Have a (Fall) Ball

Colorful leaves, hot cider, hayrides…folk music, cranberry cheesecake and log sawing contests? It’s all part of the season. This fall, discover new and rediscover old ways of having fun at any of these autumn festivals. No matter what you’re into—sampling delicious treats, getting a dose of culture, or taking in breathtaking scenery—there’s a festival out there to check out.

Top Fall Fests of 2010

Best eats: Cranberry Fest, Eagle River, Wis.—The Cranberry Fest features winery tours, handmade arts and crafts and an open-air antique market, but the highlight the 31-year-old festival is—you guessed it—cranberries. “The cranberry is the state fruit of Wisconsin,” says Kim Emerson, events coordinator for the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce. “So we promote it by offering fresh, premium cranberries and craisins alone or in baked goods, beer, soda, wine, cheese and brauts.” Have a sweet tooth? Then make sure to grab a slice of the world’s largest cranberry cheesecake, over 100 feet long and sold to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Eat your heart out Oct. 2-3.

In the safe driver’s seat

Of course you know you should always wear your seatbelt…and obey the posted speed limits…and take periodic rests.

Another one you’ve no doubt heard a million times: don’t drink and drive. But this one’s worth repeating when you consider that 32 people—or one every 45 minutes—dies in an alcohol-impaired crash every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So, if you plan to imbibe regional beers or wines (or other alcoholic drinks) when visiting festivals, drink responsibly. Decide ahead of time how much you’ll have, keeping in mind that the number of drinks it takes to reach your limit varies by sex, weight and time. And, hand your keys over to a designated driver before you indulge at all.

If you’re the DD, remember, too, that another major cause of accidents is distracted driving. Resist the urge to eat or multitask when you’re behind the wheel and keep the main culprits behind distracted driving—cell phones and other electronic gadgets—out of arm’s reach. Many states ban talking while driving, texting while driving, or both (here’s a list of who bans what). No matter what the law says, you’ll keep the roads safer for you, your passengers, and your fellow drivers if you talk and text only during those periodic rests you’re supposed to take.

Best music: Music in the Mountains Folk Festival, Burnsville, N.C.— Journey to North Carolina’s picturesque eastern mountains for an evening full of foot-thumping folk music. Now in its 25th year, Music in the Mountains features regional artists dedicated to preserving the traditional banjo- and fiddle-based music that went on to inspire bluegrass and country-and-western. Get an earful Oct. 2, 5:00-10:00 p.m.

Best scenery: Fall Festival of Leaves, Bainbridge, Ohio—It only takes a short drive along one of four scenic loops to see why Ross County in south-central Ohio is known as “Leaf Country, USA.” Mapped out for maximum visual impact, the self-guided drives take you past historic churches, through covered bridges, and into the heart of lots and lots of leaves. But that’s not all: “This year’s schedule also includes an antique tractor show, free entertainment, arts and crafts and rides,” says Eileen Hatfield of Fall Festival of Leaves. “Also, because the lumber industry is a big employer here, we’ll have a log sawing contest on Saturday.” Take it all in Oct. 15-17.

Best old-fashioned family fun: Harvest Festival, Cooperstown, N.Y.—Power down the TV and computer to enjoy a weekend of horse-drawn wagon rides, juggling shows, dog agility demos, games and an alpaca parade (no lie!). With Harvest Festival taking place at The Farmers’ Museum in a recreation of a 19th century upstate New York village, the setting for this throwback fun couldn't be more perfect. Go back in time this weekend, Sept. 18-19.

Best all-around: Autumn Glory Festival, Garrett County, Md.—What began as an annual event for poultry growers to promote turkey dinners is now considered the best fall festival in the nation according to MSN. A few of the many events and activities the Old Line State offers include glassblowing demonstrations, an Oktoberfest dinner, a corn maze, a fiddle championship, a kids’ ice cream eating contest and a quilters show. “This year, we’re also debuting a pumpkin chucking contest,” says Sarah Duck, marketing director for the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. Do it all Oct. 6-10.

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