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Free Major Sporting Events

Updated on February 11, 2013
New York City Marathon
New York City Marathon

Free Major Sporting Events

While ticket prices for professional sporting events continue to soar, there are still some free world-class sporting events. All of these events take place in historical cities with a host of major attractions, or in breathtakingly scenic places. By making one of these free sporting events the centerpiece of a vacation, budget-conscious travelers can make memories that will last a lifetime.

New York City Marathon (New York City, NY)

The New York City Marathon winds its way through the city's five boroughs. From a modest start with just 127 competitors in 1970, it’s grown to one of the US’s largest marathons with 47,438 registered runners in 2011. An estimated two million spectators line the marathon’s course each year.

There is no shortage of attractions for people visiting New York City. Major attractions include the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Wall Street, Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, American Museum of Natural History, and Museum of Modern Art. Visitors can also take in a Broadway play, 5-star dining, and world-renowned shopping.

Other major marathons are held in other historical cities with their own attractions. These include the Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon and San Francisco Marathon.

Hawaii Ironman World Championship (Big Island, Hawaii)

The Hawaii Ironman World Championship is a grueling event, combining a 2.4 mile rough-water swim, 112 mile bicycle race, and 26.2 mile marathon. The course record was set in 2011 by Craig Alexander of Australia, at 8 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds. The fastest time by a woman was set in 2009 by Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain, at 8 hours, 54 minutes and 2 seconds.

The Hawaii Ironman is held on the Big Island. Hawaiian visitors enjoy some of the most romantic beaches anywhere. Other major attractions include Pearl Harbor and Polynesian Culture Center in Oahu, Haleakala volcano and Molokini islet in Maui, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea on the Big Island, and Nawiliwili Boat Harbor and Port Allen Harbor in Kauai.

Other Ironman competitions in tourist-friendly U.S. destinations include competitions in Madison, WI, Panama City Beach, FL, Tempe, AZ, and Lake Tahoe, CA.

Head of the Charles Regatta (Boston, MA)

The Head of the Charles Regatta is the world’s largest, attracting over 9000 athletes rowing over 1900 boats in 61 different events. Over 300,000 spectators line the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston, MA to watch the races. Spectators can also watch from any of six bridges over the river.

Boston is one of America’s most historic cities. Historic sites include the Freedom Trail, Old North Church, USS Constitution Museum, Granary Burial Ground, Newbury Street and Bunker Hill. Other tourist attractions include Fenway Park, New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, Boston Public Garden, Museum of Science, and Faneuil Hall marketplace.

American Birkebeiner Cross-Country Skiing Race (Hayward, WI)

The American Birkebeiner, or “Birkie”, is one of the largest cross-country ski races in the US, with over 9,000 skiers competing each year. There are two major races: a 34 mile classic race and a 31 mile freestyle race from Cable to Hayward, WI. Over 20,000 spectators line the course.

The Hayward, WI area is a mecca for outdoor winter sports during the winter. There are miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, and many lakes for ice-fishing or skating. Vacationers in winter will also enjoy visits to the city of Milwaukee or the college town of Madison.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Rocky Mountains, CO)

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is a multi-stage professional bicycling road race. The inaugural event took place in Colorado in 2011, but will be an annual event destined to grow quickly. The 2012 Challenge will take place in 12 scenic host cities: Durango, Telluride, Montrose, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Colorado Springs, Golden, Boulder and Denver.

The Rocky Mountains in Colorado offer a plethora of alpine activities in the summertime. Activities include hiking, fly fishing, cycling, tennis and golf. Summertime temperatures are comfortable, the views are dramatic, and summer tourists have access to quaint ski villages without the winter crowds.

Other major cycling races include the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship in the historic city of Philadelphia, and the eight-day Amgen Tour of California Professional Cycling Race covering 650 to 700 miles in California.

East Coast Surfing Championships (Virginia Beach, VA)

The East Coast Surfing Championships is one of the US Surfing Federation’s largest events. Professional and amateur surfers compete over four days. There are also non-surfing activities such as volleyball, skateboarding and an oceanfront run. About 100,000 spectators attend the events.

The Virginia Beach area offers beautiful Atlantic coast beaches along with many family-friendly activities. Families will enjoy the Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Ocean Breeze Water Park, and Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (Anchorage to Nome, Alaska)

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a long-distance race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The start in Anchorage is a ceremonial start, which is followed by an official restart in Willow. The distance of the race is officially 1049 miles to honor Alaska’s status as the 49th state, but the actual distance varies depending on the particular route. Each musher leads a team of 12 – 16 dogs, and the race takes from 9 – 15 days to complete depending on the weather conditions and route taken.

Viewing the Iditarod in person takes more planning than the other sporting events on this list. This is because the race takes place in the Alaskan wilderness at the beginning of March. The most accessible place for spectators to watch the race might be in Anchorage at the ceremonial start. For other accessible places, spectators can check the race’s official website or Alaskan newspapers.

Great Reno Balloon Race (Reno, NV)

The Great Reno Balloon Race is a hot-air balloon race held each September in Rancho San Rafael Park, near the University of Nevada, Reno. It is a visually stunning event that draws 140,000 spectators each year to watch about 100 brightly colored balloons race across the majestic skies.

Along with gambling at local casinos, visitors enjoy attractions including the National Automobile Museum, Nevada Museum of Art, hiking on Mount Rose, and the Truckee River Whitewater Park.


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