Fall in Oklahoma goes one of two ways: It’s either that perfect but windy shoulder season of cooler breezes and colorful leaves, or it’s still hanging onto summer heat like an old woman refusing to let go of her blanket.
Even if the summer lingers as Dog Days, fall is a fun time to explore the state, which is still mostly rural across the plains and hills. With fall comes a slew of small town celebrations, historic reenactments, fun, and weirdly surprising festivals, and even a mythical monster or two.
Grab your sweater, lace up the sneakers, and head over to The Red Dirt State to discover seven of the best fall festivals to experience in Oklahoma.
While these fall festivals in Oklahoma are usually annual events, be aware that the changing status of COVID rates may cause postponements or cancellations of events. Call ahead or email to double check the statuses.
1. The Oklahoma City Regatta Festival
I’ve lived in Oklahoma City long enough to remember when the Oklahoma River, that wide, flat water that cuts straight through downtown, was a sad, garbage-strewn dry river bed. Thanks to a series of 1-cent sales tax initiatives, the Oklahoma River is now one of the shining examples of how far Oklahoma City has come in being a destination metro.
The river, once sad and dusty, now hosts watersports and acts as a training location for rowing, kayaking, and other Olympic-level sports.
Every fall, visitors can line the banks of the river for the Oklahoma Regatta Festival, which was selected in 2020 by USRowing as one of the nation’s five largest regattas to participate in during the U.S. Rowing Virtual Fall. Set for early October, the Oklahoma Regatta festival welcomes corporate, collegiate, junior, masters, and high-performance athletes for racing on Friday, October 1 through Sunday, October 3. The public “festival” days will be Friday and Saturday.
The races go on all day and into the night. In addition to the daytime racing that features 4,000-meter heat racing, the festival also hosts the popular OGE NightSprints under the lights and fireworks, dragon boat races, kayak races, and more.
The Thrive Outside expo returns for kids and families to introduce the public to all the outdoor activities in Oklahoma City. Think fishing, climbing, hiking, camping, kayaking, and the fun at RIVERSPORT Adventures and white water rafting, which will be open during the festival.
Pro Tip: If you are in Oklahoma in late August, the Oklahoma Paddlesport Festival will be held with a World Party on Friday and the ICF Canoe Sprint Super Cup on Saturday. Olympic and World Champion paddlers from 19 countries will be in Oklahoma City to compete in 350 meter super sprints under the lights, and this event will be televised across Europe.
2. The Honobia, Oklahoma Bigfoot Festival
Oklahoma becomes a hot spot for Bigfoot and Sasquatch enthusiasts each year in October when the tiny town of Honobia hosts one of the largest Bigfoot festivals and conventions in the U.S.
The Honobia Bigfoot Festival and the Honobia Big Foot Conference are held on the grounds of the Kiamichi Mountains Christian Mission at Christ’s 40 Acres in Honobia, Oklahoma. The festival attracts thousands for tales about Bigfoot, crafts, live music, storytelling around a campfire, and the serious Bigfoot Conference.
Attendees can also enjoy helicopter tours of the area, go exploring and searching for the mythical man of the woods by ATV, and camping and RV camping is available.
The conference is no joke, either. Whether you are a true believer or a skeptic, it’s a ton of fun to learn about Bigfoot with presentations by prominent Bigfoot researchers speaking about their experiences and subsequent research. This is a truly unique Oklahoma event, which has been educating and entertaining visitors about Bigfoot for nearly a decade.
Pro Tip: If you plan to take your RV, be aware that advanced reservations are required.
3. The Poteau, Oklahoma Hot Air Balloon Festival
In far eastern Oklahoma, fall brings a riot of color as the leaves change over the Ouachita Mountains. While the views are stunning from the ground or standing at the edge of a bluff, they are even more magical by air. Each October, the skies above Poteau, Oklahoma, alight with all colors for the Poteau Hot Air Balloon Festival, held at the LeFlore County Fairgrounds, 5015 S. Broadway, Poteau.
In addition to the spectacle of watching dozens of brightly colored hot air balloons take flight, visitors to this Oklahoma fall festival can enjoy tethered balloon rides, games, arts and crafts shows, carnival rides and night glows. If you don’t mind getting down and dirty, you can get sloppy at the mud pit race and, in the past, the ever-popular Saturday Night-only Midgets with Attitude midget wrestling drew big crowds.
