The Mount Olive Pickle Festival in NC

I have to admit, when I first heard about the Mount Olive Pickle Festival I was pretty excited, but I didn’t have high hopes for a packed event going in. I mean really, who besides me is going to be excited about a Pickle Festival? 

Wow was I wrong.  

The Mount Olive Pickle Festival website suggested parking at the Mount Olive Kornegay Arena and I’m glad I followed the suggestion. By 11 am, there were only a few spots available on the far side of the lot and they were going fast. 

While in line for the shuttle, there were 2 helicopters. HELICOPTERS!  For a bit of extra money, you could get a flight around the festival. I was in a rush to see the pickle eating contest so I didn’t do it, but it’s on my list for next year.  

The shuttle dropped us off in front of R&R Brewing where I realized I could have walked from the parking area to the festival in about 10 minutes. This is a big note for next time.  

From the drop-off point, you’ll walk down Center Street with the railroad tracks in the middle. Both sides of the street are crowded with people and vintage cars. Although the term vintage was being used loosely.  

An old car from the early 1900s.

Still, it was great to see the turnout and interest.  

Most businesses appeared closed, but many restaurants were running booths. Ribeyes Steakhouse had a happening booth where they seemed to be doing a solid business.  

Also, right near the shuttle drop-off is about 30 Porta Potties which was a nice thing to have.  

Festival Food 

Wow, the food. There was so much food.  

As you continue to walk down Center Street, the cars stop at the intersection with James Street and the food begins. Again, both sides of the street are lined with food trucks.  

If you want tacos, burgers, sandwiches, chicken, or BBQ there was a food truck for that. I’d guess that every food truck in a 100-mile radius was at the festival.  

Duck Donuts was there. If you’ve never had a Duck Donut, this is your chance to try one. I had the blueberry pancake donut and it was delicious.  

There’s also a beer garden, and plenty of lemonade stands. 

Once you decide on a food and have a loaded plate, head to one of the covered areas for eating. The festival organizers had several areas with white awnings and black tables for festival goers to stop and eat. It’s standing only, but nice to get out of the heat and have a place to put your food down.  

Pickle Festival Activities 

There are three stages. The Main Stage on Center Street has the pickle eating contest and headliner bands. There’s a Praise Stage near the intersection of West James and Chestnut Streets which was home to gospel singers.  If you’re into dancing, the Dancer’s Stage at the intersection of North Center and West College Street is where you want to be. They had dance competitions featuring local groups and they were good. 

If you want to watch the pickle eating contest, it’s on the main stage and starts at 12 pm sharp. It’s over fast so arrive early.  

There’s a small midway with carnival rides including a carousel and a large slide. Across from the midway is the Pickle Train which looked like a lot of fun. All of these cost extra.  

For the kids, there’s a petting zoo.  You can see the animals for free and many will walk right up to you, but you can also purchase food to try and entice them to come over.  

A goat at the petting zoo with its head through the fence.

Local vendors line the streets selling everything from yard art (including huge metallic sculptures), to bedazzled cups and clothing. Be sure to head up the side streets for the full experience.  

The Fruit Ninja was there and he’s amazing. He makes art by carving fruit. My favorite item was the parrot in a cage he had carved from a gourd. 

The Fruit Ninja carving his next creation.

And don’t leave without getting your free pickle. The line for the gherkins is shorter and they give you 2 or 3. The large dill pickles were more popular, but there are several people handing them out at the Mount Olive Pickle tent. If you walk around the tent rather than get in line, you’ll likely find someone with pickles off to the side that people just didn’t notice.  

Pickle Festival Events 

There’s more to the Pickle Festival than eating, shopping, and admiring cars. They have tons of events including the Cuke Patch 5K the night before, and the Tour De Pickle for cyclists in the morning.  

In 2022, the festival debuted the first Pickleball tournament.  

Bakers can enter the recipe contest 

There are also fun on-the-spot contests like the pickle packing station where you can challenge friends and family for bragging rights.  

If you’re interested in any of the events, you can check the Festival website for information from 2022, and keep checking for the 2023 announcements.  

Row of red vintage tractors along the street at the Pickle Festival.

Tips for First Timers at the Mount Olive Pickle Festival 

Read through the instructions and recommendations on the Mount Olive Pickle Festival website.  It will save you a lot of headaches if you follow the organizers’ tips. There’s also a brochure with a map and a schedule of events. Look for the brochure under the “Festival Info” menu item.  

Parking and When to Arrive 

Take advantage of the free parking at the Mt. Olive Kornegay Arena where the website directs you. You can pay to park closer, but it’s going to be difficult to get your car out with all the people milling around.  

Either get there before 10 am or head in later around 1 pm.  Parking opens up as the early birds leave around 12:30 to 1 pm.  I got a spot at 11 am, but it was one of the last.  While some people were leaving by then, it wasn’t many and several cars had to weave around looking for the few spots that were open.  

Don’t bother with the shuttle from Kornegay Arena to the festival. The line takes forever and it’s only a 5-10 minute walk. 

Helicopters getting ready to take off with passengers to fly over the Pickle Festival.

Attractions and Vendors 

You can load a map of the festival on your phone, but you really don’t need it once you’re there. It’s easy to manage the few blocks that house the Pickle Festival.  

Almost all vendors accept credit cards but have some cash on you just in case. 

Some folks brought chairs and coolers and parked themselves in what is likely “their” location. You can do this, but it’s not really a sitting festival.   

Sunscreen and Water 

The festival is out in the open with no shade, expect it to be hot. Bring sunscreen and a lot of it. I applied SPF 30 and still got sunburned because I didn’t reapply. Load up with a high SPF before you leave your car. 

Bring a bottle of water. While you can purchase some from a food vendor, lines are long, and it will be expensive. If you need a boost of sugar, Cheerwine was selling cans of soda for $1. 

Navigating the Festival with Groups 

The Pickle Festival is crowded and difficult to navigate as a large group. You’ll likely find it difficult to stay together. Consider going with one or two other people. If you’re traveling as a family, have a meetup spot in case you become separated.   

I saw quite a few large groups having difficulty rounding everyone up and keeping the kids together.  

Final Thoughts on the Mount Olive Pickle Festival 

I was really pleased by the turnout and the festival itself. You can explore most of it in about 3 or 4 hours. Of course, you’ll want to stay and enjoy the bands.  

It’s about the same size as the NC Seafood Festival, but with a smaller midway. If you’re looking for a local festival to take small children to, try Hillsborough’s Hog Day Festival which is geared toward families.

The organizers do an excellent job setting things up and sharing information. If you follow their recommendations, you’ll have an easier time.  

They really thought through what was needed and made it fun and comfortable. This is one of my favorite NC festivals and I’m definitely going back. I’ve even managed to talk a few family members into coming with me.  

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