Inspiration

5 sensational fall festivals

Oct. 5, 2012 at 9:05 AM ET

Hot air balloons ascend during the annual  Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010.
Susan Montoya Bryan / AP
Hot air balloons ascend during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010.

Autumn is here, and with it comes much more than beautiful foliage -- it also brings a bounty of festivals that will engage all ages. Catch your breath at the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons filling the New Mexico sky, savor the taste of the best apples in the nation or witness thousands of jack-o-lanterns lit at the same time. Sound appealing? These are just a few of the opportunities that await autumn travelers. Read on to learn more about some family-friendly North American festivals worth the trip this fall.

Keene, N.H.: Keene Pumpkin Festival

Nothing says fall like a pumpkin -- or even better, over 29,000 pumpkins! That's what you'll see at the annual Keene Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 20, when the quintessential New England town of Keene, N.H. will be overflowing with jack-o-lanterns, lining the streets and stacked on huge towers.

Live music, crafts, hayrides, fireworks, a kids' costume parade and a pumpkin pie eating contest keep visitors entertained. Teens enjoy events specifically geared towards them, including wall climbing and seed spitting contests. The high point of the day is the official jack-o-lantern count -- when everyone finds out whether they've brought enough pumpkins to break the Guinness World Record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit at one time. Keene has won this honor eight times -- bring your own jack-o-lantern (or several) and help Keene get back in again this year!

Albuquerque, N.M.: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

For mesmerizing beauty and sheer grace, there's nothing like the sight of hundreds of vibrantly-colored hot air balloons drifting through the desert sky of New Mexico. It's all part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which will take place Oct. 6 to 14.

Events kick off as early as 5:45 a.m. each day with a "dawn patrol," in which balloons are inflated and launched in a choreographed musical performance. Mass balloon ascensions follow at 7 a.m. many mornings, while evening offerings include fireworks shows that everyone in the family can enjoy. Kids of all ages will become awestruck over the Balloon Glow -- a magical event in which the balloons are lit from within like colorful paper lanterns.

Arendtsville, Pa.: National Apple Harvest Festival

Forget about pumpkins. Apples are the true fruit of the season and they're tastier too! Southern Pennsylvania is known for some of the best apples in the country. That's why Arendtsville hosts the National Apple Harvest Festival. This event takes place on the first two weekends of October: this year Oct. 6 and 7 and 13 to 14.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Renew the goodness of apples in your kids' minds. Apples come in all varieties: jelly, pancakes, syrup, sauce and candied. There's more than just apples to eat. Over 300 vendors come out for the festival. Pie-eating contests and, of course, bobbing for apples are two of the public's favorite events. Families will get a kick out of the tractor square dance -- literally, tractors "dancing." Kids can go on hay rides, see puppet shows and visit the petting zoo. Dance cloggers, child ballerinas and honored Native American groups all put on entertaining live shows that span the entire event. Besides the to-die-for apple pie, parents can check out the antique cars. Your family will leave wanting more than one apple a day...or maybe you will be appled out for the year!

Sonoma, Calif.: Sonoma County Harvest Fair

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is often regarded as one of the best fall festivals in the country. It's a celebration of the grape harvest of Californian wine country. Yes, families can participate in the World Championship Grape Stomp, but the festival isn't all about wine. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, including pumpkin tosses, sheepdog trials and cow-milking contests. The giant pumpkin weigh-in takes place here every year. Animals are a key theme for children. There are miniature donkeys, pet pigs and pygmy goat shows. Water fowls and poultry even get recognition. Kids might enjoy riding carnival rides or participating in the Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off contest. Parents will appreciate live jazz music and art shows. This year the festival takes place during Oct. 5 to 7.

Floresville, Texas: Annual Floresville Peanut Festival

A scenic 30-minute drive south of San Antonio leads you to peanut country. A fall snack, the peanut is a strong part of Southwestern Texas agriculture. This year Texas celebrates the peanut for the 68th time at the Floresville Peanut Festival. The festival is at the Courthouse Square during Oct. 9 and 11 to 13.

The honored guests, Queen Tunaep and King Reboog, (peanut and goober spelled backwards) begin the festivities with a grand opening coronation gala fit for any royal court. Kids are a central part of the celebration, making up the court elect. A Kiddie Parade presents decorated wagons and bikes, while a Grand Parade includes adults afterwards. There are also local Folklorico dance performances, pony rides and carnival games for kids. Kids race around with peanuts on a spoon trying to be the best peanut runner. Adults can enjoy a nutty time, too. Nightly dances feature live music under the town's large oak tree. History buffs can also tour the Wilson County Historical Jailhouse Museum. The best part out of it all is the food. Peanut brittle, peanut butter, peanut cookies...there's everything a peanut-lover could ever want.

See the complete list on FamilyVacationCritic.com.

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