In the Northern Hemisphere the arrival of autumn brings excitement for once-a-year activities from apple picking and pumpkin carving to cider sipping and leaf peeping. Fall also brings relief from months of sweltering heat, and people are eager to don their flannel shirts and sweaters to greet the cooler temperatures and crisp air. Traditionally known as a time to celebrate the harvesting of crops – including grapes, cranberries, apples, squash and pumpkins – people flock to farms and orchards across the country to pick their own produce and take family photos with farm animals and scarecrows. Though the season is short, this list is chock full of entertaining fall festivals, events and activities to keep your weekends filled with fun.
Sever’s Fall Festival in Shakopee, Minnesota: Sept. 17-Oct. 30
(Courtesy of Sever’s Fall Festival)
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022, this event is held on weekends throughout the fall. Located about 35 miles south of Minneapolis, Sever’s Fall Festival is home to one of the country’s original corn stalk mazes – a creation that continues to be one of its most popular autumn attractions, featuring an intricate new design that’s cut by hand every year. Participants who successfully complete the annual “Corn Maze Challenge” are entered into drawings for cash prizes. Other unique attractions and activities include a corn pit playground, straw sculptures, photo booths and a petting zoo. For an additional fee you can also play with a “pumpkin blaster” and take a ride on a pony or camel. A full schedule of live shows and entertainment is also offered, ranging from pig races and kid’s dance parties to magic shows and live music.
Ample concessions provide harvest-inspired refreshments like kettle corn, funnel cakes, apple fritters, smoked meats, wood-fired pizzas and bratwurst. Apples are another reason to attend this festival: Visitors will have their pick of farm-fresh, chemical-free varieties like Honeycrisp and Snowsweet at the on-site farm stand.
To wind down after all the excitement, you could stay at Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Minneapolis/Shakopee, located less than 10 miles north of the event site near downtown Shakopee.
Duluth Fall Festival in Duluth, Georgia: Sept. 24-25
The 39th annual end-of-summer celebration will take place in downtown Duluth the last weekend in September. A true community affair, this free event is run by a team of some 300 volunteers, and all proceeds from the festival – which draws crowds of more than 100,000 people each year – go toward improving Duluth’s historic downtown. To help manage traffic, several park-and-ride shuttle locations are scattered around town for ease of access.
The weekend kicks off with a parade on Saturday morning featuring local dance troupes, marching bands, antique cars, fire trucks and more. Afterward, attendees can roam the more than 180 artisan vendors in the maker’s market or catch a show at two on-site stages set to host more than 20 scheduled performances throughout the weekend. Food is another main attraction, and here you’ll find Southern specialties such as jambalaya, alligator, candied pecans and biscuits in addition to typical fall festival fare like candy apples and funnel cakes. Kiddos can experience rides and games just for them, and anyone can enjoy the on-site carnival. Sunday starts with the Duluth Donut Dash 5k race, where awards are presented to top finishers across 15 age groups, followed by a worship service on the Duluth Town Green.
Event organizers recommend the Courtyard Atlanta Duluth Downtown hotel for out-of-town visitors.
Oktoberfest Zinzinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio: Sept. 16-18
More than 500,000 people descend on downtown Cincinnati each year for the country’s largest Oktoberfest. Ongoing since 1976 and now occupying six city blocks near the banks of the Ohio River, the festival typically features fun such as the Running of the Wieners, where hundreds of dachshunds race each other in hot dog costumes, or the World Brat Eating Championship. Other entertaining activities include the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, a costume contest and music.
After working up an appetite, eat your fill of tasty German specialties like potato pancakes, sausages, sauerkraut, soft pretzels, strudel, cream puffs and pickled pigs’ feet. Wash it all down with a stein of German-style suds from an array of local breweries, including craft options from Taft’s Brewing Co. and Rhinegeist Brewery.
Parking is available at numerous nearby public parking lots and garages, or you can book a room at the AC Hotel by Marriott Cincinnati at The Banks, located just around the corner from the event site.
Elk Fest in Estes Park, Colorado: Oct. 1-2
(John Berry/Courtesy of Visit Estes Park)
While most locales usher in autumn with pumpkins and cider, in the Rocky Mountain region the season is all about aspen trees and elk. Located near the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, about 65 miles northwest of Denver, the town of Estes Park holds a free annual festival the first weekend of October to celebrate the elk mating season – also known as the elk rut – which corresponds with the arrival of cooler weather and vibrant foliage. At this time of year, locally referred to as “Elktober,” you can see these majestic creatures in the national park or even in town (but be sure to keep your distance, as the male elk, called bulls, can be aggressive).
