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Making waves for 83 years: Northwest Water Carnival is one of Minnesota's longest-running festivals

Skiers perform a daring stunt during a ski show at the 1971 Northwest Water Carnival. Photo courtesy of the Becker County Museum1 / 2
Boy Scout Troop 648 marches through Detroit Lakes for the Water Carnival's Parade of the Northwest in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of the Becker County Museum2 / 2

Detroit Lakes' annual Northwest Water Carnival is one of Minnesota's longest-running festivals. Now in its 83rd year, the multi-day celebration of all things wet and wonderful is one of the Lakes Area's premier summer events.

But according to a brief history on the Water Carnival website, it wasn't always that way.

"The first Water Carnival was held in 1935," the site states. "It took several years to become established, and was even cancelled in 1937."

After that initial struggle, however, the event began to grow—and it's grown every year since. It's spanned as many as 11 days, and now includes more than 65 individually scheduled events. This year's Water Carnival, which is just around the bend, coming up July 6-15, will be a 10-day celebration taking place at locations all over Detroit Lakes.

Over the years, certain events have stood out as crowd favorites, and have thus stood the test of time. The Parade of the Northwest, for example, is always popular, as are the ski shows and other water-centric entertainment, games and contests. The Water Carnival's water theme has always celebrated what the Lakes Area is best known for—its lakes—and the event's aim has always been to make a splash with fun, family-friendly activities.

The Water Carnival has been sponsored by the all-volunteer civic organization, the Detroit Lakes Jaycees, since the chapter organized in 1935. For more information, visit their website,

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 4-year-old son and toddler daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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