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NC State Fair Opening This Week With Lots of Excitement Amid Changes and Safety Precautions

By Sherrie Norris

Last year’s  event might have been cancelled due to COVID-19, but the 2021 North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh opens this week with much of the same excitement of years past, but also with a different look and enhanced safety features.

Starting Thursday Oct. 14 and running through Sunday, Oct. 24, the fair will have numerous layout changes in place and strongly suggested, if not mandatory, precautions. 

Vendors and carnival rides will be spread out more this year and some of the usual exhibits may be “scaled back” or relocated to larger areas. For example, The Got to Be NC Agriculture Pavilion and the North Carolina Public House Craft Beer, Wine, Cider & Soda have moved into Dorton Arena, which will give two of the fair’s biggest exhibits more room for “social distancing.”

With a strong, rich history, since 1853, and with only a few exceptions, the state fair has been enjoyed by tens of thousands of people each year. Attendance was 938,029 in 2019. However, for several years, total attendance topped 1 million. 

Plenty of Fun For All

Despite restrictions at this year’s fair, officials tell us there is still plenty of fun and educational opportunities planned for all ages and interests.  There will be lots of fair food, competitions, animals, displays, exhibits, thrilling rides, live entertainment — including the ever-popular pig racing, tractor pulls and monster trucks to name a few, plus 105 concerts on two stages. And that’s just the beginning. 

More information and a full line-up of events is available at the fair’s website at www.ncstatefair.org. Daily schedules will also be available at the entrance gates or at one of the guest relations booths.

A few special days at the fair this year include:

  • Friday, Oct. 15: $8 Student Discount with School ID or Report Card. Students can take advantage of a $8 admission ticket by presenting their school identification or recent (2020/2021) report card at the ticket booth. Tickets are not available online or in advance. One ticket may be purchased per student ID at the reduced price. 
  • Sunday, Oct. 17 accessABILITY Day

Presented by Bandwidth to make the fair more inclusive and more welcoming to all North Carolinians, regardless of ability.

Running from 8 a.m. – noon, visitors can expect the following: Rides and games will open at 9 a.m. and will operate with no lights or music playing. Vendors will operate with no lights or music at their booths. Music stages will only play acoustic sets with light amplification. The public address system will only be used for lost visitor announcements.

All-day activities on accessABILITY Day include:

• A “Bandwidth Chill Out Zone” will be available to guests in the Graham Building with tables/chairs, low lighting and soft music playing for those who need to take a break from the busy atmosphere outside.

• Guests can compete in specially designed inclusive and/or adaptive “on the spot” competitions.

• Adult changing stations will be added into existing family restrooms as space allows and will be available year-round.

• Noise cancelling headphones will be available to check out in the “Bandwidth Chill Out Zone” for those who need them.

• Guidebooks will be available to download online or pick up from guest services highlighting all the inclusive activities and amenities the Fair offers.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 19 Senior Day: Seniors ages 65+ get free admission to the fair! Beginning at 9 a.m., while supplies last, Bojangles’ biscuits and coffee will be served on the Dorton Patio near the Waterfall. A program with Commissioner Steve Troxler will begin at 9:30 a.m. inside Dorton Arena, and the Waterfall Stage will kick-off with music by Carolina Soul Band at 11 a.m. Handicap parking is available on a first come, first served basis outside Gate 10. Access the parking lot via Blue Ridge Rd. Overflow parking and overflow handicap parking will be available at Carter Finley Stadium (Gate A). Trams will be available to move fairgoers from the parking lot to Dorton Arena. Buses may drop off passengers at Gate 1, the closest gate to all the activities in Dorton Arena and then move to Carter-Finley Stadium for parking.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 20 Military Appreciation Day: The N.C. State Fair will pay tribute to members of the U.S. Military for their service to the country.  

Waterfall Stage Activity Schedule

10:45 a.m. – Military Appreciation Day Program

11:15 a.m. – 440th Army Band

1:15 p.m. – 440th Army Band

4 p.m. – 440th Army Band

6 p.m. – 440th Army Band

  • Thursday, Oct. 21, Smithfield Foods Hunger Relief Day: Bring six cans of food and get in free! Since 1993, fairgoers have donated over 5.3 million pounds of food to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and its partners. It has become one of the largest one-day canned-food drives in the state.

Health And Safety Precautions

The NC State Fair is known as North Carolina’s largest and longest running annual event, bringing together, what officials describe as “people from all walks of life to celebrate the joys of life, the important heritage of agriculture, family values and traditional arts, crafts and music. In an effort to keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible, the following requests/guidelines have been implemented for this year:

