Fabulous Fall Festivals

Pumpkins, apples and hayrides are a given this time of year (and we love them), but autumn around the lake also brings the unexpected, including wings, wine, jazz and even a tombstone derby.

Photo credit: Eric Mull
Lakeside-Marblehead Lighthouse Festival in Lakeside, Ohio and the Marblehead Peninsula
Lakeside-Marblehead Lighthouse Festival
Lakeside, Ohio, and the Marblehead Peninsula

| Oct. 9 |

People love Lakeside because one can’t help but feel peaceful while walking down its streets of Victorian cottages and towering oaks. There are porch swings and bicycles and small children everywhere. And you’re never more than a short walk from the lake — or an ice cream store.

This festival — devoid of loudspeakers, bounce houses and overwhelming crowds — doesn’t compromise the village’s charm. It heightens it, with mums, hay bales and pumpkin at every turn.

There’s a farmers market, crafts for children and free mini-golf. You can take a hayride or a guided walking tour through the fall foliage. The loudest it gets is when the winners of the pie contest are announced and auctioned off. And don’t expect the typical fair French fries and funnel cakes. Last year, homemade lobster bisque and macaroni-and-cheese (among other things) was on the menu.

Free shuttles are available throughout the day to take visitors from Lakeside to tour the Marblehead Lighthouse. 866-952-5374, lakesideohio.com. Free.

While you’re in town: Grab a hot chocolate at Coffee and Cream on the corner of West Second Street and Walnut Avenue and head down to Central Park for a free game of shuffleboard on one of the 26 courts.

Chris Matea’s
Caramel Apple Pie

When Matea first told her husband her plans to top her pie with caramel, his reaction was less than encouraging. “He went, ‘Ehhhhhhh,’ ” she remembers. Still, she persisted. We met her in Lakeside, Ohio, last year. She was smiling on a sunny afternoon after beating a crowd full of bakers to take the title of Best Overall Pie at the Lakeside-Marblehead Lighthouse Festival. Happily, she was willing to share her recipe.


1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup butter, melted

¾ cup caramel ice cream topping

1 cup chopped pecans

Apple filling

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced very thin

5 tablespoons butter

½ cup brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream Cheese Filling Layer

8 ounces cream cheese

¼ cup sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla


¾ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup caramel ice cream topping

¼ cup chopped pecan

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Mix well and press into a 10-inch pie plate and up the sides. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until golden. Remove pie shell from oven and cool completely. Pour caramel into pie shell and sprinkle with 1 cup of chopped pecans. Refrigerate pie shell while making apple filling.

In large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add apples and stir. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until apples are softened and tender. Let cool for 10 minutes and pour into pie shell. Reduce oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar using hand-held mixer on low speed for about 1 minute until smooth. Add egg, lemon juice and vanilla and mix for 1 minute or until fully blended. Pour over apple filling in pie shell. Bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Remove pie from oven and let cool. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Let stand outside refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

Whip heavy cream with sugar to make whipped cream. Top pie with whipped cream, caramel and pecans and swirl with a knife.

Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival
Ashtabula, Ohio

| Oct. 9-10 |

john Smolen, an Ashtabula County engineer, needed to replace a bridge. Luckily for the region, he thought a covered bridge would be nicer than a regular old span. When the county dedicated the bridge, so many people came out to see it that they practically shut down the road. It was the beginning of a festival that’s headed into its 27th year. We took a look at some of the more notable numbers. Ashtabula County Fairgrounds, 440-576-3769, coveredbridgefestival.org

18: number of covered bridges in Ashtabula County

1867: birth date of the oldest covered bridge in the county, the Mechanicsville Road Bridge

613: length in feet of the United State’s longest covered bridge, Ashtabula County’s Smolen-Gulf Bridge

5: types of covered bridges you’ll see on your tour: burr arch, inverted haupt truss, town lattice truss, pratt truss and howe truss.

