5 can't-miss fall events

Modern Day Romeos will perform this weekend on the Main Stage at Marengo Settlers’ Days.
Modern Day Romeos will perform this weekend on the Main Stage at Marengo Settlers’ Days.

If the fall colors aren’t enough to get you out and about, McHenry County has plenty to entice this fall.

It’s the season for apple- and pumpkin-picking, corn mazes, trail hikes, hay rides, drives on country roads and Settlers’ Days. 

Staples for many around here, the events make the county the place to visit this season.

Here are five you won’t want to miss.


WHEN AND WHERE: Oct. 10-14, downtown and at various locations throughout Marengo, including Cody’s Farm.

FEATURING: Arts & Crafts Fair 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 12; Saturday Night on Main Street 5 to 10 p.m. Oct. 12; parade 2 p.m. Oct. 13. Also features a carnival, garden tractor pull, antique tractor display and car show, exotic animal show, petting zoo, barrel rides, sidewalk coloring, pet parade, corn maze, hay rides, pumpkin launcher and marching band competition (see schedule on page 19).

INFORMATION: www.settlersdays.com

Highly anticipated every year, this festival takes over Main Street in Marengo.

“It’s a big deal,” said Adam Johnson, executive director for Marengo Main Street. “It’s the best opportunity for everyone to really come downtown and enjoy what Marengo has to offer.” 

With its Saturday Night on Main Street, the festival will treat visitors to a repeat performance by the popular band Modern Day Romeos on the Main Stage. 

“They bring quite a crowd with them,” Johnson said.

Other stages downtown will feature local talent, such as karate and dance demonstrations and church singing groups. After a hiatus last year, the fire department will return to entertain with its water gun fights.

And on Sunday, Marengo boasts one of the largest and best parades in the county with about 75 entries this year, according to organizers. 

With its carnival and attractions at nearby Cody’s farm, such as a corn maze, hay rides and a pumpkin launcher, the festival typically draws crowds throughout its five-day run. 


WHEN AND WHERE: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 18-20, along Garden Valley Road in rural Woodstock and Marengo. Set your GPS to 16105 Garden Valley Road, Woodstock.

FEATURING: Fifteen family farms in rural McHenry County are open to the public, each offering a unique country experience. Includes arts, antiques, arts and crafts, fall produce, tractor rides, petting zoos, corn mazes, pumpkins and many surprises along the way.

INFORMATION: www.autumndrive.net

A smattering of garage sales 26 years ago has become a conglomeration of, well, everything.

The Autumn Drive is an art fair, craft fair, food fair, music fest, garage sale and an antique show. 

“It’s all of them,” said Robert Blue, who organizes the event and has been involved all of its 26 years.

Oh, and there will be animals, too.

“It’s a fall event that people just enjoy coming to not just to shop, but just to enjoy the day, enjoy the fall weather,” he said.

Along with the event’s uniqueness, variety and beautiful scenery along Garden Valley Road, Blue pointed out the drive’s two anchors. 

It begins at Cody’s Farm Fresh Vegetables in Marengo and ends at All Seasons Apple Orchard in Woodstock.  Last year, the farms weren’t able to offer apple picking because of a drought.

“This year, there’s a great crop,” he said. “There’s a lot of produce at both places.”

And to celebrate the spirit in which the drive first began, many of the stops will feature information from various nonprofit groups, including the McHenry County Historical Society and Helping Paws animal shelter.

“That neighborhood feeling we’ve developed over the last 26 years is a wonderful thing,” Blue said. “We wanted to extend it to the community, as well.”


WHEN AND WHERE: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (as well as Columbus Day) in October, Stade’s Farm & Market, 3709 Miller Road, McHenry

FEATURING: Pick your own pumpkins, hayrides, petting zoo, corn maze, crafts, pony rides, lively outdoor concerts, home-cooked food and kids’ zip-line. Stade’s pumpkin cannon blasts giant orange missiles into a distant cornfield. “Frank,” the big purple combine based on the “Cars” character, treats children to rides. 

INFORMATION: www.shadesofautumn.net

Where else can you pick a pumpkin, and then shoot another one about a half mile into a distant cornfield using a cannon?

“We have all kinds of cool little things for families to do,” said Vern Stade, owner of Stade’s Farm & Market, which began hosting the festival in 1997.

With more than 25 attractions, Shades of Autumn continues to add new unique draws every year, such as “Frank,” a combine ride based on the film “Cars.”

Not up for the ride? Perhaps the country scenery is enough.

“When the sun’s shining, it’s beautiful here,” Stade said.

The farm is not alone in its festivities this fall. Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove, for instance, is home to the world’s largest and most intricate corn maze. 

This year’s 28-acre maze is carved with an 11-mile labyrinth of trails celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first album.

And Royal Oak Farm Orchard near Hebron offers 29 apple varieties, as well as hayrides, a petting zoo, a picnic pavilion, a kids’ fun park and live music. 


WHEN AND WHERE: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 19-20, Glacial Park, 6316 Harts Road, Ringwood

FEATURING: In its 25th and final year, a living history interpretive event with interpreters from across the country portraying and demonstrating life as it was from 1670 to 1850 in the former Northwest Territory. See, smell and taste pioneer life. Play pioneer games, do pioneer chores and enjoy period food and entertainment.

INFORMATION: www.mccdistrict.org

This is the year to go.

It’s both a 25th anniversary celebration as well as a goodbye for the Trail of History. Organizers have announced this is the event’s final year.

“Anyone who ever had wanted to see or ever thought about coming out, should come out this year,” said Wendy Kummerer, communications manager for the McHenry County Conservation District, which hosts the event.

To commemorate, visitors will be able to buy historic photos of the festival through the years and sign a memory book. They’ll also have the chance to plant oak trees in their names. 

Because of time and money restraints, as well as changes to the festival’s setting, the district’s board of trustees decided not to host it next year.

Setting up and taking down the festival takes two and a half weeks as well as the district’s entire manpower, Kummerer said. 

“We’re doing more and more with the same amount of people and resources,” she said.

And it’s not an event that breaks even, she said. 

“With that said, we’re not moving away from history or cultural interpretation,” she said. “There are many little events we do where people can come out and visit on a smaller scale and connect with our history and the land.”


WHEN AND WHERE: 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 1, Bull Valley, at a private address to be given to those who buy tickets.

FEATURING: Costumes encouraged at a tea party with raffle prizes, auction items, contests and vendor booths to benefit the restoration of the 157-year-old historic Stickney House.

INFORMATION: stickneyhouse.org

Looking for something different? Here’s a unique twist this fall.

Known for its round corners and its supernatural happenings, the Stickney House at 1904 Cherry Valley Road in Bull Valley needs repairs. 

The latest fundraiser hosted by the house’s Foundation will include the tea, as well as some entertainment, such as psychic readings.

“It’s just a fun thing,” Village Clerk Phyllis Keinz said.

Tickets cost $40 if purchased before Oct. 28 and $60 after.

They can be bought by calling 815-459-4833. After Oct. 28, they can be bought at the Stickney House, 1904 Cherry Valley Road, Bull Valley, which houses the village offices and police department.

Because the event is being hosted at a private residence, the exact location will be revealed only to those who buy tickets. 

Fundraisers said they’d like to raise about $200,000 to renovate the building.

“It’s the only house of its type in the Midwest with the rounded corners,” Keinz said. “There aren’t many places still standing like it. It has a lot of history.” 

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