Autumn in North Carolina features festivals both big and small, mostly free, focusing on a array of subjects from food to animals — it’s a great excuse for a quick family fall getaway.
Throughtout September and October, North Carolina offers fall colors to feast your eyes on, as well as festivals in various towns. Focusing on a dizzying array of subjects ranging from the outdoors to cuisine, and even to caterpillars, the festivals are mainly scheduled for weekends, making them a perfect basis for a quick family fall getaway. Bonus: most festivals are cheap, if not totally free. Here’s a look at what’s happening this fall in the western, central and coastal regions of the state.
Autumn in Western North Carolina
The month of September kicks off with the North Carolina Apple Festival (828/697-4557) in Hendersonville, located in Western North Carolina near the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. During Labor Day weekend over 150 vendors, including local apple growers, will line the downtown of Hendersonville. Live entertainment including bands, magicians and comedians will perform throughout the festival, but the is the King Apple Parade celebrating the fruit with floats, bands, fire trucks, and more. The festival also features a Family Fun Zone with kiddy rides and arts and crafts.
Half an hour north of Hendersonville is Asheville, home to the Annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. The craft fair features booths from over 200 members of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild (828/298-7928). Entertainment will feature live music and there will be craft educators on hand to help you start creating your own projects.
Nearby attractions for this region include Chimney Rock State Park (800/277-9611), where you can take an elevator 26 stories inside Chimney Rock to the top for the views, and various hiking trails. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (865/436-1200) is also reasonably close and is one of the largest wilderness areas in the Eastern United States, with hiking, nature trails, and horseback riding.
In mid-October the town of Banner Elk in northwestern North Carolina features one of the more creative festival ideas: The Annual Woolly Worm Festival (828/898-5605). If you’ve ever seen one of the furry brown and black caterpillars, common during the fall months, inching along, then you’ve seen a Woolly Worm. The festival is advertised as a family event, with live entertainment, food vendors, and most importantly, the woolly worm race. The caterpillars race to see which of their owners will win a cash prize, and the prestige of having the pattern of their furry coat used to predict the winter weather for the year. Located right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Banner Elk also offers many opportunities for outdoor fun.
Central North Carolina Festivals
For more than 50 years, Benson has played host to the annual Mule Days Festival (919/894-3825), a four-day event in late September. Filled with activities for both young and old, the festival features rodeos, live bluegrass music, a mule pulling contest, carnival rides, street vendors, and a parade with mules, horses, buggies, and other entries.
Known as the barbeque capital of the world, Lexington hosts its Barbeque Festival (336/956-1880) in October. Though the festival whas a variety of live music including a children’s stage, its main draw is of course the more than 11,000 pounds of barbeque, with barbeque tents located throughout the grounds. Also present is a barbeque carnival and family area with clowns, rides and games. Other attractions include sand sculptures, car shows, and even a pig race. The town of Lexington also has a historic uptown district, a children’s museum, and various parks.
East of Lexington is Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, its second-largest city, and home of the North Carolina State Fair (919/821-7400). The fair showcases the importance of agriculture to North Carolina’s economy through food, cooking competitions, midway rides, animal shows, exhibit halls, and live entertainment including the Folk Festival which features North Carolina dance and music traditions. Though the fair schedule is packed, Raleigh is also full of other fun activities, with tons of museums, historic sites and monuments.
Fall Events in Coastal North Carolina
Though October may be cold up north, at the annual North Carolina Seafood Festival (252/726-6273) you may feel like it’s still summer as you stroll down the boardwalk in Morehead City, situated in the middle of North Carolina’s coast. The Seafood Festival runs in early October and features all the seafood you could ever want, including its famous shrimp burgers. The festival also has cooking demonstrations, ship tours, live music, crafts vendors, carnival rides, an island playground for kids, and a fireworks show. Morehead City is also home to beaches, nature trails, and maritime museums, and close to the Croatan National Forest (252/638-5628) with hiking and nature trails.
Situated on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Festival by the Sea (910/842-3828) offers another opportunity to enjoy the warm fall weather on the coast. During the last weekend of October on Holden Beach, the festival begins with a parade on the causeway to the barrier island and then features vendors, crafts, a sandcastle contest, and live entertainment. Kids will enjoy the rides, face-painting, and flying huge kites. Forty minutes from Myrtle Beach, SC, the island of Holden Beach has over eight miles of sandy beaches, a small commercial area, and various opportunities for boating, fishing, and hiking.
To read more about the festival and recommended places to stay, see FTF’s Favorite Fall Festivals Guide. For more information on event listings, accommodations and restaurants, go to Visit North Carolina.com.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.