16 Family-Friendly Fall Festivals in North Carolina

Venture out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy one or more of the state's best fests.


Published:

Carolina BalloonFest happens Oct. 21-23 at Statesville Regional Airport.  Photo courtesy of Edgar L. Payne

From the mountains to the sea, there's a lot to enjoy about North Carolina in the fall, inlcuding fall festivals. Venture out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy one or more of the state's best fests.

 

WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA

Cherokee Indian Fair
Oct. 4-8  | Cherokee
Cost:
$10. Free for ages 5 and younger.
Best for:
Culture and fun seekers. The Cherokee Indian Fair mixes traditional fair entertainment with a Cherokee twist. Dispersed amongst carnival rides and agricultural demonstrations are archery and blowgun demonstrations, cultural art, dance and music.
What’s in it for kids: Unique games, such as stickball and archery. Wednesday is Kids’ Day with kid-focused performers, a baby-crawling competition, a turtle-crawling competition, a longest-hair contest, a youth stickball tournament, and the Little Miss Cherokee and Teen Cherokee pageants. Plus, kids get in free, and receive ride wristbands and boxed lunches. visitcherokeenc.com/events/detail/cherokee-indian-fair.

 

Sugar Mountain Oktoberfest
Oct. 8-9 | Sugar Mountain Resort, Sugar Mountain
Cost:
Free
Best for: Fans of German culture, cuisine and beer. In addition to typical Oktoberfest festivities, food and drink, Sugar Mountain Oktoberfest includes high school band performances, chairlift rides, and plenty of arts and crafts.
What’s in it for kids: Hayrides, inflatable bounce houses, and Sugar Bear and Sweetie Bear mascot appearances. Unlike most Oktoberfest festivals, this one is family-friendly. oktoberfest.skisugar.com.

 

Woolly Worm Festival
Oct. 15-16 | Banner Elk
Cost:
$5 adults, $3 ages 6-12. Free for ages 5 and younger.
Best for: Lovers of nature, fun and absurdity. The highlight of the annual Woolly Worm Festival is the woolly worm race. The winning worm receives a cash prize of $1,000 and the honor of predicting the upcoming winter weather via its colored stripes. There also are juried arts and crafts, rides and food vendors.
What’s in it for kids: The centerpiece of the festival itself, the Woolly Worm Race. Enter your own worm for $5 and help your kids cheer it on. woollyworm.com.

 

Lake Eden Arts Festival
Oct. 20-23 | Black Mountain
Cost:
Day passes start at $52 for adults and $42 for ages 10-17. Weekend passes start at $173 for adults and $146 for ages 10-17 (tent campsite is included). Free for ages 9 and younger.
Best for: Fans of eclectic visual and performing arts. LEAF, as the festival is also called, is a world folk-arts celebration with performing artists, family adventure villages, activity centers and vendors as unique as the event itself.
What’s in it for kids: Throughout the festival are eight interactive family villages that include live performances at Roots Village, Stagecoach Theater in Elfhaven Village, old-world crafts in Barn Village, and sports in the World Wide Playfield. theleaf.org/the-festival.

 

Halloweenfest in Transylvania County
Oct. 29 | Downtown Brevard
Cost:
Free
Best for: Fans of ghouls, ghosts and other Halloween fun. Expect plenty of costume-themed activities, plus a pie bake-off, a pumpkin-carving competition and a beer garden.
What’s in it for kids: It’s a Halloween festival, so come dressed in costumes for contests and a parade. There’s also a pumpkin-bowling competition that kids can compete in. brevardnc.org/events/halloweenfest.