In addition to photographing the impressive antlers on the bulls and listening for their mating calls – a haunting sound known as a bugle – other Elk Fest offerings include live music, food trucks, a variety of vendors, a presentation of live raptors, Native American performances and more. A bugling contest lets festivalgoers attempt to imitate an elk’s sounds using a bugle tube.
An overnight stay at the iconic Stanley Hotel is a must for its history and charm; other lodging options in Estes Park range from mountain cabins to campgrounds.
The National Apple Harvest Festival in Biglerville, Pennsylvania: Oct. 1-2 and 8-9
Held in the heart of Amish country on the first two full weekends of October, this celebration of fall’s favorite fruit features all things apple, from tasty foodstuffs to funky memorabilia. Apple art, apple jellies and apple syrup making all await festivalgoers who pay the admission fee. Patrons can also browse more than 300 arts and crafts vendors, watch chainsaw-carving demonstrations, enjoy live entertainment such as Native American dancers, view collections of classic cars and antique farm equipment, and more. In between activities guests can nosh on theme-appropriate (not to mention delicious) snacks like apple pastries, candied apples, apple cotton candy or even apple pizza. Don’t miss the crowning of the Pennsylvania Apple Queen or the scenic tours of the surrounding orchards.
The nearby town of Gettysburg has a full range of amenities for travelers, including the Gettysburg Hotel. Established in 1797 and recognized by Historic Hotels of America, this property offers upscale suites and an on-site restaurant.
Salem Haunted Happenings in Salem, Massachusetts: Oct. 1-31
Haunted by a dark history that earned it the nickname “Witch City,” Salem tends to celebrate its spookiness year-round – but even more so during the month of October, when hundreds of thousands of people arrive in town for the Salem Haunted Happenings celebration. This fall festival pays homage to the season of colorful foliage and accompanying pagan holiday of Samhain. Special family-friendly events like costume parties, magic shows and movie nights occur around town throughout the month; those fascinated by the occult will also find thrills in the form of psychic readings and ghost tours. The annual festival kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 1, with the free Salem Zombiewalk for all ages, followed by the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade on Oct. 6, featuring a stream of performers and floats around the downtown district.
Attendees are encouraged to use the free satellite parking and shuttles provided on certain weekends to access festival events, or you can book a stay at the historic Hawthorne Hotel and park in its complimentary lot. The hotel hosts a coveted costume ball on Halloween weekend, but beware: Hawthorne’s rooms, many of which overlook the Salem Common, can fill up as early as January for Haunted Happenings, so plan your October visit far in advance.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in Hudson Valley, New York: Sept. 16-Nov. 20
(Courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley)
This spooky spectacle, often referred to as simply “The Blaze,” showcases more than 7,000 handcarved pumpkins across the grounds of the historic Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-On-Hudson. It takes about 45 to 90 minutes to walk the half-mile path lined with illuminated gourds creatively stacked and swooped into an array of themed designs and displays, including a New York City streetscape. Moody music plays throughout, as part of an original soundtrack created just for this awe-inspiring autumn attraction. Proceeds from this event, offered by Historic Hudson Valley, benefit the nonprofit’s educational programs. Visitors must purchase tickets online in advance for entry on select nights from September through November. The Blaze is also held annually at a second historic New York location: Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Long Island.
Round out your Halloween-themed trip to Hudson Valley with a stay at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, located in the neighboring Tarrytown, which inspired Washington Irving’s novel “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Fall for Greenville in Greenville, South Carolina: Oct. 14-16
More than 100 food and drink vendors set up shop along Main Street in downtown Greenville for this annual fall festival. Entry and entertainment are free, but attendees can purchase sheets of “Taste Tickets” to sample a wide range of dishes prepared by local restaurants. Options include traditional Southern specialties like shrimp and grit cakes or fried green tomatoes, alongside the global flavors of empanadas, shumai, baba ghanoush and more. The tickets can also be redeemed for alcoholic beverages, carnival rides and slides in the Kid’s Area, and festival merchandise.
Foodies will drool watching some of the area’s best chefs show off their skills during cooking demonstrations and competitions on the Culinary Stage. In addition to its amazing food offerings, this festival is also well known for its impressive music lineup, with dozens of free performances given by local and national acts on multiple stages throughout the weekend.
The Aloft Greenville Downtown hotel offers hip accommodations less than half a mile from the festival.
Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sept. 21-25
(Courtesy of Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta)
For more than three decades gourmands have gathered in Santa Fe, the capital city of the “Land of Enchantment,” for this Southwestern celebration of wine, food and the state’s most famous crop: the New Mexico green chile. Cooking demonstrations, wine classes, brunch, luncheons and other culinary activities are scheduled at various venues throughout the city during the five-day event, which coincides with the harvest season for grapes and green chiles. Some of the biggest names in the wine industry make an appearance to showcase their finest offerings – including Caymus Vineyards, Gruet Winery, Hahn Family Wines and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates – as well as the region’s top restaurants and chefs. The main event is the Grand Tasting, where attendees can sip and sample offerings from more than 90 wineries and 60 restaurants. The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta is a great place to enjoy live music and the seasonally beautiful weather.
Less than 2 miles from the festivities, the Native American-owned Hotel Santa Fe is situated in the heart of downtown for easy access to the events and a chance to immerse yourself in the culture of the Pueblo people.
West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin, Oregon: Oct. 15-16
Located less than 15 miles south of Portland, the small community of Tualatin draws crowds each October for a free festival featuring unique fall-themed activities like races, face painting, food vendors, pumpkin bowling and golf, and a costume contest. This year the event kicks off on Saturday with Pumpkins and Pints at a local brewery, where attendees compete in a giant vegetable weigh-off.
The next day starts with a 5K run to raise money for local students. Spectators then gather on the banks of the lake, surrounded by trees ablaze in vibrant red and orange hues, to watch the festival’s main event: the Giant Pumpkin Regatta. Fifteen people are selected in a lottery to navigate enormous pumpkins through a water course with a single kayak paddle. The vessels are provided by the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, but folks who think they have a suitable giant gourd of their own are also welcome to participate.
The Century Hotel has rooms overlooking the lake for a front row seat to the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta – not to mention proximity to Oregon wine country.
Día de los Muertos in San Antonio, Texas: Oct. 29-30
(Courtesy of visitsanantonio.com)
San Antonio is home to the country’s largest celebration of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday to honor deceased loved ones that occurs around Halloween. This free, two-day event at the end of October is celebrating its 10th year. The Día de los Muertos festival, held at HemisFair, showcases elaborate altars, live music, art vendors, and other activities highlighting Mexican and Latin American heritage. A handy phone app puts the event schedule and map at your fingertips and allows you to vote for your favorite altar.
During October and November the city organizes an array of cultural events and entertainment to mark the holiday, such as a river parade and live music, so you may want to stick around San Antonio for a bit. The Grand Hyatt San Antonio River Walk hotel offers sophisticated accommodations in the heart of the action.
Sea Witch Festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware: Oct. 28-30
The seaside town of Rehoboth Beach, known as the “Nation’s Summer Capital,” will celebrate spooky season with the 32nd annual Sea Witch Festival at the end of October. The event features traditional Halloween activities with a nautical twist, like a costume parade for people and their pups, a “haunted” beach bonfire, a treasure hunt for children, a broom-tossing competition and a citywide Sea Witch Hunt, where participants follow clues to find the Sea Witch for a cash prize. The specialized Kid’s Corner also offers magic shows, crafts and bubbles for little ones. Local artisan and vendor booths surround the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand and fill the Convention Center, providing plenty of options for dining or shopping for handmade products and official Sea Witch Festival merchandise.
Consider a stay overnight at the Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center, located on the beach and just around the corner from the festival’s main happenings.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Ketchum, Idaho: Oct. 5-9
(Carol Waller/Courtesy of Trailing of the Sheep Festival)
This truly unique festival aims to celebrate and promote the ranching roots of the region – which was once one of the largest sheep shipping centers in the world – with various events. Offerings include farm-to-table dinners, the Folklife Fair, wool workshops, the Sheepdog Trials and an event called For the Love of Lamb, in which attendees who have purchased a “passport” in advance can sample lamb-based dishes from participating local restaurants. The namesake festivity is an authentic sheep “trailing” parade that herds the animals down Main Street to their winter fields.
The Sun Valley region is home to hillsides of golden-hued aspen trees providing a stunning, scenic backdrop for this one-of-a-kind fall festival and for your stay in the area. The Hotel Ketchum boasts boutique lodging and offers a discount to festivalgoers.
Harvest on the Harbor in Portland, Maine: Oct. 27-30
Harvest on the Harbor started in 2007 to draw attention to Portland’s burgeoning independent culinary scene. The city – also known as Oyster Town – is now home to one of the best oyster festivals in the country. Described as a “gastronomic extravaganza,” the event boasts endless opportunities for oyster slurping and cider sipping in between mixology demonstrations and live music performances. The festival, which overlooks the Fore River and boasts spectacular views of the water, is also known for its cutthroat competition to crown the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year.
