Travel

The Weirdest, Wackiest Fall Festivals Around the Country

When the weather gets chilly, we get creative.

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gallo Realty
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gallo Realty
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gallo Realty

Maybe it’s the cooler weather, the diminishing daylight, or the fact that we’ve sniffed so much nutmeg and cinnamon it’s infiltrated our brain. But in the fall, things tend to get weird.

From Maine to California, we not only carve pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns but we also turn them into boats and try to bob down rivers. We debate the existence of ghosts and sasquatches and use worms to predict the weather. We put our pups-and any other pets that will let us-in costumes, and grow our leg hairs out to resemble tarantulas. Or at least, some of us do. Anything goes at these twelve wacky fall festivals.

Photo by Carol Waller
Photo by Carol Waller
Photo by Carol Waller

Trailing of the Sheep festival

Sun Valley, Idaho
October 6-10
You know what’s better than just a couple sheep? 1,500 of them. Which is what you’ll get at the culmination of the Trailing of the Sheep festival in southwest Idaho, when the herds tromp through main street Ketchum on their annual migration. Other activities on the flocktacular festival’s roster: a sheep jam, sheep storytelling, sheepdog trials, a Q&A with sheep ranchers, tons of farm-to-table dinners, and plenty of wooly fare for purchase. Come ready to get cozy.

North American Wife Carrying Championship

Newry, Maine
October 9

Apparently the sport of wife carrying began in Finland, sparked by a legend where a robber would steal both food and women from the towns he pillaged. Naturally, we have adopted this and turned it into an extreme sport. The 22nd Annual North American Wife Carrying Championship tasks competitors with carrying their significant others through a dry and muddy 278-yard obstacle course, either fireman-style (over the shoulder), piggyback, or the most popular: the Estonian Carry (flipped upside-down with legs around the runner’s shoulders). Pro-tip: it helps to have a partner with heft. The winning team scores the wife’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.

Goffstown Main Street Program
Goffstown Main Street Program
Goffstown Main Street Program

Pumpkin Regatta

Goffstown, New Hampshire
October 16-17

Sadly, the massive West Coast Pumpkin Regatta in Oregon is cancelled this year (though they’ll still have the regatta run). But over on the east side, New Hampshire’s Goffstown has you covered with a celebration of their own. Their Pumpkin Regatta and weigh-off has everything: dog costume contests, giant gourds in competition, a pumpkin drop, a pie-eating contest, and a pumpkin prince and princess. On Saturday, watch hollowed-out pumpkins transform into seasonally-themed boats and on Sunday, cheer for your favourite as they race (or more likely, bob uncontrollably) down the Piscataquog River. Fall fun!

Punkin Chunkin

Clayton, New York
October 16

There are quite a few pumpkin chunkin’ festivals out there this fall, but up in the Thousand Islands region of New York they get positively medieval with it. Participants-some donning a Viking helmet, complete with horns, because why not-build their own massive trebuchets or catapults to hurl orange pumpkins into the St. Lawrence River. The projectiles reach 150 miles per hour, and an excess of 1,000 feet, making quite a splash. There’s also live music, a farmer’s market, a BBQ contest, and kids’ competition for budding engineers (or kids that just like to watch vegetables get smashed).

Texas Bigfoot Conference

Jefferson, Texas
October 15-16

For many, the location of Bigfoot-or whether he even exists-may still be a mystery. But in Jefferson, aka “The Bigfoot Capital of Texas,” they’re pretty sure they know. There’s been a long history of Bigfoot sightings in the state, according to the Texas Bigfoot Research Center (the first sasquatch spotted was actually female, so, progressive!). And this October the city hosts the annual Texas Bigfoot Conference, with dinners, speakers, and all manner of enthusiasts. While you’re in town stop by the Bigfoot statue in the Port Jefferson History and Nature Center, and make sure to explore the area between the entrance and the train bridge. It’s known as “Bigfoot Alley,” and you may find a few hairy surprises.

