There's much more than Ohio State football to get excited about in the Buckeye State during fall. The Midwestern outpost's spectacular outdoor spaces—not limited to the Hocking Hills, Hueston Woods, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park—put on brilliant displays of autumnal color come mid-October and the agricultural crops aplenty yield culinary festivals all season long. Whether it's sauerkraut, apple butter, or furry woollybear caterpillars that strike your fancy, you're likely to find an event dedicated to it in this underrated state this fall.
While not as widely known as Napa or the Finger Lakes region, Geneva, Ohio, grows approximately 1,500 acres of grapes every year. They're not just made into vino, but also jams and juices. In September, attendees of the Geneva Grape Jamboree get the opportunity to stomp on the grapes and get their faces messy in an annual pie-eating contest. The Saturday of the festival features a 5K race, a parade with bands and decorated floats, and live music into the night. Other highlights throughout the event include a community brunch, a cornhole tournament, craft and vendor shows, and a Miss Grapette Pageant. In 2020, the jamboree has been canceled.
Circleville's annual Pumpkin Show, held south of Columbus, is not only one of the state's most anticipated events of fall; it's also Ohio's oldest festival. Founded in 1903, the squash-loving event takes place each third Wednesday through Sunday in October. During it, the small city becomes a pumpkin-themed fantasy. There's a Miss Pumpkin pageant, a largest pumpkin contest, daily parades full of—guess what—pumpkins, and, of course, every pumpkin-flavored treat you could possibly imagine. More than 100,000 pounds of pumpkins and gourds are usually displayed throughout the event, which draws upwards of 100,000 people per day (multiplying its population by roughly eight). In 2020, the Circleville Pumpkin Show has been canceled.
The Ohio Renaissance Festival—the state's largest Medieval event—is held every fall over eight weekends in Harveysburg, between Cincinnati and Dayton. It traditionally ticks off on Labor Day weekend, welcoming more than 150,000 people annually to its 30-acre permanent village, recreated in the style of Elizabethan England. Activities include your average jousting tournaments, costumed roving performers, 12 stages of musical and theatrical entertainment (fire jugglers and the like), an arts and crafts marketplace, traditional Elizabethan food and drink, and skill competitions. 2020's Ohio Renaissance Festival has been canceled.
This celebration of the sternwheel, held every September in historic downtown Marietta, began in 1976. It's been a fall tradition ever since. The free, three-day festival draws more than 100,000 visitors to this waterfront town and showcases dozens of classic riverboats. Visitors gather on the Ohio River Levee on the corner of Front and Greene Streets to admire the vessels as they roll in from up and down the river. Throughout the weekend, there's a 5K run and walk, an art show, boat races, live music, and a choreographed fireworks show. In 2020, the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival has been canceled.
The Ohio Sauerkraut Festival is held the second weekend of October in Waynesville (equidistant from Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati). The food-focused gathering, a tradition since 1970, serves more than 7 tons of fermented cabbage annually. It also includes an expansive arts and crafts fair featuring more than 450 vendors and 30 food booths serving up creative variations of the polarizing German delicacy. The Ohio Sauerkraut Festival draws over 350,000 visitors and vendors from as far afield as Hawaii and Florida. There's plenty to keep you busy (and full) with its abundance of live entertainment and the cabbage recipe contest. The event has been canceled in 2020.
Alongside pumpkins and grapes, apples are a quintessential category of fall food. Ohio grows enough of the juicy fruit to warrant a few apple-related festivals, one of the most popular of which is held just west of Columbus in Lebanon. This two-day event, usually occupying a weekend in late September, serves up just about every apple treat you could dream of, and it features a host of local craft vendors and live entertainment. It will be held at the Warren County Fairgrounds on September 26 and 27, 2020, with some changes. Temporary fencing and entrance gates may lead to queuing and although admission is typically free, this year's event will cost $1 per person.
Ohio's Applebutter Fest revolves around the olden tradition of slow cooking apples, often in a colossal copper cauldron over an open flame, until they become a highly concentrated, caramelized sauce. The result is delicious when spread on toast, drizzled over ice cream, or baked into a muffin, but watching it be made is just as fun as eating it. Held the second Sunday of October in Grand Rapids, just outside of Toledo, the Applebutter Fest is where you'll find cooking demonstrations, pioneer demonstrations, a country craft marketplace, and living history exhibitions along the historic towpath. Two stages on Front Street host live bands throughout the event and military re-enactment groups like German mountain troops, WWII army groups, and French Resistance civilians often arrive in period uniform, displaying their camps and weapons. In 2020, the festival has been canceled.
Anyone familiar with the Midwest and its variety of down-home restaurants has seen a Bob Evans, or perhaps even indulged in the regionally favorite biscuits and gravy at one. Bob Evans is a chain of family-style restaurants headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, which owns and operates nearly 500 locations in 18 states. In Rio Grande, you can visit Bob Evans Farms during the franchise's mid-October farm festival. This harvest fest attracts thousands per year and features live country music entertainment, 100 farm craft artisans, contests, comfort food, and children’s activities in a setting reminiscent of yesteryear. Bob Evans Farms got its start when Bob Evans (the man) began making sausage on his farm and serving it to customers in a local diner in 1948. The festival has been canceled in 2020.
Held annually the second weekend in October, the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival helps fund the preservation and maintenance of its 19 covered bridges. This annual, family-oriented festival is a great excuse to get out and tour the historic covered bridges which include both the shortest and longest covered bridges in the country. It would usually kick off with a pancake breakfast and parade complete with covered bridge-inspired floats, then carry on with a car show, kids activities, and tours of historic sites. In 2020, however, the event has been canceled.
The wacky Woollybear Festival in Vermilion has been a tradition for almost 50 years. Named after the densely hairy, tiger-striped moth caterpillars that become abundant during fall, this has become the largest one-day festival in the state of Ohio. It originated with a TV weatherman wanting to use the woollybear to forecast what kind of winter might be ahead, à la Punxsutawney Phil. The local elementary school decided to adopt the idea as a fundraiser and now, the Woollybear Festival includes a parade, a run, costume contests, woollybear merch tents, arts and crafts vendors, and festival food. Vermilion’s Woollybear Parade is one of the largest parades in the state, lasting approximately 2 hours. In 2020, the event has been canceled.