Within walking distance – less than a mile away – sits the modern Aloft Portland Hotel, a sophisticated waterfront property.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico: Oct. 1-9
(Missi Leonard/Courtesy of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta)
Well known as the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, this annual autumn attraction draws close to 1 million people to New Mexico’s largest city. Revelers can eat, drink, photograph, dance, shop and otherwise enjoy everything Albuquerque has to offer – which includes fantastic fall weather. The fiesta will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, ensuring an even more spectacular showing of creatively colored and uniquely shaped balloons. A full schedule of events keeps spectators busy throughout each day, from the initial glowing launch at dawn to a series of themed balloon “rodeos” and other coveted competitions. Additional activities include chainsaw carving demonstrations, live music, fireworks, and oodles of shopping and dining vendors.
On-site parking is available for an added fee, though to spare yourself the hassle you may opt to take advantage of the more convenient event shuttles and bicycle routes instead – or book a stay within walking distance in a glamping tent, which includes parking and festival admission. For more traditional accommodations, Hotel Chaco in the city’s historic district offers a serene retreat from the hustle and bustle of the festival.
Bayfield Apple Festival in Bayfield, Wisconsin: Oct. 7-9
At 60 years old, this classic fall celebration attracts more than 50,000 visitors from around the Midwest and has been recognized for outstanding offerings like apple-peeling and pie contests, a parade, a carnival, an arts and crafts fair, and the crowning of the Apple Festival Queen. The Bayfield Apple Festival also provides live music for nonstop entertainment, and attendees will be more than sated by the plentiful variety of traditional harvest treats and sweets. Free shuttles may be available to transport guests around the various event venues.
In addition to flaunting spectacular views of Lake Superior and its fall foliage, the Bayfield area is brimming with apple orchards, farms and wineries to explore, providing festivalgoers with more than enough reason to stick around. Book a stay at the Old Rittenhouse Inn, a cozy bed-and-breakfast located around the corner from the festival and just blocks from the water’s edge.
Autumn at the Arboretum in Dallas, Texas: Sept. 17-Oct. 31
The top-rated Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden amplifies its usual colorful displays of flowers and foliage each fall with the addition of 90,000 locally sourced pumpkins, gourds and squash of every shape and size, creating one of the nation’s top autumn attractions. Visitors can enjoy strolling through the facility’s 66 acres of regular gardens and stunning seasonal exhibits, including a pumpkin village and maze for kids. Various special events and workshops are offered for all ages throughout the arboretum’s fall season, from squash art demonstrations to wildlife encounters to live music.
The Dallas event runs from mid-September through Halloween, so you can plan your visit accordingly. The nearby Holiday Inn Express & Suites Dallas East – Fair Park provides family-friendly accommodations with an indoor pool and complimentary breakfast less than 3 miles from the arboretum.
Scarecrow Weekend in St. Charles, Illinois: Oct. 7-9
(Courtesy of St. Charles Business Alliance)
The 37th annual Scarecrow Weekend will take place this year in downtown St. Charles, about 40 miles east of Chicago. Around this time visitors will find more than 80 handmade scarecrows and Halloween-themed window displays throughout the city, which is bisected by the scenic Fox River. Guests are invited to stroll the streets and riverfront to “hunt” for scarecrows and vote for their favorite designs. Other activities, located in Lincoln and Pottawatomie parks, include professional pumpkin carving demonstrations, a photo op area, a craft show, live music and the Family Zone, complete with face painting, balloon art and more. Cap off your weekend by purchasing a Scarecrow in a Box to make your own.
For accommodations as charming as this fall attraction, consider the historic Hotel Baker, a property built in 1928 with a picturesque garden overlooking the Fox River in St. Charles.
Louisiana Pecan Festival in Colfax, Louisiana: Nov. 4-6
This celebration of one of the South’s top crops offers a unique autumn attraction for more than 60,000 attendees each year. Held on the first full weekend in November, the Louisiana Pecan Festival typically kicks off on Friday with Children’s Day, featuring a petting zoo, rock walls, games, fun jumps and other free family-friendly activities. Throughout the weekend attendees will enjoy a parade, live music, arts and crafts booths, a cooking contest, carnival rides and fireworks. Visitors can sample and purchase pecan specialties including pies, pralines, jams and candies, as well as catch numerous live performances by the Pecanettes dance team, composed of local high schoolers. This event is also a great place to gobble goodies like funnel cakes, fried chicken and alligator on a stick from vendors.
