It’s that time of year again. The air is crisp. The leaves turn fiery. Apples dominate the farmers market. It can only mean one thing: It’s time to shove your kid into a giant pile of pumpkins and gesticulate wildly to make him smile for a photograph before he bursts into tears or dashes off to put a clod of dirt into his mouth.
We, in Washington, are the fortunate ones. We have two farm-filled states hugging us with opportunities from either side. Where to go? Here’s a little help.
Cox Farms is Virginia’s Grand Ole Pumpkinry. It’s huge, the Disneyland of pumpkin patches. It has potato sack slides, all manner of climbing play structures, a kiddie land, a corn “maze” (it only goes in one direction but offers some scares along the way), a goat petting zoo, hayrides, live music, and soooo many pumpkin piles and tractors and cutout boards for the Main Event: The Photo Op. Advantages: It has everything. Disadvantages: It has everyone. Traffic to the entrance can be brutal. Best bet, try to go on a weekday.
15621 Braddock Road
Butler’s Orchard is Maryland’s version of Cox Farms. They are best known for picking – pick berries, apples, pumpkins, your nose. If it’s growing when you show up, you can pick it. They’ve got the other stuff too – take a hayride; explore a maze; and enjoy crafts, food, and family activities. It’s a great place to let your hyperactive pre-schooler run wild. Advantages: It has a lot to do. Disadvantages: It’ll cost you. Beyond slides and a hayride, you might have to pay. Best bet, bring ones and fives like you pole-danced last night.
22200 Davis Mill Road
Burke Nursery and Garden Center is the smaller, gentler version of Cox. They too have the miniature train, the piles of pumpkins, slides, tumbling tubes, rope swings, farm animals, entertainers, and a Monster Truck. It’s all just more low-key. For the moms, they have a great Garden Center next door. Advantages: Smaller crowds. Disadvantages: Smaller piles of pumpkins in which to shove your kid.
Burke Nursery and Garden Center
9401 Burke Road
Homestead Farm (15600 Sugarland Road, Poolesville, Maryland, 301-977-3761 is the back-to-nature option. You actually get a “pumpkin patch”. They’ve got the hayride and maze too, but this is the experience for the back-to-nature lovers. Advantage: Not excessive Halloween hype. Disadvantage: Not excessive Halloween hype.
15600 Sugarland Road
At Corn Maze in The Plains the main event is, you guessed it, the corn maze. Between that and the Punkin’ Chunkin’, this is a great place for older kids. Easy to get to, it offers some kiddie options, like a mini-maze, giant slides, roll tubes, farm animals, and a hayride. The main event, though, the Main Maze, open both day and night. With an orientation beforehand and miles of maze, this is the real deal. Advantages: It’s easy and it offers a real maze. Disadvantages: The maze is real. Holy help, get me outta this thing!!
Corn Maze in The Plains
Old Tavern Rd., just off I-66, Exit 31
The Plains, Virginia
This list is not exhaustive, but covers a few I’ve sampled and would revisit. So pack your sunscreen, hat, bottled water, small bills and a simply adorable outfit for The Child and head out to spend the day bellowing “Smile! Hey, Junior, Smile! No, stay there. Look here, look at Mommy, LOOK HERE! SMILE! SMILE! SMILE!” Then you can always remember later what fun you had at the pumpkin patch.