: camping, recreation, artist lineups, local attractions and more.  Here you will find places to stop on your road trip and things to know before you experience these music venues firsthand.

We included some of the country’s premiere outdoor music venues and some of the lesser known attractions. Nonetheless, a trip to one of these special theaters is like a trip to the sensation station—it  will leave you with a good feeling.

Gorge Amphitheatre

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Location: George, Washington

Capacity: 27,500

Date opened: 1986

Arguably the best venue in the country, the Gorge Amphitheatre carries stunning views and an element of seclusion. Built on a plot originally meant for growing grapes for wine, the venue sits along the Columbia River Gorge amidst a series of orchards.

The amphitheater hosts some of the world’s most talented artists with annual festivals like Sasquatch! Music Festival and Paradiso Festival. Some other big acts who have played there frequently include Phish, Dave Matthews Band, and Pearl Jam.  

This is the quintessential camping venue which offers 24-hour camping for single night shows and multi-day camping for longer runs. It gets exceptionally hot in the middle of summer, but you can find refuge in the nearby Columbia River. The best way to get there is to drive south out of the campground area onto Silica Road and then take a right onto Sunland Road which will take you straight down to the river.

If you are driving up through Oregon on I-82, you may stop by a local breakfast diner, Sage Port Grille, located south of the Gorge on the Columbia River. Sage Port is reminiscent of a classic biker diner, and is a great way to open or close your trip to the Gorge--like a good Tweezer to Tweeprise.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

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Location: Morrison, Colorado

Capacity: 9,525

Date opened: 1906

Few places in the world are serendipitous gifts to humanity--places made for such a specific form of human enjoyment. Over 200 million years of rock formation birthed the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Music is said to have been in existence for 55,000 years, and humans have managed to perfect the craft of music just in time to showcase it at Red Rocks.

The only natural amphitheatre in the world, Red Rocks is a once in a 4 billion year miracle, and it calls music lovers from around the globe to grace it’s presence.  

If you take a trip 15 minutes down the road, you can find yourself in the gorgeous town of Golden, CO, home to Coors Brewing Company. Right in it’s backyard is Rocky Mountain National Park and Golden Gate Canyon State Park, either of which may peak the interest of those keen on the outdoors.

The amphitheater hosts more concerts than almost any outdoor venue in the world and one of the most diverse lineups to boot. Anyone who has a pulse know’s Red Rocks is a once in a lifetime experience and mother nature’s gift to mankind, the question is, why haven’t you been?

Saratoga Performing Arts Center

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Location: Saratoga Springs, New York

Capacity: 21,500

Date opened: July 9, 1966

SPAC is nestled in the farm town of Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York, and it’s just 14 minutes away from Skidmore College. The venue opened to a presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the New York City Ballet, and still to this day hosts a two to three week stint showcasing the NYC Ballet. It also hosts a residency for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

More than that, SPAC has established itself as one of the premiere outdoor venues on the east coast. The venue carries one of the best summer lineups year-to-year. Some of the artists that have rolled through include Bruce Springsteen, Phish, Jay-Z, DMB, Coldplay, Grateful Dead, and Aretha Franklin.

Close by you can find the majestic Lake Saratoga and plenty of streams to fly fish or cast a rod. Saratoga Springs is a great place to find yourself in the summer, and it will definitely provide that sensation we talked about earlier.

Alpine Valley Music Theatre

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Location: East Troy, Wisconsin

Capacity: 37,000

Date opened: 1977

The Grateful Dead played Alpine Valley twenty times in the 80’s. Okay, I think we can move on to the next venue now.

Seriously, despite being out of commission for the 2017 concert season due to a multitude of reasons (Chicago taking more of the summer acts), Alpine Valley still remains one of the most beautiful locations to see live music.

This theater is the ultimate get away with it being only an 1 hour and 45 minutes outside of Chicago and roughly 45 minutes from Milwaukee. The facility represents the proper history of live music, and it deserves more love than just a few shows per summer.

There’s a variety of places to camp in the outskirts of Troy, WI, one of them being Scenic Ridge Campground located on Whitewater Lake just 20 minutes outside Alpine. Also, be sure to stop by to treat yourself to a local milkshake, after all, you are in the dairy capital of the world.

Make America Alpine Again!

Horning’s Hideout

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Location: North Plains, Oregon

Capacity: N/A

Date opened: N/A

Horning’s Hideout is more of a musical campout than an outdoor venue. The park only hosts a few concerts a year, one being the Northwest String Summit music festival. The String Cheese Incident has also been known to frequent Horning’s in the summer.

Northwest String Summit makes for a great summer reprieve in the dense green forest of northwest Oregon, and you can always count on a transformative experience of sorts. Split between Portland and the Tillamook State Forest, Horning’s is the centerfold of everything you need for a summer adventure.

If there is one outdoor venue that needs more music it’s Horning’s Hideout, but for now, some good ole fashioned bluegrass will suffice.

