Aritcle courtesy of Lissa Poirot of FamilyVacationCritic.com.
Autumn is here, and with it comes much more than beautiful foliage—it also brings a bounty of festivals that will engage all ages. Catch your breath at the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons filling the New Mexico sky, savor the taste of the best apples in the nation, or witness thousands of jack-o-lanterns lit at the same time. Sound appealing? These are just a few of the opportunities that await autumn travelers. Read on to learn more about seven family-friendly North American festivals that are worth the trip this fall.
1. Keene, N.H.: Keene Pumpkin Festival
Nothing says fall like a pumpkin—or even better, over 29,000 pumpkins! That’s what you’ll see at the annualKeene Pumpkin Festival on October 20, when the quintessential New England town of Keene, New Hampshire will be overflowing with jack-o-lanterns, lining the streets and stacked on huge towers.
Live music, crafts, hayrides, fireworks, a kids’ costume parade and a pumpkin pie eating contest keep visitors entertained. Teens enjoy events specifically geared towards them, including wall climbing and seed spitting contests. The high point of the day is the official jack-o-lantern count—when everyone finds out whether they’ve brought enough pumpkins to break the Guinness World Record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit at one time. Keene has won this honor eight times—bring your own jack-o-lantern (or several) and help Keene get back in again this year!
2. Albuquerque, N.M.: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
For mesmerizing beauty and sheer grace, there’s nothing like the sight of hundreds of vibrantly colored hot air balloons drifting through the desert sky of New Mexico. It’s all part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which will take place October 6 to 14.
Events kick off as early as 5:45 a.m. each day with a “dawn patrol,” in which balloons are inflated and launched in a choreographed musical performance. Mass balloon ascensions follow at 7 a.m. many mornings (see the full schedule), while evening offerings include fireworks shows that everyone in the family can enjoy. Kids of all ages will become awestruck over the Balloon Glow—a magical event in which the balloons are lit from within like colorful paper lanterns.
3. Arendtsville, Pa.: National Apple Harvest Festival
Forget about pumpkins. Apples are the true fruit of the season and they’re tastier too! Southern Pennsylvania is known for some of the best apples in the country. That’s why Arendtsville hosts the National Apple Harvest Festival. This event takes place on the first two weekend of October: this year October 6 and 7 and 13 to 14.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Renew the goodness of apples in your kids’ minds. Apples come in all varieties: jelly, pancakes, syrup, sauce and candied. There’s more than just apples to eat. Over 300 vendors come out for the festival. Pie-eating contests and, of course, bobbing for apples are two of the public’s favorite events. Families will get a kick out of the tractor square dance—literally, tractors “dancing.” Kids can go on hay rides, see puppet shows and visit the petting zoo. Dance cloggers, child ballerinas and honored Native American groups all put on entertaining live shows that span the entire event. Besides the to-die-for apple pie, parents can check out the antique cars. Your family will leave wanting more than one apple a day…or maybe you will be appled out for the year!
4. Sonoma, Calif.: Sonoma County Harvest Fair
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is often regarded as one of the best fall festivals in the country. It’s a celebration of the grape harvest of Californian wine country. Yes, families can participate in the World Championship Grape Stomp, but the festival isn’t all about wine. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, including pumpkin tosses, sheepdog trials and cow-milking contests. The giant pumpkin weigh-in takes place here every year. Animals are a key theme for children. There are miniature donkeys, pet pigs and pygmy goat shows. Water fowls and poultry even get recognition. Kids might enjoy riding carnival rides or participating in the Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off contest. Parents will appreciate live jazz music and art shows. This year the festival takes place during October 5 to 7.
5. Floresville, Texas: Annual Floresville Peanut Festival
A scenic 30-minute drive south of San Antonio leads you to peanut country. A fall snack, the peanut is a strong part of Southwestern Texas agriculture. This year Texas celebrates the peanut for the 68th time at the Floresville Peanut Festival. The festival is at the Courthouse Square during October 9 and 11 to 13.
The honored guests, Queen Tunaep and King Reboog, (peanut and goober spelled backwards) begin the festivities with a grand opening coronation gala fit for any royal court. Kids are a central part of the celebration, making up the court elect. A Kiddie Parade presents decorated wagons and bikes, while a Grand Parade includes adults afterwards. There are also local Folklorico dance performances, pony rides and carnival games for kids. Kids race around with peanuts on a spoon trying to be the best peanut runner. Adults can enjoy a nutty time, too. Nightly dances feature live music under the town’s large oak tree. History buffs can also tour the Wilson County Historical Jailhouse Museum. The best part out it all is the food. Peanut brittle, peanut butter, peanut cookies…there’s everything a peanut-lover could ever want.
6. Stone Mountain, Ga.: Yellow Daisy Festival
Just outside of Atlanta is Stone Mountain Park, where every fall it hosts one of the largest arts and crafts festivals in the country, the Yellow Daisy Festival. The four-day event features more than 400 artisans and crafters from around the country, but also features a Children’s Corner for kids’ fun, clogging competitions, live music, and a festival foods corner. The event takes place September 6 through 9, ringing in fall in the south for the 44th year.
7. Plymouth, Ind.: Marshall County Blueberry Festival
For the 45th year, Plymouth, Ind., turns blue over Labor Day Weekend at its annual Marshall County Blueberry Festival. The four-day event kicks off on August 31 with a carnival and continues through September 3 with live entertainment, pageants, fireworks, a petting zoo, an auto show, kids’ fun, rides and games, and plenty of food filled with blueberries. The Blueberry Stomp 5 and 15K runs, arm wrestling, tennis, softball, Bicycle Cruise, and a kiddie tractor pull are just a few of the many sporting events also taking place over the festival weekend.
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Family Vacation Critic is a family travel Web site that offers comprehensive family travel tips, vacation ideas and reviews from expert travel editors (who are parents, themselves), as well as member-submitted reviews of family-friendly hotels, resort and destinations. The site also highlights family attractions and theme parks, restaurants and family travel deals.
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Lissa Poirot, editor of Family Vacation Critic
Lissa is an experienced editor and travel writer, who became focused on family travel through her own first-hand experiences traveling with her children. Prior to joining Family Vacation Critic, she edited and contributed to a number of travel magazines and websites, including TravelGirl, Florida Travel + Life, AAA Living, Cape Cod Magazine and VisitFlorida.com, and has received awards from the American Travel Writers Association (ATWA) and Magazine Association of Georgia and the Southeast (MAGS) for her travel writing.