Don't shed a tear because summer is over; smile because fall is here.
Undoubtedly, there's something special about the fall in the South. Perhaps it's the clear days with the promise of cooler weather, the colorful foliage seen on long, lazy drives on the weekends, the excitement of cheering on your favorite college football on Saturdays, or the wealth of fall-friendly activities that put smiles on the faces of all ages. Maybe it's something different for you; whatever reason or reasons may be, everyone can agree there are many ways to "fall" for the South in the fall.
Some argue that summer is festival season in the South, while others claim it's fall. So, we will settle it for once and all: Fall is the definitive festival season.
Just take a look.
Best known for Big Tex and pushing the envelope on fair food, the State Fair of Texas in Dallas takes center stage, Sept. 29 - Oct. 31. Don't let the line at Fletcher's scare you away; their corny dogs are worth the wait. Perry, Ga., hosts the Georgia National Fair, Oct. 5 - 15, highlighting the state's heritage and livestock. Partake in the "Georgia National Fair Food Fight," where you can eat and vote for your favorite dish. It's a win-win. The "Peanut Capital of the World," a.k.a. Dothan, Ala., is where you'll find the National Peanut Festival, Nov. 3- 12. Considered as the nation's largest peanut festival, it highlights and honors peanut growers and harvest season. Like the other festivals, you can vote for your favorite festival food.
And speaking of food (which we do every day in the South), you can nibble and nosh your way through the Louisiana Food and Wine Festival, Sept. 14 - 17, in Lake Charles, Atlanta Food and Wine, Sept. 20 -24, and Fall for Greenville (S.C.), Oct. 12 -15. Craving (pun intended) festivals that celebrate a specific food or dish? If you yelled "yes," there's the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational BBQ, Oct. 13 -14, in Lynchburg, Tenn., International Rice Festival, Oct. 19 - 22, Crowley, La., National Shrimp Festival, Oct. 12- 15, in Gulf Shores, Ala., and S.C. Pecan Music and Food Festival, Nov. 6, in Florence.
Then there is the World Chicken Festival, Sept. 21 - 24, in London, Ky., honoring the life of Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and features the World's Largest Stainless Steel Skillet, where the chicken is prepared for chicken dinners.
Others that should be on your radar this fall include the National Storytelling Festival, Oct. 6 - 8, in Jonesborough, Tenn., the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival, Oct. 5 - 8, in Milton, WVa., the Kentuck Arts Festival, Oct. 14- 15, in Northport, Ala., Foo Fest, Nov. 2- 12, in Pensacola, Fla., and the Natchez (Miss.) Balloon Festival, Oct. 20 -21.
Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, Oct. 13 - 15, in Lafayette, La., deserves to be in a class of its own since, in true Cajun style, the festival opens with the cutting of boudin.
Scarecrows, Pumpkin Patches, Corn Mazes and More - Oh My!
There's nothing better than spending the day with family or friends or even solo, picking out perfect pumpkins, apples or flowers, or finding the exit of the corn maze without cheating.
You'll discover there's more than pumpkins and gourds in many places. For instance, Perryville (Mo.) Pumpkin Farm, through Oct. 31, also offers a corn maze, soybean maze, straw tunnel, corn pits, and even a petting zoo. You can spend all day at Pumpkin Hollow, Sept. 16 - Oct. 31, in Piggott, Ark., with activities that include a zip line, pond slides, a corn maze and more. Plan a visit around Horror in the Hollow, Sept. 23 - Oct. 28. During weekends beginning with Sept. 30, Fruitville Grove's Pumpkin Festival features the Torres Family Circus, decorated photo spots, costume contests and more. The Annual Pumpkin Festival, Sept. 23 - Nov. 12, in Anderson, S.C.'s, Denver Downs Farm offers live entertainment, bonfires on weekends, and over fun-filled 30 activities for all ages. The Fall Festival and Pumpkin Harvest, opening Sept. 16 in Chesterfield Berry Farm in Moseley, Va., provides a corn maze, hay mazes and more. Be sure to try the pumpkin milkshake.
Grab a basket and pick apples at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Ga., Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard in Hendersonville, N.C., and Evans Orchard in Georgetown, Ky. Gather up sunflowers and other fall blooms in places like Peebles Farm in Augusta, Ark., Mayfield Farm Park in Athens, Tenn., and Fausett Farm in Dawsonville, Ga.
Decorative scarecrows are as much of a fall fixture as pumpkin-flavored anything. These straw masterpieces populate everything from botanical gardens to downtowns, parks, and more.
Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Mo., opens its Scarecrow Trail and Pumpkin Villages on Oct. 4. The trail features 24 scarecrows from the Conservatory to the Children's Garden. Scarecrows mingle with the flowers along the Ridgeland (Miss.) Scarecrow Trail, Oct. 1 - Nov. 26, at Ridgeland Wildflower Fields. Among Festifall's various fall festivities in Huntsville (Ala.) Botanical Garden is a Scarecrow Trail. Downtown Woodstock, Ga., is home to Scarecrow Invasion, Oct. 2 - 31, said to be the "largest scarecrow display in the southeast," with hundreds of scarecrows on display. All kinds of scarecrows dot Bowling Green, Ky.'s Lost River Cave's trail during its Annual Scarecrow Trail, Sept. 30 - Oct. 22. The Scarecrow Spectular, late September through October, at West Virginia Botanic Garden at Tibbs Run Preserve in Morgantown, WVa., displays area organizations' creativity.
And don't forget about all of the fall decorations in Gatlinburg during the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival through late November.
Beer Steins and Scary Times
Everyone agrees that the South knows how to throw a party, and Oktoberfest is no exception. "Oans, zwoa, drei, Gsuffa," y'all, as many towns and cities hold their version of the Bavarian celebration.
One can't mention Oktoberfest without immediately thinking about Helen, Ga. This quaint mountain town with its Alpine village-style atmosphere is home to the longest-running of its kind in the country through Oct. 29, with weeks of dancing, entertainment, food and plenty of beer – and wine.
In other parts of the region, Oktoberfest in the "Polka Capital of Texas ~" Fredericksburg, features a lot of "oompah" with food and drink, five stages of entertainment and much more. New Orleans never passes up a reason to celebrate. Three weekends in October (13-14, 20-21 and 27-28), you can enjoy German food and drinks, among other activities in the Crescent City. Dubbed the "longest-running Southeast party," the Nashville Oktoberfest, Oct. 5 - 8, includes a beer stein holding competition, the 5K Beir run (complete with a celebratory 20 oz. Oktoberfest beer at the finish line for those 21 and older), and a Dachshund Derby. Dig into a piece (or two) of German Plum Cake at Oktoberfest Tampa, Oct. 13 -15. Along with German food, there are games like stein hoisting, keg stacking, and, of course, beer.
Fall is also Spooky Season. Destinations like Savannah, Ga., St. Augustine, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., and places such as the 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Ark., Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, La., and Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West WVa., spook all year-around with ghost tours. Many haunted houses/trails/escape rooms, etc., get their spook on around mid-September, even earlier in the month for some.
"Scare" up your heart rate with the above-mentioned Horror in the Hollow in Piggott, Ark., as you board Grimm's Ghoul Bus or visit Bubba's Butcher Barn. Over in Nixo, Mo., the loud noise you hear is probably your blood rushing as you make your way through a hauntingly immersive forest realm experience along the James River known as the Field of Screams, Sept. 15 - Oct. 29. Dread Hollow's Camp Dread, opens Sept. 30, in Chattanooga, Tenn., is an intense haunted house and escape rooms that aren't for the faint of heart. Netherworld Haunted House returns to the greater Atlanta area (Stone Mountain, specifically) with walk-through haunts PRIMORDIAL and CRYPTIC CHAOS, opening Sept. 23, guaranteed to push the envelope regarding thrills and chills and then some. Don't forget to check out the Monster Museum or, for something with a little less chills but still filled with thrills, Escape the NetherWorld, five themed escape rooms with the newest one involving aliens. When you think you can't be scared enough, The Haunted Farm opens Sept. 29 in Hendersonville, N.C. The haunted attractions include the farm, woods, slaughterhouse, demon hay shed, and more.
If you're the type that wants some lore, history or both with hauntings, then ghost tours are for you. Nearly every destination offers eerie tours during the fall and especially in October. Some to remember include Saint Charles (Mo.) Legends & Lanterns, Oct. 14 -15, 21 - 22, and 27 - 29; Port Salerno (Fla.) Ghost Tours and Lawrenceburg (Ky.) Ghost Walk.
Up your viewing with experiences like exploring with Tram Tours at Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail in Ridgedale, Mo., riding aboard Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Blue Ridge, Ga., cruising along the Tennessee River Gorge aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat in Chattanooga, and floating high above with Asheville (N.C.) Balloon Company.
Keep up with the latest fall foliage updates at https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map and https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-forecasts/accuweathers-2023-fall-foliage-forecast.
Fall is the perfect time to explore the outdoors, whether it's state parks, trails, waterways, golf courses, preserves or something else. Just get outside, get active and enjoy.