Fall in North Carolina (Where to See Foliage + Great Fall Events!)

Last Updated on September 8, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

Fall in North Carolina is the busiest time of year, even considering the vacation peak during summer and the Christmas lights and tree fun to start winter. Some of the best things to do happen during this season, including fall foliage, the festive fun around Halloween, and various harvest festivals.

There are dozens of fall activities and events beyond those popular times and this guide will list some of the greatest hits. We’ll be sharing each of them individually in more detail in our monthly events posts that cover September, along with October and November.

But for now, here’s a rundown of things to do during fall in North Carolina that belong on your bucket list this year and beyond!

There is so much happening during this season. So if you’re looking for something specific, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • When is Fall in North Carolina?
  • Where to See Fall Foliage
  • Fall in North Carolina (Major Events Grouped by Category in ABC Order) 
  • Fall in North Carolina (More Events in Western NC and Eastern NC)
  • Fall in North Carolina (Sports)

This post on fall in North Carolina is part of our monthly events series, where we’ve featured spring, that long hot summer, and “cold” winter!

When is Fall in North Carolina?

Fall technically begins on September 22 and ends on December 21. For this guide, we’ll include events that occur before then and through December 17.

When and Where to See Fall Foliage

Fall in North Carolina

The most popular thing to do during Fall in North Carolina is to find the best fall colors and foliage. Our state parks and popular outdoor spaces really shine during this time of year.

Fall colors begin their peak from October 1 through October 14 in select areas of Western North Carolina and until October 28 in Central North Carolina.

Each year, Appalachian State University in Boone shares its predicted fall foliage map and we regularly check it throughout the season.

Many of our favorite fall activities include drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway and hikes throughout Western North Carolina. You can even see fall foliage on a Great Smoky Mountains Railroad-themed ride. It leaves from Bryson City.

Fall Hiking

One of the best ways to see fall foliage in North Carolina is by hitting our trails. Whether you’re up in the High Country, near Asheville, or elsewhere, we’ve written about our favorite hiking trails and always like to share them during fall in North Carolina.

Here are a few guides that we’ve written about specific regions:

For a quick list, here are a few fall hikes that we absolutely love, with Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost (MP) if applicable:

Fall in North Carolina (Events in ABC Order)

After the colors, we think these events are the biggest during the fall in North Carolina. We’ve been able to group them by category. Afterward, we have a section dedicated to events in Western NC and Eastern NC that we just couldn’t group.

Note that many fall events in NC may make the decision to cancel or alter times/dates, sometimes at the last minute. Please visit the links we’ve provided to each individual event to confirm details and also, to lend your support in cases of cancellation.

Apple Festivals

Apples are a huge deal during fall in North Carolina and here are a few of the biggest events to honor and commemorate our favorite autumn fruit.

The NC Apple Festival kicks off in Hendersonville on Labor Day weekend. By the way, you’ll find the highest concentration of apple orchards in Hendersonville and its surroundings.

On October 2, the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival takes over Wilkes County.

Finally, the Haywood County town of Waynesville hosts its annual Apple Festival on October 16.

Apple Picking

Fall in North Carolina Apple Picking at Millstone Creek Orchards Ramseur

Along with those exciting apple-centric events, you can also enjoy apple-picking throughout fall in North Carolina.

A few of these places also feature in our section that’s dedicated to corn mazes and pumpkin patches. We will, of course, mention additional those two, in case one or both are offered.

Arts Festivals

Fun Things to Do in North Carolina During Fall Starworks Image
Star.

It seems like every weekend in the fall is filled with a fun NC art festival. Ordered by start date, here are some of the biggest happening throughout the fall in North Carolina.

Carolina Balloonfest

Fall in North Carolina Carolina Balloonfest Statesville NC

And now we’re going to honor the events that were just too unique to be grouped with others. Carolina Balloonfest (October 15-17) takes over the skies above Statesville with mass ascensions of hot air balloons, a kids zone, and tons of food.

This is absolutely a bucket-list-worthy event and one of the most exciting things to do in North Carolina.

The Carolina Renaissance Festival

The annual Carolina Renaissance Festival returns to Huntersville and will be waiting for you every Saturday and Sunday from October 2-November 21.

