Native to North America, the pumpkin is one of the most celebrated harvests in American small towns. This ubiquitous, orange squash may be the focus of many festivals, yet each region of the United States has unique celebrations based on their own food heritage. From cranberries to rice, small towns, villages, and cities celebrate their regional bounty while raise money for local community projects. Here are 10 of the best small town harvest festivals.
Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival
Started in 1971 as part of a beautification project, the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is not to be missed! This fall harvest festival is known for incredible pumpkin carvings and the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off contest. Pumpkins can weigh over a ton! Last year’s winner weighed 1,910-pounds! The 2017 prize for the heaviest pumpkin is $30,000.
The Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is one of California’s oldest and largest festivals bringing in millions of dollars for civic projects and non-profits. Over 60,000 people pack this small town to celebrate the orange squash. Festival food vendors feature local and organic items.
Festival highlights include heavyweight champion pumpkins, a pumpkin parade, Smashing Pumpkins: Battle of the Bands, and the world’s biggest pumpkin sculpture.
Location: Half Moon Bay, California
When: October 14-15, 2017
Truly a small village, Warrens is the “Cranberry Capital of Wisconsin.” Warren’s Cranberry Festival draws over 120,000 people making it the largest cranberry event in the world. Like many small town fall harvest festivals, this non-profit organization raises millions to support local schools, the fire department, youth, scholarships, etc. Although admission is free, cranberry marsh tours are $6.00.
Past festival events have included the world’s largest cranberry whoopie pie, as well as many other cranberry treats. This tart fruit is not just for Thanksgiving meals. Deep fried cranberries, chocolate covered cranberry cheesecake, and cranberry cream puffs are just a few of the delicacies you can try at the festival.
Cranberry fest highlights include a pie eating contest, marsh tours, and meeting the Cranberry queen.
Location: Warrens, Wisconsin
Dates & Time: September 22-24, 2017, 7:00am-6:00pm
National Apple Harvest Festival
For over 50 years, apple lovers have been gathering in the heart of Pennsylvania’s apple country near Gettysburg for the National Apple Harvest Festival. Drawing in crowds from nearby cities of Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Harrisburg, about 25,000 people attend each day. It is good to arrive early for parking and avoid crowds. Like most small town harvest festivals, the proceeds go to support community groups and parks.
There’s nothing more American than apple pie, and of course this festival includes three pie eating contests a day! In addition to the pie there are many other apple delicacies and libations to try like apple butter, apple cookies, apple bread, apple cotton candy, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple turnovers, apple cakes, apple guacamole, apple pie moonshine, apple pizza, apple sausage sandwiches, and apple wood smoked turkey legs. You can also learn how to make scrapple, a mid-Atlantic tradition of combining apples, pork scraps, and cornmeal. (There’s a scrapple festival in Delaware)
Highlights include over 300 arts & crafts vendors, classic cars, a petting zoo, and orchard tours.
Location: Biglerville, Pennsylvania
Dates & Time: October 7-8 & 14-15, 2017
Admission: General – $10, kids under 12 – free.
International Rice Festival
The 81st annual International Rice Festival is not to be missed. The four-day festival features two parades, a rice cooking contest, and a queen’s ball. Other traditions include a fiddle contest and frog derby. Given that it takes place in Louisiana, there is plenty of Cajun and Cajun food and music. The purpose of the festival is to bring “attention to the importance of rice as food and also emphasizes it’s [sic] place in the world’s economic picture.”
The International Rice Festival is Louisiana’s oldest and largest agricultural celebration. After a hiatus during World War II, the festival added “international’ to its name. About 300,000 people attend the festival each year. Organizers boast over 7 million people have visited during the festival’s long history.
Don’t miss the carnival rides, rice “poker” run, or the rice grading contest.
Location: Crowley, Louisiana
Dates & Time: October 19-22, 2017
Circleville Pumpkin Show
Dubbed the “Greatest Free Show on Earth”, the Centerville Pumpkin Show is the oldest small town harvest festival on our list. It is Ohio’s oldest and largest festival. You can taste just about anything made from pumpkin at the show including pumpkin ice cream. pumpkin donuts, pumpkin fudge, pumpkin burgers, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream puffs, pumpkin blossoms, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pizza, pumpkin chili, and pumpkin butter.
The big attraction at the Centerville Pumpkin show is the world’s largest pumpkin pie, although it is still probably not enough to feed the 400,000 visitors to the festival. This year’s enormous pie will be over six feet in diameter and weigh over 400 pounds! According to the festival fact sheet, the pie takes “100 lbs. of cooked pumpkin, 40 lbs. of sugar, 26 gallons of milk, 15 doz. eggs, 4 lbs. of cornstarch, 1 1/4 lb. pumpkin spice, 1 1/4 lb. of salt, 42 lbs. of pie dough. Bake 6 hours. Cool 6 hours. At the end of the four day event, the giant pie is donated to area hogs that look forward to a real treat!”
This pumpkin show is filled with concerts, pumpkin pie eating contests, a big wheel race, and the world’s largest pumpkin pie.
Location: Circleville, Ohio
Dates & Time: October 18-22, 2017
Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival began in 1970 to celebrate the Big Island’s coffee history. It is the oldest festival on the islands. In 1828, a missionary named Samual Ruggles planted Kona’s first coffee plant. By 1841, coffee plantations existed in Kona. Today, there are 650 small coffee farms in the region producing 3.8 million pounds!
