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.
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
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
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.
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.
Oct. 22 | Uptown Lexington
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
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
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
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.
Oct. 8-9 | Downtown Wilmington
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.