October Festivals and Events in the Southeastern United States

Carolina BalloonFest

John Hill/ Flickr/ CC

October is a beautiful month to embrace the fall season in the Southeastern United States, where you'll find many fun festivals and events taking place throughout the region. From food events like cook-offs and celebrations of the fall harvest to state and county fairs and music festivals, there is no shortage of things to do down south this autumn. As summer heat slowly leaves the region and the trees turn from bright greens to rich yellows, reds, and oranges, tourists and locals alike take the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors before colder weather settles in for the winter.

Whether you're visiting Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, North or South Carolina, or Virginia, there's plenty to see and do on your trip to the Southeastern United States in October.

Alabama Festivals and Events

While temperatures have dropped significantly since reaching triple digits in the summer, the weather in Alabama is still relatively warm for most of October. With daytime temperatures ranging from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures cooling off to the 50s and 60s, though, the weather in Alabama is perfect for attending outdoor events. Additionally, October is the driest month of the year and one of the best times to visit for fall activities.

  • National Shrimp Festival: One of the nation’s premier outdoor festivals, the National Shrimp Fest is held each year in Gulf Shores, Alabama, during the second full weekend in October. It features more than 250 fine art, arts and crafts, and retail marketplace vendors as well as the traditional sand sculpture contest and all the shrimp you can eat. Additionally, the Little Miss Shrimp Festival Pageant—which was added to the event in 2017—invites pre-K through sixth-grade girls to compete for the title of Miss Shrimp Festival.
  • Kentuck Festival of the Arts: Although the event's name might be confusing, this juried art festival takes place in the town of Northport, Alabama, over the second weekend in October each year. The annual event hosts more than 270 folk, visionary, and contemporary artists and expert craftspeople from throughout the United States. During the event, guests can also enjoy performances by legendary musicians, take part in children's art activities, and indulge in plenty of Southern and ethnic food specialties in the food court.
  • Greater Gulf State Fair: A tradition dating back to 1975, this week-long event takes place at the end of October each year in Mobile, Alabama, and offers guests a bit of everything. The fair midway features more than 30 thrill rides and game booths for older guests (including teenagers) while The Barn offers a chance to see livestock exhibits and farming up close. Meanwhile, multicultural entertainment and activities take place at the Century Bank Arena, and you can find fun for the whole family in "Family Land," which features kid-friendly rides, games, and a petting zoo. If you get a little peckish during your day of fun, stop by The Chomping Grounds, the fair's on-site food court, where you'll find all your favorite fair foods including giant pretzels and chicken on a stick.

    Georgia Festivals and Events

    Like Alabama, Georgia sees relatively dry, cool weather throughout much of October and hosts a variety of outdoor festivals in celebration of the fall season. From chili cookoffs in Brookhaven to Atlanta's own food festival, events celebrating the rich cultural cuisine of the South are on full display across the state this month. However, there are also plenty of fun music and arts events across Georgia in October, too.

    • Stone Mountain Park's Annual Pumpkin Festival: On Fridays and Saturdays in October, Georgia's most popular attraction, Stone Mountain Park, hosts this favorite fall festival during scheduled weekends, offering plenty of kid-friendly activities such as carnival rides and storytelling plus entertainment for the whole family including a pie-eating contest and live performances from local bands.
    • Georgia National Fair: Promoting the state's heritage since 1990, this family-oriented fair returns to Perry for the first two weeks of October each year and showcases Georgia's agriculture and culture with livestock shows, horse shows, and art competitions. You can also enjoy a concert series, a circus production, and exciting rides, and each fun-filled day ends with a fireworks show.
    • Atlanta Chili Cook-Off: The annual chili cook-off event offers a day of tasting foods from over 75 restaurants and teams as well as live music from local bands and typically takes place in mid-October at Brookhaven Park in Brookhaven, Georgia. However, due to construction on the park in 2019, the annual event has been rescheduled for a later date. Check back with the official website in October for more details on this year's event.
    • Georgia Mountain Fall Festival: The town of Hiawassee, Georgia, hosts a nine-day event featuring musical performances, educational demonstrations, arts and crafts vendors, a flower show, and the popular Official State Fiddlers' Convention of Georgia. Events will take place at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.
    • Taste of AtlantaNow located in Historic Fourth Ward Park, this three-day "foodie adventure" features delicacies from 90 neighborhood restaurants over the third weekend in October each year. Enjoy food and drink from local chefs as well as cooking demonstrations and entertainment. 

