Family-Friendly Fall Festivals in North Carolina

Venture out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy one or more of the state's best fests
Photo courtesy of Edgar L. Payne
Carolina BalloonFest happens Oct. 19-21 at Statesville Regional Airport.

From the mountains to the sea, there's a lot to enjoy about North Carolina in the fall, including fall festivals. Venture out of town for a day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy one or more of the state's best fests.


North Carolina Apple Festival

Aug. 30-Sept. 2 | Hendersonville

Cost: Free admission
Best for: Those who appreciate all things apples while mixing in free entertainment, arts and crafts, and festival-style food.
What's in it for kids: Two fun-filled kids zones featuring inflatables and amusement rides. You’ll need to purchase ride tickets on-site. 

North Carolina Mountain State Fair

Sept. 6-15 | Fletcher
Cost: $4-$10. Free for ages 5 and younger.
Best for: Those who like to celebrate the people, agriculture, art and tradition of North Carolina’s mountain region. Enjoy the Ms. NC Mountain State pageant, clogging and more. 
What's in it for kids: Over 40 amusement rides and games including a balloon wheel, super slide and space helicopters. Check out the livestock shows or get up close with cute barnyard animals. Enter your little one into the ice cream eating contest (must be at least 5 years old to participate). 

Cherokee Indian Fair

Oct. 8-12  | Cherokee
Cost: $10. $5 for ages 6-10. Free for ages 6 and younger.
Best for: Anyone who loves carnivals, culture, art, and game shows. Explore Cherokee culture through live demonstrations, dance performances, music, and food.
What’s in it for kids: A Ferris wheel, traditional Cherokee activities like stickball and archery, and a fireworks display. Wednesday is Children's Day with gates opening at 9 a.m. Ages 17 and younger enter for free and will be given a wristband to enjoy complimentary rides that day. 

Sugar Mountain Oktoberfest

Oct. 12-13 | Sugar Mountain Resort, Sugar Mountain
Cost: Free
Best for: Those wanting a taste of the popular 16-day German folk festival without having to travel far. Dress up in your best Bavarian costume for the chance to win prizes. You can also hear live music from local middle and high school bands. 
What’s in it for kids: An onsite kids activity center complete with hayrides, corn hole, pumpkin bowling, and the chance to meet Sugar Bear and Sweetie Bear. 

Families play games and have fun with inflatables at Oktoberfest

Photo courtesy of Todd Bush Photography 

Kids enjoy bounce houses and games at Sugar Mountain Oktoberfest.

LEAF Festival

Oct. 17-20 | Black Mountain
Cost: Day passes start at $49 for adults and weekend passes start at $172 (includes tent campsite). Special prices for ages 10-17. Free for ages 9 and younger.
Best for: Anyone who can appreciate and understand the power that music, art and culture have to transform lives, strengthen community and foster unity.
What’s in it for kids: Multiple interactive villages that are filled with activities like whimsical puppet shows, hoop dancers, a magical swing, Frisbee toss games, face painting and lots more. 


Girl plays guitar at LEAF

photo courtesy of lake eden arts festival

A young girl plays guitar while enjoying the Lake Eden Arts Festival.

Woolly Worm Festival

Oct. 19-20 | Banner Elk

Cost: $6 adults, $4 ages 6-12. Free for ages 5 and younger.
Best for: Lovers of the woolly worm and its contribution in helping determine the winter weather forecast. You’ll also love the arts and crafts, rides and food vendors onsite.
What’s in it for kids: The chance to cheer on their cute furry worm in a race to the finish with a $1,000 grand prize on the line. Enjoy inflatables, rides and festival food.

photo courtesy of wooly worm Festival

Winners of the Wooly Worm Race receive up to $1,000.

Halloweenfest in Transylvania County

Oct. 26 | Downtown Brevard
Cost: Free
Best for: Fans of Count Dracula, but in a lighthearted hometown way. Come celebrate Halloween Transylvania County-style, with a morning foot race, live music and all of the other street festival favorites. 
What’s in it for kids: Pumpkin carving and pumpkin-themed games, like Pumpkin Plinko. Dress the whole family in costumes, including your dog, for the costume contest and parade. 



Photo courtesy of Seyl Park

Wear your costume to Halloweenfest in downtown Brevard.


Carolina Renaissance Festival

Weekends Oct. 5-Nov. 24 | Huntersville​
Cost: $25 for adults, $15 ages 5-12. Free for ages 4 and younger.
Best for: Fans of the medieval times mixed with circus-themed attractions and shows. Interact with more than 500 costumed villagers, including mermaids and jousting knights. 
What’s in it for kids: Everything is geared toward children, with the exception of a few performances labeled for explicit content. This will be the first year that the Living Mermaids exhibit will be on display. Your little ones will also enjoy new addition Fireflicker, a curious and friendly dragon who will be roaming the festival streets. 


Knights joust at the Renaissance Festival

Photo courtesy of carolina renaissance festival

Knights joust at the Carolina Renaissance Festival.

Annual NASCAR Day Festival

Oct. 12 | Downtown Randleman​
Cost: Free
Best for: Those who love and appreciate the adrenaline and competition associated with the sport of car racing. New this year is a wide-screen simulator that will allow festivalgoers to compete with each other. Hall of Famer Richard Petty will sign autographs from 4-5:30 p.m. 
What’s in it for kids: Plenty of rides and real life race cars for photos. There’s also a Little Miss and Mister NASCAR Pageant.


photo courtesy of Jeff Freeman, Randleman chairman

NASCAR Day features old race cars on display.

