One of the best free festivals in North Carolina is the annual Hillsborough Hog Day Festival in September. It’s a perfect outing for families, couples, friends, and solo adventurers.
The festival starts Friday night and runs through Saturday. Since this is North Carolina, you know there’s a “best barbecue” contest. On Friday, the competitors set up their giant smokers and get going while bands entertain the crowd.
While many people enjoy Friday, Saturday is the big day. There’s a lot to do, see, and eat. The judges pick the best barbecue, more bands entertain the crowd, local vendors set up tents, kids play in the “kid area”, and festival goers vote for their favorite pig statue in the pig parade. There’s also a ton of food.
Don’t forget to check out Hillsborough while you’re here. You can stop by the festival in the morning and stay for dinner at one of the many local restaurants. Or, come early Saturday and stop at Cup-A-Joe for some coffee before you head out. The festival is a great excuse to visit Hillsborough.
One of the best things about Hog Day is that it’s a small, local festival making it more manageable for smaller children. If you’re looking for something larger, check out the Mount Olive Pickle Festival, or for something rivaling the State Fair, try the NC Seafood Festival.
Here’s a rundown of the Hog Day Fest with everything you need to know.
Parking for the Festival
If you arrive after 9:45 am on Saturday, ignore the parking deck by Weaver Street Market. It’s likely to be full and you’ll wind up losing time inching your way around the deck to get out.
Instead, head for West King Street where there is usually plenty of parking along the street. You may have to walk a bit, but it’s generally the easiest option.
I would strongly encourage only parking on roads to the West of South Churton Street. If you attempt to park on the East side, you’re going to run into roadblocks.
The Classic Car Show
A small classic car show is held at the Orange County School Superintendent’s building during the festival. The car show is physically separated from the main festival area. If you head out to East Margaret Lane from where the barbecue sandwiches are served and walk towards South Cameron Street, you’ll make a left on Cameron. From here, you’ll see a sign for the car show which is up the road about 100 feet.
The car show was small with about 20 vehicles, but they were beautiful. I’ve been to larger classic car shows, but this one is my favorite. One car had a miniature version of itself placed on the engine.
I’m a sucker for old trucks and the vintage teal one stole my heart.
The kids at the festival were loving the two bounce houses. One was shaped like a pirate ship and the other was a brightly colored oblong structure. There was also face painting and other kid-friendly activities.
One of the bands was playing 60s rock and a group of little kids was up front, dancing away. It was adorable to see them bopping away to older songs. While they weren’t familiar with the song, they liked the beat.
Olaf and Elsa were also walking around to the delight of many children. And the Sheriff’s office had a booth where kids could get a large sticker in the shape of a badge.
Local Businesses and Artisans
North Carolina has an impressive array of local artists. From glass art to wood carving to skincare products to clothing, there was a wide variety of homemade products available for sale.
One couple had a booth with aprons made from a variety of fabrics with colorful patterns. The aprons all had a tab with a dish towel attached. Brilliant! If you’re wearing an apron, then you’re probably doing something messy and continually searching for a towel to wipe your hands. How convenient is it to have the towel attached to the apron?
Personally, I loved the stained glass ornaments. They glistened in the sunlight and were mesmerizing.
Kids loved the local company where they could make their own stuffed animals. The fluff machine was out front which caught the attention of kids and adults alike.
The Pig Parade
When you read “pig parade,” you think of an actual parade of live pigs. I have to confess it’s what I thought. Instead, the Pig Parade is an art contest. Local companies pay to enter and pick one of several blank pig statues ahead of the festival. They paint the pigs and bring them to the festival for judging.
The organizers set up the statues in cute poses and each has a jug. Attendees can vote for their favorites.
Food and Entertainment
There was plenty of food available at the festival. Vendors sold everything from baby-back ribs to roasted corn on the cob, to kettle corn. One group was even selling jalapeno poppers.
Thirsty festival goers could get water, soda, lemonade, smoothies, and a custom concoction served in a pineapple.
The festival also sells barbecue sandwiches. There were no sides. You’re paying for and receiving a sandwich. The sandwich was reasonably priced and all drinks, including a bottle of water, were only $1.
For entertainment, there was an excellent lineup of bands. The caliber of musicians was unbelievable. While I hadn’t heard of the bands, I was impressed by how good they were.
Organizers laid out bales of hay for seating, and you are allowed to bring a blanket or chair to enjoy the show.
A few families had set up areas with blankets, chairs, and coolers for the day. This looked like a smart idea for next year.
Tips for Visiting the Hog Day Festival
Parking is tight until around noon. After that, some people start leaving, opening spaces.
The Hog Day Festival website may not answer all your questions, but the Facebook site should have what you need.
The Festival website omitted the hours of the festival, a map (which was important since the car show was separated), noting where parking would be closed off, and mentioning whether parking rules were suspended for the day. Overall, there seemed to be the assumption that everyone attending was local and knew the score.
The Facebook group, however, had some of the information and you could always post a question and get a quick answer from a local.
The festival area has open and shaded sections. The bands are in a shaded area which is nice. Food is out in the sun, but they have covered areas for eating. The local craftspeople are half in the sun and half under shade.
Bring plenty of water for you and your dog. Consider leaving your furry friend home. The festival is large with a lot of people wandering around in confusion due to a lack of directions. The dogs at the festival appeared confused, stressed, and hot. The smell of barbecue everywhere wasn’t helping.
Families with strollers were struggling to get them up and down the steps from the band area to the food section. If there was another option, it wasn’t marked and locals didn’t seem to offer suggestions.
Is Hog Day Festival Worth Your Time?
Oh heck yes. The festival is free and a ton of fun. Sure, I wish there had been a bit more information ahead of time, but I figured everything out easily and had a good time. The food was cheap, the lines weren’t too bad, and those pineapple drinks were beautiful.
Bring your lawn chair and get ready for a fun family outing. Enjoy tasty food, shopping, excellent barbecue, and some great entertainment.