And How To Plan Your Trip to Banner Elk, North Carolina

The Woolly Worm Festival is a North Carolina Mountain tradition for going on 44 years and hosts over 20,000 visitors. The festival is held in Banner Elk, North Carolina on the third weekend in October, which also happens to peak fall color season in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether this is your first year attending, or you’re a seasoned pro, this guide provides all you need to know for the 2021 Festival.

The highlight of this fun-filled family-friendly 2-day festival is most certainly the famed woolly worm race where winners can walk away with $1,000. There’s plenty more to experience including live entertainment, food, rides, and over 175 craft vendors.

Dates

  • Saturday, October 16, 2021 from 9am-5pm
  • Sunday, October 17, 2021 from 9am – 4pm

Location

Historic Banner Elk Elementary School
185 Azalea Circle
Banner Elk, NC 28604

Tickets:

  • $6 – Adults
  • $4 – Children 6-12
  • FREE – Children 5 and younger

All proceeds go back to community initiatives including local schools, youth programs, and Avery County tourism.

Vendors

The full list of vendors and activities is still in the works, but check back here or the official Wooly Worm Festival website for the most up-to-date information.

Visit Tarpestry at Woolly Worm

Tarpestry team at Woolly Worm Festival

That’s us! We make picnic blankets that are half tarp, half tapestry, and wholly unique. Tarpestrys are perfect for picnics, beach trips, and camping – and we make them all right here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Come visit our booth, and take advantage of our special offer to Woolly Worm Enthusiasts, a free tote with your purchase. Just mention this post when you swing by.

Additional Festival Tips and Considerations:

  • Bring the kids! Activities range from arts and crafts to face painting and more.
  • Parking is free as long as it is available, so show up early! Paid overflow parking is also offered by local businesses. 
  • Leave Fido at home. Pets are not allowed at the festival (they scare the Woolly Worms!)
  • No alcohol
  • Cash, Visa, and MasterCard will be accepted for tickets (and most vendors will also accept card payments) 

What’s a Woolly Worm?

woolly bear caterpillar
Caterpillar
woolly bear moth
Moth

A woolly worm, also called wooly worm or wooly bear, is a brown and black fuzzy caterpillar larva that will eventually become an isabella tiger moth.

According to woolly worm lore, the 13 color bands on the woolly worm represent the 13 weeks of winter. Each individual woolly worm has its own color band variation. Brown bands are said to indicate a mild week, while black bands forecast a cold, snowy week. The woolly worm that wins the annual race at the festival forecasts the coming winter! 

Merryweather, the Woolly Worm Festival mascot.

About Banner Elk North Carolina

Banner Elk NC in fall during Wolly Worm Festival season

Banner Elk is a quaint small town in Western North Carolina located high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains at 3,701 feet! Its prime attractions are mostly outdoor adventure-related due to prime mountain views, trails, streams, and its location between two ski resorts. The town itself also features many shopping and dining options.

Getting There

Banner Elk is not directly accessible by the Interstate, as it is surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest and Beech Mountain to the North and Sugar Mountain and the Pisgah National Forest to the south. Instead, you’ll want to take US highway 221 up from I-40 and then take NC 184 the rest of the way north. 

If you’re coming from the north and heading south to Banner Elk you’ll want to hop onto US highway 421 and then take NC 194 south/southwest to Banner Elk.

Where to Stay

Because Banner Elk is pretty high up in the mountains, the best way to enjoy the Woolly Worm Festival is by staying in town, that way you won’t’ have to go back and forth up the mountain. You’ll also be closer to the other activities and attractions Banner Elk offers.

Because it’s a small town, lodging options are limited, so be sure to book your stay well in advance. In town, you’ll find the Banner Elk Inn, The Inn At Elk River, and Serenity Haven Cabins. View the Avery County Lodging List for more options.

More Things To Do Around Banner Elk 

If you plan on extending your stay in Banner Elk, consider adding the following popular activities and attractions to your list of things to do.

  • Tate-Evans Park – a nice downtown park for walking the dogs, letting the kids play on the playground, and having a picnic. 
  • KETTEL Beerworks – a local brewery serving pints and pizza, and a great place to wind down after a full day at the Woolly Worm Festival!
  • Grandfather Mountain – just 15 minutes from Banner Elk, this state park is famed for its mile-high swinging bridge and spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Mountain Biking – Nearby Beech Mountain has over 51 miles of biking routes to suit all skill levels.

Read more things to do in Banner Elk.