The Weirdest, Wackiest Fall Festivals Around the Country
When the weather gets chilly, we get creative.
Maybe it’s the cooler weather, the diminishing daylight, or the fact that we’ve sniffed so much nutmeg and cinnamon it’s infiltrated our brain. But in the fall, things tend to get weird.
From Maine to California, we not only carve pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns but we also turn them into boats and attempt to bob down rivers. We debate the existence of ghosts and sasquatches and use worms to predict the weather. We put our pups—and any other pets that will let us—in costumes, and grow our leg hairs out to resemble tarantulas. Or at least, some of us do. Anything goes at these sixteen wacky fall festivals, and that's the fun of it.
Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
Okay it’s not technically in fall but it’s too absurd to skip. Back in the day dried buffalo chips (read: poop) were used as fuel to warm the houses of the rugged pioneers. Today Wisconsin honors this heritage with this turdtastic festival, with music, magicians, a “cow chip breakfast,” arts and crafts, and chip throws. Everyone from kids to corporate sponsors get in on the action, and the chip chuckin’ rules are simple: they must be at least six inches in diameter, with two chips per person. No gloves are allowed and—you might want to put down any food right now if you’re reading this—you may lick your fingers before tossing.
This one just feels fall, ya know? Broomcorn, in case you didn’t know, is a type of plant, and when this plant’s branches are dried they become stiff and are bound together to make brooms and other things. The Broomcorn Festival in Arcola leans into this, celebrating all things bristly: broom making, arts and crafts, and an actual broom-sweeping contest. There’s live music, a 5K and 10K and, of course, a parade. This parade, however, features the Lawn Rangers, a “precision lawn mower drill team” who since 1980 have been marching in formation at the festival, with brooms and lawn mowers, to the delight of all that see them.
Laurel County holds a massive place not only in fried chicken history, but many a carnivore’s heart, as the birthplace of what would become the global phenomenon we know as Kentucky Fried Chicken. This September, they give us even more of a reason to make the pilgrimage with the World Chicken Festival, four days of egg-citing entertainment like Colonel Sanders impersonator competitions, a “Rooster tail” mullet contest, carnival rides, a music lineup featuring the Gin Blossoms, and the world’s largest stainless steel skillet—all the better to fry your darks and whites.
Pop by the Sanders Café & Museum in Corbin, where the 11 herbs and spices of the original recipe were perfected and where you can take in memorabilia like the poster when Harland Sanders ran for state senate (pre-Colonel, an honorific bestowed by the State of Kentucky), plus various iterations of his likeness. This is your chance to see a Colonel Sanders bronze bust. Explore the roadside restaurant restored to its original 1940s layout, which included an adjacent motel. In 1990, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sun Valley, Idaho
You know what’s better than just a couple sheep? 1,500 of them. Which is what you’ll get at the culmination of the Trailing of the Sheep festival in southwest Idaho, when the herds tromp through main street Ketchum on their annual migration. Other activities on the flocktacular festival’s roster: a sheep jam, sheep storytelling, sheepdog trials, a Q&A with sheep ranchers, tons of farm-to-table dinners, and plenty of wooly fare for purchase. Come ready to get cozy.
The FireAnt festival began in 1982 in Texas to lift spirits in a time of economic hardship, given the name for no real reason except it sounded silly and had a nice ring to it. Over 30,000 people attended that first year, and four decades later it’s still going strong, with fire ant mascots and events like a Diaper Derby, parade, chicken chunkin’ contest, fire ant calling contest, and gurning contest, something we just had to look up. May the best face win.
Apparently the sport of wife carrying began in Finland, sparked by a legend where a robber would steal both food and women from the towns he pillaged. Naturally, we have adopted this and turned it into an extreme sport. The 23rd Annual North American Wife Carrying Championship tasks competitors with carrying their significant others through a dry and muddy 278-yard obstacle course, either fireman-style (over the shoulder), piggyback, or the most popular: the Estonian Carry (flipped upside-down with legs around the runner’s shoulders). If you’re in it to win, it helps to have a partner with heft. The winning team scores the wife's weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.
Fayetteville, West Virginia
It’s been a West Virginian tradition even before 2020, when New River Gorge became our 63rd National Park: Since 1980 BASE jumpers have gathered at ‘the New’ to legally launch themselves off the park’s 876-foot-tall bridge—the world’s second-longest arch bridge—hopefully parachuting to dry land. Now held every third Saturday in October, with thousands of onlookers, it’s one of the largest extreme sports events in the world, and it’s back again after a cancellation last year. If you’re jumping—or rappelling down, also an option—good luck. And if you’re not, bring snacks, but leave the drones at home.
