Part frog-filled folklore, part classic country-fair fun, the annual mid-May Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee stands out as one of those wacky crowd-pleasers that everyone should see at least once in their lives. The frog-jump competition, which is part of the Calaveras County Fair, recreates Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County,” which may or may not be based on a true face-off between leaping amphibians back in the 1800s. Since 1928, humans have entered their best jumpers and—with shouts, ground slaps, and anything else that may prove effective short of physical contact—encourage their frogs to leap further than any other. (Best jump ever goes to Rosie the Ribeter, who leapt just over 21 feet in a single bound back in 1986.)
The competition begins on the first day of the fair—always a Thursday—and continues on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as the contestants are whittled down, so no matter which day you can make it, you’ll be sure to catch some of the action. And it’s not just local talent—teams representing frogs from all over the state show up to compete. There’s a $5,000 prize (we’re not sure the frog cares much) for the winner of the final event, the International Frog Jump Grand Finals.
While the frog jump is the attention-grabber at the Calaveras County Fair, said to be one of the longest-running events in California, there’s plenty more going on to be appreciated and enjoyed here. The gently rolling hills and agricultural nature of California’s Gold Country are the perfect setting for a classic rural fair. True to its Western heritage, this one includes professional rodeo in the Frogtown Rodeo, complete with champion bull riders, a Pony Express race, and a “buckaroo” kids’ competition. You can also choose your favorites in the junior livestock auctions, enjoy live music and a demolition derby, and take a spin on a classic carny ride.