 

IN THE PIEDMONT

Carolina Renaissance Festival
Weekends Oct. 1-Nov. 20 | Huntersville
Cost:
$23 for adults, $13 ages 5-12. Free for ages 4 and younger.
Best for: Fans of Comic-Con, free spirits who love to role-play, and those looking for fun and laughs while experiencing times of long ago. The Renaissance Festival is a hodgepodge of performance stages, medieval-themed games, arts and crafts, jousting tournaments, and random costumed characters.
What’s in it for kids: Everything is geared toward children with the exception of a few performances labeled for explicit content. Kids love the costume aspect (rentals available). The Pirates Christmas weekend is a family favorite, and the weekend of Oct. 8 is Kids Free Weekend, where kids under the age of 12 are admitted free with a special coupon per paying adult. See website for coupon details. carolina.renfestinfo.com.

 

Mush, Music and Mutts Festival
Oct. 14-15 | Historic Uptown Shelby
Cost:
Saturday is free. For Friday's chili cook-off, the price starts at $10, and ages 10 and under are free.
Best for: Foodies, beer fans, music aficionados and pet lovers. What started as a festival honoring liver-mush has morphed into a two-day event, which includes a beer festival, chili cook-off, liver-mush recipe competition, Little Miss Liver Mush Pageant, pet costume contest and parade, and plenty of live music honoring Shelby’s bluegrass influences.
What’s in it for kids: Besides the opportunity to dress up Fifi in a tutu for the pet costume contest, there’s also a kids’ zone with pumpkin decorating, children’s games, inflatables and a human hamster wheel. clevelandchamber.org/mush-music-mutts-festival.

 

Carolina BalloonFest
Oct. 21-23 | Statesville
Cost:
$20 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday. Free for ages 12 and younger.
Best for: Fans of hot air balloons or those curious to learn more. Hot air balloon events include two balloon launches a day where 50 balloons take flight, plus tethered balloon rides and a walk-in balloon. There are several non-balloon activities, including beer and wine tastings, live music and artist booths.
What’s in it for kids: There is a special kids’ zone filled with inflatables, a climbing wall and a bungee jump. There are also magicians on hand to keep the little ones entertained. carolinaballoonfest.com.

 

Barbecue Festival
Oct. 22 | Uptown Lexington
Cost:
Free
Best for: Lovers of the swine! That is unless you prefer yours prepared Eastern-style (there’s kind of a rivalry). Besides barbecue, the festival hosts a wine garden that showcases Yadkin Valley wineries, arts and crafts, and a 50-ton sand sculpture.
What’s in it for kids: Besides finger-licking good barbecue, the festival caters to kids with the annual pig race, bicycle stunt shows and a lumberjack demonstration. There are also rides and games. barbecuefestival.com.

 

Annual NASCAR Day Festival
Oct. 22 | Downtown Randleman
Cost:
Free
Best for: NASCAR and car fans. The 28th annual event pays homage to NASCAR with race cars on display alongside vintage race cars and other automobiles. Richard Petty is on site to sign autographs from 4-6 p.m.
What’s in it for kids: Children’s games and rides set to the backdrop of NASCAR heroes’ race cars. There’s also a Little Miss and Mister NASCAR Pageant. randlemanchamber.com/nascar-htm.

 

Rural Hill Sheepdog Trials and Dog Festival
Nov. 12-13 | Huntersville
Cost:
$11 for adults, $7.50 ages 5-12. Free for ages 4 and younger.
Best for: Friends of man’s best friend. The weekend celebrates all things dog with the National Border Collie Sheepherding Championships, dog sports demonstrations and canine history demonstrations.
What’s in it for kids: Plenty of chances to interact with furry four-legged friends, hayrides, tractor exhibits and pumpkin chunking. ruralhill.net/sheepdogtrials.asp.

 

IN THE TRIANGLE

Railroad Days Festival
Oct. 1 | Downtown Selma
Cost:
Free
Best for: Fans of railroads and trains, from model sets to the real thing. In addition to model-train displays and a full-size caboose, the 41st annual festival features a carnival, parade, pageant and charity run.
What’s in it for kids: Plenty of trains on display, plus a kids’ zone and a children’s-focused Little Caboose Run. selma-nc.com/railroad-days-festival.