Hosted by the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers (PGVG), whose mission is to grow “obscenely large vegetables,” the beloved event floats into our hearts with events like a 5K, pumpkin golf, a Terminator weigh-off (with pumpkins probably named things like Big Bertha), and the big draw: the regatta. Fifteen competitors don costumes and race—or more likely, bob uncontrollably—in giant hollowed out pumpkins on the chilly Lake of the Commons, with the aid of a kayak paddle. Here's to hoping that they don’t retain water or capsize (someone definitely will).
Clayton, New York
There are quite a few pumpkin chunkin’ festivals out there this fall, but up in the Thousand Islands region of New York they get positively medieval with it. Participants—some donning a Viking helmet, complete with horns, because why not—build their own massive trebuchets or catapults to hurl orange pumpkins into the St. Lawrence River. The projectiles reach 150 miles per hour, and an excess of 1,000 feet, making quite a splash. There’s also live music, a farmer’s market, a BBQ contest, and kids' competition for budding engineers (or kids that just like to watch vegetables get smashed).
For many, the location of Bigfoot—or whether he even exists—may still be a mystery. But in Jefferson, aka “The Bigfoot Capital of Texas,” they’re pretty sure they know. There’s been a long history of Bigfoot sightings in the state, according to the Texas Bigfoot Research Center (the first sasquatch spotted was actually female, so, progressive!). And this October the city hosts the annual Texas Bigfoot Conference, with dinners, speakers, and all manner of enthusiasts. While you’re in town stop by the Bigfoot statue in the Port Jefferson History and Nature Center, and make sure to explore the area between the entrance and the train bridge. It’s known as "Bigfoot Alley,” and you may find a few hairy surprises.
Banner Elk, North Carolina
The mighty woolly worm is small, fuzzy, and apparently fully able to predict the future. Some folks believe that the tint of each of the worm’s 13 brown segments predicts how severe the coming corresponding 13 weeks of winter will be (darker = harsher weather that week). It’s so much a thing that in Banner Elk, there is a “Woolly Worm Forecast.” Come for vendors selling everything from photography and pottery to worm houses, stay for the worm races, in which you can enter your own lil’ guy. The winning worm gets a cash prize, and is used to predict the weather of the upcoming winter.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Not all witches hang out in caves with their cauldrons; sometimes they have a strong affinity for the wide open sea. Delaware’s Sea Witch festival celebrates this alternative mermaid with a weekend of festivities including a pet-friendly costume parade with nautical floats, a haunted bonfire, hayrides, a broom tossing competition, and a lantern-lit spooky storytime that recounts the true tale of a ship that sunk off the coast of Delaware in 1785. Perhaps some ghosts will be in attendance.
Manitou Springs, Colorado
The town of Manitou Springs gets very, very into Halloween, celebrating it throughout the month of October with skeletons lurking around town, movie nights, and ghost tours. Their passion is all thanks to one woman. Emma Crawford was sickly with tuberculosis and came to the town for their healing mineral water. Sadly, the healing properties failed to kick in and Emma passed away, requesting to be buried atop a mountain. When the town flooded years later, the coffin became unearthed and slid down the mountainside into town. And thus is the inspiration for the Emma Crawford Coffin Races, which today takes the form of costumed teams of five racing through the town in heats vying for prizes like Best Coffin, Best Entourage, and Best Emma.
October rounds out spider mating season, and like big creeps we throw a festival to celebrate. The Tarantula Awareness Festival comes just in time for Halloween, with the ultimate goal of educating the public about the California Brown Tarantula, but encompasses every aspect of the season: from pumpkin cheesecake contests to scream-offs to a costume parade. In arachnid fare we’ve got a tarantula poem contest, a race of spiders (hopefully contained), and our favorite item on the schedule: a hairy leg contest for humans. So start growing that stubble out now: only the hirsute will reign supreme.
Think you like bacon? Not as much as these guys in Easton, Pennsylvania, where every November the downtown goes hog wild. They’ve been called “One of the Top 5 Bacon Fests” and why wouldn’t they, with musical acts on four stages, a bacon and craft beer pairing, and bacon eating contest where the winner gets a Big Pig trophy. There are pig and weiner dog races (!), a hog calling contest, a mascots dash (bacon and bacon-related costumes), and any bacony treat you can think of, from bacon cannolis to bacon poutine to bacon Bloody Marys. So don your best pig-themed gear, and come hungry.
Salley, South Carolina
Chitterlings, or chitlins, if you don’t know, are boiled and fried small intestines, usually of hogs. The offal’s preparation is notoriously odoriferous, yet since 1966, this small town in South Carolina has hung a whole—very popular—festival on them, at one time able to be smelled from the interstate, they say. Started by their mayor as a way to raise money for Christmas decorations, Salley has since earned the distinction of being the Chitlin’ Capital of the World, as every Saturday after Thanksgiving thousands converge on this town of just 398 to cook, eat, and celebrate. Come for the food—everything from jambalaya to oxtail to corn dogs (plus chitlins!) stay for the beauty pageant, arts and crafts vendors, rides, and a country music show.