2009 Fall Festivals

It’s that time of year again. Leaves are changing color, children are back in school, and the temperature is a little cooler. Autumn is in the air. Of course, one of the best things about fall is the chance to enjoy the wide variety of festivals and celebrations taking place. Some pay tribute to the harvest, others celebrate cultural traditions, and still others are dedicated to Halloween. One thing in common? All are unique and fun.

The Post profiles some of the best.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (New Mexico)

Over 600 balloons take to the air during one of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta's mass ascensions.
More than 600 balloons take to the air during one of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s mass ascensions.

A spectacular event takes place in the skies over New Mexico every October. No, it’s not a UFO sighting over Roswell. It’s the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of hot air balloons dot the sky in one of the most amazing aerial displays in the world. The eye-catching exhibition is made possible by a perfect combination of desert climate and valley geography, creating what is known as the “Albuquerque Box.” Like many desert areas, extreme temperature fluctuations occur between day and night. As the sun rises, cool air pools along the valley floor and travels northward while hotter air rises and travels south. As a result, hot air balloons can travel in one direction, change altitude, and come back in a “box” shape. If weather permits, this environmental phenomenon allows a “mass ascension” (600+ balloons in the air) to occur—a flight of epic proportion, which, according to the event’s Web site, has become the “most photographed event in the world.”

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

When: October 3-11, 2009
Where: Albuquerque, NM
Web site: balloonfiesta.com

Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival (Vermont)

An old covered bridge outside of Cabot, Vermont.
An old covered bridge outside of Cabot, Vermont.

Vermont is a great place to be in late September/early October, particularly if you visit Northeast Kingdom’s Fall Foliage Festival. The celebration takes place in seven towns over seven days and pays tribute to the wonderful fall colors of the New England landscape. The location is appropriate for such a festival since all of the towns are in or near Groton State Forest, a 25,000-acre fall wonderland that encompasses six state parks. In addition to hiking and sightseeing, visitors can enjoy art exhibits, tasty dinners, and farmers’ markets in quaint, historic towns.

Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival

When: September 27-October 3, 2009
Where: Various places in Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Web site: nekchamber.com

27th Annual Bean Fest and Championship Outhouse Race (Arkansas)

Bean artisans create a masterpiece at the Mountain View, Arkansas Annual Bean Fest.
Bean artisans create a masterpiece at the Mountain View, Arkansas Annual Bean Fest.

Mountain View, Arkansas, hosts a festival every October celebrating a food taste buds love but cohabitants hate—the Bean Fest and Championship Outhouse Race. While the nearby Ozark Mountains showcase pretty fall colors, the real sign of seasonal change is the unmistakable aroma of beans. The city provides cooking utensils and more than 1,000 pounds of beans to contestants, who prepare food for 40,000 visitors. After the feast, the outhouse race begins. What may sound like a bean-induced stampede to the bathroom is more like a soapbox derby with modified outhouses on wheels. These methane-powered vehicles race through the town in a one-of-a-kind spectacle that everyone enjoys—that is, unless there is a crash.

27th Annual Bean Fest & Championship Outhouse Race

When: October 29-31, 2009
Where: Mountain View, Arkansas
Web site: ozarkgetaways.com

Sonoma County Harvest Fair (California)

Beautiful vineyards call Sonoma Valley, California home, where over 150 wineries produce world-class wine.
Beautiful vineyards call Sonoma Valley, California home, where more than 150 wineries produce world-class wine.

For those with too discriminating a palette for conventional Oktoberfest beer, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the destination of choice. During the three-day festival, more than 150 wineries offer visitors an unequaled opportunity to enjoy the agricultural heritage that has won this region and its legendary wines worldwide fame. The food isn’t too shabby either. This region is also known as a center for culinary creativity, and professional chefs perform live demonstrations at the Fair’s Showcase Café. The fair also boasts fresh produce, prize farm animals, a barnyard maze, and the World Championship Grape Stomp.

Sonoma Harvest Fair

When: October 2-4, 2009
Where: Sonoma County, California
Web site: harvestfair.org

Toronto International Film Festival (Ontario)

Toronto waterfront at night.
Toronto waterfront at night.

