When fall rolls around, there’s nothing like an outdoor festival to get your family into the autumn spirit. Whether you seek pumpkin picking, apple cider drinking or something off the beaten path, these are the best fall festivals for families happening all around the country in 2019.
For: Country Fun In The City
1. Grand National Livestock Expo, Horse Show & Rodeo
Daly City, CA, Oct. 11-12 and 18-19
Catch all the crowd-favorite roughstock events just 30 minutes south of San Francisco at the Cow Palace Arena & Event Center. Besides watching riders and ropers, at the new agriculture exhibit, kids can hit the corn pit (aka sandbox but with corn kernels), make their way through a maze constructed out of hay, or play cornhole. Wine-tasting for adults will also be available at the exhibit. As for eating, feast on family-style barbecue, served 5-7 p.m. nightly…or bugs at special bug-tastings. (We recommend the barbecue.) Bringing a baby? The arena’s new Mommie and Me Room offers a peaceful reprieve from the ruckus.
Cost: $15 to $45, depending on the night you go and your seat.
For more information: Grand National Livestock Expo, Horse Show & Rodeo
For: Brews And A Blast From The Past
2. A Celebration of Cider and Music Festival
Sturbridge, MA, Oct. 20
This festival might have cider in its name, but it’s not all about drinking. An hour west of Boston, in New England’s largest outdoor living-history museum, this festival features live American roots music—a mix of rock, R&B, early country and folk music—and Americana beats, as well as ample opportunity to learn about cider, including how a 19th-century cider mill looked and worked, and tasting up to 12 different cider-makers’ drinks. Kids, meanwhile, can sip on the event’s regular selection of nonalcoholic beverages.
Cost: $28 per adult, which includes samples from six cider breweries; $14 for ages 4-17 and college students; free for kids under 4
For more information: A Celebration of Cider and Music Festival
For: Pumpkin Pageants
3. Circleville Pumpkin Show
Circleville, OH, Oct. 16-19
The largest pumpkin festival in the U.S. is about 30 miles south of Columbus. Its star? The Giant Pumpkin Weigh-In. Farmers bring their larger-than-life pumpkins to see which one is heaviest; last year’s winner was 1,607 pounds! There’s even the Pageant for the Prettiest Pumpkin and seven parades, such as one for pets and their owners and one where parents push their babies in pumpkin carriages. There are also local bands and a big-wheel race for youngsters, plus festival food and carnival rides.
For more information: Circleville Pumpkin Show
For: Corn Mazes, Hayrides And More
4. Sever’s Fall Festival
Shakopee, MN, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 13-Nov. 3
Just 25 minutes from Minneapolis at this quintessentially autumn event, guests go on a mission. A corn-maze mission. But it’s not just any corn maze—past years have been T. rex-, safari- and pirate-themed. With the help of a map, players must find pictures, and record the locations on a handout. Each correct entry earns the guest a chance at winning the grand prize, typically a $500 Visa gift card, at the end of the season. More reasons to visit: pumpkin sculptures, an obstacle course, a petting zoo, live music and a magic show. This year’s newer location is three times bigger than the original, meaning grander attractions: the largest corn maze in the state, expanded corn pits, larger playgrounds and more straw sculptures. Locally grown pumpkins, squash, honey and apples are for sale.
Cost: $17 per person; free for 3 and under
For more information: Sever’s Fall Festival
For: Pumpkin Pride
5. New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival
Laconia, NH, Oct. 18-19
This massive pumpkin festival combines wholesome activities for kids, such as rides for little ones up to teens, with more-grown-up ones—there’s a beer garden. The event draws more than 40,000 attendees yearly, and its main attraction is a 34-foot-high Instagram-worthy tower of around 1,000 jack-o’-lanterns. While you’re there, join the Zombie Walk and dance to “Thriller,” carve a pumpkin, go on a horse-drawn hayride around the downtown area, or go pumpkin bowling, all as live music plays.
For more information: New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival
For: Prime Leaf-Peeping
6. Fall Color Festival at the Morton Arboretum
Lisle, IL, Oct. 1-31
The leaves’ changing color is an all-out celebration at this 1,700-acre outdoor tree museum/tree research center 25 miles outside Chicago. The arboretum displays scarecrows along its trails the whole month, but weekends bring activities galore. Families with big kids might enjoy this year’s The Sherlock Scandal, a detective-themed walking play, while little ones might prefer a jack-o’-lantern-lit hike to see owls and bats, and making crafts, playing games, roasting marshmallows, decorating pumpkins, and viewing a glass pumpkin patch.