This 10-day festival features coffee farm tours, cultural art exhibits, a lantern parade, and a Makahiki blessing concert. There is a Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant and Kona coffee cupping (tasting).
You won’t need much of a coffee buzz to check out the living history farm tour, learn how to cup coffee, and take in the lantern parade.
Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Dates & Time: October 3-12, 2017
Admission: $3 festival button
Hood River Valley Harvest Fest
For 35 years, the Hood River Valley Harvest Festival has been celebrating the harvests of the region. This “old-fashioned” fall festival includes local produce and food products, as well as beer and wine. It is held along the riverfront and is the Columbia Gorge’s largest regional autumnal celebration. Boxes of fresh pears, apples, pumpkins, berries and flowers, as well as a diversity of arts and crafts are for sale. Smoked salmon and chocolate covered cherries are just a few of the local delicacies provided by food vendors.
Musical acts range from bluegrass to classic rock. New this year to the festival is an expanded beer, hard cider, and wine selection on tap featuring Gorge Cider Society, Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association and Full Sail Brewery. Sales of libations go to support the Arc of the Mid-Columbia, a group serving those with developmental disabilities.
From truck rides to bouncy houses, this harvest fest has a lot to offer. There is also lots of local beer, cider, and wine. Don’t miss world record pumpkin carver Scott Cully.
Location: Hood River, Oregon
Dates & Time: October 13-15, 2017
Admission: Adults $6, Kids under 12 Free
Break out your lederhosen and celebrate this German fall tradition! Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Oktoberfest is the only Oktoberfest outside of Munich to be officially sanctioned by the German parliament. The festival began to celebrate the reunification of Germany. It is located in Michigan’s “Little Bavaria”. The event is sponsored by Munich-based brewer Hofbräuhaus.
This authentic Oktoberfest is filled with German beer, music, and food. It even features a weiner dog race based on the original Munich Oktoberfest horse races. 100 dachshunds compete for the title of “Michigan’s fastest wiener” while their fans drink and cheer them on.
In between the weiner dog races, there is plenty of beer drinking to be had. There’s also great German food and dancing, plus more beer drinking. Oh, and bouncy houses, plus more beer.
Location: Frankenmuth, Michigan
Dates & Time: September 14-17, 2017
Admission: $10 (Sunday free)
Trailing of the Sheep Festival
While technically not an agricultural harvest festival, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival celebrates local fall traditions that are important to the region. This unique celebration is “preserving the stories and history of sheep ranchers and herders, celebrating the rich cultures of the past and present, and entertaining and educating children and adults about the production of local food and fiber that have sustained local economies for generations”. This small town festival is very unique!
In its 21st year, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival honors the tradition of trailing (moving) sheep from high summer mountain pastures to winter grazing areas. The festivities are filled with history, storytelling, dancing, music, a wool festival, and champion sheep dog trials. It’s been recognized repeatedly as one of the United States’ best fall festivals. Culinary lamb classes, specials from local restaurants, and a Love of Lamb Foodie Fest will fill your appetite.
Some of the highlights include farm-to-table lamb dinners, sheep shearing, and champion sheep dog trials.
Location: Ketchum,bHailey, and Sun Valley , Idaho
Dates & Time: October 4-8, 2017
Admission: Free (Activities range from $3-$100)
Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour
Located at President George Washington’s home, this festival celebrates local Virginia wineries. A more upscale festival experience, the Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour features live blues music, wine tasting, and a tour of Mount Vernon. 20 different Virginia wineries are featured. Visitors enjoy sitting on the East Lawn sipping local wine.
Our first president said, “I have long been of opinion from the spontaneous growth of the vine, that the climate and soil in many parts of Virginia were well fitted for Vineyards and that Wine, sooner or later would become a valuable article of produce.” Washington himself tried to make wine beginning in 1760. Slaves worked in his vineyard where he continued to experiment with varieties. Upon his wife’s death, Washington’s will instructed the slaves to be freed. This historical festival includes a visit to the basement where Washington stored his wines and information on his successes and failures in viticulture.
The wine-based tour of Mount Vernon is not to be missed, along with some great information on our first president.
Location: Mount Vernon, Virginia
Dates & Time: October 6-8, 2017
Admission: Friday $40, Saturday $48, Sunday $36
Fall officially begins with the autumnal equinox on Friday, September 22, 2017, though many small towns begin celebrations earlier. This season of harvest is honored in small towns across America. Each region has unique culinary flavors and traditions based on the harvest. Festivals are the perfect way to learn about history and enjoy local culture.
Harvest Festival 2017 Dates
- Frankenmuth Oktoberfest-Frankenmuth, MI; Sept. 14-17
- Cranberry Festival-Warrens, WI; Sept. 22-24
- Kona Coffee Cultural Festival-Kailua-Kona, HI; Oct. 3-12
- Trailing of the Sheep Festival-Ketchum, ID; Oct. 4-8
- Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour-Mount Vernon, VA; Oct. 6-8
- The National Apple Harvest Festival-Biglerville, PA; Oct. 7-8 & 14-15
- Hood River Valley Harvest Fest-Hood River, OR; Oct. 13-15
- Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival-Half Moon Bay, CA; Oct. 14-15
- The Circleville Pumpkin Show-Circleville, OH; Oct. 18-22
- International Rice Festival-Crowley, LA; Oct. 19-22