Inside this 25-acre village, you’ll find nearly 1,000 artists, music, theater, food, drinks, and even more fun. Of course, you’ll want to come for the Tournament Jousting, falconry demos, their Living Mermaid exhibit, too! 

Corn Mazes and Pumpkin Patches

Fall in North Carolina Riverbend Farm Midland NC
Riverbend Farm.

Two of the most family-friendly things to do during fall in North Carolina are corn mazes and pumpkin patches. You can pick your own pumpkins and many of these places offered a variety of rides and fun entertainment.

These corn mazes and pumpkin patches are scattered throughout the state and here are some of our favorites:

Do you know of a maze that we should mention here? Let us know about it! 

Fall Food Festivals

Fall in North Carolina Lexington Barbecue Festival

Not all food and drink festivals during fall have to be harvest-focused, as the Asheville food scene-driven Chow Chow. For 2021, they’re hosting a series of events from July through the end of September.

The Fayetteville Taco & Beer Festival (September 25) welcomes traditional and uncommon varieties to accompany a chili pepper eating contest, Tiny Two Beauty Pageant, and more.

Seafood festivals will take over Morehead City (October 1-3) and Nags Head (October 16), with a focus on oysters in Kitty Hawk (October 9) and Ocean Isle Beach (October 16-17).

And of course, we didn’t forget about NC barbecue.

The Lexington Barbecue Festival (October 23) will be back for more, with food tents, a car show, and the “Tour de Pig” cycle race. This is definitely one weekend to be in Lexington, but this guide outlines what you can do throughout the year!

Fall Harvest Festivals & Fairs (NC State Fair)

Spending time at one of the many harvest festivals is one of the best ways to celebrate fall in North Carolina.

Dudley’s Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair (September 30-October 9) is a nice, long celebration to start things off.

Also in October, the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh (October 14-24) will bring in vendors and people from all around.

Whiteville’s Columbus County Agricultural Fair (October 12-17) is a great weeklong celebration for those closer to the coast. The Columbus County town is also hosting its annual NC Pecan Harvest Festival (November 5-6) a month later. 

Fall Film Festivals

During Fall in North Carolina, you’ll also find film festivals galore and we’ll start with the annual Full Bloom Film Festival (September 9-11) in Statesville. Films in the animated, documentary, narrative and additional genres will be there to support and advance the arts and culture of Iredell County

Hickory’s Footcandle Film Festival (September 22-26) will also bring unique, challenging, and entertaining feature-length and short films to the Catawba County city

The Tryon International Film Festival (October 8-10) returns to Polk County with nearly 100 independent films in six venues.

And in Wilmington, the non-competitive Cucalorus Festival (November 10-14) comes back with more than 150 films. 

Fall Wine Festivals

Fall in North Carolina Muscadine Festival Duplin Winery

A variety of wine festivals are scattered throughout fall in North Carolina. Here are a few we couldn’t leave out.

North Carolina Muscadine Festival (September 25) returns to Duplin County for its 14th year of wine, arts and crafts, and music.

During the same weekend in Manteo, the Lost Colony Wine & Culinary Festival (September 25) will bring folks from all over to raise funds for the Lost Colony production.

And a day later in Laurel Springs, the Thistle Meadow Wine Festival (October 3) returns with music, food, crafts, and of course, tastings in one of our state’s most beautiful settings.

Halloween Events in North Carolina

For Halloween-themed fun, there are at least a few festivals we have to mention during the last weekend of October.

In Brevard, the annual Halloweenfest in Transylvania (October 30) will take over Broad and Main Streets. Visitors and spectators will enjoy watching or partaking in multiple-distance runs, games, food, and more.

Over on the coast, a few Outer Banks towns will host Halloween events throughout the month of October.

Moonshine & Spirits

Fall in North Carolina Prohibition Festival Wilkesboro NC

Of course, we couldn’t leave out moonshine and spirits, thanks to the folks in North Wilkesboro. The Prohibition Hot Rod and Moonshine Festival (September 25) will feature a spirits competition, tastings of NC distillery-made spirits, and a car show. 

Oktoberfests and Beer Events

Hi Wire Brewing Durham NC Location Image

Fall beer festivals aren’t limited to Oktoberfests, but we know you’ll be interested in the German-themed fun happening in Cary (October 1-2), Hickory (October 8-10), and Jacksonville (October 16 and 22-23).

