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Autumn comes to the mountains

By Veronica Burniston
Freelance Writer

“And all at once, summer collapsed into fall,” Oscar Wilde wrote. 

His words ring true as this year’s hectic, unconventional summer has fallen swiftly and wonderfully into autumn in the mountains. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 lingers, the CDC recently released more safety guidelines for fall celebrations, gatherings, and Halloween activities. The guidelines rank activities from low risk to high risk. Some of the high-risk activities include traditional trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treat, haunted houses, and large indoor costume parties or meals. With new safety guidelines in place, families will need to be more creative with projects and activities this season. Looking for some outdoor fun? Here are a few ideas for fun outdoor activities this October:

Leaf viewing
No need to drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the leaves changing. Johnson County bursts with color every October. Take a drive around Watauga Lake. Climb the steep weaves of the Snake to the gorgeous views in Shady Valley. Drive through the beautiful pastures and hills of Neva.

Picnic at Ralph Stout Park
Pack some sandwiches, snacks, hot apple cider, and a blanket and head outside for an afternoon. Ralph Stout Park offers something for everyone with its open grassy patches, playground, walking trail, and picnic tables. It’s an ideal location for a family picnic. 

Walk the Musical Heritage Mural Mile
Grab a thermos of hot coffee and walk into town to discover the eight music mural locations, each painted by local artists to honor Johnson County’s musical heritage. To learn more about Johnson County’s musical history and to download a free Mural Mile map, visit  Need some ideas for getting in the spooky spirit at home? Here are some simple indoor activity ideas:

Halloween Crafts
Make a popsicle stick haunted house, a tissue box monster, lollipop napkin ghosts, a garland of ghosts out of printer paper. Research easy do-it-yourself crafts online at or Pinterest. 

Host a pumpkin carving contest
Clear some space in the kitchen, at the table, or in the backyard for a pumpkin carving competition between family members or neighbors. Be creative with the rewards: homemade cupcakes with orange frosting and black sprinkles, handmade certificates with kooky categories, etc.

Have a scary stories readathon
Make an appointment to visit the local library and check out some spooky titles like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan, Scarecrows on Main by Linda Icenhour, or Clifford’s Halloween by Norman Bridwell. 

Family movie night
Have a family dress-up night where everyone dons a costume and enjoys seasonal treats while watching a Halloween movie. Some great family-friendly titles include Casper, Hotel Transylvania, Hocus Pocus, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 

Perhaps a little creativity, adventure, and a festive spirit will be just the recipe for a fantastic fall.For additional information about the CDC guidelines for fall activities, visit its website at