How to Choose the Perfect Fall Festival

October 16, 2019

Before we moved to Pittsburgh, I had never heard of a fall festival.  When we lived in Connecticut we went to pumpkin patches and apple orchards.  Some of the farms had cute little stores and maybe a hayride.  But that was it.  It was quaint and charming.  I loved it.  It was New England at its best. 

So, the first Autumn that we lived in Pittsburgh I searched for a pick your own apple orchard.  Wow, there was just about nothing near us.  And what was available had very limited picking times and options.  Pumpkin patches weren’t much better.  But, what was being advertised at the large farms were farm festivals.

What is a Fall Festival?

What is a fall festival? It is a loud and crazy combination of pumpkins, corn mazes, good food, carnival like activities, decorations and all things fall related.  Choosing a festival was easy that first year – or so I thought.  There was a farm about 5 minutes from our home and I decided that would be our festival.  Now, I love this little farm – they have animals to feed, a butterfly house, adorable play structures and amazing ice cream.  But, I was totally overwhelmed by the festival.

kids on tractor

First, the traffic was horrendous – to even turn into the farm.  And parking was a disaster. The apple picking was limited to about twenty trees, you had to buy individual tickets for each game or activity.  And there were so many people crowded into a small space that I was immediately overwhelmed.  Needless to say, our visit was short and I was disappointed.  We still didn’t have pumpkins – so I decided to brave another festival!

This time we drove a bit further but parking was easy, the farm was spacious – there were few lines and I paid a single admission price for the day. We had a blast – the day was relaxed and so much fun.  This is where my son discovered his first Boo Barn – and he was forever hooked on haunted houses and all things creepy.  Me – not so much!

Sadly, the owners of that farm retired and sold the farm before the next year so I was back to searching for a new festival.  But this time I knew exactly what I was looking for and had specific criteria.  I found what I wanted – unfortunately almost an hour away.  But it is totally worth it.  Here are what I think are the things to look for in a fall festival that will allow you to have a fun and relaxed day.

How to decide which fall festival is right for you

  1. Consider parking and traffic
  2. How crowded does it get? Length of lines?
  3. What activities does the festival offer? Is it what I need for my kids?
  4. What are the food options?
  5. When is it open?
  6. What is included with admission? Is it a wristband or tickets
  7. How easy is it to get around? – especially important if you have a stroller

Parking and Traffic

I hate sitting in traffic and get nervous if I have to parallel park or get stuck in narrow spaces.  So, a place that is easy to get to and has ample parking is perfect for me.  The more rural the festival the better.  The place we go now has huge fields with plenty of parking for everyone.  It may be a bit muddy but that’s fine with me!

How Crowded is the Festival?

This is a tough question to answer unless you have friends who have been to the same place.  If someone tells me you need to get their first thing to beat the crowds – it’s not for me.  I’ll save that degree of frustration for Disney!

fall festival
There were thousands of people at the festival this weekend but it was so spacious that it just didn’t feel crowded.

Learn What Activities are Offered

Different festivals offer different activities.  And that’s great because we are all looking for something different.  If you have little kids you may not care about a big corn maze and pumpkin chunking! But, you may want pony rides and a bounce house.  Most farms have great websites and advertise what they are offering.  For example, I want one stop shopping – I want a PYO apple orchard, pumpkin patch, hayride, Boo Barn and some sort of playground.  Any other activities are just a bonus.  So, do a little research and find a place that fits your needs.

Check the Food Options

Every festival has different food options – and again they will advertise.  Do you need roasted corn, apple fritters or cider donuts? Do your research and read their menus before you go.  There’s nothing worse than dealing with a kid who is expecting a caramel apple – only to find they don’t have any.  I look for a festival that serves a real lunch – burgers, hot dogs, barbecue – because I cannot exist on apples and donuts alone.  We do also need sweet treats to bribe my husband to join us!

When is the Festival Open?

Check the hours – if your kids are at their best in the morning – do yourself a favor and find a place with morning hours.  I always find that a Sunday with an afternoon Steelers game is the best time to go to a fall festival around here!  Sometimes places that are only open weekends will be open on Columbus Day – often with smaller crowds since some of us are stuck at work!

Single Admission Price or Tickets

Farm festivals are expensive – there is no way around that.  But, I don’t mind – I enjoy supporting local farms and families.  Many of these farms rely on income from festivals to subsidize some of their farming endeavors.  That being said, I hate tickets – fumbling in my purse for them, calculating how many I need for the day, waiting in line over and over again.  I would much rather pay an admission fee – get a bracelet and move on with my day.  If you have young kids who won’t participate in many activities or you bring all the grandparents a ticket system might work better for you.  Again, it’s personal preference – but something to think about before you decide where to go.

How Easy is it to Get Around?

I love that our farm festival is on a sprawling farm.  But, my kids are school aged and can handle rough terrain and long walks.  If you plan on bringing a stroller you may prefer a more urban festival – where everything is crowded together.  It’s all about finding what works best for your family.

There are so many great fall festivals.  I wish I had time to go to more than one – but life gets in the way of that!  If you do a little research before you go and figure out what your family needs you will have a better day.  The most popular festival that “everyone” loves might not be right for you.  Or it might be.  Good luck finding the perfect fall experience and enjoy every moment with your kiddos!

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