Most visitors will want to look to the neighboring city of Alexandria for lodging options. The Hampton Inn & Suites Alexandria hotel is about 20 miles southwest of the festival site.
Punkin Chunkin Festival in Clayton, New York: Oct. 15
Head to the town of Clayton in the Thousand Islands region in the middle of October to see pumpkins fly through the sky, propelled by giant catapults and trebuchets, and plunge into the St. Lawrence River. Spectators can nosh on barbecue dishes from local restaurants while they watch adults and kids compete in their respective heats for the farthest launch, or stroll through the accompanying farmers market. For a unique perspective, book a boat tour to watch the Punkin Chunkin Festival from the water.
Parking is limited, so the event offers park-and-ride shuttles to help transport guests, or you can book a stay close by: The elegant waterfront 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel is located right next to the main event.
Frankenmuth Oktoberfest in Frankenmuth, Michigan: Sept. 15-18
Held annually in September, this authentic Oktoberfest has been blessed by the founders of the original festival in Munich, Germany, setting a high standard for its events, activities, and food and beverage offerings. Attendees can purchase drink tickets to sip steins of traditional Hofbrau brews, made from an original Bavarian recipe, and feast on German specialty foods like bratwurst, spaetzle, Black Forest ham and coleslaw, prepared by a local catering company. Crowds are entertained by live music, traditional German dancing and wiener dog races, with prizes for comical categories like “best dressed wiener” and “fattest wiener.”
Shuttle transportation to the Frankenmuth Oktoberfest in Heritage Park is available for an additional fee. Round out your Oktoberfest experience with an overnight stay at the charming Bavarian Inn Lodge in downtown Frankenmuth.
Warrens Cranberry Festival in Warrens, Wisconsin: Sept. 23-25
(Courtesy of Warrens Cranberry Festival)
The rural town of Warrens, located about 100 miles northwest of Madison, is crazy for cranberries – and home to the world’s largest cranberry festival, which draws upward of 120,000 people each year. This free event – celebrating its 49th season in 2022 – features 3 miles of shopping, dining and entertainment for all ages to enjoy. More than 1,300 vendors line up to sell crafts, antiques, souvenirs and artisan foodstuffs. Food trucks serve platefuls of macaroni and cheese, tacos, cheese curds, barbecue, caramel apples and other festival favorites. The Warrens Cranberry Festival wraps up with an impressive parade on Sunday, when people pack the streets to watch antique cars, marching bands, horses and sparkly floats on display. Every year the weekend marks the kickoff for the local cranberry harvest, and visitors are invited to take a walking tour of a nearby cranberry marsh to learn about this unique industry.
Lodging in Warrens may be limited, but you can’t go wrong with Three Bears Resort less than 2 miles from the festival. The property boasts family-friendly amenities like miniature golf, water parks and an arcade.
Natchez Balloon Festival in Natchez, Mississippi: Oct. 14-16
Perched on the banks of the Mississippi River near the Louisiana border, the town of Natchez is home to one of Mississippi’s top events. Thousands of spectators will flock to the historic Rosalie Mansion in mid-October to watch hot air balloons from around the country float through the sky in the Great Mississippi Balloon Race. Live music, food vendors, carnival rides and fireworks entertain crowds in between balloon events. Spectators enjoy strolling the lush grounds of the mansion, which offers expansive views of the river, and marveling at the architecture of this historic site.
The Natchez Grand Hotel also boasts water views and is located in the heart of the city’s historic district for easy festival access.
Madison County Covered Bridge Festival in Winterset, Iowa: Oct 8-9
What’s better than a scenic drive through the countryside on a crisp autumn day? Well, driving through a countryside known for its historic covered bridges adds bucolic charm and artistic interest to the mix. If the name of the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because you’ve seen the romantic 1995 film “The Bridges of Madison County,” which was inspired by the picturesque region. The scenery comes alive in the fall when the heavily wooded area is ablaze with color, providing an even more charming backdrop for the rustic landmarks.
Originally created to celebrate and promote the region’s history and heritage, the annual festival features a farmers market, tractor rides, a car show, a horseshoe tournament and a parade. For an additional fee, the local rotary group provides two-hour guided bus tours of the famous bridges, several of which are National Historic Landmarks.
The festival is held in the town of Winterset, set about 35 miles southwest of Des Moines. The Cobblestone Inn & Suites offers easy access to this wonderful fall event.