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Sweater weather, striking foliage, and ample reasons to sip cider means fall is officially here. Alongside all of these reasons to enjoy the season are plenty of unique fall festivals throughout the country, from an ode to covered bridges to a celebration of pecans. Whether you find yourself in North Carolina or southern Michigan, here are six autumn festivals to fall in love with.
Madison County Covered Bridge Fest (Winterset, Iowa)
No, the bridges of Madison Country aren’t just a popular book and movie. This festival began in 1970 as a way of honoring the area’s famed covered bridges, most of which were built in the mid-1800s to protect the bridge surfaces from elements that could contribute to decay and rot. In the 50-plus years that have passed, the early October festival is still going strong. Attendees can tour the county’s six remaining bridges throughout the weekend and partake in a popular “Meet Me at the Bridge” celebration on Saturday night. Expect an array of attractions, from a parade and antique car show to craft booths (with locally made goods like pottery, quilts, and fiber arts) and demonstrations (like an antique tractor ride, sheep-shearing, and marble shooting). Be sure to snap a photo (or two) beneath one of the bridges — a view worthy of celebration in and of itself.
Color Cruise and Island Fest (Grand Ledge, Michigan)
This annual event celebrates the peak of Michigan’s beautiful fall foliage in mid-October — and all the fun that accompanies it. Festival goers can experience those ever-evolving hues aboard a pristine riverboat cruise, then enjoy a fleet of fall-forward activities and attractions: an old-fashioned cider press, pumpkin painting, and candle dipping, and folk music, to name just a few. When hunger strikes, worry not: With options like chili, brats, elephant ears, caramel corn, and root beer floats, there’s something for everyone in the party here.
Circleville Pumpkin Show (Circleville, Ohio)
Held on the third Tuesday through Saturday of every October, the Circleville Pumpkin Show is the self-proclaimed "Greatest Free Show on Earth." Credit that title to its extensive, multi-day programming of all things pumpkin, from carving demos to pie-eating contests. Expect ample entertainment around the clock, including live music and fashion shows, and plenty of parades — one even features costumed pets.
Harvest on the Harbor (Portland, Maine)
This annual food and drink fest in early November celebrates the thriving culinary scene of Portland, Maine, by way of exceptional eats and drinks. Kick off the weekend with a special “Meet Your Maker” event, featuring several local distillers and the products that have helped to put them — and Maine — on the map, from gin and whiskey to vodka and rum. Continue slurping your way through the weekend with Saturday’s OysterFest sessions, when several of the area’s oyster farmers showcase their best harvests alongside craft beer pairings. And cocktail enthusiasts will do well by “Beyond the Pina Colada,” an evening dedicated to debunking the myths (and perceived limits) of one perennially under-appreciated mixer: rum.
North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival (Whiteville, North Carolina)
All praise the pecan — at least in this North Carolina town, where an annual event celebrates the nut with an array of festivities that take place in early November. Crack into all of it with a Pecan Festival Queen's Luncheon at the storied Vineland Station, one of the first brick train depots in eastern North Carolina. There, you’ll encounter a thoughtfully curated menu while dining alongside some of the fest’s most famed characters: the Pecan Harvest Festival Queen, the Pecan Belles, and the Camden Cadets. Come morning, gear up for a cross-town parade featuring some of the area’s most venerated figures and vendors. And get ready to groove shortly thereafter — by midday, live music takes center stage with Chocolate Chip & Company, a regional band known for getting all of their audience members on their feet with funk-centric sounds.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze (Croton-on-Hudson, New York)
This transcendent autumn festival invites visitors to wind their way through an 18th-century landscape of more than 7,000 glowing jack o’lanterns — each hand-carved by the fest’s organizers. Allow about 90 minutes to traverse the spectacular, which also features a mock-up of the New York City skyline (by way of pumpkin) and an immersive “under-the-sea” display by the Hudson River. Add to the mix a dazzling display of synchronized lighting and music, and consider it the show of the season. The best part? All proceeds from the event support programming for Historic Hudson Valley, a non-profit education organization.