    Kentucky Festivals and Events

    Although not as popular of a destination as Georgia in the fall, Kentucky offers slightly cooler weather and a few unique events of its own in October including the St. James Court Art Show in Louisville. Whether you're just passing through or planning a weekend getaway to the Kentucky countryside, October has plenty to offer visitors this year.

    • The St. James Court Art ShowHome to the largest collection of Victorian homes in the United States, Historic Old Louisville provides a lovely setting for this expansive, juried fine arts and crafts show, which takes place over the first weekend in October each year. Featuring over 700 artists from around the country, this four-block outdoor art show is one of the biggest in the region.
    • October Court Day: Eastern Kentucky's annual trading days—initiated in the 18th Century and known as the "granddaddy of all flea markets"— attracts over 100,000 people to Mount Sterling each year. Browse arts, crafts, and antiques from over 100 vendors while enjoying food and music during this four-day event, which always starts on the third Monday in October.

      North Carolina Festivals and Events

      The mountains of western North Carolina are an ideal destination in the fall if you're looking to experience the most of autumn foliage, but there are also plenty of events and festivals to keep you entertained in October. From Riverfest in Wilmington to the Carolina BalloonFest, there are tons of unique attractions to experience across the state this month.

      • North Carolina Seafood Festival: Morehead City hosts its annual seafood festival over the first weekend in October each year. Each day of this three-day event features musical entertainment, arts and crafts vending, and rides along the Morehead City waterfront. You can also check out a boat show, enter a fishing tournament, watch cooking demonstrations, and end the day with a fireworks display.
      • RiverfestWilmington, North Carolina, celebrates life and culture on the Cape Fear River during Riverfest on the first Saturday and Sunday of October each year. The event features fun for all ages including live entertainment, a street fair, exhibits, and food vendors as well as the annual Miss Riverfest pageant, and each day ends with fireworks.
      • FestifallDowntown Chapel Hill celebrates fall with a fun street fair on West Franklin Street on the second Saturday in October each year. Featuring over 75 arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment for all ages, hands-on activities, and local food, this experiential one-day festival is mostly focused on arts and community engagement.
      • MUMFestNew Bern, North Carolina, presents its annual award-winning family festival over the second weekend in October each year. The event kicks off with a live concert and features an array of attractions including live entertainment, amusement rides, activities for kids, roving dance troupes and street performers, local arts and crafts, and dozens of food vendors from across the state.
      • Swansboro Mullet FestivalConsidered the oldest festival on the Crystal Coast, this unique food festival has taken place in Swansboro every year since 1954 over the second weekend in October. During the event, you can enjoy fresh-caught mullet fish fried, broiled, and stewed to perfection as well as a festive parade, arts and crafts vendors, live beach music performances, and lots of family fun.
      • Carolina BalloonFestThis festival dedicated to hot air ballooning takes place in Statesville, North Carolina, on the third weekend in October each year. In addition to enjoying the sight of 50 colorful hot air balloons, which launch twice daily, the balloon festival also includes competitions and flights, a balloon glow, aviation displays, activities for kids, arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment, and wine and beer gardens around the city.
      • The Barbecue Festival: On the last Saturday in October, Lexington hosts an annual cook-out celebrating all things Carolina barbecue. Attracting more than 100,000 barbecue lovers each year, this festival celebrates and serves just one kind of barbeque—Lexington style. After sampling meats in the barbecue tent, check out the impressive sand sculpture and car show extravaganza outside. 

      South Carolina Festivals and Events

      Much like North Carolina, traditional events in this southern state typically tend toward celebrating food and fall in October. However, there are also a number of outdoor adventures awaiting in South Carolina this month including the Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens in Beaufort.

