21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023

Photo courtesy of NC Hot Sauce Contest & Festival's Facebook page

By Claire Mainprize

August 3, 2023

From livermush to woolly worms, we’ve compiled a list of events that celebrate the lesser-known (but most riveting) aspects of North Carolina culture. So read on, mark your calendar, and get your crew together, because good times await!

North Carolina Fossil Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Aurora Fossil Museum’s Facebook page

Where: Aurora

When: June 24-25

Cost: Free

North Carolina has a rich fossil history, and you can learn all about it at Aurora’s annual Fossil Festival. 

The family-friendly event includes a parade, movie night, fossil digging, glow party, dinosaur show, educational displays, and live entertainment. Athletic festival-goers might also be interested in the Jurassic Classic bike race or 5K run.

If you can’t make it to the festival but still want to partake in the fossil-y fun, you can check out the Aurora Fossil Museum, which is open Tuesday–Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (admission is free there, too!). 

Christmas in July Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Christmas in July Festival’s Facebook page

Where: West Jefferson

When: June 30-July 1

Cost: Free

When it comes to holidays most loved by Americans, Christmas wins by a wide margin, so why celebrate it only once per year? Thankfully, there’s the Christmas in July Festival, held in West Jefferson in Ashe County, which produces more Christmas trees than any county in the country. So whip out your ugly Christmas sweaters and take the cookie cutters out of their boxes. 

Attendees will enjoy Yuletide goodies, themed arts and crafts, traditional mountain music, and maybe even a visit from the jolly fellow with a big, white beard!

Water Lantern Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Water Lantern Festival’s Facebook page

Where: Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Greenville, High Point, Jacksonville, Piedmont Triad, Raleigh, and Wilmington

When:  July 8 in Charlotte, all other cities TBD

Cost: $12.45-$42.99 (kids up to 7 are free)

Each year, the award-winning Water Lantern Festival hops from city to city, and North Carolina is lucky enough to welcome the event at nine different locations in 2023. 
Typically, the gates open at 6 p.m., allowing attendees to peruse the many food trucks and listen to live music until 8:30, at which point everyone is invited to put their creativity hats on and design their very own lantern. The event culminates with the lantern launch, which is truly a sight to behold—just ask anyone who has gone in the past! Keep an eye on the festival’s main web page to find out about dates and locations for all cities. You won’t want to miss it!

Outer Banks Pirate Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Kitty Hawk Kites’ Facebook page

Where: Nags Head

When: August 9-10

Cost: Free (but the Scallywag School costs $10)

Instead of walking the plank this summer, walk right into the Outer Banks Pirate Festival. Come dressed up in your best Blackbeard attire and learn about the rich history of pirates on the Outer Banks, where the infamous pirate met his fate. 

Kids can even participate in the Scallywag School to find out if they have what it takes to sail the high seas with Blackbeard’s crew. Or perhaps taking a photo with the mermaid in attendance is more up their alley? Whatever wets your whistle.

Dessert Wars

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Dessert Wars’ Facebook page

Where: Charlotte

When: August 26

Cost: $45-$65

We have a feeling that warmongers and pacifists alike would condone this kind of war. That is, the kind where the winner gets an ice cream cone trophy and everyone goes home with full bellies. 
Dessert Wars is the largest dessert festival in America, so it makes all the sense in the world that it regularly sells out ahead of time. Get your tickets now through Eventbrite to ensure your place sampling treats from more than 50 local dessert vendors at the Park Expo Center. Sweet tooths, unite!

Goombay Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Goombay Festival Asheville’s Facebook page

Where: Asheville

When: September 1-3

Cost: Free

Goombay is a traditional dance of the Bahamas that’s done to syncopated rhythms of skin-covered drums, maracas, and sticks. Goombay dancers typically wear colorful costumes and headdresses. 

At the annual Goombay festival in downtown Asheville, attendees get to experience and celebrate African-Caribbean culture in a variety of ways. You can peruse Black-owned vendors, taste delicious Caribbean cuisine, and watch professional dancers move to live gospel, reggae, funk, and soul music. 

Mile High Kite Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Beech Mountain’s Mile High Kite & Craft Festival’s Facebook page

Where: Beech Mountain

When: September 2-3

Cost: Free

When you hear the moniker “Mile High City,” your mind probably jumps to Denver, but did you know North Carolina has one of its own? That’s right—Beech Mountain is 5,506 feet above sea level, making it the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi. The clear sky, cool temperatures, and guaranteed light breeze make it the perfect place to fly a kite!

