Celebrate the State at the NH Pumpkin Festival

The state's biggest pumpkin fest is better than ever
photo by robert clifford photography

Fall in New England wouldn't be complete without a top-notch pumpkin festival, and, from Somersworth to Goffstown, New Hampshire has plenty. But with 40,000 attendees and a jack-o'-lantern display featuring 20,000 glowing gourds, one of our fests rises above them all.

The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, now in the second year of its Laconia incarnation, promises to be better than ever this season.

Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce president Karmen Gifford says the event will be notable not just for the pumpkins and attractions, but as a showcase of one of the state's best places to enjoy the season. 

"It's a great opportunity for our area to take on being the organizers of the festival," Gifford says. "We have a lot of things to do in the region to celebrate fall," and they'll all be on display during the Pumpkin Festival.

A 5K/10K race allows people to start the day with a run or walk along the shores of Lake Opechee, and the Pumpkin Express train — a one-day-only special from the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad — can transport visitors on a scenic journey from the historic Laconia Train Station to Lake Winnisquam and back.

Even if you never venture beyond the festival grounds, you'll get a firsthand look at businesses and nonprofits throughout the Lakes Region. In organizing the event, the chamber encouraged all sorts of organizations to get involved and to get creative in their offerings for the festival.

"I'm in awe of how people have participated," Gifford says, especially in the line-up of the revamped Grand Pumpkin Parade. Retirement home The Taylor Community will have their bus decorated and running in the parade so residents can both watch and participate in the fun, and the local Humane Society will be walking along the route with dogs dressed in Halloween costumes.

Organizers have also expanded the sheer number of things to see and do at the festival this year. New this year, two beer gardens will feature local brews, live music and demo Harley-Davidson rides (harking back to the region's other big festival, June's Motorcycle Week). Attendees can also watch a new program of tractor pulls and check out a pair of 600- and 800-pound pumpkins brought in from out of state for your viewing and Instagramming pleasure.

But the year's biggest change comes from the festival's main event: the pumpkins.

The 34-foot tower of jack-o'-lanterns has been moved this year to the very center of downtown and adorned with all-new lights. Main Street will be lined with jack-o'-lanterns from Beacon Street to the pumpkin tower at Veteran's Square, creating a show-stopping view that Gifford calls "the Disney effect."

If you're ready to be wowed by the Pumpkin Festival, Gifford does offer a few tips. First of all, bring a pumpkin — in fact, read over the pumpkin guide and bring a few. The festival is in the running for the Guinness World Record for most lit jack-o'-lanterns displayed, so visitors' pumpkins (and their spare candles and lighters for those that burn out) are a big help in the event's record efforts.

Another tip? Stay all day. The pumpkin lighting from 4 to 6 p.m. is what many visitors want to see, but Gifford suggests that arriving early will help you avoid the biggest crowds and get the best experience of all the festival's offerings, gourd-based or not.

Finally, don't forget the fest has a new name these days: the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival. The name is intentional, Gifford says, to celebrate not just Laconia but the whole state — so, no matter where you're from in New Hampshire, this pumpkin fest is made just for you.