Warrens Cranberry Festival – Warrens , WI

By Rick Pedersen – 

In the Driftless area, Fall brings an amazing color transformation of the trees and other foliage. Some people travel cross country to view the changes. In Warren’s Wisconsin, a small town of about 400 people, becomes host to roughly 150,000 visitors for its annual Cranfest celebration. This mass migration is attended faithfully every year by most females and a handful of sometimes less than enthusiastic males made up of husbands, boyfriends, and significant others. About 1500 vendors display the latest and greatest of things you may not have even known you absolutely must have.

We approached a seemingly endless line of people walking toward the mecca of great bargains, and my anxiety rose slightly. We stopped at a checkpoint well inside the perimeter of the event, and within seconds, someone hollered to the next checkpoint, and magically, a sea of people parted to each side of the road. We were directed to the parking area and were immediately greeted by our guide, Cara, with a golf cart. Cara was a friendly, and experienced guide for our tour of the fest grounds. After introductions, our drive began through the vendors and exhibits, while all the hot spots and places of interest for the weekend were explained.

The first thing that will blow a visitor away is the unbelievable Fall colors. Time of year, temperature, and location allow nature to paint a pallet of colors that would be a challenge for any artist to duplicate. Vibrant deep reds play out in a background of mixed yellows, oranges, and golden tones in between the remaining green foliage. If you are especially fortunate to be near one of the many small man-made lakes or ponds that are used to flood the cranberry beds, you may catch an incredible mirrored reflection in the water, duplicating the beautiful scenery.

As we start to tour the grounds, my nose begins to immediately go to work, and I notice distinct carnival smells like kettle corn. The next thing I notice is the cranberry-scented candles. As my stomach begins to tell me it’s time for a snack, I notice the smell of smoked chicken, but oh no wait, now I smell ribs cooking on a grill. Now my stomach is tugging at me to grab food, and our guide is telling us about chocolate cranberry cheesecake that I must try along with homemade cranberry ice cream. My mind is going crazy and getting overloaded by all the food choices, but as I think about food, my wife and our guide are discussing all the latest vendor’s products that are new for the season. We stop the cart to watch a vendor demonstrating a wand that produces giant bubbles that are about 10 feet long and about 4 feet around. The sun is reflecting on the translucent bubble and producing a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors. My wife decides to hop off the cart and purchase a smaller version that the grandkids will love, but I’m still thinking about food. We then stumble across some cranberry kettle corn to snack on later and find some funnel cake to immediately satisfy our hunger. Next, we stop at the cranberry history building which on the main floor is a store where everything from those great smelling candles to cranberry wine may be purchased. In the basement, there are some displays depicting the history of the industry along with some short films.

It’s all quite interesting. We grab some cranberry cookies and juice and are fortunate enough to meet the young ladies that are this year’s Cranfest Queen and her court. Everyone we meet is so friendly and excited to share their favorite thing about this annual celebration while welcoming you to their hometown. We next notice a flock of buses that will transport groups of people all weekend to the cranberry marshes and surrounding areas for a tour. As I’m watching the buses our guide points out and encourages me to hop out of the cart and don some hip boots so I may stand in a makeshift cranberry marsh and get both my photo taken and a laugh out of my wife and our guide. Quickly a helper is putting hip boots on me and holding my arm to guide me into the water while handing me a rake for the berries while about a dozen photos are taken. It’s all in good fun and I enjoy it while knowing it will make a great addition to my story. We continue our tour and exploration of all the vendor displays. My wife notices someone selling huge and beautiful Fall Mums for an incredible bargain. Ocean Spray has a booth with samples of all the latest new juice products which include a healthy new juice for toddlers containing about half the usual amount of sugar. My personal favorite sample is a watermelon flavored craisin and we end up purchasing a one-pound bag. There are so many things to see, sample, and purchase at times, much to the dismay of some of the men I see straggling behind their significant others. I chuckle to myself and nod at two men giving me the look of pouting kindergarteners as we pass. I sympathize with these sad looking lost souls but I’m enjoying myself in the company of my wife and our host. Part of me would love to smile and holler out, “Happy life happy wife guys”, but then I smirk and decide to be thankful in the role I am in for the day. We continue taking in all the sights as our tour nears the end and I can honestly say this is a must-see festival and the largest of its kind in the country. Returning to our vehicle we gratefully thank our host Cara for the day and say our goodbyes. This small community does an excellent job of hosting such an enormous group of guests for the three-day weekend that always falls on the last full week of September in Warren’s Wisconsin.

Thank you all for a day we will never forget.

Warrens Cranberry Festival
402 Pine St
Warrens, WI 54666
(608) 378-4200