At the 2023 Mile High Kite Festival, you can make your own kite, learn tips and tricks from the pros, and try to take home one of the many fun awards, including Biggest Kite and Most Original Handmade Kite. The first 150 children under the age of 13 get a kite for free, so be sure you show up early!

Antlers & Acorns

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Antlers & Acorns’ Instagram page

Where: Boone

When: September 4-9

Cost: $45

The name might throw you off, but Antlers & Acorns is an annual songwriting festival (not a hunting or nut-gathering trip, although the latter sounds kinda fun). Whether you’re a songwriter yourself or just a fan of good music, you’ll love this event that takes place in the ever-inspiring Blue Ridge Mountains just as the leaves begin to turn. 

This year’s event will bring nationally recognized songwriters to the area, including John Paul White (one-half of the Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars), Mary Gauthier, Radney Foster, and many more. 
Hot tip: Snag a VIP ticket ahead of time to get access to exclusive concerts and meetups.

Autumn at Oz

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Land of Oz’s Facebook page

Where: Beech Mountain

When: September 8-10, 15-17, and 22-24

Cost: $55

If you could click your heels together three times and end up in the magical land of Oz, would you? If you answered yes, we have good news: At Beech Mountain, you can do just that! This three-weekend event includes all your favorite characters from the classic tale, including Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. 

You’ll get to see the Gale farm in Kansas, hang out with Glenda in Munchkinland, and follow the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City—with tons of photo ops along the way! You can finish up your trip by heading to the Rainbow Observation Deck, watching an interactive show, or enjoying food and drinks.

NC Hot Sauce Contest & Festival

Where: Oxford

When: September 9

Cost: Free

You might want to pack some tissues, because this festival is so spicy that it will most likely produce a tear or two. 
The NC Hot Sauce Contest & Festival chooses the best of the best when it comes to the state’s hot sauce scene. If you’re feeling extra brave, you can also participate in the Bailey Farms Pepper Eating Contest. Otherwise, relax and enjoy live music, a classic car, and a super fun kids area. This year will also feature sensory tents to make the festival more inclusive. We love to see it (and taste it)!

Hog Day

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Hog Day’s Facebook page

Where: Hillsborough

When: September 15-16

Cost: Free/TBD

Although North Carolina is home to tons of annual barbeque festivals, none are more “offbeat” than Hillsborough’s Hog Day. 

For more than two decades, this event featured the fan-favorite pig parade, in which live, costumed pigs took center stage and competed to win best-dressed. These days, the event continues — but with a twist! Families and local businesses can buy or rent pig statues to decorate, and festival attendees get to vote on their favorite. 

Hog Day also includes live music, handmade crafts, a 5K, a classic car show, a children’s area, and — most importantly — barbeque!

Lake Lure Dance Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Hog Day’s Facebook page

Where: Lake Lure

When: September 16

Cost: $39

If you’re a fan of the 1987 classic Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (and let’s be real: who isn’t?), you’ll definitely want to check out this event. Taking place at one of the movie’s main filming locations, this festival celebrates the iconic film in the only way that’s appropriate: a day filled with music and dancing! 

In its inaugural year, the festival will feature a “Cool Nights & Hot Salsa” theme with guest appearances by singer Franke Previte and Broadway dancer Lisa Sherman. The Asheville Ballet will also be there to perform and teach you some moves. Nobody puts this festival in a corner!

Benson Mule Days

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Benson Mule Days’ Facebook page

Where: Benson

When: September 21-24

Cost: Free

They may not win you big bucks at elite races, but mules deserve just as much love and appreciation as their horse siblings. 

Dating back to 1949, Benson’s four-day festival includes mule competitions, rodeos, arts and crafts, food vendors, carnival rides, parades, live Bluegrass music, beauty queens, and camping (if you so choose). It’s one of the largest annual festivals in North Carolina, resulting in some very merry mules. 

Mead Fest

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Starrlight Mead’s Facebook page

Where: Pittsboro

When: September 23

Cost: Free

Move over beer and wine festivals, it’s mead’s turn to shine! If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying mead—a delightful fermented beverage made from water, honey, and yeast—you’re missing out. 

Mead Fest is your chance to sip on samples of “the nectar of the gods” while watching DIY mead-making demonstrations and sword-fighting knights. Like most other festivals on this list, Mead Fest also includes live music, arts and crafts vendors, and local food for purchase—all Renaissance themed! Which brings us to our next, more recognizable event…

Carolina Renaissance Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Carolina Renaissance Festival’s Facebook page

Where: Huntersville

When: Saturdays and Sundays, September 30-November 19

Cost: Adults for $32, children for $20 (kids 4 and under are free)

If you’d like to be transported back to the Middle Ages, choose any weekend between September 30 through November 19 and make your way to the Carolina Renaissance Festival. There, you’ll witness “valiant jousting knights on horseback, majestic falconry, beautiful mermaids and fairies, friendly dragons, feasting, and so much more!” With more than 500 costumed characters, 16 stages, and 140 vendors, there’s no time to get even remotely bored. 

