My favorite season of the year begins this week! Nights are getting cooler, the leaves are just beginning to turn to their lovely bright colors, and the harvest season is nearing completion. It also happens to be my favorite time for outdoor field trips. Here are five ideas for fall field trips that my family has found both fun and educational.
1. State Forest Talking Tree Trails
Fall is a great time to get out in the woods and learn about trees. The North Carolina State Forest operates seven Educational State Forests for the purpose of educating school children about our forests. They offer ranger-led classes on soil, water, wildlife, and forestry. Self-guided treks along the talking tree trails are a great way to study tree identification with exhibits, tree identification signs, and a forest education center. And, of course, there are the talking trees themselves, where, at the push of a button, the “trees” tell about themselves. In addition to the seven trails that are a part of the state forest system, many other communities offer “talking tree” trails. Here are a few from across the state:
- Lenoir Talking Tree Trail | Map, Guide – North Carolina | AllTrails
- Purlear Talking Tree Trail | Map, Guide – North Carolina | AllTrails
- Clemmons Talking Tree Trail Hiking Trail, Clayton, North Carolina (hikingproject.com)
- Jordan Lake Talking Tree Trail Hiking Trail, Fearrington Village, North Carolina (hikingproject.com)
- Hendersonville Holmes Educational State Forest (ncesf.org)
2. Apple Orchards
With over 40 varieties of apples grown commercially in North Carolina, you can find ripe apples from July through November. Many orchards offer activities in the fall in addition to picking apples, such as a corn maze, hay rides, or cider-making demonstrations. Henderson County is the largest producer of apples in our state and therefore, one of the best places to visit one of their numerous orchards. There are also orchards scattered throughout other areas as well. Here are a few you may like to visit:
- Deal Orchards in Taylorsville
- Apple Hill Orchard in Morganton
- Justus Orchard in Hendersonville
- Millstone Creek Orchards in Ramseur
- Apple Farm in Gibsonville
- Horne Creek Living Historical Farm in Pinnacle: this historic working farm in the northwestern Piedmont area “ enables visitors to experience life in North Carolina’s northwestern Piedmont circa 1900.” Their orchard of over 800 trees includes 425 old southern varieties, many of which are nearly extinct. In addition to the heritage orchard, visitors to the site can also explore the Hauser family’s original farmhouse, a tobacco curing barn, a corn crib, and cultivated fields. You can also attend an old-fashioned ice cream social or corn shucking.
3. Historical Fort or Battlefield Reenactment
Watch history in the making (or at least pretend to) when you visit an historical fort or battlefield reenactment. Some even offer visitors an opportunity to be participants. You may even get so inspired that you get drawn into the reenactment world, like homeschooler Koleman Fritz, a reenactor drummer in the 30th North Carolina Infantry and the 9th Pennsylvania Infantry, who can be seen in the top photo.
- Fort Dobbs is a great place to visit any time of year, but the second weekend in November is a great time to stop by to see living history displays and firing demonstrations representing veteran life from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, both World Wars, and other military conflicts.
- Although it occurs in Tennessee, the reenactment of the Battle of Blountville may still be within driving distance for many families. It takes place over the weekend of September 23-26 this year.
- Just a little way over the border into South Carolina, the reenactment of the Battle of Camden, held the second week of November, is one of the largest reenactments on the East Coast.
- The annual Kings Mountain March, a three-week-long event (yes, you read that right!) commemorating a turning point in the American Revolutionary War, begins in Virginia and passes through thirty communities before it reaches the end in South Carolina.
- Although Fort Fisher, located on the North Carolina coast, was primarily in use during the Civil War, it hosts a living history program in October called “Homefront 1942 and Fort Fisher”. This program highlights the lesser-known history of the fort as an anti-aircraft artillery training base during World War II, with a special focus on the women who provided a supporting role.
4. Balloon Fest
Watching the ascension of hundreds of multi-colored hot air balloons is a thrilling experience! Balloon Fest is an event held annually during the third week of October in Lake Norman. It is the second oldest balloon festival in the United States. Besides the mass ascension, they have morning competitions and evening balloon glows. There is a marketplace and artisan village, a special kids’ zone, live entertainment on two stages, skydiving exhibitions, a NC wine and craft beer garden, and aerialist circus performances. That sure sounds like they have something for everyone!
5. And finally, a long-time favorite…wildlife!
Fall is a great time to visit the NC Zoo. The cooler temperatures make it much more enjoyable to walk around and see all the exhibits. In addition, the animals are often more visible during this time since they aren’t as prone to escape the heat by hiding in the shadows. If you are on the western side of the state, you might also enjoy the WNC Nature Center in Asheville. The east coast hosts the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, which offers free admission to its paddling and walking trails, state-of-the-art exhibits, and a wildlife drive.
As the temperatures drop and the leaves begin to follow, put on your walking shoes, grab some water bottles, pack a picnic lunch, load up the family, and head out to one (or more) of these enjoyable field trips. Your children will retain more of what they learn about history, ecology, biology, and physics when they see first-hand a silken globe rising above the earth as it fills with hot air, match fallen leaves with their parent tree, or immerse themselves in the middle of a battle encampment. And the memories from these fall days will last a lifetime!
Jessica Frierson is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling her ten children since 2000. She serves as the secretary for NCHE, writes for GREENHOUSE, and is the lead blogger for the NCHE blog.
Hot air balloon Photo by Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash. Apple farm photo by Jennifer Baker. Reenactment photos by Stephen Fritz of the 30th North Carolina Infantry and the 9th Pennsylvania Infantry. Leaf photo and bird photo by Jessica Frierson.