This north-of-the-border “Festival of Festivals” is renowned as one of the best places to catch new film debuts. Hotel Rwanda, American Beauty, Chariots of Fire, Life is Beautiful, The Princess Bride, Roger and Me, and Ray are but a few of the films that have debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The event featured screenings of over 300 movies in 2008, from a list of submissions that included more than 4,200 entries from 64 countries. Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to nab eight Academy Awards, won the Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award in 2008. Although it’s impossible to predict if this year’s winner will be from Hollywood, Bollywood, or somewhere in-between, one thing is certain: visitors will enjoy some great movies.

Toronto Film Festival

When: September 10-19, 2009
Where: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Web site: tiff.net

Feast of the Hunter’s Moon (Indiana)

The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon commemorates French and Indian traders, who celebrated this festival on the Wabash hundreds of years ago.
The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon commemorates French and Indian traders who celebrated this festival on the Wabash hundreds of years ago.

Fall festivals boast a time-honored history. Historically, autumn has been the time to enjoy the harvest. For many pioneers, this was the last opportunity to celebrate before winter settled in. The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon commemorates French and Indian traders who celebrated this festival on the Wabash hundreds of years ago, and visitors today relive the custom by dressing in traditional garb while enjoying old-fashioned pastimes, including children’s trade blanket, candle-dipping, story telling, puppet shows, cross-cut sawing, and tomahawk throwing. The location, Tippecanoe County’s Fort Ouiatenon—the first fortified European outpost in what is now Indiana, only adds to the historic experience. Popular attractions include reenactments of battles that occurred here, vintage arts and crafts activities, Native-American traditions, and authentic pioneer recipes, such as buffalo and “forfar bridies,” cooked over the open fire.

Feast of the Hunters Moon

When: October 10-11, 2009
Where: Fort Ouiatenon, Tippecanoe County, IN
Web site: tcha.mus.in.us

Charleston Halloween Events (South Carolina)

One of the many haunted locales found in Charleston, North Carolina
One of the many haunted locales found in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of the biggest national fall celebration is Halloween, and one of the best places to celebrate it is in Charleston. Everyone gets involved with Halloween in this notoriously haunted town—including the dead. While families can enjoy Fish or Treat at the South Carolina Aquarium, Scarecrows on the Square in nearby Summerville, or the Harvest Moon Hayride, those who enjoy the darker side might want to take part in some genuinely spooky activities. The Charleston Ghost and Dungeon Walking tour offers visitors access to the city’s infamous prerevolutionary dungeon. Hop aboard for the Haunted Harbor Tour, which sails to where the spirits of pirates and shipwrecked sailors are still thought to roam. Or you can join in the Halloween in the Swamp activities at Cyprus Gardens—one of numerous tours of haunted churches, graveyards, and the jail.

Charleston Halloween Events

When: Multiple dates
Where: Charleston, South Carolina
Web site: charlestoncvb.com

Floresville Peanut Festival (Texas)

The Floresville, Texas Peanut Festival parade features floats and amusement for over 15,000 visitors.
The Floresville Peanut Festival Parade features floats and amusement for more than 15,000 visitors.

While apples, pumpkins, and colorful fall foliage garner the attention at many fall festivals, a less celebrated crop gets top billing at the Floresville Peanut Festival. More than 15,000 people visit the celebration every October, honoring the peanut in a manner that would make George Washington Carver proud. Families enjoy the Goober Games, where sack races, face painting, and the peanut toss take place. But the centerpiece of the festival is the parade, where King Reboog and Queen Tunaep (goober and peanut spelled backwards) wave to the crowd amid marching bands and street floats.

Floresville Peanut Festival

When: October 8-10, 2009
Where: Floresville, Texas
Web site: floresvillepeanutfestival.org

Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival (Colorado)

Athletes adorn their kilts for the annual caber toss competition
Athletes adorn their kilts for the annual caber toss competition.

