Photo courtesy of iStock / Jack N. Mohr
From a family-friendly fried chicken-themed weekend in the Big Easy to an adults-only beer-centric celebration in the Mile High City and a citywide Day of the Dead extravaganza in San Diego, here are 10 of the best fall festivals in the United States.
Photo courtesy of Kate Simon
Queen City Mischief & Magic in Staunton, Virginia | September 24-25
Seemingly overnight, Staunton, Virginia welcomes more than 10,000 wizards, witches, dragons, elves and every other magical creature found in “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones” and more. Even local shops and restaurants redo their establishments to fit the theme.
For example, an art gallery might turn into a wand boutique and a soap retailer might become a lotion and potion shop. In the past year, their version of Diagon Alley hosted events like wild beast taming, fire breathing and wizard duels.
Photo courtesy of Sara Alexander
Junkstock in Omaha, Nebraska | September 30-October 2 and October 7-9
Since 2012, this 135-acre horse farm outside Omaha, Nebraska has hosted this fun hybrid event that’s half music festival, half flea market. With more than 250 vendors from across the country, and tens of thousands of other shoppers to compete with, it’s quite the treasure hunt.
Not into hunting for antiques? There are also dozens of food trucks, plenty of adult beverages to partake in and no fewer than 10 bands performing. Kids, meanwhile, will love the hayrides, the bonfires and the giant house made of pumpkins.
Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism
Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota | September 28-October 1
Every year – rain, shine or snow – the town of Minot, North Dakota transforms into a mini-Scandinavia to honor its cultural heritage. Many of the city’s residents are descendants of immigrants from Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
During the four fun-filled days, attendees can watch the Miss Norsk Høstfest pageant, enjoy live entertainment (including headliners Big and Rich), feast on Norwegian delicacies and shop for handmade clogs, sweaters, silver jewelry and more.
Photo courtesy of National Banana Pudding Festival
National Banana Pudding Festival in Centerville, Tennessee | October 1-2
Imagine two full days devoted to one of your favorite desserts and you have the National Banana Pudding Festival. Hosted in Centerville, Tennessee’s picturesque RiverPark, this family-friendly event includes multiple stages of live entertainment and the famous “Puddin’ Path” where, for just $5, you can sample an array of banana pudding recipes. There’s also a banana pudding cook-off, dozens of craft vendors to peruse and a kids’ play area.
Photo courtesy of New Orleans & Company
National Fried Chicken Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana | October 1-2
Now in its fifth year, the Big Easy’s beloved fried chicken festival is expected to attract a record number of visitors. Although the two-day event is sponsored by the fast food chain, Raising Cane’s, the goal is to highlight the best fried birds from local establishments including Black-owned restaurants and food trucks. Come for the finger-licking good chicken and stay for the lakefront views (or vice versa).
Photo courtesy of Brewers Association
Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado | October 6-8
Featuring more than 500 breweries and 1,500 beers, Denver’s annual Great American Beer Festival is the largest of its kind in the country and one of 10Best’s best beer festivals. This year, it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary with special programming including competitions, food pairings, live music and more. If you’re 21+ and you appreciate a good brew (or two), there’s no better place to be.
Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism
Bridge Day in Fayetteville, West Virginia | October 15
While the two-day West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off in September attracts thousands of visitors, Bridge Day is the state’s largest single-day festival. It’s dedicated to the extreme sport of BASE jumping and attracts adrenaline junkies from across the country.
In 2019, the last year the event was held, there were more than 300 BASE jumpers hailing from 41 states. In addition to watching BASE jumpers plummet more than 876 feet into the New River Gorge, attendees who don’t have acrophobia can ride the New River Gorge Bridge’s high line and zip line.
Photo courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route
Cambria Scarecrow Festival in California | October 1-31
October is scarecrow season in this oceanfront community along California’s scenic Highway 1 Discovery Route. At the rate this festival is growing, someday, scarecrows could outnumber residents. What started as a small festival with just 30 scarecrows has turned into a month-long celebration featuring 500 scarecrows made by local businesses, students and residents. Many of the scarecrows are made of recycled materials so they’re as sustainable as they are scary (or funny).
Photo courtesy of Lone Mountain Land Company
Haunted Peaks Halloween Festival in Big Sky, Montana | October 29-31
You don’t have to wait until ski season to have an unforgettable time in this idyllic mountain town that celebrates Halloween like it’s opening day. Big Sky’s annual three-day Haunted Peaks festival includes a town-wide window display competition voted on by the public, a horror film festival and a 5K costumed run to the pub.
There’s also a mini monster mash for the kids and even a “yappy hour” where pets are encouraged to dress up for tricks and treats. Finally, if you’re into jack-o’-lanterns, don’t miss the crowning of the winners of the Pumpkin King and Queen Carving Competition.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Symphony
Old Town Día de los Muertos in San Diego, California | October 29 – November 2
The festivities begin with the “Mercado de Arte” and an alfresco performance by the Grammy Award-winning band, Mariachi los Camperos, at the city’s new waterfront venue, The Rady Shell. Meanwhile, businesses in Old Town San Diego are decorated and offering specials in honor of the holiday.
Walk among more than a dozen “ofrendas” (altars) where local Mexican and Mexican American families gather to reunite with their deceased loved ones. On November 2, All Souls Day, there’s a huge procession to the cemetery where the spirits return to the afterlife (until next year at least).