Written by Danielle Taylor | Header photo by Kyle Yates
When the trees of Pennsylvania start to change colors from the greens of summer to the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of fall, it’s time for Clarion’s Autumn Leaf Festival sponsored by the U.S. Army, now in its 65th year. Running from September 29 to October 7 this year, the festival is no run-of-the-mill event. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the small town each fall for food, fun, and festivities in the heart of downtown Clarion.
Held in conjunction with Clarion University’s homecoming, the festival offers things to see, do, and taste for visitors of all ages and interests. The events of the week start with a 5K/10K race, a performance by the U.S. Army Honor Guard Drill Team, a toe-tappin’ old-time fiddlers’ contest, and the Miss ALF scholarship program on Saturday, September 29, and continue with a cultural week of outstanding entertainment. Favorite components of the festival include the Autorama Cruise-In, antique tractor show, airplane rides, art show, amusement rides and games, concerts, fireworks, and of course, mouth-watering fair food.
The festival also includes a number of attractions for kids, including the Bigfoot Country Kids’ Carnival and Advanced Disposal Touch-A-Truck (September 29), PNC Bank Junior Olympics (September 30), Women’s Healthcare of Clarion and Healthy Beginnings Pediatrics Kiddies’ Parade (October 2), and Seidle Chevrolet-Buick-GMC Wild World of Animals Show (October 6). Young festival goers can pick up free custom-designed commemorative coloring books and crayons, sponsored by UPMC Urgent Care, at these family events, and the coloring books will also be available at the Chamber merchandise trailer.
More than 350 craft vendors showcase and sell their wares at the popular Farmers and Crafters Day on Friday, October 5. The annual Tournament of Leaves Parade kicks off at noon on Saturday, October 6, featuring marching bands, drill teams, community and university floats, and many nonprofit organizations. The parade leads into the homecoming football game at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium, where fans can watch Clarion’s Golden Eagles take the field.
Clarion’s first Autumn Leaf Festival was held in 1953 alongside the homecoming celebrations for what was then Clarion State Teachers College. In the first year, business owners were simply asked to decorate their establishments with fall colors. 1954 brought the festival’s first parade, ball, and Miss Autumn Leaf. By 1955, the festival also included scenic tours of the area, a farmers’ day, tractor pulls, a horse contest, farm implement show, and entertainment by several local bands. In 1956, the event featured a pancake-flipping race and a pancake festival attended by none other by Aunt Jemima. Rides and a street dance were added to the festival in 1957, and in 1959 it included a Pennsylvania State Police rodeo, teenage rock n’ roll show, and a U.S. Air Force Band performance, among other attractions. The 1960 event featured a thrilling show from the Army Sports Parachute Team. Since then, it has continued to blossom into the weeklong festival we know now that attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees each year.
Learn more and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of GO magazine, which contains feature articles, photos, travel tips, upcoming events, lodging listings, and more information on Jefferson, Elk, Clarion, Forest, and Cameron Counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. To get your FREE copy of this or any other publication by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, click here and enter your information or call (814) 849-5197.