1913: year that a flood washed a bridge downstream. Those remains were used to build the Graham Road Bridge.

18: length in feet of the United State’s shortest covered bridge, Geneva’s West Liberty Street Bridge, scheduled for dedication during this year’s festival

10/8: final date to submit your covered bridge model for the festival contest

Peek’n Peak Fall Festival in Clymer, N.Y.
Peek’n Peak Fall Festival
Clymer, N.Y.

| Oct. 9-10 & 16-17 |

This festival in western New York offers the typical festival fare, but it also offers something a bit messier: a pumpkin cannon that uses air pressure to propel the orange gourds 500 feet onto the middle of the ski slope. “People just get a real kick out of it,” says Linda Lawrence, the resort’s corporate recreation director. “It’s a real draw.”

The festival also serves as a kick-start to the winter snow sport season for the ski resort. Sure, you won’t be able to hit the powder. But you will be able to trade in your old snowboard for a new one at the huge equipment swap. Plus, you can survey the scene and plan your winter attack on a ride up the ski lift, which operates throughout the fest. And you can sign up for a season pass. In short, it’s one-stop shopping for the snow bunnies in the crowd.

And for the rest of us, well, there’s a craft festival, live entertainment, activities for the kids and a horse-drawn wagon to shuttle people throughout the resort.

“You don’t have to spend a dime,” says Lawrence. “You can enjoy the decorations, and just look around. … Ride the chairlift — in the fall, that is absolutely beautiful.” 716-355-4141, pknpk.com

While you’re in town: Hit the links. The resort has two 18-hole golf courses with rolling hills and mature woods. There is also mini-golf for kids. 716-355-4141.

National Buffalo Wing Festival
Buffalo, N.Y.

| Sept. 4-5 |

In 2001’s Osmosis Jones, Bill Murray’s character has a dream that you may share. He consumes egregious amounts of Buffalo wings in hopes of someday attending the fictional National Buffalo Wing Festival. A year later, Drew Cerza, otherwise known as the “Wing King,” made this fantasy a reality by establishing such an event.

Held at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, Cerza’s National Buffalo Wing Festival offers a wide swath of activities for the wing enthusiast, from a beauty pageant called Miss Buffalo Wing that tests wing trivia to bobbing for wings in a kiddie pool full of bleu cheese dressing. The event is also renowned for its wing sauce and eating competitions, with the latter producing a world record in 2007 for 173 wings consumed in 12 minutes.

Last year’s Festival Favorite award winner, Legend Larry’s of Sheboygan, Wis., takes the art of wingmaking seriously. Larry Shaefer constantly experiments to turn out the perfect sauces for his creations. He has developed a formula to his sauces by paying close attention to the Scoville units — a scientific measurement of spiciness — of different ingredients. Once, Shaefer consumed something a wing rated at an astounding 386,000 Scoville units (to compare, a pepperoncini is rated at 100 to 500 units). “My face turned red and my tongue was numb for quite a while,” Shaefer says.

If you’re looking for a similar endorphin rush, festival tickets are $5 and wings cost $2 for every three you eat. Coca-Cola Field, buffalowing.com

While you’re in town: Get gelato at Dolci Bakery, 732 Elmwood Ave., 716-882-5956, dolcibakery.com

Waterford Pumpkin Festival
Waterford, Ontario

| Oct. 15-17 |

One thousand pumpkins, festooned with Christmas lights and piled onto humongous pyramids, are the hallmarks of the annual Waterford Pumpkin Festival. Local farmers donate the pumpkins, and volunteers transport them to town. Each one is different, lovingly carved and decorated by local schoolchildren and, in the case of the closest local schools, hand delivered on the Thursday morning before the festival starts. This one’s for the kids.

You’ll find pumpkin pie alongside loads of hot meals put on by area churches, car and antique tractor shows, even a reptile and bird-of-prey show. Musical acts, a craft show, a parade — most everything is free, something this small-town festival prides itself on. About the only thing you have to shell out dough for is the spookhouse, at $2 per visitor.