Blossom Music Center

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

Capacity: 23,000

Date opened: 1968

Blossom Music Center resides in the southern part of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and is surrounded by creeks, rivers, and forest. You can camp at five separate sites within 15 minutes of the venue, and enjoy the treasures of an underrated national park.

Blossom Music Center is only 45 minutes south of Cleveland, and is in one of the most beautiful parts of Ohio. This venue is a staple of Northeast Ohio, which isn’t always associated with scenery, but you do not want to miss out on the hidden gem of the Buckeye State.

Telluride Town Park

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Location: Telluride, Colorado

Capacity: ~12,000

Date opened: N/A

One of the best kept secrets in America: Telluride, CO. Nothing beats the box canyon paradise. Moab is just 2 hours and 45 minutes away, and what an amazing drive from red rock arches to steep mountain faces.

Telluride is located along the San Miguel River which provides ample opportunity for fishing, paddle boarding, rafting, and kayaking. It also is the home of world class hiking, mountain biking, and trail running.

This town has a population of roughly 2,500 people and it more than quadruples the size when a festival is in town. Town Park is located in the back of the town, doubling over as a baseball field as well as a venue. A series of festivals take place throughout the year with Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride Jazz Festival, and The Ride Festival.

In 2015 and 2016, Pretty Lights held a live two day run that blew patrons out of the water as lazers lit up the mountain, and the sounds of hip-hop, funk, and electronic carried you from past to present to future. Telluride Town Park is truly a magical place, and it is the ultimate cross between the outdoors and music.

Red Butte Garden Amphitheater

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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Capacity: 3,000

Date opened: n/a

You didn’t think Salt Lake City would be on this list, did you? Virtually known to locals only, this amphitheater flies under the radar. However, if your planning a trip to the Wasatch playground, you might want to add a concert at Red Butte to you itinerary.

The arboretum is located at the mouth of the Red Butte Creek and the base of the University of Utah foothills, known as Red Butte Canyon. Some of the hottest names in music both past and present have rolled through this 3,000 person gem: Gov’t Mule, Trey Anastasio Band, Portugal the Man, Odesza, Lake Street Dive, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the list goes on.

While there’s a million things to do in the outdoors during a Salt Lake City summer, the close by foothills offer stunning views of the valley and Wasatch mountain range. You can either hike all the way up to the Fire Tower to look over Emigration Canyon or you can take a shorter hike to The Living Room (a resting spot full of Flintstone-esque couches).

Here’s the major kicker offered by very few venues in the country, Red Butte Garden Amphitheater lets you bring in your own lawn chairs, food, and coolers (perhaps with your favorite alcohol beverages of choice). That’s right, Utah isn’t so bad about drinking a few cold ones after all.

Kettlehouse Amphitheater

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Location: Bonner, Montana

Capacity: 4,000

Date opened: 2017

The hottest new venue in the country could not be in a more prime location. After opening in 2017, Kettlehouse Amphitheater has brought in some amazing acts with the likes of Ween, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Primus. The 2018 season is also slated to feature Bon Iver, the Pixies, and Trampled by Turtles.

Kettlehouse is embraced by the Blackfoot River which provides a backdrop similar to a small-scale Gorge. The state of the art facilities blend into the natural look of the mountains and river, and features the most up to date soundsystem and production capabilities.

Kettlehouse is located just 12 minutes east of Missoula, and is surrounded by an adventurer’s dream with premiere fly fishing, hiking, and even surfing. Kettlehouse is the namesake of the Kettlehouse Brewing Company based out of Missoula, which offers some of the tastiest microbrews this side of the Mississippi.

Montana is far-out for most people, but if you are rolling through Glacier National Park or a nearby national forest, you must pay a visit to the Kettlehouse Amphitheater along the way.

Merriweather Post Pavilion

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Location: Columbia, Maryland

Capacity: 19,319

Date opened: 1967

After hosting a concert that featured a bill with Led Zeppelin and The Who in May of 1969, Merriweather was destined to be one of those legendary venues. During the Grateful Dead’s last harrah with the remaining original members in 2015, they kicked off the summer with the Dear Jerry Festival at MPP. In that same summer, My Morning Jacket, Phish, Willie Nelson, and Death Cab for Cutie played a few tunes at the venue.

This place has a long history of music, and can serve as a living testament to all the great artists that came before and those yet to come. The venue is located just 45 minutes outside of D.C., and has become a huge part of the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) culture.

Columbia, MD is surrounded by creeks, rivers, and rolling hills waiting to be explored. But perhaps, the coolest thing about MPP is that it offers a pool and lounge area for artists to bask in while they await to play in front of thousands of patrons.

While there are many outdoor venues in the country, there are few that are worthy of the bucket list. We promise that if you see a show at one these places you will feel those aforementioned sensations.

Send us your stories about your favorite outdoor music venues to info@litoutdoors.com, we want to hear from you!