Mush, Music and Mutts Festival

Oct. 19-20 | Historic Uptown Shelby
Cost: General admission to Friday’s Brew Fest is $30 and for ages 21 and up, and admission to the Rotary Chili Cook-off is $10. Free for ages 7 and younger. Admission to the Liver Mush Festival on Saturday is free.
Best for: Foodies who appreciate one of the South’s most acclaimed breakfast meats: liver mush. Since its start, this two-day event has grown to include a beer festival, chili cook-off, liver mush recipe competition, Little Miss Liver Mush Pageant and more.
What’s in it for kids: An inflatable castle and a giant slide. The Kids Zone also features pumpkin painting, games and activities. Don’t forget to show off your family’s furry friend at the Pet Festival. 


photo courtesy of Victorian rose studio, shelby

You don't have to like liver mush to enjoy all the festivities at this event. 

Carolina BalloonFest

Oct. 18-20 | Statesville
Cost: $10 for Friday, $20 in advance for Saturday and $15 in advance for Sunday (plus a service fee). $10 for a parking pass. Free for ages 12 and younger.
Best for: People who are curious to learn about what it takes to get hot air balloons into the air and to see their beauty once they are in the sky. Events include two balloon launches a day during which 50 balloons take flight, plus tethered balloon rides and a walk-in balloon. Check out the North Carolina craft beer and wine tastings in addition to plenty of food vendors.
What’s in it for kids: A kids zone filled with free inflatables and magic shows. Kids can also wall climb, bungee or walk inside of a balloon for an extra fee. 


photo courtesy of michele's images

50 balloons take flight at each launch at the Carolina BalloonFest.

Barbecue Festival

Oct. 26 | Uptown Lexington
Cost: Free
Best for: Those who want to celebrate good old barbecue in what has been deemed its world capital. This annual event attracts crowds in excess of 200,000 people, all paying homage to this North Carolina staple.
What’s in it for kids: A family fun area featuring a kids stage, pig races, a lumberjack show, rides and games. 


photo courtesy of The Dispatch/Donnie Roberts/Barbecue Festival

Head to Lexington's Barbecue Festival to enjoy good food, alcohol and crafts. 

Rural Hill Sheepdog Trials and Dog Festival

Nov. 10-11 | Huntersville​
Cost: $8 for ages 5-12, $11 for adults. Ages 4 and younger are admitted free. Gates open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. 
Best for: Those wanting to see, firsthand, the excitement of sheepdog trials. What are sheepdog trials you ask? A competition where handlers command their dogs, mostly champion border collies, to round up herds of sheep. 
What’s in it for kids: Hayrides, kids activities and lots of interaction with adorable doggies. You can also bring old pumpkins and get rid of them by catapulting them over 40 feet into the air. 


Festifall Arts Festival

Oct. 12 | W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
Cost: Free
Best for: Art lovers, no matter what style you fancy. There will be items of interest for visual artists all the way to the performing arts. See more than 50 local artists and artisans displaying their works. 
What’s in it for kids: The Kids Zone will feature local arts organizations offering interactive crafts and activities for young artists and art lovers. 


photo courtesy of katie garcia photography

Enjoy and crafted artworks and live performances on three stages at Festifall.

Selma Railroad Days Festival 

Oct. 4-5 | Downtown Selma
Cost: Free
Best for: Anyone who loves trains — no matter your age. Now in its 44th year, this annual celebration features a parade, a Chew Chew Food Truck Rodeo, a fun run and live music.
What’s in it for kids: A mascot run featuring local favorites, a kids fun zone with $5 unlimited bounce access, and plenty of trains.

North Carolina State Fair

Oct. 17-27 | North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh
Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-12. Free for ages 5 and younger. Discounts available if you purchase tickets in advance.
Best for: Literally anyone. Who doesn’t love a great fair? This year will forever be the debut of the Skygazer, a 155-foot Ferris wheel. Tickets for this ride are sold separately $6-$7. 
What’s in it for kids: Plenty of kid-friendly rides and fun foods like fried Oreos and candy bars. There will also be horse shows and livestock competitions.

photo courtesy of nORTH CAROLINA State Fair

Kids can enjoy an assortment of carnival rides at the North Carolina State Fair.

North Carolina Whirligig Festival

Nov. 2-3 | Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Historic Downtown Wilson
Cost: Free
Best for: People who can appreciate an arts fest with its own hometown twist. Catch more than 200 vendors, live entertainment and more fun. Try your hand at the free extreme challenges or see if you have what it takes to tackle the Whirligig-Warrior course. 
What’s in it for kids: The Whirli-Kidz Zone will have lots of rides and games for the little ones. There will be a Whirli-Kidz stage that will host Nick’s Kids Barnyard Adventure show live, in addition to several performances from local dance troops. 


Wilmington Riverfest

Oct. 5-6 | Downtown Wilmington
Cost: Free
Best for: Fans of a fun-filled cultural street festival. Riverfest was created to show off the beauty of Downtown Wilmington and the Cape Fear River. Expect local craft vendors, live entertainment and the crowning of Miss Riverfest.
What’s in it for kids: All of the kid-friendly festival staples like climbing walls, inflatables, and arts and crafts. Don’t forget to stick around for fireworks, too. 

DeAnna Taylor is an attorney-turned-travel blogger and writer. She is a native of Charlotte and loves highlighting the city whenever she can.