The Woolly Worm Festival is a true North Carolina tradition. Going into its 42nd year, this is a fun filled festival that is perfect for the entire family. So whether you’ve been coming year in and year out or this will be your first time coming out to Woolly Worm Fest, the weekend of October 19 and 20 will be one weekend you and your family will remember for years to come. 

More Background Info About The Woolly Worm Festival

So what exactly is the Woolly Worm Fest? If you have lived in the area chances are you already know. But if you’re a recent transplant, or you have only heard about it in passing, you may not completely know what goes on with this particular event. 

Well, you have turn back the clock to the late 1970s. Jim Morton, a photographer working for Mountain Living Magazine (which, sadly, is no longer in publication), wanted to photograph a “woolly worm,” which is a brown and black fuzzy caterpillar. At the time, he noticed that the worm had 13 color bands, which he said represented the 13 weeks of winter. To have a little fun with it (and the write-up that went with the photograph), he determined that brown bands meant a mild winter, while black bands meant a cold winter. 

With each caterpillar featuring a different array of stripes, he (and a select group of people who showed up for the very first “festival”) put on a race with a number of the wooly worms. They would then take the winner and look at the stripes in order to forecast the upcoming winter. 

Basically, think of it as a much more intense Groundhog’s day. And now, the winning worm (and those who brought the worm) walk away with a $1,000 prize. Not too shabby for finding a caterpillar and bringing it to the festival.

Of course, there’s so much more to do than to just watch the race and to determine how cold (or warm) the upcoming winter will be.  

Activities For The Entire Family

The full list of vendors and activities is currently in the works. As the event is not until the third weekend of October (it is always the third Saturday and Sunday of October) all of the vendor and activity lists are being finalized (so make sure to check out the Woolly Worm Facebook page for updates). However, every  year there are nearly 200 different activities and vendors taking part, so you’ll have plenty to see and do. 

There are activities for the kids, ranging from arts and crafts to face painting (all worm themed, of course), and there will be plenty of food options available as well. Visa and MasterCard will be accepted as well as cash on site. 


There is a ticket required to enter the festival. Adults cost $6, children between the ages of 6 and 12 cost $4, and children 5 and younger are free. 

All of the money from tickets is put back into the local community, as this is not a for-profit event. The money is donated to a number of programs, including the local schools, youth programs, and to help with promoting tourism throughout Avery County.

It is recommended to show up earlier in the day (especially on Saturday, as the main woolly worm race is on Saturday and it is the more popular of the two days). Parking is free as long as it is available. There is usually parking offered by local businesses, although these destinations do typically charge a fee for overflow parking. 

You should also note that pets are not allowed into the festival. While your dogs are loved, dogs and woolly worms don’t usually mix well (at least from the woolly worm’s perspective). 

Coming Out to Banner Elk And Planning Your Stay

If you’re planning on coming out to Banner Elk for the Woolly Worm Fest the festival is located just south of town. The town is not directly accessible by the Interstate as it is surrounded by the Charokee National Forrest 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.

If you are planning on staying for the full weekend (last year there were over 20,000 guests to the festival) you’ll find it is a fun and exciting time up in the mountains. However, it is a smaller town, so you’ll want to take up in one of the local lodging, otherwise you’ll need to drive through the mountains multiple times throughout the day. 

In town you’ll find the Banner Elk Inn, The Inn At Elk River and Serenity Haven Cabins It is recommended to book your accommodations ahead of time in order to secure a room for the best rate possible. And while you’re in town, make sure to stop by the Tate-Evans state Park and the local Flat Top Brewing Company. 

Come On Out To Banner Elk And the Woolly Worm Festival

When it comes to long-lasting festivals in North Carolina, few can compete with the longevity of the Woolly Worm Festival. And when a festival has been around for nearly half a century there is usually good reason for it. This is a classic festival that offers something for everyone. So, if you’re looking for something to do on the weekend of October 19 and 20, make sure to come on out to Banner Elk for the festivities. And, while you’re there, make sure to stop by the Tarpestry display, say hi, and check out the wide display of unique, vibrant, and durable tarps for sale. Part tarp, part tapestry, you may just find the perfect addition for your next outdoor gathering.