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—including apple season—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 from September through December each year.
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 in the 70s and lower 80s and nighttimes cooling off to the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit. 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 during the second full weekend in October in Gulf Shores, Alabama. It features more than 250 fine art, arts and crafts, and retail marketplace vendors, as well as the traditional sand sculpture contest--plus, of course, lots and lots of shrimp! New from 2017 is the Little Miss Shrimp Festival Pageant, open to girls from Baldwin County between pre-K to 6th grade.
- Kentuck Festival of the Arts: Don't let the title confuse you, this Alabama festival takes place in Northport for two days of an outdoor juried art festival that hosts more than 270 folk, visionary, and contemporary artists and expert craftspeople from throughout the United States. You can also enjoy performances by legendary musicians, children’s art activities, and unique Southern and ethnic food specialties.
- Greater Gulf State Fair Having been around since 1975, the Greater Gulf State Fair has a bit of everything—from traditional fair midway fun with more than 30 thrill rides to livestock exhibits and farming up close in "The Barn," plus multicultural entertainment and activities at the Century Bank Arena. You can find fun for the whole family in "Family Land," including rides, games, and a petting zoo, and you'll never go hungry at "The Chomping Grounds" where there are plenty of food choices.
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 a carnival and storytelling, plus entertainment for the whole family, which includes a pie eating contest.
- Georgia National Fair: In the beginning of October, the Georgia National Fair returns to Perry for its annual two-week event. Promoting the state's heritage since 1990, this family-oriented fair 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. General admission includes unlimited chili samples, and VIP tickets feature an open bar, early admission, and a swag bag. The event takes place at Brookhaven Park in Brookhaven, Georgia.
- Georgia Mountain Fall Festival: The town of Hiawassee, Georgia, hosts a nine-day event featuring musical performances, an arts educational demonstrations, a flower show, and the popular Official State Fiddlers' Convention of Georgia. Events will take place at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.
- Taste of Atlanta: Now located in Historic Fourth Ward Park, this three-day "foodie adventure" features delicacies from 90 neighborhood restaurants. 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 Show: Home 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 fine crafts show each fall.
- 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 buy and sell arts and crafts from the people of Mount Sterling while enjoying food and music.
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 will host its annual Seafood Festival featuring musical entertainment, arts and crafts, and rides along the Morehead City waterfront. You can also check out the boat show, enter a fishing tournament, watch cooking demonstrations, and end the day with a fireworks display.
- Riverfest: Wilmington, North Carolina, celebrates life and culture on the Cape Fear River during Riverfest on the first weekend of October. The event features fun for all ages, including live entertainment, a street fair, exhibits, and food vendors. Riverfest will also host the fourth annual Miss Riverfest pageant, and each day ends with fireworks.
- Festifall: Downtown Chapel Hill celebrates fall with a fun street fair on West Franklin Street, featuring arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment for all ages, hands-on activities, and local food.
- MUMFest: New Bern, North Carolina, presents its annual award-winning family festival. 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, food vendors, and more.
- Swansboro Mullet Festival: Fried, broiled, stewed—you can get a mullet any way you like it at this charming annual Swansboro festival. Beginning with a parade, the festival features great food, arts and crafts, beach music, and lots of family fun.
- Carolina BalloonFest: In addition to enjoying the sites 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, entertainment, and wine and beer gardens. The festival will take place in Statesville, North Carolina.
- The Barbecue Festival: On the last Saturday in October, Lexington hosts an annual barbecue cook-out. Attracting more than 100,000 barbecue lovers, this festival celebrates and serves just one kind of barbeque—Lexington style. After sampling in the barbecue tent, check out the impressive sand sculpture and car show extravaganza.
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 Tours: All month long, Charleston, South Carolina, invites you 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 you through six private homes (or only their gardens in some instances). Tickets are limited.
- Beaufort Shrimp Festival: This 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, representing three centuries of architecture, welcomes visitors during this popular annual three-day festival of self-paced tours. On the first day, you can stroll among six historic homes; on the second, you can savor regional specialties prepared by local chefs in five different private homes; and on the last day, you can tour one of St. Helena Island's plantation houses.
Tennessee Festivals and Events
Known for its wide open spaces and rich agricultural heritage, Tennessee offers a variety of fall festivals and events in October celebrating the history and harvest of the state. 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 artisans, 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. Featuring tales of all kinds told beneath big festival tents and nighttime stars, this festival also includes Midnight Cabaret, Ghost Stories, and Story Slam.
- Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue: On 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 Tour: You can celebrate 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.
- Peanut Fest: You can celebrate the 41st anniversary of Suffolk's premier festival, which honors the city's devotion to peanuts. There are plenty of family activities, including amusement rides, concerts, contests, a demolition derby, a motorcycle rally, fireworks, and so much more.
- Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival: Cape Charles hosts this annual festival on the southern tip of the Delmarva Penninsula, which offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the unique Eastern Shore area during the spectacular fall migration of millions of birds. The weekend is complete with guided tours, hikes, boat trips, workshops, a photography contest, and more.
- Richmond Folk Festival: Celebrate the richness and variety of American culture with music, dance, crafts, storytelling, and food along downtown Richmond's riverfront all weekend long.
- Fredericksburg Fall Arts and Crafts Festival: Explore a wide variety of hand-made arts and crafts, baskets, ceramics, specialty foods, clothing and accessories, jewelry, and so much more.
- International Gold Cup: On 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 h running of the International Gold Cup horse races offers a full day of fun, including tailgating and hat competitions, terrier races, and shopping.
- Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival: Enjoy craft beer sampling on Virginia Beach at 31st Street Park. Tickets include sampling craft beers from over 50 breweries, a commemorative cup, and live entertainment.
- Fall Harvest Family Days at Mount Vernon: Travel back in time with wagon rides, wheat treading, a straw bale maze, early-American games, and 18th-century music and dancing. Located at Pioneer Farm.