Cost: starting at $10 per adult, and $7 for ages 2-17, with some activities included
For more information: Fall Color Festival at the Morton Arboretum
For: Sky-High Enchantment
7. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque, NM, Oct. 5-13
Marvel at an unforgettable display of more than 500 colorful hot air balloons, including more special-shaped balloons than ever in this annual event’s history. Guest favorites Tall Steve (a penguin-shaped balloon) and a Darth Vader balloon are back. In the morning, catch the Mass Ascension—hundreds of balloons filling the horizon in two waves—or cheer on pilots as they compete to launch their balloons the most skillfully and place objects on targets. At night, the balloons’ burners simultaneously illuminate the sky; a fireworks show follows. In between balloon viewings, head to Main Street for Southwestern favorites, such as breakfast burritos and green chile cheeseburgers, and Southern-inspired alligator-on-a-stick and pork-and-rice-sausage Boudin Balls. There are also hands-on exhibits where kiddos can learn how hot air balloons work and about their history.
Cost: $10 per person, per session (morning or evening); free for kids under 13
For more information: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
For: Silly And Spooky Scarecrows
8. Scarecrow Harvest Festival
Alpharetta, GA, Oct. 5, 2019
Weeks before Halloween, this quaint town 30 minutes north of Atlanta transforms into an outdoor museum of more than 120 crazy-cool scarecrows. Despicable Me and The Incredibles characters have appeared in straw-and-grass form at past events, and Toy Story characters are possible this year. Besides admiring the artisanship, festival-goers can dance to the DJ, play cornhole, and indulge in food-truck fare, including barbecue, and chicken and waffles. Activities for kids abound, from making art to jumping around on inflatables to listening to tales from the festival’s resident storyteller. This year, the party moves from Milton Ave. to a bigger, greener area a five-minute walk away—at City Hall‚ which has a parking deck next door.
For more information: Scarecrow Harvest Festival
For: Magic and More
9. Wizarding Weekend
Ithaca, NY, Oct. 26-27
Quidditch, anyone? Although not officially affiliated with the J.K. Rowling series, this gathering in an upstate New York college town pays homage to Harry Potter with the game made famous by the books, as well as scavenger hunts and human chess matches. There’s no fee to attend the street festival, but for the complete experience, we recommend buying the Magical Passport. It grants access to the Magical Creature Hunt, which sends participants to local businesses to find creatures in order to win a prize, and the family-friendly Potions Crawl, where attendees take a self-guided tour of downtown, stopping at businesses to sample unique, magically inspired food and drinks—for those under and over 21. Another reason to get the passport: discounts and swag! While here, stop by the city’s very own school of magic, Gorgekeep Guardian Quest, where guests can participate in free activities, including trying their hand at spells and enchantments and even web weaving. Attendees get help from the school’s five guardians, inspired by New York State flora and fauna.
Cost: Free; $20 per Magical Passport; free for street festival
For more information: Wizarding Weekend
For: Picturesque En-light-enment
10. Water Lantern Festival
Houston, TX, Oct. 19
For a peaceful escape, spend the evening at this calming event, held in Magnolia Garden Park, near a lake. Decorate wood-and-rice-paper lanterns, writing down hopes and dreams, penning a letter to a loved one, or draw with your kids. Then, usually just before sunset, your lantern and about 1,000 others from fellow guests will be launched into the water. The sight of the lanterns floating on the water, glowing with a warm light, is unforgettable. But don’t go after the main event! Grab a bite from a food truck, embark on a scavenger hunt, play cornhole or browse the vendor stalls. If Houston is too far from home, there are still tickets available for similar events in Charlotte, NC, Seattle, WA, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose, CA, and Memphis, TN. Visit the Water Lantern Festival website for more info.
Cost: $30 to $35 if purchased online; $40 at the event. Price includes a floating lantern, commemorative drawstring bag, marker, wristband, and cleanup (the event organization handles it).
For more information: Water Lantern Festival