Pro Tip: Free parking is at Carl Albert State College parking lot, which is a great deal. Several free shuttle buses can take you to the balloon festival. If you want to skip the lines, you can pre-purchase family armband packages by calling 918-647-9178.
4. The Heavener, Oklahoma Viking Festival
Did Norse warriors discover and explore Oklahoma well before Europeans arrived? According to some in Oklahoma, that answer is yes, and a festival held at the Heavener Runestone Park in Heavener, Oklahoma, celebrates the surprising Viking history in the Old West.
Legend has it that two young boys discovered a large sandstone slab in the lush wilderness around Heavener in the early 20th century with runic markings believed to have been carved by Norse explorers between A.D. 600 and A.D. 800.
Though experts disagree whether or not the carved stone is legitimate or not, the locals have embraced their Viking heritage with the Heavener Runestone Festival, usually held in early October.
The festival includes reenactors, medieval arts and crafts, and renaissance activities like blacksmithing, archery, ax throwing, demonstrations of birds of prey, armored fighting, and more.
Held at the 55-acre Heavener Runestone Park, this Oklahoma fall festival is more like a trip back in time than a typical festival.
Pro Tip: Parking for the festival, which attracts thousands, is at Heavener High School. A free handicap-accessible shuttle transports festivalgoers on both days.
5. Kiamichi OwaChito Festival Of The Forest — Broken Bow, Oklahoma
Held at the stunning and mountainous Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow, the Kiamichi OwaChito Festival of the Forest brings the state’s Native American heritage alive for visitors and tribal members alike.
Usually held in September, this festival features Native American dancing, art shows, archery competitions, a Choctaw Cultural Demo, children’s games, pageants for Miss Owa-Chito and Miss Choctaw Owa-Chito, the annual Larry Thompson Memorial 5K, games of stickball, canoe races, Owa-Chito bingo, and countless other events.
Live music and concerts are held that night.
While usually held in April, the 2021 festival is set for September 25. The Kiamichi Owa-Chito Festival of the Forest is designed to educate the people of Oklahoma and beyond about the heritage, culture, progress, and history of Kiamichi County.
Thanks to its woodland history, some of the most popular contests at the festival feature skills that men and women need when surviving in the woods. Be prepared to see some pretty impressive competitions in sawing, ax work, and more.
6. Robbers Cave State Park Fall Festival — Wilburton, Oklahoma
Again, we venture into the wooded San Bois Mountains of southeast Oklahoma for the Robbers Cave State Park Fall Festival, one of Oklahoma’s most popular fall festivals.
With usually more than 200 arts and crafts vendors and a classic car show, this festival also features a baked potato feast, homemade root beer, a leaf-peeping cruise, and live entertainment.
Situated along Carlton Lake among the limestone bluffs of Robbers Cave State Park, the Fall Foliage Cruise pre-1984 rod, custom, and classics car and truck show on Saturday normally attracts more than 500 entries and is a big draw to this small Oklahoma community of Wilburton.
Free shuttle buses are available to take you to and from downtown Wilburton and between all event parking lots and the event site.
Pro Tip: Come for the festival, but stay for the adventures in this state park, which is one of my favorites. It was famously a former hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr, and the park is a favorite for rappellers, hikers, equestrians, and campers.
7. Watonga, Oklahoma Wine and Cheese Festival
Wisconsin isn’t the only state famous for its cheese. Oklahoma has its own cheese culture too, and the best time to sample the dairy goodness is during the Watonga Wine and Cheese Festival, held each October.
Known for the Watonga Cheese Factory and the tasty cheese curds, Watonga is Oklahoma’s cheese-making capital. The festival “lays its curds on the table” with a Main Street parade, a Rat’s Race, children’s rides and attractions, food vendors, the Cheesiest Dog Show, the Cheesiest T-Shirt competition, a wine tasting event, cheese samplings, and more.
It’s a cheesy good time and a classic small town festival that will “melt” your heart.
Oklahoma has some unusual attractions and cities that are fun and exciting to explore: