Discover Unusual Festivals and Events in North Carolina
From The Wizard of Oz and woolly worms to whirligigs and collards, North Carolina has no shortage of interesting festivals and annual events. Many eclectic small towns have been celebrating heritages, collections and the downright unusual for years. So save the date: Here’s your chance to plan a trip and see some of our state’s one-of-a-kind events.
1 Acorn Drop
1 Acorn DropDec. 31, 2019, RaleighSee on map
New York can have its giant ball. Even better is the 1,250-pound acorn lowered every New Year’s Eve over Fayetteville Street in Raleigh to ring in new beginnings. The sculpture usually resides at the lawn of the city’s performing arts center most of the year but is moved over for Raleigh’s “First Night,” which also includes live music, comedic performances, a Ferris wheel and daytime activities for the kids, as well.
2 Autumn at Oz
2 Autumn at OzSept. 6-8 & Sept. 13-15, 2019, Beech MountainSee on map
The Land of Oz first opened in 1970 as a spectacular “anti-theme park” focusing more on experiences than rides. Guests took a balloon gondola from the bottom of the mountain to the park, where they would interact with characters and watch re-enactments from the all-time classic film The Wizard of Oz. Sadly, a massive fire, poor upkeep and other elements caused the park to shutter after just 10 years of operation. But just as the movie lives on from generation to generation, interest in the park never waned, and there is now a yearly three-day event in early September. Autumn at Oz features a new Emerald City fair, meet-and-greets with Dorothy and her friends, live shows and, of course, a walk down the yellow brick road.
3 Ayden Collard Festival
3 Ayden Collard FestivalSept. 5-8, 2019, AydenSee on map
More than 40 years ago, the local newspaper held a contest to determine an annual festival, and collards won out over cucumbers to become the centerpiece in this town outside Greenville. In addition to a parade every September featuring marching bands, classic cars and live animals, there is a yearly Miss Ayden Pageant and a collard-eating contest.
4 Benson Mule Days
4 Benson Mule DaysSept. 26-29, 2019, BensonSee on map
This popular event every September draws more than 70,000 people from across the U.S. and around the world. Activities include an annual parade and rodeo, food, arts and the main highlight: the mule events, which feature pulling contests, halter classes and pleasure riding. You can even camp at Chamber Park throughout the event.
5 Denim Days
5 Denim DaysOct. 5-6, 2019, ErwinSee on map
The town of Erwin was once hailed as “The Denim Capital of the World” thanks to its booming denim cloth business from the Erwin Cotton Mill. Although that mill shut down nearly 20 years ago, townspeople and visitors alike still pay tribute during the first weekend in October every year at Denim Days. Put on your best pair of blue jeans and enjoy live music, carnival rides, crafts, food from local vendors and several contests, including “Baby Denim.”
6 Golf Cart Parade
6 Golf Cart ParadeJuly 4, 2019, Bald Head IslandSee on map
There are no cars allowed on the preserved Bald Head Island – only golf carts – and every Independence Day, more than 100 of these vehicles are decorated to the nines for the Golf Cart Parade. From patriotic to papier-mâché, you’ll find some of the most intricately designed carts as everyone competes for the prized Best In Show award. The parade is part of the island’s July 4 celebration that also includes a carnival and fireworks over the water.
7 Mayberry Days
7 Mayberry DaysSept. 23-29, 2019, Mount AirySee on map
You can almost hear the famous whistle in the air every September in Mount Airy as the city classically celebrates The Andy Griffith Show and Andy’s hometown of Mayberry. The weeklong festival harkens back to the old days with events such as apple-peeling and pie-eating contests, live music featuring songs from the show, a parade that often includes special guests and, of course, The Andy Griffith Museum.
8 North Carolina Poultry Jubilee
8 North Carolina Poultry JubileeNov. 1-2, 2019, Rose HillSee on map
Home of “The World’s Largest Frying Pan” and headquarters of longtime chicken producer House of Raeford, Rose Hill is a logical choice for the annual N.C. Poultry Jubilee, held every November. Enjoy carnival rides, shag music and the N.C. Poultry Jubilee Pageant. But the real attraction here is the chicken itself, from fried out of that large pan to a wing-eating competition, as well.
9 Underwater Bicycle Race
9 Underwater Bicycle RaceJuly 4, 2019, BeaufortSee on map
The annual Underwater Bike Race (held every Independence Day) draws contestants who decorate their bikes (and themselves), don scuba gear and race to the finish – underwater. Spectators can view the action by charter boat or by snorkeling or scuba diving. Proceeds from the event go to the Children’s Mile of Hope, and there is a post-race party at the Discovery Diving shop afterward.
10 North Carolina Whirligig Festival
10 North Carolina Whirligig FestivalNov. 2-3, 2019, WilsonSee on map
Whirligigs are large sculptures created from recycled industrial parts. And every November, downtown Wilson plays host to the Whirligig Festival, which honors the late local artist Vollis Simpson (his whirligigs are featured on display at the city’s park). This arts festival also includes concerts, a “whirli-kidz” zone complete with rides, and a host of local vendors selling crafts, food and more.
11 Woolly Worm Festival
11 Woolly Worm FestivalOct. 19-20, 2019, Banner ElkSee on map
For generations, High Country residents and visitors have been studying the black and brown bands on these fuzzy caterpillars to determine what kind of winter to expect. A race up 3-foot strings is held during this festival every October (admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children 6-12 and free for kids 5 and under) to determine which crazy crawler will be crowned the official woolly worm. There’s also a 10K “Woolly Worm Woad Wace,” local crafts and food, and live entertainment.