We recommend buying your tickets ahead of time, especially if you want to attend one of the special themed weekends like the trick-or-treat in late October or take part in uber-popular pub crawl, held every day the festival is open.

Crystals + Mystics Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Downtown ILM Market’s Facebook page

Where: Wilmington

When: October 1

Cost: Free

If you’re interested in all things mystical, this is the festival for you. Featuring dozens of vendors, live music, food trucks, and craft beverages, the Crystals + Mystics Festival is bound to be a good time. Come ready to sip on yummy drinks, pick out a crystal or two, and meet like-minded folks!

Scotland County Highland Games

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Bill Caudill’s Facebook page

Where: Laurinburg

When: October 6-8

Cost: Free (some events require registration and/or a fee)

The Scotland County Highland Games is the only Scottish gathering in the old Highland Scottish settlement of the Upper Cape Fear and Pee Dee regions, once home to the largest group of Highland Scots in all of North America. This event honors the region’s rich history by paying homage to the culture of old. 

There will be tents belonging to clans and societies, Scottish music, whisky and traditional food, sheep dog demonstrations, and all sorts of competitions, from solo piping and Highland dance to the Scottish hammer throw and turning of the caber.

Mush, Music & Mutts 2023

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Liver Mush Festival – Mush, Music & Mutts’ Facebook page

Where: Shelby

When: October 21

Cost: Free

“Liver” and “mush” seem like two words that should never go together, but as many North Carolinians know, the Southern staple tastes pretty dang good. In its simplest form, livermush is a combination of pork liver, meat scraps, and cornmeal that is shaped into a loaf, sliced, and fried. 

In addition to hot livermush sandwiches, this event also includes a livermush eating contest, livermush cookoff and recipe contest, and Little Miss/Mister Liver Mush pageant. Some additional non-livermush festivities include the kids’ costume parade, dog costume contest, pet costume contest, and live music.

Woolly Worm Festival

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Avery County Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page

Where: Banner Elk

When: October 21-22

Cost: Adults for $8, children for $5 (children 5 and under are free)

To understand why on earth there is a Woolly Worm Festival, you need to first learn about its origin story. According to local folklore, one can predict the coming winter’s forecast by looking at the colors of the year’s woolly worms (more officially known as the Isabella tiger moth). 

Back in the 1970s, a Banner Elk resident wanted to include the creature’s forecast in his local magazine, until he realized each worm looked different. “That’s when it struck me that we needed some formal procedure to use to decide which was going to be the official worm for making the winter forecast,” he reportedly said. 

And so the third weekend of every October became the time when residents choose the worm that will predict the upcoming winter’s weather. How do they decide, you ask? A competitive race up a three-inch string, of course! You can bring your very own worm for your chance to win the honor (and a $1,000 prize!).

Barktoberfest

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Durham Parks and Recreation’s Facebook page

Where: Durham

When: October 28

Cost: Free

Who needs the original Oktoberfest in Germany when you have Barktoberfest right in your backyard? With a dog costume contest, photo booth, canine food drive, pet market, foster/adoption opportunities, and food and beer, this annual festival is sure to be fun for pups and humans alike. 

By attending, you’ll help promote a dog-friendly Durham and bring much-needed pet services in underserved local areas. It’s a win-win!

Tweetsie Christmas

21 Wacky, Wild, & Woolly Festivals Happening in North Carolina in 2023
Photo courtesy of Tweetsie Railroad’s Facebook page

Where: Blowing Rock

When: November 24-26, varying dates in December

Cost: Adults for $60 children for $40 (children 2 and under are free)

Tweetsie Christmas is as close as you’re ever going to get to making The Polar Express a reality. On select days in November and December, the historic Tweetsie Railroad becomes a winter wonderland. Attendees will be able to journey three miles in an open-air train car to see more than 1 million Christmas lights. 

The event also features a live variety show, amusement rides, outdoor s’mores roasting, and meet-and-greets with Santa in his gingerbread house!

Author

  • Claire Mainprize

    Claire Mainprize is a writer and editor who covers the intersections of pop culture, lifestyle, and spirituality. Find more of her work at ClaireMainprize.com.

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