“We’re a one-stoplight town, and we only got that a few years ago,” says festival administrator Brenda Dredge. The little village is surrounded by farms, and the town itself is flush with restored homes and quiet, leafy streets. It’s not Mayberry, but things don’t get much more idyllic then Waterford at this time of year. Main Street, 519-443-4944, pumpkinfest.com. Free.

While you’re in town: The Waterford Antique market features two floors of treasures in a restored telephone factory. 80-B Alice St., 519-443-4064, waterfordantique

Art & Apples Festival
Rochester, Mich.

| Sept. 10-12 |

Maybe it’s because our surroundings are so beautiful this time of year, but fall is the season for art, says Ellen Hughes, the marketing director of Paint Creek Center for the Arts, which offers classes and programs and organizes this annual festival, now in its 45th year.

“It’s a great fit,” she says. “People are looking for apples and excited about art.” During the festival, Westview Orchards will provide the apples, while artisans from across the country will set up tents for a juried show consistently rated as one of the best in the nation.

The 30-acre Rochester Park, which runs along the river, provides a fitting backdrop. “You can sit underneath a tree, you can sit by Paint Creek,” Hughes says. “If you need to get away from the crowds, you can.” Rochester Park, 248-651-4110, artandapples.com. $5 donation suggested.

While you’re in town: The park is steps from downtown Rochester, where independent boutiques and restaurants (as well as a couple of ice cream parlors) line Main Street and Rochester Road.

The Niagara Wine Festival
St. Catharines, Ontario

| Sept. 17-26 |

For almost 60 years, residents of St. Catharines have gathered in Montebello Park in the fall, removed their shoes and socks, rolled up their pant legs and stomped a mess of grapes into pulp. An event that started as a way to use up surplus grapes has become a six-day affair that draws visitors from all over the world.

“People love the idea of taking part in the birth of a new vintage,” says fest director Kimberly Hundertmark. “You can travel right to the wineries, see harvesting taking place, wine making taking place.” The region, sheltered between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, features a mild climate that’s ideal for grapes.

The fest spans two weekends filled with music, winery tours and tastings. Focus your energy on Montebello Park, where you’ll find regional cuisine and 35 wineries serving samples. These days, the footloose fete in Montebello Park takes the form of the Mayor’s Invitational Grape Stomp. If schedules align, you’ll get to see all 13 regional mayors vie for the coveted trophy. This year’s an election year, notes Hundertmark, so the competition should be extra fierce. 905-688-0212, Montebello Park, niagarawinefestival.com. Free.

While you’re in town: While we hate to talk about any of those other Great Lakes, Port Dalhousie is just a few miles from the festival on Lake Ontario and has a waterfront worth seeing, with nice shops, restaurants, cafés and a lighthouse. portdalhousie.com

The Tombstone Derby
Elmore, Ohio

| Oct. 30 |

Drag racing is a thrill and so is Halloween. Put the two together — as the city of Elmore does — and you get some pretty freaky, fast fun. They call it casket racing, and every year on the weekend before Halloween participants motorize coffins and race at a mind-blowing 25 miles per hour in the Elmore Historical Society Tombstone Derby.

Mayor, EHS founder and creator of the Tombstone Derby Lowell Krumnow says the race draws around 500 people to Elmore each year. “People thinks it’s a hoot,” he says. “People motorize lawn mowers, scooters, golf carts, ATVs. We even had a guy enter who cut down his wife’s car into a smaller version for the race.”

Participants pay $20 for the opportunity to race for the gold. Well … the urn. The local undertaker donates urns that are embellished with engraved plaques to present to the victors.

