Late summer and fall see the state fair season in full swing and no matter what part of the country you're traveling in, you're sure to find a fun family day out. With 50 states, we're not going to list all the fairs here, but suffice it to say, that if you reminisce about the state fairs you visited when you were a child, the smell of popcorn and candied apples, the animals, the rodeo clowns, the amusements and those scary rides -- all are alive and well and coming to a fairground near you. For those of you with children living in big cities, state fairs are an ideal way to introduce your kids to the wonders that are farmyard animals with all the sights and smells that go with them.
Several fairs start in August and finish on or near Labor Day (September 5) including Alaska, California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State. Others only get going when the temperatures start to fall, in particular Alabama (October 21-30), Arkansas (October 7-16), Arizona (October 13-30), Louisiana (October 27- November 6), Mississippi (October 5-16), North Carolina (October 14-23), South Carolina (October 6-16) and Texas (September 30-October 23). Entrance fees have remained quite low and generally range between $5 to $10 with small children admitted free (although these prices do vary from fair to fair so check individual websites for entry details).
For a complete directory of state and county fairs with links to individual websites, visit: www.expocentral.com/agriculture/us_fairs/US_Fairs.html.
There are also countless other events and festivals taking place across the United States at this time of the year, so be sure to get out and about this fall and partake in the pride of America's cultural activities.
Mudstalgia Mud Bowl: North Conway, New Hampshire (September 9-11)
- Get down and dirty at the Mud Bowl, the world championship of mud football, held annually in North Conway, NH at the world-renowned Hog Coliseum. This year is especially significant as they are celebrating 30 years of mud mania. The colorful (albeit brown) 13-game, double elimination mud football extravaganza includes three days of exciting football action, culminating in the championship on Sunday afternoon. The family-oriented event benefits local charities, having raised almost half a million dollars so far. First played in a cornfield almost 30 years ago, volunteers built Hog Coliseum in 1981, permanently ensuring that the Mount Washington Valley area became the mud football capital of the world.
The weekend of fun includes the 24th annual Tournament of Mud Parade down North Conway's Main Street, halftime events, cheerleader competitions, raffle prizes and more. In addition to outlandish costumes and floats, celebrating "Mudstalgia," the Endzone Militia of New England Patriots Minutemen fame will be featured guests in the Parade this year. Admission tickets double as raffle tickets so everyone has a chance to win with drawings held throughout the weekend. Three-day tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the gate. Daily tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children under 12. For more information, go to the MWV Chamber of Commerce (tel. 800/367-3364; www.mountainear.com, click on "Mud Bowl").
US Watermelon Seed-Spitting and Speed-Eating Championship: Pardeeville, Wisconsin (September 10)
- Second only to the national competition in Las Vegas, the annual Watermelon Seed Spitting and Eating Competition is serious business in Pardeeville, WI. Everyone loves watermelon, but perhaps not as much as these folks who compete for the honor of being the US champion. Even if you're only a spectator, you can still enjoy a family fun-packed day of food, bingo, eating and of course, spitting. The competition is intense as competitors get two chances to decrease their time at eating an entire watermelon down to the rind. Spitters get three chances to get their seeds as far down the tennis court as possible. The event is free and entertaining for all. Pardeeville is not the only city in Wisconsin that takes to spitting -- Fish Creek in Door County hosts cherry seed spitting contests and in Ripon, the flavor is pumpkin seeds. For more information, contact the Pardeeville Businessmen's Association (tel. 608/429-3121).
Banjo and Fiddle Contest: Lowell National Park, Massachusetts (September 10)
- What could be better than breathing in fresh country air, taking in the stunning landscape of Lowell National Park while being serenaded by a the dulcet tones of banjos and fiddles? If you're into Bluegrass, Dixieland or Oldtime country music and would like to participate, or you're purely there as a spectator, this free event is an enjoyable day out. Banjo and fiddle players of all ages, from experts to beginners, compete for cash prizes and trophies in this annual competition. Interested in learning to play? Workshops on Mountain Dulcimer, Oldtime Fiddle, Oldtime Banjo, Twin and Bluegrass Fiddle, and Bluegrass Banjo are held in the morning and the competition gets started at noon.
