Mountain State Forest Festival has been luring visitors for 80 years

Gwen Woolf

Stairstep Falls in the Dolly Sods area makes a pretty fall picture.

Ever seen a lumberjack competition?

The Mountain State Forest Festival in West Virginia’s Randolph County promises that and much more as it observes its 80th anniversary Oct. 1–9 with the theme of “Celebrate!” The state’s oldest and largest festival, the event brings more than 100,000 people to the scenic mountainous region at a time when autumn leaves are in their glory.

Live music, parades, pageantry, arts and crafts, competitions, a carnival — and West Virginia food, craft beer, and wines — are among the attractions at the festival that is centered around the town of Elkins, a 195-mile drive from Washington, D.C.

“It’s the perfect time to come to West Virginia,” said the festival’s Breanna George, citing the natural beauty of the turning leaves. “It’s kind of the state’s homecoming that brings everybody back.”

The festival kicks off Oct. 1 with 5K/10K runs, a “Strongest Man in the Forest” competition, Irish road bowling, and “Celebrate Appalachia!,” a new event that includes an old-time banjo and fiddle contest, burger cook-off, and beer.

Other festival week activities include: a children’s parade, pet parade and show, juried art shows, photography show, quilt show, forestry and wood exhibits, horseshoe tournament, Christian and gospel music concert, talent show, dance show, and vendors in City Park.

Stairstep Falls in the Dolly Sods area makes a pretty fall picture.
Stairstep Falls in the Dolly Sods area makes a pretty fall picture.

Get the schedule at an information booth at Davis Avenue and Third Street or check the website.


Plenty of pageantry

Pageantry is part of the tradition, too. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will crown Maid Silvia LXXX, Kara D’Ann Alvarez, on Oct. 7. (Silvia means “deity of the forest.”)

The Boy Scouts will present Maid Silvia with a seedling tree as a symbol of the importance of the state’s natural resources. She and a royal court of

40 princesses will reign over the festival. The day’s activities include a fireman’s parade, queen’s ball, and — a new event this year — a block party with live music.

On Oct. 8, the day opens with the lumberjack competition and a day of fun, including a 2-mile-long grand parade featuring the acclaimed West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band. Other attractions include a band field show, miniature horse show, police motorcycle drill team exhibition, antique and classic street rod car parade, special units and log truck parade, monster truck exhibition, and tailgate party. In the evening, disc jockey Larry Groce will host a Mountain Stage radio show with multiple guest musicians that will be broadcast on NPR.

The festival closes Oct. 9, with a buckwheat cake and sausage “feed,” 3-D target show, hike at Timberline Resort, and muzzleloading contest.

Five U.S. presidents — Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter — have attended the festival, which began in 1930, but took a hiatus during World War II.

Elkins also offers Branson-style music shows by the well-known American Mountain Theater and Gandy Dancer Theatre, and, a recent addition, the Franks Family Music Show. Excursion train rides are available from the historic depot, and Davis & Elkins College is a major fixture.


Leaf peeping in Tucker County

If you really relish the eye-popping colors of fall, check out the Sept. 23–25 Leaf Peepers Festival in Davis in the Canaan Valley. The leaves turn color faster there than elsewhere because of the valley’s high elevation. The new U.S. Route 48 has greatly reduced drive time from Washington.

Festivities include a parade, inflatable rides, food and craft fair, 2K/5K run, pet show, photo contest, “duck” race, Oktoberfest with live music, car show, and golf tournament.

Lindy Point and Pendleton Point overlooks in Blackwater Falls State Park and the chairlift ride at Canaan Valley Resort State Park are particularly good leaf-watching spots.

Another way to enjoy the foliage is to play cowboy atop a horse. Coinciding with the leaf festival, the Fall Frontier Weekend sponsored by Timberline Four Seasons Resort is a family-oriented Wild West event benefiting the local fire department.

Members of the Saddle Tramps Old Western Heritage Club, decked out with 1880s-era cowboy attire and weapons, host a chuck wagon breakfast on Saturday and then guide an extended horseback ride through Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. You can bring your own horse or rent one. That night, relax at a “cow camp” with a campfire, barbecue chuck wagon, mock cowboy robbery, frontier games, and Western music.

“It’s a hoedown atmosphere,” said Kim Bennett, of Mountain Trail Rides, which operates stables at Timberline and in Davis. She said the company will offer discount rides during the weekend to those who mention they’re there for the leaf festival.

Tucker County is known for its outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiing, hiking, paddle sports, fishing, and mountain biking. (For those who like bike races, the Revenge of the Rattlesnake Ultra and Ultra Lite is Sept. 17.) With three breweries, the area is becoming a beer lover’s destination. Davis and Thomas offer art galleries, shops, restaurants, and live music.


Learn more:

Mountain State Forest Festival:
Randolph Co. Tourism:
Mountain Trail Rides:
Tucker Co. Tourism:


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