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Fall Festivals for Groups

What do you do when your local fall harvest brings in an abundance of apples, wine grapes or cranberries? Have a party, of course!

Autumn is one of the best times for group travel, with moderate weather and beautiful scenery. And while tour groups are out enjoying the colorful foliage, cities and towns across North America celebrate their fall bounty with harvest fairs and festivals that highlight the best of what their areas have to offer.

If your group is headed out on the road this fall, a visit to a festival can add excitement and local flavor to your trip, as well as opportunities for lots of food, shopping and entertainment. The National Apple Harvest Festival in Pennsylvania is recognized as one of the foremost fall festivals in the country, and the Warrens Cranberry Festival showcases one of Wisconsin’s prized products.

In North Carolina, the Autumn Leaves Festival brings hundreds of vendors and thousands of shoppers to Andy Griffith’s hometown. And out west, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and Fall Okanagan Wine Festival both feature some of the finest wines produced in North America.


National Apple Harvest Festival

Biglerville, Pennsylvania

Half a century ago, fruit growers in Adams County, Pennsylvania, decided to create an event to celebrate the area’s bountiful apple harvest. Though it started small, the National Apple Harvest Festival has grown to become one of the leading fall festivals in the country, attracting up to 25,000 people a day over the first two weekends in October.

“We’re going to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year,” said Barb Althoff, one of the festival’s volunteer planners. “It’s a family fun-time festival with entertainment for men, women and children, encompassing everything from antique cars to puppet shows and crafters. We have country music, bluegrass, a steel band, puppet shows, magic shows and a strolling barbershop quartet.”

The various events and entertainment at the festival take place in areas dedicated to specific themes. The antique car show is held near the oldies music stage, which features songs of the 1950s and ’60s. A Native American exhibition features teepees and dance demonstrations by area tribes. There’s also a lumberjack show and a tractor square dance.

Crafts play an important role in the festival as well.

“We have over 350 arts-and-crafts vendors,” Althoff said. “Some of them demonstrate their crafts. We have glassblowers who come in and make products as they go. We also have a chain-saw carving demonstration and pottery-making demonstration.”

And, of course, it wouldn’t be an apple harvest festival without plenty of food that celebrates the season’s harvest.

“We have apple sales, apple cider, apple scrapple, apple jellies and applesauce,” Althoff said. “It’s just about every apple product that you can think of.”


Warrens Cranberry Festival

Warrens, Wisconsin

Though it is tiny in terms of population, Warrens, Wisconsin, makes a big splash each year during the Warrens Cranberry Festival, which always takes place on the last full weekend in September.

“We’re actually known as the cranberry capital of Wisconsin,” said Kim Schroeder, the festival’s general manager. “We’re in a small village of 400 people, but we bring in approximately 125,000 to 140,000 people over a three-day weekend. We have 850 arts-and-crafts booths, 350 flea and antique booths, 100 farm market booths and 100 food vendors.”

This fall brings the 42nd installment of the event, during which the entire town is closed to traffic and becomes a temporary fairground. Events take place in the streets, in parks and even in people’s front yards.

The cranberry festival is perhaps the best time for visitors to sample the area’s selection of cranberry-based foods. Hungry attendees can have deep-fried cranberries, cranberry bratwursts and cranberry hamburgers, among the many varieties of food sold during the event. And each year, organizers prepare an oversize “cranberry jubilee” in a four-and-a-half-foot frying pan.

Groups that attend the festival can also take advantage of opportunities to learn more about the area’s cranberry production.

“We take guests out to a cranberry marsh on Friday and Saturday,” Schroeder said. “They can take an hour tour, get an up-close and personal look and learn about the history of the cranberry. They also get a tour of the Wisconsin Cranberry Museum.”

Beyond the food, the festival is known for its wide selection of arts, crafts and antiques offered for sale by hundreds of vendors that attend from around the country.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.