Located only 35 miles from Boston, Lowell National Park is easily accessible via Route 93 north to the 495 south. From there just follow signs to the park. For more information visit www.nps.gov/lowe or tel. 978/970-5000.
Mission Mountain Testicle Festival: Clinton, Montana (September 16-20)
- You may think we're aiming low with this festival, but, in our endeavor to include events that may not get top billing elsewhere, we bring you to Clinton, Montana, where each September since 1982, aficionados of this culinary delicacy gather for a celebration of all things . . . well . . . testicular. No bull, people here eat these morsels, and they hold a five-day festival to prove their point. Even if you're not game to indulge in the eating portion of the festivities (supposedly over two-and-a-half tons of gourmet food is consumed), there are plenty of other attractions to keep you entertained including live music day and night, excessive drinking, a parade, a rodeo, bullchip-throwing contests and the more adult wet T-shirt and hairy chest competitions. All this for a mere $10 entry fee.
The Testicle Festival is held in and around the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, Montana, 22 miles east of Missoula on the Interstate 90, at exit 126. For more information tel. 406/825-4868 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. (Normally, we'd just give you a website, but in this case, its photo section is deemed adults-only.)
Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup: South Dakota (October 1-3)
- You've seen Dances With Wolves, now come and experience the great buffalo roundup firsthand with a trip to Custer National Park's annual event. Step back in time and experience the Wild West with the buffalo herds on the Great Plains. Every fall, cowboys and park staff gather Custer State Park's 1,500 head of buffalo (the largest herd in the country) and drive them into corrals. Visitors watch from designated viewing spots. After the roundup, spectators can watch the herd being branded and the calves being vaccinated. Other associated events include the Buffalo Wallow Chili Cook-Off and Chili-Eating competition plus the annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, a three-day event held nearby featuring local artisans, exhibits and food stalls.
Custer National Park, located in South Dakota's Black Hills off Route 16A, was the scene of Custer's infamous last stand and also boasts spectacular natural phenomena like the famous Needles rock formations and the 100 mile Jewel Cave. For more information visit www.sdgfp.info/parks/Regions/Custer/Index.htm.
Miami Hong Kong Dragon Boat Racing Festival: Miami, Florida (October 22-23)
- A 2,000-year-old sporting tradition comes to Miami Beach with the Dragon Boat Racing Festival. Not to be confused with the South Florida Dragon Boat Festival (www.miamidragonboat.com), which takes place one week before, this event is a spectacular demonstration of what is referred to as the second-fastest growing outdoor sport in the world. Hong Kong style dragon boats, measuring 40 feet in length, four feet in width, carry 20 paddlers, one drummer and one steersperson. Teams race down a 250-yard waterway in Brickell Key for the final event after qualifying in two practice races beforehand. Apart from the actual race, the two days also feature Asian infused cultural activities like Chinese dragon and lion dancing, a Polynesian Asian Pacific show, Royal Thai Dance performances, martial arts demonstrations and musical acts. Money raised helps support future dragon boat events and several local charity groups. For more information visit www.miamidragon.com/festival.html.
Pirates in Paradise: Key West, Florida (November 25-December 4)
- Come celebrate the end of the hurricane season and Key West's rich maritime heritage with the Pirates in Paradise festival. Transport yourself back to the era when pirates ruled the Caribbean. The key's harbor is transformed into a pirate stronghold featuring tall ship sea battles, sunset pirate sails, an arts and crafts show, opportunities to dive the Atocha shipwreck site and other swashbuckling entertainment. Highlights include the National Walk the Plank Championship and over 100 actors in historic costumes giving the city a total pirate feel. The new location at historic Fort Zachary Taylor gives visitors access to a more authentic experience complete with a real thieves' market and encampment in a historic fort. This is an exciting event for the young and young at heart. For more information about the festival, visit www.piratesinparadise.com.
Know of a great festival in your area or interested in hearing feedback from fellow festival goers? Check out the Frommers.com Cultural Immersions Message Boards.