  • First, get vaccinated.  While proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test is not required for admission to the fair, vaccinations are strongly encouraged., First United Methodist Church of Cary is partnering with Wake County Public Health, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and FEMA to offer free vaccines in its restaurant space near the end of restaurant row near Dorton Arena. Please consider stopping by during your visit, if you are not vaccinated. For more information, go to MySpot.NC.gov
  • Next, determine if this year is the right time for your family to visit. The fair organizers respect every person’s right to make the best decision they can for themselves and their family. That starts with being informed. NCDHHS advises those who are not yet fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and those who are immunocompromised to carefully consider their exposure. This also includes a recommendation that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a face covering in indoor public spaces and in crowded outdoor settings in areas with high or substantial transmission. It may also mean that coming to this year’s N.C. State Fair isn’t the best decision for you. The NCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard has the latest information on testing, vaccinations, what to do if you feel ill, protecting yourself and others and the latest data trends in North Carolina.  Everyone is encouraged to make the best decision for his or her personal health and safety, with NCDHHS the best source for the most up-to-date information.
  • Protect yourself and others by wearing a face covering. The N.C. State Fair is spread over 345-acres, but there are spaces that are inherently busy, regardless of the total number of people in attendance. The number one thing attraction at the fair for is food, which makes it extremely difficult for  staff and public safety officers to enforce a mask mandate. Everyone is urged to do their part and wear face covering except when eating and drinking and when unable to remain socially distanced, especially inside buildings and tents. Disposable face masks will be available at ticket gates and guest services silos if you forget to bring yours. 
  • Choose the day/time you plan to attend to mitigate risk. If you want to beat the crowds, consider attending on one of our weekdays, or before lunch each day. These are the times you’ll be in contact with smaller gatherings of people. Insider tip: The first Friday, October 15, is traditionally our day with the smallest attendance.
  • Social distance. With so much to see and do, there is always something new to discover. While one portion of the fairgrounds may be busy, head out to explore somewhere you’ve never visited.  Vendors and some carnival rides are spread out this year, as well as around picnic tables and benches to better aid social distancing. The possibilities at the fair are endless, and you may just find your new favorite area of the fair.
  • Wash your hands. Frequent hand washing is one of the main ways you can mitigate risk. There are restrooms and outdoor hand washing stations throughout the fairgrounds. There will also be readily available hand sanitizer at guest services and at many of the food booths, rides and exhibits you visit.
  • Don’t feel well? Stay home. 

If you or someone you have direct contact with is not feeling well, please get tested before you visit the fair. Please stay home if: 

  • You have a fever, cough or other symptoms, you might have COVID-19.  Please stay home and do not visit public places. 
  • You have tested positive within 10 days of your planned visit to the fair regardless of vaccination status. 
  • You are unvaccinated and have been in the immediate vicinity of someone who has tested positive (even if you don’t have symptoms) within 14 days of your visit. 
  • If you are vaccinated and you’ve had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until your test result is negative. 
  • Get tested after you visit. NCDHHS recommends that people who are not vaccinated should get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after attending any large event attended by those who do not live in your home. To find a testing site visit  NCDHHS Find My Testing Place
  • Most of all, practice kindness. Seriously, we are all in this together. A little kindness and patience will go a long way to making this event the best on record. The world is short-staffed, even the fair. Please be kind to those who have shown up and put in the hours to make the 2021 N.C. State Fair ‘Worth the Wait!’

For Your Added Safety

The fair includes walk-through or wand metal detectors at all entry gates with all belongings subject to search at each entrances. In an effort to improve fairgoer safety and efficiency of entry, a clear bag policy will be implemented.

Prohibited Items

  • Weapons or objects that appear to be weapons, including all pocketknives and pepper sprays
  • Alcoholic beverages and any illegal substance
  • Drones
  • Bikes, skateboards, skates, hoverboards, manual stand-up scooters
  • Leashed service dogs are allowed. All pets are prohibited.
  • Other items may be refused at the discretion of law enforcement.

The following items will be permitted into the N.C. State Fair, and will be checked at security points at each ticketed gate: 

  • Any clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag. There is no size restriction as long as the bag is clear. 
  • Small purses or clutch bags no larger than 6.5″ x 4.5″ (approximately the size of a hand) with or without a handle or strap can be taken into the fairgrounds in addition to one of the clear plastic bags.
  • Exceptions are granted for medically necessary items or diaper bags after proper inspection.
  • Hard pass holders and competitors are exempt. 

PLEASE NOTE: The N.C. State Fair reserves the right to prohibit any item deemed dangerous or unsuitable by public safety officers at security checkpoints. Prohibited items that are discovered during security inspections at the stadium entrances must be either returned to the owner’s vehicle or discarded. Unlawful items that are discovered during security inspections are subject to confiscation, and the person in possession of those items may be denied entrance into the N.C. State Fair and is subject to arrest.

Make your plans now for an experience of a lifetime.

Adult gate admission, ages 13-64 is $10; Military adult free; Youth 6-12 and seniors over 65 are $5; children under 5 are admitted free; Groups, 40   or more tickets, are $8 each; group youth, 40 or more tickets are $4 each.

Cash,Visa, Mastercard and Amerian Express will be accepted at all gate locations for ticket purchases.

The fair will operate rain or shine and does not offer refunds.

Free parking with some shuttle service is available on State Fair, Carter-Finley Football Stadium and PNC Arena properties with other nearby lots charging minimal fees.

The NC State Fairgrounds is conveniently located in west Raleigh near NC State University with signs posted along major roads to direct visitors in.