It wouldn’t be Halloween in the US without repeated appearances of our favorite gourd: the pumpkin. This symbol of all things autumnal takes many forms throughout the season, and it’s frequently the centerpiece of some of the most unique (and fun) festivals in the country.
And though the COVID-19 pandemic has paused so much, a few of these spots have found a way to keep the pumpkin celebrations going.
Gigantic pumpkins weighing over a ton, thousands of jack-o-lanterns, and buoyant pumpkin boats – the US has it all. Here’s a list of our favorite quirky pumpkin activities and festivals.
Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular – Louisville, KY
Over the years, pumpkin carving has become an art form in itself, and Louisville, Kentucky’s Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is one of the most immersive pumpkin art exhibits you can hope to find. This year's event will be a drive-thru experience. Visitors can still enjoy the enchanted forest of flickering pumpkins numbering over five thousand in the atmospheric Iroquois Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
Pumpkins ranging in size from tiny to enormous cover the ground and are even suspended from the trees above, creating an all-encompassing pumpkin experience that will boggle your mind.
The carvings themselves reveals art ranging in themes from pop culture to sports to Halloween classics, all flawlessly executed by Passion for Pumpkins Inc., which specializes in producing what they call “illuminated organic galler[ies].” All proceeds from the event go to the Louisville Parks Foundation. This year, the Spectacular runs from October 1 to November 1, and tickets are $35 for Cars, SUVs and mini vans and $50 for passenger vans, limos and RVs. The entrance is 4800 New Cut Rd at the intersection of New Cut and Southern Parkway.
Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta – Daybreak, Utah
If simply watching a pumpkin weigh-off isn't enough for you, head over to Daybreak, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, for the Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta. At this annual event, costumed participants use chainsaws to carve the giant pumpkins into canoes and race them across Oquirrh Lake.
The pumpkin vessels are provided by the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Club after their yearly weigh-off, so these spectacular squashes are so big that they need to be lowered into the water using a cherry picker lift. Take bets on which ones will stay upright during the kids race, the relay race and the growers' race.
This year's event was canceled due to COVID-19 surge in the area.
World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off – Half Moon Bay, CA
"Witness” the weigh-in for some of the biggest gourds on the planet and picture all the pies you could make at the World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off. This parade of behemoth pumpkins has been going on since 1974, and the stakes are high – the winner receives $7 per pound of pumpkin. That may not sound like much, but the 2018 winner weighed a whopping 2,170 pounds.
On top of that, there’s a possibility of bumping the winnings all the way up to $30,000 if the pumpkin breaks the world record (currently held by Mathias Willemijns, who set the record in 2016 with a pumpkin weighing an incredible 2,624 pounds).
Due to COVID-19, there were no spectators at this year's event, but fans could watch the weigh-off via a Facebook live stream.
Typically, the victor pumpkin is put on display at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival which features the Great Pumpkin Parade, the world’s largest pumpkin sculpture along with harvest festival staples like live music and beer gardens. This year, the winning pumpkin just goes home with its grower. (What a year!)
Pumpkin Village – Dallas Arboretum
Would you live in a house made of pumpkins? You can check out some floor plans at the adorably gourd-centric Pumpkin Village at the Dallas Arboretum, an art exhibit that’s part of their yearly autumn festival. The Village incorporates more than 90,000 pumpkins and squash into whimsical themed displays that will delight pumpkin lovers of all ages.
The exhibit opens September 19 and runs through November 1, and the arboretum hosts a number of interesting fall activities alongside it.
In response to COVID-19, all tickets are timed entry and reservations must be made on Dallas Arboretum's website or customer service at 214-515-6615.
The Great Pumpkin Farm Fall Festival – Clarence, NY
Any true pie lover knows that pumpkin spice was around way before the lattes; celebrate that and more at The Great Pumpkin Farm Fall Festival, the premier event for pie enthusiasts. The World Pumpkin Pie Eating Contest brings together competitors young and old to see who reigns supreme when it comes to chowing down on everyone’s favorite autumnal dessert.
But there’s a catch: participants can’t use their hands. The festival has amateur divisions for both children and adults, along with one for professional eaters who all vie for the glory of breaking last year’s record. If you think you can shovel in more than 44 pieces of pie in 10 minutes, this is the competition for you.
The Great Pumpkin Farm Fall Festival goes on from mid-September to Halloween, with the weekends hosting a variety of pumpkin-related activities. If watching people eat vast quantities of pie makes you queasy, head to the annual pumpkin trebuchet contest or watch a 1000-pound pumpkin drop from 100 feet in the air (because why not?).
This year's pie-eating contest has been canceled, but other fall farm events are still open. Here is the COVID-19 guidelines to follow on the farm.
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This article was originally published in September 2019 and updated in September 2020.