Looking for a new tradition to add to your family’s winter funscape? Consider this crazy event, which happens each year over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend: The Outhouse Races in Conconully, Washington. Dates for 2023 are Jan. 14-16.
First, make yourself a homemade outhouse—with three sides, a roof, and a 2×4 wooden push bar. Secure all that atop two skis. Get creative. Next, invite your kid to hop inside and sit on the requisite toilet seat. Wait for the race signal. Finally, propelled by the push-power of two other family members, glide that privy 100 yards to victory!
Most come for the fun of watching
Or maybe just go for the fun of it. Because that’s what this beloved annual event is all about. The outhouse races have defined the tiny town of Conconully’s family-focused winter fun for more than 40 years. And, while there are other outhouse races that take place in snowy states from Alaska to North Carolina, local lore has it that Conconully is where this unusual sport was born.
Each January, the races draw more than 2,000 spectators from around the state. Some years, a third of the town (population 210) steps up to volunteer. Working together, the community sets up the courses, builds bonfires, makes trophies and announces the races.
Spectators make the races
Bundled and boisterous spectators cheer on dozens of wacky outhouse racers in 11 categories. There are specific races just for kids, teens, and family teams. But the most coveted prize is bestowed before the race begins: The People’s Choice Award goes to the team with the best costumes and the most handsome potty. Themes are limited only by imagination; past outhouses flew down the course decorated as Star Wars ships, firehouses and school buses.
The kid (ages 7-12), teen (ages 13-17) and family competitions are pretty straight forward—competitors literally run in a straight line from start to finish. The X-TREME competition is a bit dicier; teams must navigate their outhouses through a hay-bale obstacle course. In the Bucket Race, pushers—who are “blinded” by wearing empty 5-gallon buckets over their heads—follow rider directions, trying (and often failing) to avoid hay bales and other teams.
Its all about bragging rights
Regardless of which race your family enters, it’s a guaranteed good time. Obviously those first across the finish line receive a trophy. However, the biggest prize may be the bragging rights that come from having flown down a race course pushing a potty—or, even more coveted, riding on the toilet seat within.
Conconully takes its outhouse races quite seriously. Folks there don’t let anything stand in the way of outdoor winter fun—not even a pandemic. At the height of the COVID-19 spread last year, the races continued on schedule, albeit in modified form. Commitment to protecting racers and watchers from the virus led the Conconully Town Council to move the 2021 race out of the town’s center. That year, races were held in a more open campground resort. Modifications to the event—including social distancing measures like individual family campfires, as opposed to traditional communal bonfires—ensured the show could safely go on.
Keeping it COVID safe
Officials expect a return to pre-COVID normalcy this year. Outhouses will once again fly through downtown Conconully. Still, if you go, plan on the safe side. Take regular COVID protections: bring masks, encourage the whole family to practice social distancing and wash hands regularly. Consider carrying an extra roll of toilet paper in your pocket—both in salute of the races and in memoriam of COVID-surge TP sell-outs. Not to mention that, with freezing temperatures, noses and tears of laughter are sure to flow as racers whiz by.
40 years of potty runs
The origins of the Conconully Outhouse Races is unclear. Dena Byl, whose family resurrected the town’s Chamber of Commerce in the 1970s, said the event harkens back to the early ’80s and a simpler time, when people prioritized fun and frivolous connections with their neighbors. The races are the town’s version of good old-fashioned, morale-boosting, community silliness—akin to other holiday events like three-legged races on the Fourth of July and Seattle’s own annual Seafair Milk Carton Derby on Green Lake.
Whether you go to compete or just to visit for a weekend of bathroom spectating, the Conconully Outhouse Races are a great way to spend a winter weekend outdoors. Spend a weekend in a simpler time, disconnected from screens, connected as a family within this event’s charming absurdity.
Outhouse Racing 101
Race day: January 14, 2023
How to enter: Teams register on race day at Conconully Community Hall. $35 per entry.
Competition rules: Learn about outhouse entry specifications and race rules at conconully.com/outhouse-races.
Where to stay
Plan for at least one overnight in or near town and book early. Accommodation options include: Comstock Motel, Gibson’s North Fork Lodge, Liars Cove Resort, Shady Pines Resort, and Kozy Kabins & RV Park (888-502-2246). Several area campgrounds have plowed spaces for self-contained RV/truck campers (power, but no water), including Carl Precht Memorial Park and Omak RV camping.
Other things to do in Conconully:
Consider a tour through the tiny Conconully Museum or a snow walk, ice fishing or other winter recreation at nearby Conconully State Park.