When the Blue Ridge Parkway is dressed in its most vibrant fall finery, there is little extra incentive required for North Carolinians to get out and take America’s favorite drive. But if you require more convincing, October and November on the Parkway abound with harvest celebrations, Halloween frightfests, and just plain old family fun.
Blue Ridge Folklife Festival (Ferrum, VA)
October 24 2015, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
It was back in the early 1970s that the folks at Ferrum College looked around and saw traditional cultures of the southern Appalachian Mountains rapidly disappearing. Their response was the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum, centered around an 18th-century farm carved out of the wilderness by German homesteaders. Shortly thereafter the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival was launched. It has become the Parkway’s largest annual celebration of the region’s unique roots.
Against a backdrop of fiddle and banjo music, the Festival celebrates everyday life in the Blue Ridge before the Parkway road builders showed up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. There are contests for sheep herding and log skidding by teams of horses; demonstrations of wheat threshing and rock crushing; competitions for coon dog treeing, mule jumping and slingshot sharpshooters; and folk games for kids. Meanwhile the menu is stuffed with old-time country foods to enjoy at one of the four music and storytelling stages where moonshiners swap tales of dodging revenuers. And, yes, the Festival features an operating moonshine still.
Bryson City Train Depot (Bryson City, NC)
Weekends through the fall
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has been hauling families through the Western Carolina mountains since 1988. Passengers soak in the autumnal splendor in open-air gondola cars while traversing Fontana Lake across the 100-foot high Trestle Bridge and rolling past the wreckage remaining from the trains that were used to create the dramatic escape scene in the 1993 blockbuster The Fugitive.
October brings the return of the PEANUTS™ Great Pumpkin Patch Express with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus joining the heritage railroad excursions. Children of all ages are encouraged to board the train in costume and there are marshmallow roasts, activity stations and hayrides on tap. And no child goes home without a pumpkin from The Great Pumpkin Patch. On Saturday October 17, the 24th Annual Bryson City Chili Cook-Off heats up the crisp mountain air at the depot.
Beary Scary Halloween – Grandfather Mountain (Linville, NC)
October 31 2015, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
For 364 days each year Grandfather Mountain is an international treasure, home to America’s highest suspension bridge and, on clear days, views of downtown Charlotte. But for one day at Halloween time the park’s animals come alive with rangers dressing as bears and eagles and otters to present programs on this unique environment. Kids get into the park for half price in costume for a day of crafts and trick or treating.
Woolly Worm Festival (Banner Elk, NC)
October 17 and 18 2015
For generations, mountain folk have relied on the woolly worm, the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth, to prepare for the harshness of the upcoming winter. If the critter’s furry back has more brown than black, look for a mild winter, and if there is more black than brown in the bristles, start chopping more wood. Every third weekend in October the streets of the mountain town of Banner Elk fill up to celebrate the verdict.
You will get the rides and live music and street food at the Annual Woolly Worm Festival in Avery County that you expect from any local celebration, but you also get the hotly contested Woolly Worm Races. More than 1,000 of the multi-colored caterpillars are unleashed by their handlers in 25-worm heats. Not only is there a $1,000 first prize at stake, but the top caterpillar also gets the honor of making that year’s definitive winter forecast. Since the village is nestled among North Carolina’s biggest ski resorts, it is a bigger deal here than elsewhere. Maybe it is a coincidence, but the worms raced by children have a leg – or three sets of legs in this case – up on the rest of the field in these races.