Sweater-weather mornings, clear, cloudless days, and firepit-friendly nights will soon return to the Carolinas. Autumn wraps the Piedmont in a sunny embrace with a hint of chill in the air, as well as the blazing panorama of changing leaves, making it the perfect time for adventures close to home. From corn mazes to hiking trails to harvest festivals, the local event calendar is packed with enough offerings to keep you more than busy until winter arrives. Here, more than 20 of the best family-friendly fall happenings around North Carolina’s Triad and Triangle.
Enjoy the red and gold tree canopy on easy-to-expert Piedmont hiking trails. Young kids can search for aquatic insects and reptiles along the Little Creek boardwalk on the American Beech TRACK Trail in Raven Rock State Park. Bikes, strollers, and rollerblades are welcome on 13 miles of multi-use forest paths through William B. Umstead State Park. And you can challenge teens with a long-distance trek on the south shore of Falls Lake on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Falls Lake State Recreation Area.
Fall on the Farm
Pick your own pumpkins at farms across the Triad and Triangle. Take a hayride to the pumpkin patch at Iseley Farms in Burlington, or bring your dog to the pet-friendly Kersey Valley Maize Adventure in Archdale. Learn about farm life at Sonlight Farms Good Ole Daze, where you can watch blacksmithing, butter-making, quilting, and tobacco-tying demonstrations, pet the farm animals, and sample homemade ice cream.
A Flurry of Fall Festivals
From apples and art to cheese, pirates, and dragon boats, there’s a festival to suit every age and taste in the central region of the Tarheel State this fall. Get ready for swash-buckling and sword-fighting on September 14 at Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Park and the City of Oaks Pirate Fest. The Town of Hillsborough celebrates everything pork with BBQ, arts and crafts, a car show, and more on Hog Day (September 20-21). Travel to Mount Airy for Mayberry Days (September 23-29), a celebration of small-town America based on the TV classic The Andy Griffith Show. Cheer for dragon boat rowing teams, sample Asian street food, and watch live performances at the Town of Cary’s Dragon Boat Festival on September 28. From September 26-29, the Town of Benson is the place to be for Benson Mule Days, which spans four days of rodeos, mule-pulling contests, bluegrass music, dancing, and carnival rides.
The 44th Annual Selma Railroad Days Festival (October 3-5) honors the Piedmont’s rail history with a family-friendly 5K, mascot race, parade, kid’s zone, and live music. On October 5, bring your pet food donation and your favorite pup to Triad Park in Kernersville for Pawsome in the Park. Or, head to the Town of Spring Hope for all things pumpkin at the 48th Annual Spring Hope Pumpkin Festival, where the orange gourd takes center stage with recipes, crafts, a pumpkin weigh-in, and parade. If bucking broncos are more your style, head to Efland for the Efland Ruritan Rodeo (October 5-6).
Celebrate the state’s Scottish roots at Outlandish Hillsborough. This three-day event (October 11-13) includes Scottish Colonial food, dancing, music, storytelling, and historic reenactments. That same weekend, you can head back to the Town of Mount Airy for the 53rd Annual Autumn Leaves Festiva. Or, visit the Town of Wilson’s Mills on October 12 for children’s activities, live music, food, and more at the Wilson’s Mills Pumpkin Festival.
On October 18 and 19, the state fairgrounds in Raleigh comes to life with the classic festival experience of funnel cakes, Ferris wheels, and more at the NC State Fair. The biggest Oktoberfest in the Triangle hits the Town of Cary, with Bavarian food and music, Weiner dog races, a parade, inflatables, face painting, hammer-strike competitions, and plenty of yodeling. Celebrate Apple Fest at Historic Bethabara Park in Winston-Salem on October 26, a shindig featuring pig races, puppet shows, a petting zoo, and local crafts and food.
Bridge the gap between Halloween and the holidays with an eclectic assortment of late-fall festivals. The Clayton Harvest Festival (from October 30 to November 3), is a car show and barbecue competition all rolled into one. While you’re there, enjoy the live music, midway carnival rides and games, and food trucks. Cheesemakers and Triangle crafters gather in the historic Cloth Mill at Eno River for Curds & Craft on November 3. Take a deep dive into fall’s favorite vegetable, the gourd, at the NC Gourd Festival (November 9-10) in Raleigh. See gourds from all over the globe and learn to turn gourds into bowls, teapots, rattles, holiday decorations, birdhouses, and jewelry.
Choose the amount of fright you want to put into your Halloween on Piedmont ghost tours and haunted trails. The Triangle’s oldest town celebrates its history with a Hillsborough Halloween Spirits Tour, while Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh takes a lighter approach with a dance party, science lab, and ghoul school at Kooky Spooky.
For families with older thrill seekers, Kersey Valley’s SpookyWoods claims to be the largest and scariest haunted house experience in the state. A new addition to its spine-tingling attractions is the Sudden Death Express, a terrifying train ride. Meanwhile, the creepiest part of Greensboro’s Ghoulash Halloween Festival is a storytelling cemetery walk. But little ones will love the face painting, game booths, crafts, bounce house, and costume contests.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.