Maple Festival brings 40,000 to 70,000 guests to Highland County, Virginia, every March. Hands & Harvest? Considerably less. Does that make Maple Festival better? You be the judge!
Here’s a list of similarities and differences between the events. Which one suits you better? (We suggest coming to both to find out!)
Of course, the famous doughnuts are the first topic of contention. While these tasty treats are more plentiful at Maple Festival, they’ve made past appearances during Hands & Harvest at Southernmost Maple in Bolar.
OTHER MAPLE TREATS
During Hands & Harvest, maple goodies, such as syrup, candy, and fudge, are available at Sugar Tree Country Store in McDowell, Southernmost Maple in Bolar, and Bruce’s Syrups & Candies in Monterey. Additionally, The Curly Maple added Maple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls, Maple Pecan Pies, and Maple Pumpkin Raisin Cookies to their special Hands & Harvest menu in 2019 while Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant & Tavern featured Maple BBQ Sandwiches and Ribs. We anticipate similar specials for 2020.
MAPLE SUGAR CAMPS
With the exception of a few, most sugar camps are open during Hands & Harvest. Duff’s Sugar Camp at Fair Lawn Farm, Sugar Tree Country Store, Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, and Southernmost Maple are staffed and ready to explain Highland County’s maple syrup industry. With a couple new additions to Highland’s Maple roster – Mill Gap Farms and Tonoloway Farm – there may be new stops for Hands & Harvest in the coming years.
On a pretty Maple Festival day, vehicles can sit for hours and miles before entering Monterey. McDowell and Blue Grass are less cluttered, but regardless, people are EVERYWHERE! Hands & Harvest is a smaller event, so visitors can enjoy a better view than their dashboard, leisurely stroll the streets and shops, and experience more one-on-one time with maple producers.
Hands & Harvest has another one-up on Maple Festival – vibrant fall foliage! Depending on the year’s preceding weather, color differs from year to year. However, one can usually discover rustic reds, oranges, and yellows atop Allegheny Mountain – the home of Laurel Fork Sapsuckers. Visit their camp for maple goodies and amazing views and photo opps!
Specific performers vary from Maple Festival to Hands & Harvest, but each event features live entertainment including clogging, square dance events, storytellers, and live music like bluegrass, folk, and blues.
HARVEST TRAIL & SUGAR TRAIL
Sugar camps open during Hands & Harvest, but in recent years, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce also added a Harvest Trail featuring agricultural-based stops, such as Elegius Mini Equine Sanctuary, Lucky Loop Hollow Farm, and Emerald Mountain Sanctuary. Harvest Trail locations usually change a bit every year, so pick up a Harvest Trail map at the Highland Visitors Center when you get to town.
Most everyone is familiar with Maple Festival’s Sugar Trail; however its only recently received an official state designation. Members of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and Highland County’s sugar producers have worked with the Virginia Tourism Corporation to establish the new “Virginia is for Maple Lovers” sub-brand!
ARTS & CRAFTS VENDORS
With well over 100 juried arts and crafts vendors ranging from handmade chocolates, woodworks, candles, photography, artistry, and jewelry, the Maple Festival has Hands & Harvest beat. But don’t let that discourage a fall visit. There are still plenty of treasures to find! During Hands & Harvest, five to ten vendors set up on the Couthouse lawn in Monterey carrying goodies like jewelry, lavender products, maple items, pottery, alpaca products, lotions, salves, and soaps. Local stores, which feature vintage and antique items, collectibles, thrifts, clothing, garden-themed items, photography, artistry, and handmade creations are also open. The best part? During Hands & Harvest, visitors can actually stroll and gander instead of fighting their way through crowds.
Most will say Maple Festival has more food options; however, this isn’t 100% accurate. Yes, Maple Festival has different food booths; however, Hands & Harvest features specialty menus at local restaurants like High’s Restaurant, Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant & Tavern, and The Curly Maple. During the 2019 fall festival, The Curly Maple added Trout Sandwiches, Hull’s Hideaway featured Maple BBQ Ribs, and High’s Restaurant served Pumpkin Pankcakes for breakfast with Big Fish Cider-braised Chicken, Pumpkin Alfredo, and Rotisserie Chicken with Potato Chowder for lunch and dinner. (Plus, you don’t have to wait for a seat during Hands & Harvest like you would at Maple Festival!)
Again, we ask: Which is better? Neither! They’re just different.
If you hate crowds and traffic, you may consider renting Blue Grass Cabin on the second full weekend in October during Hands & Harvest. But if there’s no way you can pass up Maple doughnuts, be sure to book your stay months (or years) in advance for Maple Festival.
Or just be awesome and come to both!