7 Things To Do With Your Family At The Pumpkin Patch
Autumn is here, and that means fall festivals, apple cider, and of course, the annual trip to the pumpkin patch. But there's only so much fun you can have crouching down to inspect seasonal gourds. Fortunately, most family farms offer more than pumpkin picking. Here are some of our favorite pumpkin-patch activities that have nothing to do with pumpkins.
Pumpkin patches are filled with props and scenes that create sweet seasonal photo ops for preschoolers. Some of these—the painted cutouts, hay bales, and giant pumpkins—are arguably more fun for camera-ready parents than the children posing with them. Cow trains are the exception. (If you're not familiar, a cow train is a line of little train cars painted to look like cows, which is pulled around the pumpkin patch by a heavy-duty tractor.) Little ones love this activity because it feels a bit like a roller coaster; you'll love it for the cute factor.
Pro Tip: Dress your little buckaroo in a western-style bandana for adorable Instagram snaps. Bonus: the bandana doubles as face protection against flying dirt when the cow train hits any bumps.
Most pumpkin patches are part of a working farm, so the opportunity to pet and feed barnyard animals often comes with the territory. Most little ones are beyond excited interact with chickens, goats, and other livestock, even if they're shy at first (the size of the animals and the scale of a flock or herd can be a bit overwhelming). As our editor discovered when touring a farmyard with her toddler, sometimes it just takes a little time—or a nuzzle from a friendly pony—for kids to adjust to the setting. Read about her experience and tips for a smooth visit.
Pro Tip: While there's something to be said about the charm of a classic barnyard scene, more and more petting farms are expanding their livestock to include exotic animals. With a little searching, it shouldn't be too hard to find one with some alpacas, camels, or ostriches.
If you're looking for some good, clean fun for a kid who's not quite ready for a haunted house, a corn maze is the way to go. While the experience of getting lost can be unsettling, you'll know that there won't be anything too intense within the maze—and your kid will know that you're right there with them, working together to find the exit. (In case you've got a bold little orienteer who thinks corn mazes are too easy, we've put together a few corn-maze tips for making the experience a little more challenging.)
Pro Tip: Some corn mazes, like the world's largest corn maze in Illinois, amp up the fun by incorporating games and scavenger hunts. These can be a great chance to teach kids valuable spatial-reasoning skills, such as map-reading.
Jumping pillows let kids (about 10–20 of them at a time) bounce around with reckless abandon, without actually being reckless. Yes, these inflatable PVC cushions are like trampolines. Yet, because they're so close to the ground and surrounded by bunkers of soft sand, kids with boundless energy and disquieting fearlessness can unleash their most daring stunts without parents having to worry.
Pro Tip: Avoid going right after it rains, as most facilities will close a jumping pillow if it's wet to ensure jumpers' safety.
Zombie Hayride (With Paintball!)
In terms of fall activities for teens, going on a hayride is pretty standard. It's also a bit boring. Toss a few well-timed zombies into the mix, and things start to get more interesting—especially if you're allowed to shoot paintballs at them. A contemporary, interactive take on the haunted hayride, a zombie paintball hayride is enough like a video game to engage the most cynical teen. They might not even mind if you join the hunt!
Pro Tip: Despite the live paintball rounds flying every which way, riders are perfectly safe: the guns are mounted on the rails and only swivel 180 degrees. Feel free to gleefully fire away.
Popularized by Discovery Science's Punkin Chunkin, pumpkin chucking has become a mainstay at pumpkin patches across the United States. In its most basic form, the sport involves some unlucky pumpkins and a homemade catapult. No matter how complex the device, pumpkin chucking provides a clean, controlled outlet of destruction for teens with an appetite for mischief. (It's pretty satisfying to watch as a family, too.)
Pro Tip: Don't get suckered in by pumpkin slingshots. Real pumpkin chucking involves a catapult, or even an air cannon. The difference is a pumpkin that lands 20 feet away and one that soars nearly a full mile (the world record is 4,694.68 feet, to be exact).
Cider, Donuts, and Cider Donuts
Treat-wise, cinnamon-sugar donuts paired with freshly pressed cider is just about as fall as you can get. Or is it? Enter cider donuts. These decadent confections blend the best of both worlds: apple cider is mixed right into the batter, and the finished donuts are topped with a blend of sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg (the backbone of the pumpkin spice latte).
Pro Tip: Grab a box of cider donuts to take home. Add a pint of vanilla ice cream, butterscotch chips, and caramel sauce, and you've got the makings of custom ice-cream sandwiches.