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. 20-22 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, including 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
North Carolina Apple Festival
Sept. 1-4 | Hendersonville
Cost: Free admission
Best for: Those who love freshly picked apples, arts and crafts, festival food, and free entertainment.
What's in it for kids: Family Fun Zone with rides and inflatables. Tickets available for purchase for amusements and attractions.
North Carolina Mountain State Fair
Sept. 8-17 | Fletcher
Cost: $3-$7. Free for ages 5 and younger.
Best for: Those who like to celebrate North Carolina people, agriculture, art and tradition. Enjoy rides, games, high-diving firemen, roaming dinosaurs, The Great Atlanta Puppet Show, the Sea Lion Splash, racing pigs and more.
What's in it for kids: Dinosaurs, puppets, rides, games and three new rides: Cherokee, a new ride for small children; Dalmatians, a spinning ride for older children; and Surfer, an exhilarating ride for teenagers and adults.
Cherokee Indian Fair
Oct. 3-7 | Cherokee
Cost: $7-15. Free for ages 6 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 gates opening at 9 a.m. and children 17 and younger being admitted free. Enjoy 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 receive ride wristbands and boxed lunches.
Sugar Mountain Oktoberfest
Oct. 14-15 | 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, ski 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.
Photo courtesy of Todd Bush Photography
Kids enjoy bounce houses and games at Sugar Mountain Oktoberfest.
Lake Eden Arts Festival
Oct. 19-22 | Black Mountain
Cost: Day passes start at $45 for adults and weekend passes start at $150 (includes tent campsite). Special prices for youth ages 10-17. 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.
photo courtesy of lake eden arts festival
A young girl plays guitar while enjoying the Lake Eden Arts Festival.
Woolly Worm Festival
Oct. 21-22 | Banner Elk
Cost: $6 adults, $4 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 on Saturday and $500 on Sunday. 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. Kids can enter their own worm for $5 and you can help them cheer it on.
photo courtesy of wooly worm Festival
Winners of the Wooly Worm Race receive up to $1,000.
Halloweenfest in Transylvania County
Oct. 28 | 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 (pets can enter, too) and a parade. Enjoy trick-or-treating and ghost stories as well.
Photo courtesy of Seyl Park
Wear your costume to Halloweenfest in downtown Brevard.
IN THE PIEDMONT
Carolina Renaissance Festival
Weekends Sept. 30-Nov. 19 | Huntersville
Cost: $24 for adults, $14 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 are available). The Pirates Christmas weekend is a family favorite, and the weekend of Oct. 7 is Kids Free Weekend where kids under 12 are admitted free with a special coupon per paying adult. See website for coupon details.
Photo courtesy of carolina renaissance festival
Knights joust at the Carolina Renaissance Festival.
Annual NASCAR Day Festival
Oct. 14 | Downtown Randleman
Best for: NASCAR and car fans. The 29th 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.
photo courtesy of Jeff Freeman, Randleman chairman
NASCAR Day features old race cars on display.
Mush, Music and Mutts Festival
Oct. 20-21 | Historic Uptown Shelby
Cost: Admission to the Rotary Chili Cook-off on Friday is $10 and is free for ages 7 and younger. Admission to the Brew Fest on Friday is $30; participants must be age 21 or older. Admission to the Liver Mush Festival on Saturday is 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.
photo courtesy of Victorian rose studio, shelby
You don't have to like liver mush to enjoy all the festivities at this event.
Oct. 20-22 | Statesville
Cost: $5 for Friday, $20 in advance for Saturday and $15 in advance for 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 and magic shows. A climbing wall and a bungee jump cost extra.
photo courtesy of michele's images
50 balloons take flight at each launch at the Carolina BalloonFest.
Oct. 28 | 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 and bicycle stunt shows and a lumberjack demonstration. There are also rides and games.
photo courtesy of The Dispatch/Donnie Roberts/Barbecue Festival
Head to Lexington's Barbecue Festival to enjoy good food, alcohol and crafts.
Rural Hill Sheepdog Trials and Dog Festival
Nov. 11-12 | Huntersville
Cost: Ticket costs haven't been updated for the 2017 year yet, but last year it was $11 for adults and $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.
IN THE TRIANGLE
Festifall Arts Festival
Oct. 1 | W. Franklin Street,Chapel Hill
Best for: Art enthusiasts and food-truck fans. The annual arts festival highlights everything from handcrafted artworks 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.
photo courtesy of katie garcia photography
Enjoy and crafted artworks and live performances on three stages at Festifall.
42nd Annual Selma Rail Roads Festival
Oct. 6-7 | 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 42nd annual festival features a carnival, parade, pageant and charity run, not to mention a Food Truck Rodeo Friday night.
What’s in it for kids: Plenty of trains on display, plus a kids’ zone and a children’s-focused Little Caboose Run.
North Carolina State Fair
Oct. 12-22 | North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh
Cost: $10 for adults, $5 ages 6-12. Free for ages 5 and younger. Discounts available if you purchase in advance or buy a family 4-pack.
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.
photo courtesy of nORTH CAROLINA State Fair
Kids can enjoy an assortment of carnival rides at the North Carolina State Fair.
International Festival of Raleigh
Oct. 20-22 | Raleigh Convention Center, downtown Raleigh
Cost: $15 for adults and $7 for kids ages 6-12. Free for ages 6 and younger. Family four-packs and discounted rates available ahead of time online.
Best for: World travelers and those infatuated with learning about different cultures. The three-day event features cultural booths, sidewalk cafes serving international food, fashions from around the globe and an international dance competition.
What’s in it for kids: Children’s cultural performances, international story time and a Kids Got Talent competition.
photo courtesy of PTm photography - palani mohan
Dancers take the stage at the International Festival of Raleigh.
Oct. 7-8 | 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.
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.