James Holser/Alamy Stock Photo
En español | It's that time of year when the heat of summer gives way to cooler temperatures, the warmer colors of fall begin to dominate, and so many American communities break out the beer, wine, apples and more for big, wonderful seasonal festivals. Here are some worth traveling for:
Oktoberfest in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Georgia)
About two hours northeast of Atlanta sits Helen, a Bavarian village in the heart of Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains. On long weekends in September and then daily from Sept. 26–Oct. 27, the village hosts its annual Oktoberfest (tickets $8-$10), the longest-running celebration of its kind in the U.S. German-style bands from around the U.S. and the world play for audiences in the Festhalle, where everyone can enjoy authentic German fare such as bratwursts and pretzels, and, of course, there are steins of German and American beers. Everyone who attends is nearly guaranteed to enjoy Gemütlichkeit (good cheer).
Adirondack Balloon Festival (New York)
The skies above New York State fill with color (and a bit of hot air) when the Adirondack Balloon Festival takes flight the second-to-last weekend in September every year (Sept. 19–22 this year) in Glens Falls and Queensbury, in the Lake George area. What began in the early-1970s has grown into the largest and oldest balloon festival on the East Coast, drawing around 150,000 people and launching nearly 100 hot-air balloons. While the balloons are certainly the stars of the weekend — and visitors can reserve rides ahead of time — other activities include live entertainment, a car show, a craft fair and kid-friendly activities.
Warrens Cranberry Festival Inc.
Warrens Cranberry Festival (Wisconsin)
The “Cranberry Capital of Wisconsin” always celebrates its local crop the last full weekend of September with its Annual Warrens Cranberry Festival. The first festival in 1973 drew 3,500 people; today, more than 140,000 visitors come to learn about the area's history of cranberry production and to tour a working cranberry marsh. There will also be plenty of opportunities Sept. 27–29 to enjoy the fruit itself, whether buying fresh from the 100-plus farm market vendors who will be at the festival, or sampling prepared dishes from the 100-plus food booths that will be open. Dishes to try: cranberry cream puffs, deep-fried cranberries on a stick, or Cranberries Jubilee, a warm cranberry mixture served over ice cream.
Sonoma County Harvest Fair (California)
Grape stompers from all over the world, including South America, India and as far away as Australia, descend upon Santa Rosa, California each fall to compete in the World Championship Grape Stomp, a featured event during the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, usually the first weekend in October (Oct. 4–5 this year). You don't have to travel far, however, to be a competitor. Grab a friend and your team of two will stomp grapes and collect the juice; the winning team gets $1,500 in prize money and, of course, bragging rights to enjoy with their purple-stained hands and feet.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival (Idaho)
Imagine 1,500 sheep filling the roads of Idaho’s Wood River Valley. That's just what happens during the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, celebrating its 23rd year in 2019 on Oct. 9–13. The festival was created to honor the 150-plus-year tradition of moving sheep, or trailing them, from their high mountain summer pastures down through the valley to their traditional winter grazing and lambing areas in the south. Highlights of this year's festival include 80 border collies competing in the Championship Sheepdog Trials; the Sheep Folklife Fair featuring Basque, Scottish and Peruvian dancers and musicians; sheep shearing; artists; children's activities and more. There is also a Wool Festival with classes and workshops. Finally, you can enjoy the Big Sheep Parade with 1,500 sheep hoofing it down Main Street in Ketchum at noon on Sunday (no dogs, please!).
New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival
More than 40,000 people show up for the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in mid-October (Oct. 18–19 this year) in Laconia, and most of them are eager see the main attraction — the 34-foot tower of 1,000 lit jack-o'-lanterns. The family-friendly street festival is free to attend, and visitors come from all over the world, according to organizers, to experience pumpkin bowling, horse-drawn hayrides and other fall fun.
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival (Hawaii)
The 49th Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Hawaii's oldest food festival, starts brewing Nov. 1 and runs through the 10th. Coffee enthusiasts are welcome to experience a firsthand look at the world-famous coffee crops found on the Island of Hawaii's Kona District, as well as attend events that tell stories of the coffee's nearly 200 years of history and cultural heritage. There is also Hawaiian music and dance. Admission is $5.