North Carolina Fall Festivals Offer Local Color - My Family Travels

In autumn, North Carolina fall festivals abound — they’re mostly free — and focus on an array of subjects from food to animals. Altogether, these authentic local events make a great excuse for a quick family fall getaway.

Kwazimodo is the woolly worm that won the 2014 Wooly Worm Festival in North Carolina.
Kwazimodo is the woolly worm that won the 2014 Wooly Worm Festival in North Carolina. Even this tiny photo should help you appreciate his beauty!

Throughout 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

Here’s a look at what’s happening this fall in the western, central and coastal regions of the state.

Western North Carolina Fall Festivals

Apples sold by the basket at the Apple festival in Hendersonville, NC.
Apples are sold by the basket at the fun and festive Apple festival in Hendersonville, NC.

September peaks with the North Carolina Apple Festival in Hendersonville. This county, the seventh largest apple producer in the country, is located near the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. During Sept 23-26, 2021, more than 150 vendors, including 14 local apple growers, line the downtown. Watch live bands, magicians and comedians perform. Don’t miss the highlight, 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 is Asheville, home to the Annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands. Admire the handiwork displayed by booths from 200 members of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild. This group has been active in supporting the region’s finest craftspeople since 1930. Catch the craft educators on hand to help you start creating your own projects.

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. (The 44th festival takes place Oct. 16-17, 2021.) If you’ve ever seen one of the furry brown and black caterpillars, common during the fall months, 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. Banner Elk also offers many opportunities for outdoor fun.

Western North Carolina Outdoor Activities

Be sure to take in nearby attractions such as Chimney Rock State Park and ride an elevator 26 stories inside Chimney Rock to the top for the views. Even if everyone feels lazy, be sure to head out on one of the various hiking trails suited to all skill levels. This is very pretty countryside.

Another don’t miss — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also reasonably close. It’s one of the largest wilderness areas in the Eastern United States, with hiking, nature trails and horseback riding.

Central North Carolina Fall Festivals

Montage of pictures of Lexington North Carolina Barbecue Festival.
There’s a lot of fun and feasting at this North Carolina fall festival — Lexington Barbecue Festival.

For more than 50 years, Benson has played host to the annual Mule Days Festival, an event that lingers for a month with exciting events scheduled between Aug. 28-Sept. 26, 2021. Make time for activities for both young and old, including 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 in late October. Though the festival has a variety of live music including a children’s stage, its main draw is of course the more than 11,000 pounds of barbeque served under tents throughout the grounds. Also present is a barbeque carnival and family area with clowns, rides and games. Stay awhile to enjoy 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. The fair, running Oct. 14-24, 2021 in real life, 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

Havelock trail over bridges in Croatan National Forest in North Carolina.
The Havelock Trail is part of the Croatan National Forest trail system on the coast near Emerald Isle. It’s one of the four National Forests in North Carolina but the only true coastal forest in the East. Photo c. NPS

Feel like it’s still summer as you stroll down the boardwalk at the 35th annual North Carolina Seafood Festival. The boardwalk, site of the competiton where guests toss a mullet into a frying pan, belongs to Morehead City on North Carolina’s coast. The Seafood Festival, over three days in early October, 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 with hiking and nature trails.

Situated on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Outer Banks Seafood Festival offers another opportunity to enjoy the warm fall weather on the coast. During mid-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.

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