Casket racing for glory, victory and a gorgeous urn can’t happen Speed Racer style. There are rules to this contest, if only a few. For starters, all vehicles must resemble a coffin, come with brakes and lights and reach a top speed of 25 miles per hour. Second, caskets can carry a max of two people. Third, racers can compete in any combination of sitting, standing or lying down.

Whether it’s the derby that holds your attention or the other Halloween activities at this celebration (such as body part tossing), mark Elmore on your map for a visit this fall. 419-260-1282, elmorehs.tripod.com/id13.html. Free.

perch: Carl Stimac • film: stockbyte/thinkstock

While you’re in town: Schedel’s Arboretum & Gardens was a private estate that opened to the public in 1991 after nature lovers Joe and Marie Schedel passed away. It features two lakes, more than 20,000 annuals, a Japanese garden and a 30-foot waterfall. 419-862-3182, schedel-gardens.org

Lake County Perchfest
Fairport Harbor, Ohio

| Sept. 10-12 |

Fresh perch breaded and cooked right on the beach. It doesn’t get any better than that — as evidenced by the 10,000 meals that are served at PerchFest each fall.

“Lake Erie perch is a true delicacy,” says fest chairman Jim Shirley. The event began two decades ago as a way to highlight the fishing in Lake County, on a section of Lake Erie that doesn’t always roll off fishermen’s lips. “The better tasting fish come from this area,” he says with a hearty chuckle. “Typically you hear [about] a lot of fishing in Vermilion, Sandusky, but never really anything from this area.”

The linchpin of PerchFest has always been the fishing contest itself. Anyone can enter, from kids to adults, and low entrance fees make it accessible to amateurs and experts alike. But if you’d rather eat your perch than fish it, hunker down at Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park and enjoy a little night music, courtesy of bands that take the stage all weekend. Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park, 800-368-5253, perchfest.net. Admission is free. Perch dinners are $12.

While you’re in town: Stop by Ohio’s largest beach, the mile-long Headlands State Beach Park in nearby Mentor. 9601 Headlands Road, dnr.state.oh.us/parks

Eerie Horror Film Festival
Erie, Pa.

| Oct. 7-10 |

This hair-raising festival ranks in the top five horror fests in the country and draws thousands of people. Still, many people hear horror and think only of hockey masks and chainsaws. “I cringe every time people say all horror is garbage,” says Horror Fest creator Greg Ropp. “It’s an $8 billion per year industry with no sign of decline, and it’s the only genre that hasn’t lost money. Horror films kind of let you be a kid forever. They’re always going to be here.” Warner Theatre, 811 State St., 814-873-2483, eeriehorrorfilmfestival.com, advance ticket price is about $15 for a day pass and $35 for all-access passes. Kids with courage under 12 are free.

While you’re in town: Head down the street after the festival on Oct. 8 to the Crooked I bar, where the Creepshow horror rock band will perform. 1013 State St., thecrookedi.com

Wooly Bear Festival
Downtown Vermilion, Ohio

| Sept. 26 |

We all know about the famous American weather forecaster Punxsutawney Phil. While this little critter has its own holiday, Ohioans commemorate an even tinier meteorologist: the woolly bear. The blacker its coat, the harsher the winter, according to local lore.

What started out as a gathering of 2,000 people has become the largest one-day festival in Ohio. There will be a parade, live music, an animal farm, games and races.

The main attraction, though, is clearly the caterpillar. How often has it been correct? “I think it’s always right,” laughs Vermilion Mayor Eileen Bulan. “It always predict snow.” vvermilionohionews.homestead.com/woollybear.html, 440-204-2400. Free.

While you’re in town: Stroll down to the lake and the Inland Seas Maritime Musuem, where you’ll find one of the world’s largest collections of Great Lakes historical maritime artifacts, documents, ship models and original artwork. 480 Main St., 800-893-1485, inlandseas.org

Put-in-Bay, Ohio

| Oct. 9-10 |

The tiny Lake Erie island of Put-in-Bay is known for its parties. The Spring Fling, Mardi Gras, Christmas in July, the Fall Ball, Halloween, regattas galore and even an end-of-summer wake. As the last strands of summer mellow into fall, the island will host its most belly-busting party of the year — the 17th annual Oktoberfest.

