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 try 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 twelve wacky fall festivals.
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.
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 22nd 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). Pro-tip: 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.
Goffstown, New Hampshire
Sadly, the massive West Coast Pumpkin Regatta in Oregon is cancelled this year (though they’ll still have the regatta run). But over on the east side, New Hampshire’s Goffstown has you covered with a celebration of their own. Their Pumpkin Regatta and weigh-off has everything: dog costume contests, giant gourds in competition, a pumpkin drop, a pie-eating contest, and a pumpkin prince and princess. On Saturday, watch hollowed-out pumpkins transform into seasonally-themed boats and on Sunday, cheer for your favorite as they race (or more likely, bob uncontrollably) down the Piscataquog River. Fall fun!
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 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 the audience.
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 Harley the Hog ride (like a mechanical bull, but it’s a pig), a bacon and craft beer pairing, and bacon eating contest where the winner (the last of which ate 2.5 pounds of bacon) gets a Big Pig trophy. There are pig and weiner dog races (!), mascots in costumes just wandering around, and any bacon-related 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.
And catch these next year:
Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
You can pretty much guess what this is about. 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 festival, with music, magicians, a “cow chip breakfast” arts and crafts, and cow 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.
Start working on your tin foil hat now: September in Oregon’s Willamette Valley means the annual UFO festival extravaganza. Second only to the festival in Roswell, bring the camera for sightings of ETs, Wookies, Yodas, Coneheads, astronauts, and, yes, aliens. Sparked by an actual UFO sighting in the area in 1950, now there’s speakers, a parade, and a costume contest. Pick out your best out-of-this-world attire, and come armed with questions for the extraterrestrial experts.
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.