Build Your Own Backyard Fall Festival!
Who doesn’t love the fall? Everything from cooler weather, the return of many professional sports, to the sounds and tastes of the season – think apples, cider donuts, and crinkly piles of leaves that demand to be jumped in! One of the Kookist family’s most favorite pastimes during this change in season is the ubiquitous Fall Festival.
While historically Fall Festivals were held predominantly at pumpkin farms or apple orchards, and were largely casual, ongoing affairs – modern times have seen festivals of this nature explode in popularity and show up everywhere from breweries to schools and even church!
The more the merrier in our opinion, but it got us thinking – what if we held our own scaled down Fall Festival for friends, family and neighbors? Could we coordinate a fun event with enough fall references to get people excited but also keep costs, travel, and crowds to reasonable levels? Is it posible??
Well here at Kookist we believe it to be true and want to share our inspiration with you. Below find some ideas for your own Fall Festival, but the beauty in all of this is you can make it yours. All it takes is some planning, inspiration, and a guest list! We’ll help you with the first two elements, and we’re betting you can handle the guest list part on your own.
While we hesitate to call Activities the ‘Backbone of the Event’ these are so important to your event. Below you’ll find a list of activities to consider, but by all means add to this list.
Ultimately our philosophy for this event is keep it simple and straightforward. You’ll have a better event and happier guests (not to mention less work and fewer expenses) by choosing no more than 2-3 activities for your event and doing them well, rather than trying to do half a dozen things halfway. Plus you’ll get more enjoyment out of the Festival as the Master Planner and any helpers you employ (‘volunteers’) will likely thank you!
- Ghost Stories & Sparklers
- ‘Hay rides’
- Pumpkin chunking, bashing or painting
- Candy hunt
- Costume parade
- Family Photo Booth – pro or amateur?
- Make bird feeders
- Candy Apple Making
- Make Boo Bags
- College Football or Halloween move on in background (Hocus Pocus)
For our party we are going with:
- Candy Hunt
- Costume Contest & Photo Booth
- Hay Rides
So much fun!! And so many ways to make this work. Bear with us as our version is a bit campy.
For the Kookist party we used a backyard tractor and an accompanying small cart. We loaded it with one full hay bale and spread straw on the bottom of the cart to set the mood. We kept our speed to a minimum and only hauled kids whose parents were OK with it and were of age to sit up straight and hold onto the sides as instructed.
Basically we drove them around in the backyard on a predetermined course for a few minutes. It was just awesome. For kids between the ages of 6-11 we could take two at a time and they had a blast going with their friends and sharing the experience. Younger kids were accompanied by an adult but still had a blast!
For planning purposes you could make this as simple or complex as you’d wish. Simply drive them around the yard or dress up the course with additional straw bales, pumpkins, and other fall decor. With older kids this could also be fun at dusk with a ‘spooky’ theme, but we were going more for a Fall Festival freel rather than a Fright Night!
We had several adult drivers (Bonus points for those that dress up like farmers or other fun tour guides!) taking turns running the kids around. Again – safety is a priority, and while we didn’t have seat belts we made sure kids stayed seated and held onto the sides. We were cautious about any stated weight restrictions so as not to damage the cart or tractor.
This could also be done in a wheelbarrow, small ATV or 4 wheeler, wagon, or even a helpful pet pulling if you can manage it – send pics please!
Conveniently this served as an excellent distraction while we worked on our second activity…
Could it be more straightforward? Popular during the Pandemic when many communities ‘canceled’ trick or treating and families opted to stay closer to home, think of an easter egg-like hunt only for candy. This could be done indoors or out and candy can be put into color appropriate eggs (or similar) or simply hidden in areas that children can find without too much difficulty.
While this event can happen at any time, we took advantage of the distraction the Hay Rides present to deploy a few parents. Hide the candy (2 or 3 small pieces per hiding spot) making sure to remember your audience – IE: for bigger kids harder, more difficult to reach hiding spots are fine, while younger kids may benefit from an adults help, a team approach (2 or 3 kids working together), or simply being segregated – big kids = outside, little kids = inside. Either way make it so your guests can locate and access the candy with relative ease.
While the kids were busy with the hay rides and our makeshift photo booth we hid the candy and then after a brief snack break, set them loose! At the end – we shared what remained with the kids who were less successful, ensuring that all children came away feeling good about their haul and having enjoyed the activity!
Costume Parade & Photo Booth
A fall festival classic. Especially for younger kids and families that dress up together.
We had all of the costumed guests parade around for the adults to take pictures and enjoy the show! Of course any costumed pets, masked adults, and fun loving hosts are welcome to join in the fun. We decided to take it up a notch with a ‘photo booth’ – read a Kookist family member and a digital camera against a themed backdrop (we used multi-colored corn cobs, straw bales, and pumpkins against a reddish brown shed we happen to have in the backyard to create the scene). We thought this would be an extra special way to commemorate the event and give our guests something to take back and enjoy the memories, beyond a typical cell phone pic.
