Carving pumpkins, eating pie, and having fun till the cows come home
Nothing says fall like carving pumpkins and sipping fresh apple cider on a crisp day. And, there’s no better way to experience the changing seasons than at America’s small-town harvest festivals. We searched the country for charming autumn events you still have time to experience this October and November. Wrap up in your favorite scarf and dust off your duck boots. Each village rings in the harvest in its own way—whether they’re gathering cranberries, pumpkins, or wine grapes. From hayrides and corn mazes to craft fairs and baking contests, harvest festival activities are all about taking in the scenic splendor and getting a closer look at how your food goes from seedling to your spoon.
What is a harvest festival?
For centuries, communities all over the world have gathered to welcome the harvest season with colorful parades, elaborate feasts, and plenty of merrymaking. Today, some of the longest-running carnivals include the Egyptian Harvest Festival, which began during the 13th century. Although the contemporary American celebration differs a great deal from its early inspirations, many aspects of harvest festival history can be seen today. Modern-day woven crafts resemble pagan corn dolly-making, and the first Thanksgiving Day feast reminds us of the early Anglo-Saxon Michaelmas Day banquets that date back to the fifth century. Wowza. Who knew your funnel cakes and corn on the cob had such an amazing backstory?
Multi-week festivals and pumpkin patches
Looking for longer harvest fall festivals that you can return to all autumn? Want to experience a changing lineup of musical acts and eateries? Join these communities for the party of the season!
National Apple Harvest Festival – October 7-8 & 14-15
Each year the National Apple Harvest Festival comes to Biglerville’s South Mountain Fairgrounds for two weekends in October. You might need all four days to get your fill of apple fritters and hot cider. Seriously, this fair celebrates the 20,000 acres of fruit that cover Adams County, which is a lot of fruit. Founded in 1965, this event gives you a look into the region’s history with Native American dance demos and antiques displays with classic cars, farm equipment, and a vintage cider press. Take an orchard tour and learn a new skill from local craftsmen, or shop from hundreds of artists. The Pennsylvania Apple Queen makes an appearance, and each year features live music and, of course, food galore. Biglerville is located 8 miles north of historic Gettysburg and you can easily explore centuries of American history in one weekend. How do you like them apples?
For over 30 years, Matthew and Juanita Critz have hosted Harvest Celebration at Critz Farms. This farm sits on protected agricultural land, so the annual farm parties, apple picking, and haunted barns are likely to continue for future generations to enjoy. Take a wagon ride out to the beautiful orchards ripe for the picking, or take home some pre-picked apples or pumpkins to make your favorite treats at home. The kiddos will love the giant hay bale climbing tower and slide mountain playground, while the adults in your family can sample Critz Farms’ own hard cider made on site by Harvest Moon Cidery. For more farm-fresh goodies, go to the Cazenovia Farmers Market at Canon Park—you can prepare your own autumnal feast!
Georgia Mountain Fall Festival started in 1950 with a gathering of just 2,000 people at a local high school sports field. By the 1970s, the crowd had grown to over 10,000 attendees. It must be something in the mountain air! These days, you can dance to the tune of Georgia’s Official State Fiddlers’ Convention and other live music. This year’s lineup includes the Bellamy Brothers, Ricky Skaggs, and more, as well as an interfaith service. The venue—Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds—is also home to the Pioneer Village, where modern kids learn about historical farming with the “Old Ways” demonstrations that include cider squeezing, corn milling, and soap making. Wind down after the festivities in the serene Hamilton Rhododendron Gardens—although peak season is spring time, the gardens are open and beautiful year-round.
Each fall, the city of Orange goes back to its agrarian roots—literally—at the Pumpkin Patch at Irvine Park Railroad. John Ford and Steve Horn started working together as teenagers at a summer concession stand in 1977. Almost 20 years later they founded Irvine Park Railroad, welcoming visitors to educational and outdoor fun year-round in Orange County’s amazing weather. Each year, visitors look forward to vintage train rides, carnival games, and of course, pumpkins galore. In fact, at the end of September, pumpkin growers haul their heftiest harvest to the park for the Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Plan a full family vacation to the area and hop from harvest fest to nearby theme parks and other Orange County activities.
Lockport’s Victorian downtown might feel like a time capsule, but wait till you make your way to Pumpkin Fest at Cottonwood Farm. Established in 1909 by Frank and Gertrude Siegel, Cottonwood Farm has been passed down through four generations and is still family-run. Since 1991, the Siegel’s have hosted Pumpkin Fest with a famous corn maze that covers 15 acres and over 30 other activities and attractions, like the pumpkin drop contest. So, be prepared to get your hands a little dirty. Adorable concessions cottages, like Captain Dave’s Grub Galley and Zach’s Smoke Shack, put the cozy factor over the top as they serve up delicious fair-style food. Fancier fare can be found downtown at the Public Landing, idyllic and located on the banks of a canal. Stop for dessert after a full day at Cottonwood—the Lemon Berry Tower is our pick, and the adults need a treat, too.
