It’s officially fall — and from corn mazes to carnivals, Charlotte is brimming with autumn activities perfect for crisp days and cool nights. We’ve found the best spots for indulging in hearty chili, checking out the colorful fall foliage and sampling cider. So break out the boots and scarves, it’s time to soak in the season.
(1) Say cheers to fall at the Whitewater Center
It’s time to say “see ya later” to summer and embrace the fun of fall at the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s seventh-annual Fall Finale festival on Oct. 8. This means enjoying the sounds of the season’s last River Jam Concert Series (Samantha Fish, Billy Strings and Yonder Mountain String Band), as you kick off autumn with a morning “Dirty Dozen” obstacle trail race or SUP Yoga, and afternoon cider sampling from seven cideries.
(2) Sip and stroll at the South End Wine Fest
Wine lovers rejoice! Just when you thought it was strictly craft beer territory, South End is getting serious about its vino. On Oct. 15, at the corner of Carson and Mint Streets, you’ll find this second-annual neighborhood wine festival complete live music, fare from popular food trucks like Papi Queso and The Tin Kitchen, and plenty of pinots. A $35 ticket gets you unlimited tastings (don’t forget your DD) from vineyards around the world.
(3) Ride the Ferris wheel at the Cleveland County Fair
As any good romantic comedy makes evident, carnivals are an autumn must. This is mostly because they are one of the few places you can find fried Oreos. But also because at some point in life everyone should experience pig racing, gambling with live mice, Elvis impersonators, the world’s smallest woman and a goat with two heads all in one place. But seriously, catch the ride on the Ferris wheel at this fair through Oct. 9.
(4) Take in the tunes at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Sure, you can head to this botanical garden just to the west of Charlotte any afternoon to take a stroll through the golden and red colors of fall. But your best bet for a visit this season is Oct. 15 or 16 when the garden hosts its Lost Hollow Music Fest. This two-day, family-friendly festival features food trucks, drinks, a cornhole tournament, and music from popular performers including Forlorn Strangers, Over the Rhine, Stepside Deluxe, and Jim Avett. Tickets are $20 for two days or $12.95 per day.
(5) Get lost in the Amazing Maize Maze
Is there anything better than a farm in fall? Every year Rural Hill farm just north of town features a seven-acre corn maze on the weekends with two miles of connecting paths. The maze is open through Nov. 6 and, if you want a serious challenge, join in for one of the Friday or Saturday night after-dark mazes. Just bring a flashlight — and your courage. Tickets are $11 for the day and $16 for night.
(6) Get spooked at SCarowinds
Oh, riding roller coasters that go up to 80 mph and drop at 74-degree angles isn’t enough to terrify you? Enter SCarowinds, the annual fall weekend transformation of Carowinds that includes seven mazes, night rides and horror shows. Most importantly, it includes something called “Scare Zones,” which are basically just places filled with people who will make you scream in public. It’s fun, trust me.
Read our preview of this year’s SCarowinds — including clowns, chainsaw guy and the Army of Darkness — here.
(7) Take a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway
Sure, you’ll be able to see plenty of colorful leaves just driving down Queens Road this month, but to take your Leaf Watch 2K16 to the next level, head west to this famed parkway. The 469-mile road winds through the Appalachian Mountains, offering some of the most picturesque fall foliage views in the country. Feel free to tag us in your inevitable Instagram post.
(8) Eat, drink, and be merry at the Carolina Renaissance Festival
Come one, come all to ye olde renaissance festival! (When else can you annoy your friends by speaking like that all day?) On weekends through October and November, there are cottages and castles, jousting tournaments, royal court characters, jugglers, and, of course, the chance to purchase gnome figurines. Most importantly, there’s food like giant turkey legs and sausage on a stick. And there’s and plenty of ale for washing it all down — aye, lads and lassies, ye can wet your whistle! (Sorry, I really can’t help it.)
(9) Get a taste of whiskey and history at a President’s birthplace
Unless you’re really in to things like the Oregon boundary dispute or the annexation of California, chances are you haven’t done a lot of studying up on the 11th U.S. President. But James K. Polk was raised in Mecklenburg County and this month there’s a whiskey sampling happening at the site of his homestead, which means it’s time to brush up on your history. On Oct. 6 Great Wagon Road Distillery is hosting the exclusive evening whiskey tasting ($35) at the historic site complete with hors d’oeuvres and a lesson about the distiller’s background and process.
(10) Chow down at the Dilworth South End Chili Cook-off
There will be a cornhole tournament, live music and pumpkin painting for the kids at this family-friendly midday festival at South End’s Atherton Mill Oct. 23. But you can’t let any of that distract you from the main point: consuming all the warm chili you can taste. Local restaurants and individuals compete in the seventh-annual cook-off — and, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, so can you. It’s $10 for ALL the chili and sweets are available at the festival’s bake sale. Plan your dieting accordingly.
Photos: Charlotte Observer file; Sarah Crosland; Sarah Headley