10 Amazing Fall Festivals Worth a Road Trip

As the leaves change and a chill marks the beginning of sweater weather, welcome fall with one of these fantastic family-friendly festivals.

Photo By: Bradley Wittke

Photo By: Carol Waller

Photo By: Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce

Photo By: The Illinois Office of Tourism

Photo By: Billings Farm and Museum Staff

Photo By: www.morimotophotography.com

Photo By: Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Assocation

Photo By: Rhode Island Commerce Corporation

Photo By: Visit Estes Park

Photo By: Arbor Day Farm, Nebraska

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, California

What’s fall without a pumpkin weigh-off competition? You’ll find the best of the best at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival in mid-October, in the self-proclaimed "World Pumpkin Capital." Aside from the biggest gourds you’ve ever seen in your life, there’s a haunted house, arts and crafts fair, pie-eating and costume contests and, of course, pumpkin carving.

Trailing of the Sheep Festival, Idaho

Every October, as we gear up for official sweater weather, Ketchum, Idaho herds thousands of sheep right through town to their winter grazing pastures. That’s a spectacle in itself, but there are tons of other events to watch and participate in, at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, too, including sheepdog herding competitions, a Folk Life Festival with sheep shearing demonstration, kid’s crafts and an art fair featuring items handmade from sheep and alpaca wool.

Shenandoah Autumnfest, Virginia

Ring in fall with Shenandoah Autumnfest in rural, mountainous western Virginia, where you’ll find some of the East Coat’s most spectacular leaf peeping. This mid-October Shenandoah County festival features local BBQ, wine and beer tasting and some competitions you won’t find just anywhere, such as harness racing—a type of horse racing in which a driver is pulled in a two-wheeled cart—and a log-splitting contest. Old-fashioned cars will be on display during the "Cruise In." Wine enthusiasts will want to check out the nearby wineries throughout the Shenandoah Valley, too.

St. Charles Scarecrow Fest, Illinois

Lions, tigers, and...scarecrows? Oh my! At the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest in early October, you’ll find more than 100 beautiful, wacky and creative scarecrows competing for cash prizes. Kids will love the carnival and the opportunity to stuff their own scarecrow and bring it home to display on the yard, and grown-ups will love the craft fair featuring local artisans.

Woodstock Pumpkin and Apple Festival, Vermont

Don’t just eat desserts at the Woodstock Pumpkin & Apple Festival at the Billings Farm & Museum in Vermont—try your hand at the cider press and making apple and pumpkin ice cream for yourself. The festival offers all kinds of activities that folks of all ages will enjoy, like bowling with pumpkins, taste-testing apples, taking wagon rides around the farm and getting a delicious whiff of homemade apple butter on the stove in the museum’s kitchen.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Watching hot air balloons gear up for take-off and then rise through the morning sky is an unforgettable experience well worth waking up before dawn. And the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one you shouldn’t miss—it’s world-renowned for the mountain backdrop and the sheer number of balloons that join in the fun (hundreds of them!). Live music and events like a chainsaw carving competition are scheduled for every morning and evening of this week-long event. And of course, you can book a ride in a balloon, too.

Warrens Cranberry Festival, Wisconsin

Massachusetts might be the first thing to come to mind when you think of cranberry bogs—it’s the home of Ocean Spray—but the world’s largest cranberry festival is actually in Warrens, Wisconsin. Here, at the end of September, you can take a tour of a 100-year-old cranberry marsh just before harvest begins.

Jack-o'-Lantern Spectacular, Rhode Island

Throughout October and into early November, walk through thousands of the most intricately-carved pumpkins you’ve ever seen at the Jack-o'-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence. The night will glow with lit pumpkins showing not just faces, but entire scenes. The most adventurous will want to ride the zoo’s new Soaring Eagle Zip Ride, which flies over Providence and the Narragansett Bay at dark.

Elk Fest, Estes Park, Colorado

Every fall, massive herds of elk in and around Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado enter mating season. The bulls’ distinctive rutting call—or bugle—makes for one of the most fascinating wildlife viewing experiences you can find in the United States. And as a bonus, it happens in full view of the Rockies' bright gold aspen trees. In celebration of the elk’s annual tradition, the town of Estes Park holds an annual Elk Fest at the end of September. You can enter a bugling contest to try your own elk impression, learn about Native American traditions and enjoy indigenous music and storytelling, and, of course, watch the elk from a safe distance. In the park, be sure to follow rangers’ instructions for your own safety, and don’t ever approach elk no matter how calm and quiet they seem to be. The safest place to watch them is from inside your car or one of the many elk viewing tour buses you can catch in town.

AppleJack Festival, Nebraska City, Nebraska

Apple up with Nebraska City’s AppleJack Festival, where if you go home without getting full from apple dishes and desserts, you’ve done something wrong. We’re talking apple pie, apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, apple salad, apple fritters, candy and caramel apples and more. You’ll also find live music, several craft fairs, a classic car show, carnival and contests for apple pie baking and even apple peeling.

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