Merryweather Woolly Worm
Merryweather Woolly Worm
Merryweather Woolly Worm

Woolly Worm Festival

Banner Elk, North Carolina
October 16-17

The mighty woolly worm is small, fuzzy, and apparently fully able to predict the future. Some folks believe that the tint of each of the worm’s 13 brown segments predicts how severe the coming corresponding 13 weeks of winter will be (darker = harsher weather that week). It’s so much a thing that in Banner Elk, there is a “Woolly Worm Forecast.” Come for vendors selling everything from photography and pottery to worm houses, stay for the worm races, in which you can enter your own lil’ guy. The winning worm gets a cash prize, and is used to predict the weather of the upcoming winter.

Sea Witch Festival

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
October 29-31

Not all witches hang out in caves with their cauldrons; sometimes they have a strong affinity for the sea. Delaware’s Sea Witch festival celebrates this alternative mermaid with a weekend of festivities including a pet-friendly costume parade with nautical floats, a haunted bonfire, hayrides, a broom tossing competition, and a lantern-lit spooky storytime that recounts the true tale of a ship that sunk off the coast of Delaware in 1785. Perhaps some ghosts will be in the audience.

Tarantula Awareness Festival

Coarsegold, California
October 30

October rounds out spider mating season, and like big creeps we throw a festival to celebrate. The Tarantula Awareness Festival comes just in time for Halloween, with the ultimate goal of educating the public about the California Brown Tarantula, but encompasses every aspect of the season: from pumpkin cheesecake contests to scream-offs to a costume parade. In arachnid fare we’ve got a tarantula poem contest, a race of spiders (hopefully contained), and our favourite item on the schedule: a hairy leg contest for humans. So start growing that stubble out now: only the hirsute will reign supreme.

PA Bacon Fest
PA Bacon Fest
PA Bacon Fest

PA Bacon Fest

Easton, Pennsylvania
November 6-7

Think you like bacon? Not as much as these guys in Easton, Pennsylvania, where every November the downtown goes hog wild. They’ve been called “One of the Top 5 Bacon Fests” and why wouldn’t they, with musical acts on four stages, a Harley the Hog ride (like a mechanical bull, but it’s a pig), a bacon and craft beer pairing, and bacon eating contest where the winner (the last of which ate 2.5 pounds of bacon) gets a Big Pig trophy. There are pig and weiner dog races (!), mascots in costumes just wandering around, and any bacon-related treat you can think of, from bacon cannolis to bacon poutine to bacon Bloody Marys. So don your best pig-themed gear and come hungry.

And catch these next year:

Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw & Festival

Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
September
You can pretty much guess what this is about. Back in the day dried buffalo chips (read: poop) were used as fuel to warm the houses of the rugged pioneers. Today Wisconsin honors this heritage with this festival, with music, magicians, a “cow chip breakfast” arts and crafts, and cow chip throws. Everyone from kids to corporate sponsors get in on the action, and the chip chuckin’ rules are simple: they must be at least six inches in diameter, with two chips per person. No gloves are allowed and– you might want to put down any food right now if you’re reading this — you may lick your fingers before tossing.

McMenamins UFO Festival
McMenamins UFO Festival
McMenamins UFO Festival

McMenamins UFO Fest

McMinnville, Oregon
September
Start working on your tin foil hat now: September in Oregon’s Willamette Valley means the annual UFO festival extravaganza. Second only to the festival in Roswell, bring the camera for sightings of ETs, Wookies, Yodas, Coneheads, astronauts, and, yes, aliens. Sparked by an actual UFO sighting in the area in 1950, now there’s speakers, a parade, and a costume contest. Pick out your best out-of-this-world attire, and come armed with questions for the extraterrestrial experts.

Arcola Broomcorn Festival

Arcola, Illinois
September
Broomcorn, in case you didn’t know, is a type of plant, and when this plant’s branches are dried they become stiff and are bound together to make brooms and other things. The Broomcorn Festival in Arcola leans into this, celebrating all things bristly: broom making, arts and crafts, and an actual broom-sweeping contest. There’s live music, a 5K and 10K and, of course, a parade. This parade, however, features the Lawn Rangers, a “precision lawn mower drill team” who since 1980 have been marching in formation at the festival, with brooms and lawn mowers, to the delight of all that see them.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She can’t decide whether she wants to chunk a punk, or float in a gigantic hollow one. No reason she can’t do both.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.