When the weather turns brisk, the people get weird.
Maybe it’s the collective hangover from a summer that took away one too many brain cells, or maybe it’s a creative envelope-pushing bid to tack a few weeks on to the tourist season, but whatever the reason, fall is the season with some of the most bizarre festivals in America. From roadkill cook-offs to worm races, these are the weirdest and wackiest fall festivals.
WHERE: Minocqua, Wisconsin
Each fall, as the final traces of the summer suntans fade and even the most diehard of water skiers put their boats in storage, the tourist town of Minocqua, Wisconsin gets together to throw one last barbecue. Held the last weekend in September, Beef-a-Rama attracts up to 17,000 people to the quaint downtown of this Midwestern island city to grill, roast, and celebrate all things beef. Lifting the open container policy for a single day, the town hosts a beef-eating contest, a cow pie plop, a craft fair, a petting zoo and a jam-packed lineup of live music. The festivities culminate in the Parade of Roasts down Main Street (a figurative title, as the health department took issue with bandying beef about before public consumption a few years ago) and the sacred judging of the roast.
West Virginia Road Kill Cook-Off
WHERE: Marlinton, West Virginia
West Virginia gets extra points for turning a stereotype into a lucrative tourist event attracting 10,000 patrons and worldwide press coverage. Fried pig intestines, teriyaki-marinated bear, and opossum stew are just some of the delicacies competing for the $1,000 grand prize at this Marlinton, West Virginia festival. Cooks sign a statement certifying their dish is at least a quarter wild game and judges swear by their cast-iron stomach and lack of vegetarian tendencies. Adding to the fun is the crowning of Miss Roadkill who, aside from bragging rights, walks away with $500. Save your appetite and mark your calendars for September 29.
Wooly Worm Festival
WHERE: Banner Elk, North Carolina
On October 20-21 scores of competitors travel to this small, North Carolina ski resort town to race a worm up a three-foot length of string to predict the severity of the coming winter. Legend has it the segments on the worm correspond to the 13 weeks of winter and the lighter brown a segment is on the winning worm, the milder that week will be. Not buying it? Maybe the $1,000 cash prize will sweeten the deal. Over 17,000 people attended last year, so they must be on to something.
Emma Crawford Coffin Races and Parade
WHERE: Manitou Springs, Colorado
In 1889, young Emma Crawford came to the area’s cold-water mineral springs looking for a cure to her tuberculosis. Years after her dying wish was honored with a burial atop Red Mountain, her coffin came racing down the mountainside in the spring rains. On October 27, 2018 the town comes together for a costume parade and coffin race to honor (?) Emma Crawford.
North American Wife Carrying Championship
WHERE: Newry, Maine
Established long before the #metoo movement, wife carrying comes from a 19th-century Finnish gang initiation legend, where would-be tough guys raced through a course with a neighboring maid stuffed in a sack to show their, er, strength. The course, drawn from international specifications, is 278 yards long, featuring two dry land and one water obstacles. The winner of the October 6 championship in Newry, Maine will take home the wife’s weight in beer, five times her weight in cash, and earn a place at the world championship in Finland next summer.
The Trailing of Sheep
WHERE: Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho
Want to see what Main Street looks like filled with 1500 sheep? Head to Ketchum, Idaho with 25,000 other curious minds from October 10-14th. What began as a way to soothe tensions between the bicyclists and sheepherders after part of the sheep path was commandeered for a bike trail, the Trailing of Sheep has become a full-blown love-in, with 5 days of performances, storytelling sessions, classes, farm-to-table dinners, sheep rancher Q&As, folklife fairs, sheep shearing demonstrations, championship sheepdog trials, and the glamorous Sheepherders Ball.
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival
WHERE: Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin
“No gloves, licking your hands is allowed to get a better grip,” goes the tagline at this dung-throwing festival honoring the Dairy State’s most popular animal the first weekend in September. Who knew 40,000 people would want to watch feces fly? The organizers swear it’s odorless, and with two stages of live music, a parade, and an arts and crafts fair, there’s plenty on hand to offer a second wind if the competition leaves you feeling a little, uh, pooped.
Arcola Broom Corn Festival
WHERE: Arcola, Illinois
Would you expect anything less from the Broom Corn Capital of the World than a three-day festival honoring all things broom? Arcola, Illinois, is home to the broom-corn plant, which is used to make brooms. The town, which also happens to be the Land of Lincoln’s largest Amish settlement, hosts this eclectic festival September 7–9 featuring live music, a parade, a tractor pull, a sweeping contest and, most notably, a parade with the Lawn Rangers, a self-described “precision lawn mower drill team” that marches in formation with brooms and lawnmowers. Scoff if you must, but President Obama himself had these guys march in his 2009 Inaugural Parade.
Coarsegold Tarantula Festival
WHERE: Coarsegold, California
Head to Coarsegold, California on October 27 for a creepy-crawly good time celebrating this oft feared and misunderstood spider and leave the razor at home–the Hairy Leg Contest is one of the highlights of the day. Unleash your inner wordsmith at the tarantula poem contest and watch in awe as the tarantulas do their tarantula thing at the live tarantula derby. The festival embraces its competitive side with a bake-off, a bubble gum blowing contest, and a pie-eating contest.
Morton Pumpkin Chuckin Festival
WHERE: Morton, Illinois
Is there a more satisfying feeling than watching a pumpkin soar through the air and explode on the ground? Not to the contestants of the Morton Pumpkin Chuckin Festival, who gather September 12-15 in Morton, Illinois to hurl pumpkins using an array of man- and machine-powered catapults. Begun in 1967 to kick off the pumpkin harvest and canning season at nearby Libby’s pumpkin plant, the festival attracts 70,000 people a year and features a boxcar derby, beauty pageants, parades, crafts, a pumpkin weigh off, and pumpkin decorating.
WHERE: Raleigh, North Carolina
Did you know that 80% of the world eats bugs? The organizers at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences does, and they’re inviting you, this September 15, along with 35,000 other people to give it a try. Along with the popular Café Insect, the festival also features beekeeping workshops, face painting, bug and plant classes, cockroach races, live bands, and a flea circus.
WHERE: Point Pleasant, West Virginia
For about a year in the late 1960s, a number of people in this small West Virginian town claimed to see a large man with ten-foot wings and glowing red eyes lurking in the trees. The legend lives on September 15-16 with a festival dedicated to the paranormal with lectures, cosplay, hayrides, live music, a 5K run, and a Mothman beauty pageant.