There’s nothing quite like a fall county fair.
No other event offers the opportunity to see a pumpkin weighing in the 100-pound range. The fried food is just the right combination of delicious and disgusting. A loaded barbecue baked potato somehow seems better when it’s made by church ladies and handed out through the screen-covered window of a trailer.
In our collective memories, the hayrides don’t itch, there are no irritable animals at the petting zoo and even the pretty baby contests hold a special place in our hearts.
This weekend, the Hamilton County Fair officially raises the curtain on the fall season for Hamilton County proper. The two-day event features agriculture; livestock and equine exhibitions; antique cars, tractors and engines; arts and crafts booths; a bungee jump; a flower show; historical and educational exhibitions; and a pickin’ porch.
The fair opens at 10 a.m. both days and runs until 6 p.m. Parking can be a bit of a pickle at Chester Frost Park-a shuttle bus picks up at Northgate Mall and Middle Valley Recreation Center and costs $6 for adults, $4 for children between 3 and 12 years old, and nothing for children younger than 3.
If an outing to the Hamilton County Fair doesn’t make it into your weekend schedule or you can’t get your fall fair fix from just one festival, mark your calendar for these October fairs, continuing the fall season with barbecue and bluegrass, arts and apples.
Fire on the Mountain
Get prepared for the Three Sisters Bluegrass Festival by helping raise money for the South Pittsburg Mountain Volunteer Fire Department. Friday night features gospel music, and on Saturday, the pure, backwoods bluegrass comes on stage. The shaded grove of trees is the perfect environment to lean back in a chair and enjoy pinto beans, cornbread and a piece of fried pie.
When: Friday, Sept. 28, 6-8:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where: South Pittsburg Mountain Volunteer Fire Department. From Chattanooga, take I-24 W to exit 152 to merge with U.S. 72 W. Turn right onto TN 156 and drive to the top of the mountain. The fire station sign will appear on the left.
How much: Free on Friday, $5 on Saturday
Pikeville Fall Harvest Festival
The annual Bledsoe County fair takes place up and down Main Street in the center of Pikeville. Craft booths line the sidewalk, three stages host live music and entertainment, and the food is so good this year it makes up for the lack of a parade.
When: Saturday, Oct. 6, beginning at 9 a.m.
Where: Downtown Pikeville. From Chattanooga, take U.S. 27 N. Merge onto TN 111N to the exit for TN 28. Scenic North Main Street will be on your right in 18 miles.
How much: Free
Every year, downtown Athens is transformed into Pumpkintown, and yes, it is just as magical as it sounds. The one-day festival not only celebrates all things pumpkin with a Mr. and Miss Pumpkintown pageant, a pumpkin pie recipe contest and a pumpkin carving contest, it also sheds light on the rich history of East Tennessee with quilting shows, historical walks and live re-enactments.
When: Saturday, Oct. 13, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Where: Downtown Athens, Tenn., at the Market Park Pavilion and Knight Park and the McMinn County Courthouse. From Chattanooga, take I-24 E. Take I-75 N toward Knoxville to exit 42 to merge onto TN 39. Turn right on TN 2 and then left on TN 39.
How much: Free
Ketner’s Mill Country Arts Fair
What began as a family’s attempt to save their mill has grown to a destination arts fair, now in its 36th year. The weekend event combines almost every medium of craft artisanship-paintings, pottery, hand-woven baskets, jewelry and furniture-with funnel cakes, live music and entertainment, including clogging and magic shows. Fairgoers can also take part in canoe and wagon rides and the Marion County 4-H Club petting zoo. Dogs are welcome on a leash.
When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 21, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Where: Whitwell, Tenn. From Chattanooga, take U.S. 27 N to the exit for U.S. 127 N and turn left onto TN 27/Suck Creek Road. Continue on to Powells Crossroads and follow festival signs to Ketner’s Mill.
How much: $6 for adults, free for children under 12
Cleveland Apple Festival
If pumpkins aren’t your favorite variety of the fruit and vegetable families, try the annual Apple Festival. Cleveland hosts an apple dessert contest and a three ways to wear the apple crown-the Little Miss, Junior Miss and Miss Apple Blossom. The fair also features the staple crafts, food vendors and live music.
When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 21, 1-6 p.m.
Where: Downtown Cleveland
How much: $6 to $4 for adults, $4 to $3 for seniors and children under 12
Liberty Tree BBQ Championship
What’s the connection between Dalton, Ga., and Boston, Mass.? The Liberty Tree, of course, as in one of the symbols of America’s independence during the Revolutionary War and the annual barbecue competition. The two-day event is the stage for amateur and pro grillmasters who cook during the day while fairgoers listen to music and submit their beef, chicken, pork and rib creations to the judges panel at dinnertime for the chance to win up to $2,000.
When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 21, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Downtown Dalton, Ga.
How much: Free