We have a few guests planning to use their photos for holiday gifts and even greeting cards!
We ended the day with a classic bonfire. Fall is nice since the days are shorter; so we ended up starting it at around 6:00 pm; by 7:00 pm it was pretty dark and s’mores were already starting to be made. Kookist recommends reading our custom S’More article: Level Up Your S’More Game
A few things we recommend for the fire:
- Collect the wood ahead of time – it sounds easy just to start a fire with some lighter fluid and kindling but it really does pay to have your wood ready ahead of time. Heck – you can even go out and buy wood in a supermarket. You don’t want to be that person who is stumbling through your backyard trying to break wood on the fly.
- Start it early – although short Fall days are great to get out of those crazy 15 hour days you get in the Summer, the evening can creep up quickly. We wanted the entire festival to end around 8pm – starting the fire around 6pm gave everyone time to enjoy it a few hours before the festival ended.
- Keep kids away when starting the fire – our kids are curious (and that’s why we love them) and want to help with pretty much every activity; however fire and kids usually don’t mix. We started ours with a little lighter fluid on light kindling – and wanted to make sure kids were far back when this happened. What worked best for us was to distract kids with a ‘final tractor ride’ while the adults started the fire.
- Bring a guitar – there’s always that one person that knows how to play a guitar. Some light background music to bring the festival to a close is nice and appreciated.
Food and Beverages
In order to keep costs low and prep/clean up work to a minimum we are going with heavy apps, snacks, and a handful of select beverages that fit with the theme.
Since everyone was so busy with all the activities we had going around our space, it almost felt like there was no time to eat! We wanted to keep it simple with food; no huge dishes but more ‘pick and go’ foods everyone could grab quickly. Since Fall is our favorite time at Kookist we also wanted to have a few Fall themed foods.
Cider Donuts – although we didn’t have time to hand make these, they were a great hit. We picked up 1 dozen at a local bakery and all were gone by the end. Who doesn’t love a good cider donut when the temps are a little low and the leaves are out?
Slow Cooked Chili – maybe not a finger food but a good chili on a cool day really hits the spot. We were able to make this ahead of time; actually we went with two varieties: regular meat chili and a vegetarian chili. Both were great and made in our insta-pot. Here is our Martha Stewart Vegetarian recipe:Martha Stewart Vegetarian Chili
Cheese and Crackers – nothing special here, but I don’t know if there is one person I know who doesn’t like cheese. We ended up buying one of those cheese boards at the supermarket and just grabbing some Triscuits and Wheat Thins (it doesn’t come with enough crackers) and putting them out together. A little dipping mustard and this couldn’t be simpler.
Sweet Potato Salad – who says you can’t have a salad in the Fall. We got away from the Summer fruit/veggies like tomatoes and carrots and put in Fall ones like sweet potatoes and avocados. Nice and light and parents appreciated having some greens on the table for their kids.Sweet Potato Salad Recipe
Its fall and this time of year obviously calls for a few things and since PSLs are out (no espresso machine!), we are going with pumpkin beer and either mulled (spiked) cider or a specialty themed cocktail for adults. We also shared our menu selections in the invitation and encouraged BYOB, this way people were able to bring an alternative if they decided they’d prefer something off-menu. For the kids – water and cider only!
Getting Kids Involved
Let’s not forget the reason we even had the Fall Festival to begin with – for the kids! It was just awesome to see all the tikes running around having a great time! In each of our activities the help was appreciated.
Hayride – although we couldn’t have the kids drive the tractor, we got them involved in other ways. Setting up by ‘throwing hay into the tractor cart’ is super easy and it doesn’t matter if it’s a little messy. The kids loved ‘getting the cart ready’.
Candy Hunt – this was actually a chance to get the older kids involved. We had some children who were between 10 and 13 – perfect for them to ‘help the adults’ by hiding candy.
Costume Parade and Photo Booth – kids just love the idea of dressing up; especially a little before Halloween. As simple as it sounds, we had a lot of the kids take pictures of other kids with their costumes on. Obviously the child needed to be at least 6 to hold the camera/phone still but they loved snapping pics of their little sister or brother all dressed up.
Bonfire – the easiest way to help with the fire activities was to help dad get the s’mores in from the house. We needed graham crackers, marshmallows, and roasting sticks – as soon as I said ‘can anyone help me get the s’mores ready?’ – we had a ton of kids volunteering to help!
Food – we kept this one pretty simple for the kids (no actual help with making chili) but we had them: help with picking out the cider donuts in the store and help with ‘laying out’ the cracker and cheese dish. Nice and easy!
It’s always a ton of fun to go to a Fall Festival with the kids – hayrides, pumpkin picking and just that fresh Fall air. Although it’s fun to take the kids to one, why not do your own in your own backyard?!?! The Kookist team loves to have fun with the kids and this was an idea we floated that we made a reality.
The kids just had an absolute blast and you can either scale up or down depending on how much time you have. There’s always something special about having an event in your own backyard too! We felt since we had the space it was the perfect storm. See you next time for maybe a Spring event!