      • Annual Fall House and Garden ToursAll month long, Charleston, South Carolina, invites visitors to explore some of the city's oldest and most notable examples of architecture in an array of styles. Presented by the Preservation Society of Charleston, these self-guided tours bring guests through six private homes (or only their gardens in some instances).
      • Beaufort Shrimp FestivalThis celebration of the shrimping industry held in historic downtown Beaufort features plenty of local shrimp dishes from 15 neighborhood restaurants, as well as fresh shrimp to buy and take home. Begin the day with the 5K walk/run, and enjoy plenty of entertainment and contests—including a shrimp peeling competition for the kids. 
      • Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens: On the last weekend in October, a selection of private homes and gardens in Beaufort, South Carolina, welcome visitors to take tours at the own pace. During this popular annual three-day festival, guests can wander through homes that represent three centuries of architecture in the city. On the first day, stroll among six historic homes; on the second, savor regional specialties prepared by local chefs; and on the last day, tour one of St. Helena Island's plantation houses. 

        Tennessee Festivals and Events

        Known for its sprawling landscape and rich agricultural heritage, Tennessee offers a variety of fall festivals and events in October celebrating the history of the state and the annual harvest. From the Harvest Festival at Dollywood to a world-class barbecue competition hosted by Tennessee's own Jack Daniels Whiskey, there are plenty of exciting opportunities to discover the culture of this southern state in October.

        • Harvest Festival of Dollywood: All month long in Pigeon Forge, you can enjoy free concerts (included with admission price), arts and crafts vendors, pumpkin sculptures at the Great Pumpkin LumiNights, and special regional food during this popular annual Southern gospel festival.
        • National Storytelling Festival: Attend the world's premier storytelling festival in Jonesborough over the first weekend of October each year. Featuring tales of all kinds told beneath big festival tents and nighttime stars, this three-day festival also includes Midnight Cabaret, Ghost Stories, and Story Slam.
        • Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational BarbecueOn the last weekend in October, the town of Lynchburg hosts one of the most prestigious barbecue competitions in the world, the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitation Barbecue. This food competition features teams from across the United States and around the globe competing in the categories of pork ribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, and chicken.

        Virginia Festivals and Events

        Although many people consider Virginia more of a northeastern state in terms of its populace and temperament, this state celebrates plenty of southern traditions in October including folk and bluegrass music, barbecue, and even horse racing. From the Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival to the Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival, you're sure to discover something to your liking this month.

        • Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival and Sunset TourCelebrate the history of wine in Virginia at George Washington's historic estate overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria. Sample a variety of wine while enjoying the sounds of blues music as you relax on the east lawn over the second week of October each year.
        • Fall Harvest Family Days at Mount VernonAnother great event at Mount Vernon—which takes place over the third weekend in October each year—this three-day event invites guests to travel back in time with wagon rides, wheat treading, a straw bale maze, early-American games, and 18th-century music and dancing at the Pioneer Farm attraction.
        • Peanut FestSuffolk's premier festival honors the city's devotion to peanuts each year over the second weekend of October. During this festive three-day event, there are plenty of family activities including amusement rides, concerts, contests, a demolition derby, a motorcycle rally, and firework displays to end each night.
        • Richmond Folk Festival: During the second weekend of October each year, the city of Richmond invites guests to celebrate the richness and variety of American culture with music, dancing, crafts, storytelling, and food along downtown Richmond's riverfront all weekend long.
        • Fredericksburg Fall Home and Craft FestivalExplore a wide variety of hand-made arts and crafts, baskets, ceramics, specialty foods, clothing and accessories, jewelry, and home improvement demonstrations during this two-day festival, which is held at the Fredericksburg Expo Center on the third weekend of October each year.
        • International Gold CupOn the last Saturday in October, head to Great Meadow near The Plains to enjoy the thrill of up-close steeplechasing at the International Gold Cup Races. The International Gold Cup horse races offer a full day of fun including tailgating and hat competitions, terrier races, and shopping.
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