 

Festifall Arts Festival
Oct. 2 | West Franklin Street,
Chapel Hill
Cost: Free
Best for: Art enthusiasts and food-truck fans. The annual arts festival highlights everything from hand-crafted arts to live performances on three stages. Acts cover everything from music to improv and dance.
What’s in it for kids: An interactive kids' zone with science demonstrations, spin art, face painting and a poetry lab. Integrated into the live acts are performances by children's Tae Kwon Do, dance and gymnastics groups. chapelhillfestifall.com.

 

N.C. State Fair
Oct. 13-23 | N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh
Cost:
$10 for adults, $5 ages 6-12. Free for ages 5 and younger. Family and multi-day packages available starting at $44.
Best for: Anyone who loves a county fair and the carnival rides, competitions, concerts and agricultural displays.
What’s in it for kids: Kiddieland and kid-focused competitions like sugar-cube building and cookie decorating. Bigger kids can enjoy the mobile robotics contest. ncstatefair.org.

 

International Festival of Raleigh
Oct. 14-16 | Raleigh Convention Center, downtown Raleigh
Cost:
Starting at $12. Free for ages 6 and younger.
Best for: World travelers and those infatuated with learning about different cultures. The three-day event features 45 cultural booths, 28 sidewalk cafes serving international food, and fashions from around the globe.
What’s in it for kids: Children’s cultural performances, international story time and a Kids Got Talent competition. internationalfocusnc.org/festival.

 

COASTAL

Riverfest
Oct. 8-9 |  Downtown Wilmington
Cost:
Free
Best for: Art lovers. Organizers do their best to keep the amount of commercial vendors low so the arts and craft vendors can shine. There’s also an accompanying car show and concert series.
What’s in it for kids: A fireworks display and a children’s play area. wilmingtonriverfest.com

 

Bryan Richards is a food and travel writer who lives in Charlotte and recently added family travel writer to his credentials with the birth of his son. He’s also the author of The Wandering Gourmand, a culinary and craft beer travel blog. Janice Lewine is the associate editor at Carolina Parent.

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Calendar

February 2017

Join park staff in collecting data for the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. We will look and listen for birds in a variety of habitats, and keep track of how many individuals of each species...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Families celebrate Purim with bagels, fruit and Hamantaschen. Kids enjoy Purim-related activities,  music and more. Costumes encouraged.

Cost: $8/family, member; $12/family, nonmember

Where:
Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
Telephone: 919-676-6170
Contact Name: Jill Lokitz
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Learn how to creatively attach air plants to scrap wood. Combine reuse and living art and learn about how to care for air plants. All materials are provided, including plants. Register online....

Cost: $25

Where:
The Scrap Exchange
2050 Chapel Hill Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: The Scrap Exchange
Telephone: 919-213-1278
Contact Name: Anna Graves
Website »

More information

Join a park naturalist on a one-mile hike around Yates Mill Pond and help to identify and count the birds that we see along the way. Learn how to identify backyard birds by sight, sound and other...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy the tale of a young mermaid with the dulcet voice who risks it all for love in a daring deal with a vengeful sea witch. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $30-$89

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Ballet
Telephone: 919-719-0900
Website »

More information

Discover birds along the trails and pond. All ages. Meet at the Longleaf Shelter. Registration required.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-4342
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Join park staff in collecting data for the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. We will look and listen for birds in a variety of habitats, and keep track of how many individuals of each species...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Learn about the bald eagle and hike to the fishing pier to view eagles soaring high. All ages. Meet at the Longleaf Shelter. Registration required.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-4342
Website »

More information

Ages 3-5 enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy games, crafts and hikes. Take a picnic lunch. All ages. Dress for outdoor fun. Meet at the Longleaf Shelter. Registration required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-4342
Website »

More information

Spend the afternoon learning all about birds. Go on a bird behavior scavenger hunt, play a migration game, and learn how to identify common species on the lake and at the feeder. Make suet. Ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

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Toddlers enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Mr. Panda is making a surprise. What is it? The animals must wait and see. But waiting is boring. Mr. Panda shows that good things come to those who wait. Read the story about patience.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Babies enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Toddlers enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Babies enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

The library's Teen Leadership Corps hosts an opportunity for kids of all ages to come build something special with Lego and Duplo bricks, and play games to improve reading and math skills.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen to a story in English and Spanish and meet  animals.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

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Parent and child enjoy a craft, activity and guided walk along the greenway. Ages 2-6.  Register online. Choose course #199100.