Sauvie Island, OR
October Fest at The Pumpkin Patch – June through October
Via The Pumpkin Patch
Did you know you can experience Oregon’s harvest all summer? The Pumpkin Patch is open June through October, but it’s the final month that draws the crowds for the last push of harvest season. Located on Sauvie Island, just 10 miles northwest of Portland attractions, the Pumpkin Patch is a favorite among locals and travelers alike. October features a farm-fresh market, pumpkin carvings, and weekend barbecues, as well as the traditional corn maze and hayrides. Each February, the farm staff uses the slow season to travel to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, or the South Sudan to teach farming skills to communities in need. Make the day even more snug with dinner and live music at Mark’s on the Channel in nearby Scappoose—the easygoing waterfront vibes will warm up any autumn evening.
When September rolls around, the entire city of Temecula celebrates. Maybe that’s because this locale is the perfect pairing of rural wine country and Southern California comforts. We bet it has something to do with the wine. Autumnfest takes over the surrounding valley with hot air balloon rides, olive farm tours, and plenty of tastings and dining. Take the kids and grownups to the Big Horse Corn Maze in October, and venture to nearby cities San Diego or Los Angeles for fun day trips for the whole family. Don’t conclude your wine harvest festival experience without a vineyard visit! Callaway Vineyard & Winery offers a full wine experience with private wine tours or the estate and vineyards.
These one-weekend fall fests prove that some of the best parties are short and sweet. Mark your calendars and don’t miss your chance to see some stellar small-town beauty before winter.
Groves may be only 5.2 square miles in size, but the Pecan Festival fills the town with flavor. Try your hand at carnival games, and look out over Sabine Lake from the top of the Ferris wheel. This year’s parade will take place on October 28, featuring the newly crowned Pecan Festival Queen, colorful floats, and live music. The scent of Groves’s fresh pecans will have your mouth watering all day, so go ahead and eat your fill of homemade confections and savor local seafood Cajun-style at Larry’s French Market. The atmosphere buzzes with family-friendly dance music, so pack your dancing shoes.
Seven festivals in seven days. Are you ready? The Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival is a dream come true for avid leaf peepers. The festivities take place in the villages and towns of Walden, Cabot, Plainfield, Peacham, Barnet, Groton, and Marshfield. Bundle up for the crisp weather and warm your hands and spirit with hot coffee and nature-inspired work by local artists. Walden kicks off the week with quilt-tying and spinning and knitting demonstrations. Cabot promises steamy corn chowder and brisk hayrides, and the week’s biggest event takes place in Peacham, where learning sites will be set up all over the historic city, established in 1776. Don’t miss the ghost walk through Peacham Cemetery!
Via Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau
Established in 1985 in Lincoln Park, Scarecrow Fest has grown from a small-town event to a national tradition. For more than 30 years, the Scarecrow Contest has brought some wild and wonderful works of art to charming St. Charles. In addition to carnival games and food carts, Scarecrow Fest features a full lineup of dance troupes and musicians. Plus, this year they’ve added the brand new Greater St. Charles Farm Tour that gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at several working farms in the area. Even if you’re a city slicker, you’ll leave this weekend knowing how to build a scarecrow and bring in a healthy harvest.
Cranberries are a superfood. So, we’re impressed that Wareham has been a major cranberry destination since the mid-19th century. Hosted by the historical A.D. Makepeace Company, the harvest celebration takes place as the rich red berries are brought in fresh from the bogs. Take part in this New England tradition with paddle boat rides, cooking demonstrations, and gourmet catering and food trucks on site with cranberry concoctions sure to be high in vitamin C. A portion of the admission fees go to local nonprofit organizations that help staff the event and to local food pantries, so the whole community can celebrate a bountiful harvest.
Autumnfest was founded in 1977 to “celebrate the spirit of Northern Rhode Island,” and it’s succeeding famously. You can’t go wrong with an artisan village, a boisterous beer garden, and parade rolling down tree-lined Social Street. You might even get distracted from the floats by bright orange oaks. Gather your team to compete in “Mega War,” New England’s Largest tug o’ war competition, or cheer from the sidelines with gusto. Either way, you’ll want to refuel at Ye Olde English Fish & Chips, which opened in 1922, where you’ll taste history in every crunchy bite. A fireworks show lights up the night sky, so stay out late and enjoy the show!
How will you cozy up to fall?
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Kohleun is a fan of high tea in Scottish villages and low tide on Coronado Beach, and she can’t get enough of rolling vineyard vistas. These days it’s no easy feat to pull her away from the California coast, but she can be wooed with Moroccan cous cous and ancient palace ruins. As a writer, Kohleun has a passion for sharing the intricate details of a journey well traveled, whether it involves crossing continents or exploring close to home.