Kilts, bagpipes, and haggis take center stage every September in Estes Park, Colorado, during the Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival. A parade, live music, and plenty of other traditional festival activities are staples, the true appeal of this celebration lies in the less conventional old-world activities. The fan favorite might be the U.S./International Jousting Competition. What is more entertaining than watching grown men carrying big sticks collide with each other on horseback? While the winner is no longer guaranteed a virtuous maiden, he can walk away with some serious prize money—up to $3000—so there is more at stake than chivalry and honor. Other main attractions include the hammer throw, the stone throw, the caber (a long, wooden pole) throw, and the strongman competition. Prefer less strenuous activities? Don’t miss the military marching bands, pancake breakfast, and Irish and Highland-style dances.

Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival

When: September 10-13, 2009
Where: Estes Park, Colorado
Web site: scotfest.com

The Keene Pumpkin Festival (New Hampshire)

Thousands of pumpkins make up the Keene Pumpkin Festival's Pumpkin Tower.
Thousands of pumpkins make up the Keene Pumpkin Festival’s Pumpkin Tower.

Every October, the city of Keene, New Hampshire, takes the tradition of pumpkin carving to the cutting edge. Visitors to the two-day Keene Pumpkin Festival will see 25,000 jack-o’-lanterns lit simultaneously in a one-of-a-kind family celebration. Friday night is “Community Night,” when pumpkins are dropped off and people enjoy hayrides, music, and, of course, food. On Saturday, families participating in pie-eating and seed-spitting competitions, face painting, a costume parade, and more, while volunteers prepare for the main event. After nightfall, the jack-o-lanterns are lit, a true sight to behold.

Keene Pumpkin Festival

When: October 16-17, 2009
Where: Keene, New Hampshire
Web site: pumpkinfestival.com

Oktoberfest (across the country)

Oktoberfest began in 1810 in Munich, Germany. The Munich event is now the world's largest fair, with over 6 million attendees annually.
Oktoberfest began in 1810 in Munich, Germany. The Munich event is now the world’s largest fair, with more than 6 million attendees annually.

While not be the most important German-American contribution to society, Oktoberfest is arguably the coolest. Where else is donning lederhosen and listening to Polka socially acceptable? Bratwurst, dancing, and, of course, beer are the stars of the festivities from coast to coast, with each city and town’s Oktoberfest offering a unique twist.

For 30 years, the town of Helen, Georgia—modeled after a traditional German village, has hosted an Oktoberfest that lasts for more than a month and is world-renowned. According to the festival’s Web site, it’s the longest-running Oktoberfest in the United States.

Helen Oktoberfest

When: September 10-27 (Thursday-Sunday); October 1-November 1 (Daily)
Where: Helen, Georgia
Web site: helenchamber.com

The beer flows at the La Crosse Oktoberfest.
The beer flows at the La Crosse Oktoberfest.

Although “La Crosse” is a French term, this Wisconsin town goes the extra mile when throwing the German Festival. An annual tradition since 1961, the title Oktoberfest, U.S.A.® is a registered trademark of La Crosse.

La Crosse Oktoberfest

When: September 25-October 3, 2009
Where: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Web site: oktoberfestusa.com

Bands from the United States and Germany play in Leavenworth, Washington’s Oktoberfest every year, and, in accordance with Bavarian tradition, the city’s mayor taps the first keg. In nearby Fremont, Washington, more than 35 microbreweries participate in an Oktoberfest suited for the finest beer-connoisseur.

Fremont Oktoberfest

When: September 18-20, 2009
Where: Fremont, Washington
Web site: fremontoktoberfest.com

Leavenworth Oktoberfest

When: October 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 2009
Where: Leavenworth, Washington
Web site: leavenworthoktoberfest.com

Alpenhorns, traditional horn instruments from the Alps, delight visitors to the Snowbird, Utah Oktoberfest.
Alpenhorns, traditional horn instruments from the Alps, delight visitors at the Oktoberfest in Snowbird, Utah.

Snowbird, Utah, launched Oktoberfest some 30 odd years ago, when two men visiting the mountainous ski resort were reminded of their native alps. They busted out the lederhosen and accordions, and Oktoberfest has remained a tradition ever since.

Snowbird Oktoberfest

When: August 22, 23, 29, 30; September 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27; October 3, 4, 10, 11, 2009
Where: Snowbird, Utah
Web site: snowbird.com/events/concertsnfestivals/oktoberfest.html

Of course, the great thing about Oktoberfest is its widespread popularity, so the best place to celebrate might be in a town near you.