As temperatures fall in the Midwest, my immediate thought goes to food: picking apples and pumpkins and enjoying warm butternut squash soup! That doesn’t mean my sense of adventure subsides, though, because my family and I still savor spending as much time as we can outdoors.
With stunning colors and magnificent flavors that you can only find during this special harvest season, it’s hard to find anywhere in the state of Illinois where you won’t find fall festivals, you-pick farms, wine trails or microbreweries to tease your senses. Here is just a taste of what’s happening through November around Illinois so you can concentrate on creating flavorful memories for the whole family.
The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur is an annual tradition in the Land of Lincoln and features an astounding 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds from around the world, all grown in the heart of Illinois. Open through Oct. 31, visitors can get their pumpkin fix by picking pumpkins for carving, exploring mazes and gardens, listening to live entertainment and discovering succulent treats at the Homestead Bakery.
Celebrate Long Grove’s 21st Annual Apple Festival, Sept. 27-29. More than 50 shops and restaurants are located within this historic town which offers seasonal foods dedicated to apples, including cider doughnuts, caramel apples and the Long Grove Apple Haus’ famous brown bag apple pie. The festival also features live toe-tapping music, carriage rides, hayrides and children’s activities.
Witness a sea of color in the skies above the Quad Cities at the Quad Cities Hot Air Balloon Fest, Sept. 27-29 in Moline. The hot air balloons take off daily throughout the weekend and light up the night sky during the evening hours. In addition, the festival offers food from local vendors and family-oriented activities.
The Great Rivers Grape Escape in Quincy is a weekend dedicated to wine, entertainment and food, Sept. 28-29. In addition to sampling a great variety of Illinois wines, participants can enjoy live entertainment, food and wine pairings and have the opportunity to meet the friendly producers behind the state’s best wines.
Land of Lincoln: Celebrate America’s favorite road at the 12th Annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival in Springfield, Sept. 27-29. More than 1,000 cool cars will roll into the state capital’s historic downtown for festival-goers to admire. After taking in these impressive machines, visitors can spoil themselves with foods and treats that honor this famous road and enjoy live music and entertainment.
Honor harvest time at the annual Apple n’ Pork Festival in Clinton, Sept. 28-29. The festival highlights seasonal treats and delicious eats like pork chili, BBQ ribs, pigs’ ears, apple fritters, taffy apples, cider and apple pie. In addition, guests can also browse hundreds of crafters’ items and listen to live entertainment.
Show your Celtic pride at the Southern Illinois Irish Festival in Carbondale, Oct. 4-6. This vibrant cultural event offers something for the whole family, including traditional Irish food and drink, highland games and dancing. Children can have fun trying to spot Liam the Extra Large Leprechaun who will traipse around the grounds throughout the weekend.
See more than 150 handcrafted scarecrows and vote for your favorite at the St. Charles Scarecrow Fest, Oct. 11-13, in downtown St. Charles. The Fox River town’s beloved event features tasty food, a huge arts and crafts show, carnival, petting zoo and the famous Scarecrow Contest.
BBQ fans can taste the best of the best at the Central Illinois Braggin’ Rights KCKS BBQ Competition and Thrill of the Grill Backyard BBQ in Arthur, Oct. 11-12. The annual competition, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, showcases the grilling talents of more than 40 teams and includes no shortage of BBQ food stands, kids’ games, craft booths, prizes and live bluegrass bands.
Visit Shelbyville for the Scarecrow Daze Festival and Touchstone Energy Balloon Fest, Oct. 11-13. During the packed weekend-long celebration, visitors can see the town’s homes and businesses come to life with themed scarecrows. After taking in the scarecrow sights, visitors can enjoy the unique experience of watching dozens of hot air balloons light up the sky as they hit designated targets while floating through the air.
The Highwood Pumpkin Festival, Oct 17-20, holds the Guinness World Records title for the longest line of pumpkin pies. Daily events include pumpkin carving, nightly jack-o-lantern lightings, massive pumpkin displays, a parade and the Pumpkin Run.
Step back into a simpler time at the Fort Massac Encampment, Oct. 19-20. The two-day affair pays homage to Illinois’ rich frontier history. Hear the thunderous boom of cannons, smell the sweet scent of wood smoke fires and taste period delights like ham and beans, barbecue, and caramel-covered apples.
Enjoy fall activities and sample delicious harvest flavors at the Jonamac Orchard Corn Maze in Malta through Oct. 27. The 65-acre site offers you-pick apples from 5,000 trees and a bakery complete with apple doughnuts, pies, caramel apples, fudge and fresh baked bread. In addition, visitors can explore Jonamac’s famous Corn Maze, which pays tribute this year to the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway.
Spend three days celebrating Nouveau Wine Weekend in picturesque Galena, Nov. 22-24. Wine lovers can enjoy special vineyard tours, winemaker dinners, wine-inspired pampering at spas and wine tastings, all while taking advantage of special shopping deals at many of Galena’s shops and boutiques along historic Main Street.
Fall Drives ~ in Fulton County
The Spoon River Valley Drive gives travelers a chance to enjoy the natural wonders of the fall season in Fulton County, during the first two weekends in October. In addition to the fall colors, visitors can explore 17 villages and historic sites along the drive, enjoy live entertainment, uncover treasures at a flea market and indulge in local cuisine.
While not visually appealing (with pretty fall leaves and such) but no less culturally significant, drive Route 66! The Chicago to Joliet Historic Route 66 path teaches kids a key piece of history while exposing them to the public art along the original 1926 path. Or ask them to search for the large Paul Bunyan statue holding the hotdog on the Route in Berwyn.