Hops and Hogs Festival in Huntersville (October 4-5) mixes beer, barbecue, and music just outside of Charlotte.

At OBX Brewtag in Nags Head (October 23), contestants will attempt to launch an empty 1/6 keg barrel.

At the end of October in Wilmington, the Lighthouse Beer & Wine Festival (October 30) gets started with samples from over 100 craft breweries and wineries. 

Pride Events

Three prominent Pride events popped up on our “Fall in North Carolina” radar, but please let us know if there are others that we missed.

On South Elm in Gate City, the Greensboro Pride Festival (September 15) will have one main stage, a Kids Zone, food, and more.

The LGBTQ Center of Durham will host its third Pride Picnic Pop-up on September 29. The first 50 attendees will receive an inclusive pride flag!

Finally, Pride Winston-Salem (October 16) will kick off on Trade Street in Camel City’s Arts District. The day will be packed with fun, a parade, vendors, and a food truck rodeo.

Fall in North Carolina (More Events in Western NC and Eastern NC)

These events in Western NC and Eastern NC couldn’t be categorized, so we’ve grouped them by their locations.

Western NC Fall Events

Fall in North Carolina Dupont Forest Festival

Here are a few major events during fall in North Carolina’s mountains and nearby, ordered by start date:

Eastern NC Fall Events

You can’t count out our awesome coast during fall in North Carolina. These interesting events are great for people who love fishing, kites, boats, and even planes.

Fall in North Carolina (Sports)

Auto Races and Monster Trucks

Fall in North Carolina NHRA Carolina Nationals zMax Dragway
zMax during the Carolina Nationals.

Concord dominates the conversation when talking about fall auto races, with the Drive for the Cure 250 (October 9) followed by the Bank of America ROVAL 400 (October 10).

The NHRA Carolina Nationals (September 17-19) will bring the noise and speed to zMax Dragway. And finally, the World of Outlaws Finals (November 4-6) will bring elite dirt racers to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The lone exception that we’ll share here is the Monster Truck Throwdown in Benson (October 8-9). At GALOT Motorsports Park, spectators will see motocross and monster truck action. 

Basketball Season Begins

Durham NC Cameron Indoor Stadium Image

North Carolina is the best place to be in this world when you’re a basketball fan. That’s why fall has another reason to be considered a special season.

It’s easy to associate basketball with winter and spring, but the fun gets started in October. That’s when the NBA’s Hornets and high school leagues suit up, with the NCAA joining the fun in November.

Conference play and the tournaments might be months away, but we’d love to know about your excitement for basketball season.

Fall Running Races

Anyone interested in running a race will have more than a few options during fall in North Carolina.

The Tuna Run 200 (October 22-23) is an overnight relay that starts in Garner and finishes in Atlantic Beach. Another option during the same weekend includes the Dismal Day and 5K Family Fun Run at Dismal Swamp State Park (Date TBD).

Later in the fall, long-distance runners can test themselves in the Outer Banks Marathon in Nags Head (November 7).

And if you plan to fill your belly during Thanksgiving and you happen to be in the Outer Banks, join the 5K Turkey Trot in Duck (November 28) before the epic day of eating begins. 

Football Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays

Fall in North Carolina College Football Season

Fall means football and in North Carolina, and high school’s Friday night excitement gets started in late summer on the week of August 20.

Playoffs in November will bring families, fans, and scouts together to watch the best of our state.

On the NCAA side, most schools will kick off on September 2. East Carolina and Appalachian State will meet then and NC State hosts South Florida. The Carolina Panthers start their preseason away on August 15 at the Indianapolis Cots.

Which teams are you looking forward to seeing this fall? Got any school spirit to share with us? 

Ready to Enjoy Fall in North Carolina?

So I know there are a lot of Christmas-y things going on during November. I just can’t mention Santa Claus anywhere other than our winter guide.

I hope you’ll forgive me for that one. As you can see, there are already a ton of things to do in North Carolina, so I’m sorry if you’re anxious about peppermint and gingerbread.

In the meantime, we’d love to know which of these awesome things to do during fall in North Carolina jump out at you as the most fun. 

Also, is there something we missed? If so, let us know in the comments and we’ll take a look! 

More Things to Do (Beyond Fall in North Carolina)

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