Autumn has arrived, bringing colder nights, culinary delights and a calendar full of festivals. Just as the Gaels once celebrated Samhain, America brings in the harvest with crush parties, scarecrow trails and at least one spectacular International Balloon Fiesta in the high desert (Oct. 6-14, 2012).
The next few pages offer the ultimate fall travel bucket list activities.
Head out to the orchards and fill a bucket with crisp, sweet, tart apples that you can then take home and make into pies, cider or other fall treats. The Northeast has some great fruit-picking traditions, such as the LaFayette Apple Festival, held in the rural center of New York State, which includes a carnival midway, 500 craft booths and a full food court
|World Championships of Punkin' Chunkin|
The World Championships of Punkin' Chunkin in Bridgeville, Del., brings together some of the most determined, ingenious and crazy hobbyists in the land, who arrive with various contraptions engineered to launch pumpkins thousands of feet. The competition started in 1986, and last year drew more than 200,000 people. The winning "chunk" in the Adult Air category flew 4,329 feet. $10 daily admission. Nov. 2-4, 2012.
|Farmers' Markets, Big and Small|
Once frequented only by homemakers, chefs and hippies, farmers' markets have become the symbol of the local, sustainable food movement. There's one in every town, but if you were to make a pilgrimage to the very best -- as determined by the annual American Farmland Trust consumer poll -- you'd go to Fayetteville Farmers Market in Arkansas (the voters' choice among big markets). Find favorites in any region at farmersmarketcoalition.org.
|Gourmet Market Tastings|
For everyone who's thinking, "I can't deal with being caught out in yet another surprise thunderstorm this year," skip the outdoor festivals and head to the best gourmet market in town. Most of them lay out some kind of delicious spread during fall weekends, and some, such as Tri-State favorite Sickles Market, pictured, go all out with fall festival offerings. Bring the kids for pumpkin painting, scarecrow fun and face painting along with store-wide food samplings and sales.
|Follow a Tasting Trail|
Wherever there's a region known for a specialty food or beverage with many artisan producers, there's a tasting trail guiding foodies right to the producers' doorsteps. Hudson Valley has an apple trail, Vermont and Wisconsin have statewide cheese trails, and Flagstaff, Arizona and Bend, Oregon both have walking and bike trails.
|Or a Scarecrow Trail|
They're folksy, they're festive, they're often creepy, and in the fall, they often take over entire fields. Scarecrows aren't just for farm country anymore. You'll see them in small coastal towns (Cambria Scarecrow Festival in Cambria. Calif., pictured), in the heartland (scarecrowfest.com in St. Charles, Ill.) and even in the south (Huntsville Botanical Garden's Scarecrow Trail).
|Michigan Cider Mills|
Michigan is working hard to earn a rep as "best cider producer in the nation," with a newly created Cider Makers' Guild and a burgeoning craft cider industry. The larger cider mills offer much more than just juice: corn mazes, wagon rides, petting zoos and more. Food Network favorite Yates Cider Mill offers various activities and has its fudge and ice cream shops in addition to the cider house storefront
|Winemaker for a Day|
In past years, Northern California and New York's North Fork wineries have offered "boot camps" during harvest season, playing up to city dwellers' fantasies of a life in the vines. Now, Santa Barbara enters the field with a Winemaker for a Day program hosted by Margerum Wine Company and held Saturdays (Oct. 5, 19, 19 in 2012) to coincide with the epicure.sb celebration.
|Dungeness Crabbing in Half Moon Bay|
Kicking off in December, it's Dungeness Crab Season in Half Moon Bay. Local fishing boat operators such as Huli Cat Sportfishing, pictured, and Riptide Sportfishing will take people out to catch their own hard-shelled mega-crustaceans. If you'd prefer to stay dry, go meet the incoming boats at Pillar Point Harbor and select live crabs from the daily catch. It's like a Discovery Channel special but with a fraction of the risk and in a mild Northern California climate.