Cost: $3

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Preschoolers enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Moms meet other moms for support and friendship. Drop-in program.

Cost: Free

Where:
Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Telephone: 919-803-3521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
Website »

More information

Help park staff with citizen science projects. Take a water bottle and wear sturdy shoes. Ages 8-10 with adult; 11 years and older adult optional. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Registration required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-4342
Website »

More information

Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Chase away the winter blues with a hike through the winter garden. After the walk, warm up inside with a book and winter craft. Meet at the visitor center. Ages 3-12. Register online.

Cost: $5/child

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
4415 Beryl Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Join others for an easy paced hike around the greenway. Ages 3 and younger; older siblings, strollers and leashed pets welcome. Register online. Choose course #199059.

Cost: Free

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Learn about wolves, coyotes and foxes. Take a hike to look for tracks and signs. Make casts of canid feet to take home. Ages 9-13. Register online. Choose course #199997.

Cost: $5/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Website »

More information

Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

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Kids can drive their futures at the fourth annual Marbles Future Me Kids Career Fair, which introduces children to real-life architects, bakers, dentists, engineers, news reporters,...

Cost: $5 ages 1 and older

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 3-5 enjoy play-based activities in English and Spanish to prepare for kindergarten.

Cost: Free

Where:
Athens Drive Community Library
1420 Athens Dr.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 12-18 interested in learning about the sport can get into boats and learn how to row. Students and parents can also meet the club's rowers and coaches. Novice and experienced...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Families enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Ct.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate the magic of storytelling on Disney Reads Day. Read popular Disney stories and take part in fun activities to inspire your imagination. Enjoy giveaways, including stickers, bookmarks and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate Mardi Gras with a walking parade, children's activities and contests. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Wake Forest
S. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Join park staff and search the park for snowflakes and ice crystals. Explore the unique shapes of snowflakes and view ice crystals under microscopes, then construct your own paper snowflake or ice...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Kids learn to code in a free workshop. Register online. Sign up for a summer camp during the event and save $100.

Cost: Free

Where:
theCoderSchool
201 Davis Grove Circle
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a magical journey through China's divine culture. Classical dance, music and storytelling highlight this live show.

Cost: $70-$150

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Delivered is a community workshop centered on educating, empowering and encouraging women to plan and achieve their most optimal birth plan. The workshop will introduce attendees to the benefits of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Davis Family Chiropractic
7901 Strickland Rd.
Ste 104
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Davis Family Chiropractic
Telephone: 919-615-2257
Contact Name: Dr. Alisha Davis
Website »

More information

Raleigh Little Theatre's troupe performs the story of Cher Ami, a pigeon who saved American soldiers during World War 1 by carrying a message for help. Ages 5 and older.

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a fast-paced and accessible introduction to many influential black Americans who have shaped the nation over the last 150 years. Grades pre-K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Chapel Hill Public Library
100 Library Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a magical journey through China's divine culture. Classical dance, music and storytelling highlight this live show. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $70-$150

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

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GPS [Go. Play. See]

GPS, soon to be replaced by The Triangle Go-To Guide, connects you to all the Triangle has to offer, from museum expansions to new parks and schools to youth sports and family fun. Plus, discover our 2016 Readers' Favorites.

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The 2016-17 Education Guide offers 643 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

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The Triangle Go-To Guide will replace the GPS in 2017 and continue to connect you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.