Joseph Suttman, owner of Press House Joe’s, was a Put-In-Bay transplant by way of Austria. He’d lived there teaching English, picked up a wife and started a family by the time he made his way to Put-in-Bay. He orchestrated the first Oktoberfest, and today the entire island throngs to the tents and beer gardens that pop up for the two-day festival. Traditional food is the main draw.

The Village Bakery, which slings sandwiches, salads and breakfast food throughout the year, works overtime to prepare German delicacies such as stuffed cabbage, noodles, pierogi and desserts. Every restaurant on the island unveils its own specialty for Oktoberfest. Over at the Crescent Tavern, owner June Stoiber has become so famous for her annual German chocolate cakes that the bar receives advance orders. And just like a traditional German beer festival, picnic tables are set up and strangers become friends over a cold brew and a hearty bratwurst. De Rivera Park, putinbay.com. Free.

While you’re in town: If you’re smart and spend the night, you can wake up and make your way to Axel & Harry’s Waterfront Grille for something from its Eye Openers breakfast booze menu. Irish whiskey or a mimosa are classic choices, but the nutritional advantage of a Catawba peach bellini (a frozen slice of a local peach with peach juice and champagne) makes it easier to justify. 227 Bay View Ave., 419-285-2572, axelandharrys.com

Light the Lake Festival in Chautauqua County, N.Y.
Light the Lake Festival
Chautauqua County, N.Y.

| Sept. 6 |

Fireworks are a rarity, a treat to be savored when the opportunity arises. Once Fourth of July is behind us, the normal course is to carefully pack away our oohs and ahhs, preserving them until the dog days return.

Light the Lakes, then, is a surprising — and fantastical — end-of-summer indulgence for the neck-craners in all of us. Chautauqua County resident Dan Dalpra (founder of the Bemus Pops and owner of the Italian Fisherman restaurant on New York’s Lake Chautauqua) created Light the Lakes as a finale to another finale, the Bemus Pops season-ending concert held on the orchestra’s floating stage every year over Labor Day weekend.

The massive fireworks display takes place Sunday night, erupting from six local towns. From Bemus Point, you’ll be able to see four fireworks displays simultaneously. Chautauqua County hums with festivity all weekend long; cap your explorations with a display some think is big enough to be seen from outer space. ilovenylakes.com

While you’re in town: Dine on slow-poached Copper River halibut or mustard-and-herb-crusted rack of lamb at La Fleur Fine French Cuisine, the only four-diamond restaurant in Western New York. 5031 West Lake Road, Mayville, N.Y., 716-753-3512, restaurantlafleur.net

Detroit Jazz Fest
Downtown Detroit

| Sept. 3-6 |

A city tradition since 1980, the festival hosts more than 70 musical acts, ranging from high school jazz ensembles to powerhouse performers such as Branford Marsalis. “People come to listen,” says festival director Terri Pontremoli. “They really love the music, know the music, and the performers feel it.”

True jazz aficionados can head to the Jazz Talk Tent, where 13 lectures will be given, including “Before Motown: Jazz in Detroit, 1920-60.” Little ones, meanwhile, can visit the Kid Bob Tent for storytelling, tap-dancing and child-friendly jazz. But even if you’re not that into the music, the festival’s hoppin’ atmosphere is worth experiencing. “It is a really friendly, happy environment,” Pontremoli says. 313-447-1248, detroitjazzfest.com. Free.

While you’re in town: Stop by the bar at Michael Symon’s Roast restaurant for a Symon Burger (fried bologna, pickles, onion, cheddar and special sauce, $12) and a classic cocktail. 1128 Washington Blvd., 313-961-2500, roastdetroit.com