A weekend trip to the pumpkin patch is one of fall's most gratifying pleasures. It's almost as satisfying as getting the portly vegetable home and disemboweling it before carving a merry grimace into its thick orange rind.
Just like pumpkins, the patches they call home can come in many sizes and types. Increasingly, they're elaborate affairs that cater to Halloween-themed agritourism. You'll often find haunted hayrides, sprawling corn mazes and other diversions both family-friendly and frightening.
Everyone has preferences as to what makes a good pumpkin patch. Some like it simple, others flock toward farms with ample autumnal razzle-dazzle. Many seek out patches somewhere in the middle. As long as you leave with a smile on your face and jack-o'-lantern in hand, it’s all good.
From the California coast to the Arkansas Delta, we've rounded up 11 pleasing pumpkin patches that have strong regional — even national — followings. Of course, it's a crowded field and we all have favorites. Feel free to tell us about yours in the comments section.
Arata's Pumpkin Farm – Half Moon Bay, California
During mid-October, thousands of visitors descend on this scenic coastal community to paint the town orange. Now in its 47th year, the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is one of the biggest, baddest, rowdiest celebrations of Cucurbita pepo around.
There are several pumpkin farms in and around Half Moon Bay that experience a dramatic uptick in traffic during the festivities. Founded in 1932, Arata Pumpkin Farm is San Mateo County's oldest and one of the best places to soak in the region's pumpkin-lovin' atmosphere. Sure, this classic patch isn’t as sleepy as it once was — pony rides and the Minotaur Labyrinth Hay Maze give the farm a competitive edge and keep crowds coming back for more. But purists can’t go wrong with Arata's wide and reasonably priced selection of primo pumpkins and festive holiday gourds.
Assiter Punkin' Ranch – Floydada, Texas
Dubbed "Pumpkin Capital USA," Floydada and surrounding Floyd County produces 1,800 acres of pumpkins, gourds and specialty squash annually. Now in its 30th year, Punkin' Days serves as a Chamber of Commerce-designated celebration of Floydada's orange-skinned agricultural heritage. Events include pumpkin carving and painting, seed spitting contents, pumpkin pie relay races, pumpkin bowling and cow patty bingo.
While most of the festivities take place downtown, the party continues over at the Assiter Punkin' Ranch, a working pumpkin farm with a bustling retail operation, farm tours and kid-friendly attractions like a petting zoo and pumpkin train ride. Sure, this sleepy stretch of northwestern Texas is a bit out of the way for most casual travelers. However, the pumpkin faithful can easily combine a pilgrimage to Floydada with a trip to nearby Lubbock, home to the National Ranching Heritage Center and a nearly 9-foot-tall statue of Buddy Holly.
Bengston's Pumpkin Farm – Homer Glen, Illinois
Much of Illinois' sizable pumpkin crop goes straight from the field to the processing facility without much fanfare. After all, this is the Pumpkin Pie Filling State with the town of Morton, home to Libby's pumpkin cannery, serving as its de facto capital. But for every commercially grown pumpkin trucked over to the canning plant there's also a jack-o'-lantern-ready ornamental squash ripe for the picking.
That said, it can be daunting when settling on a farm to claim the perfect specimen. Bengston's, in the rural Chicago suburb of Homer Glen, is one of many solid spots. Open for its 37th year, this family-owned farm transitions into full-on festival mode in the fall. The lively and well-stocked pumpkin patch (they're priced per pound; you can rent a wheelbarrow) is an obvious draw. So are a variety of down-on-the-farm diversions including pig races, pony rides and a petting zoo. What’s more, an ever-expanding collection of midway-style kiddie rides gives adult chaperones a chance to take a breather and scarf an apple cider donut or three.
Carleton Farms – Lake Stevens, Washington
Hayrides, a 4-acre corn maze and (of course) pumpkin picking keeps kids and adults entertained at Carleton Farms. (Photo: Randy Stewart/Flickr)
Offering up “farm fresh family fun,” Carleton Farms is a popular spot for blasting pumpkins from cannons, embarking on scenic hayrides, shooting paintballs at zombies and getting completely and utterly lost in a 4-acre corn maze (this year’s theme: “Punkin Chunkin”) that’s also open, gulp, after the sun goes down. The dark maze is mercifully a “no-scare” affair but it’s a good idea to make sure your flashlight has a pair of fresh batteries.
Carleton Farms' pumpkin patch is also a good bet for those who prefer to go the u-pick route instead of settling on something that's already been cut from the vine. A variety of pre-picked pumpkins and gourds are also available at the farm market. Depending on the season, you'll also find kale, beets, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, English peas and other super-fresh goodies. A third-generation family enterprise, Carleton Farms is one of several patches operating in Washington's ridiculously fertile Snohomish River Valley, which, come October, prides itself as the Pumpkin Capital of the Northwest.
Cox Farms – Centreville, Virginia
Cox Farms in northern Virginia is a road trip-worthy joint that transcends pumpkin patch status. It's a pumpkin patch experience.
Founded in 1972 by the Cox Family as a small veggie farm, the now sprawling 116-acre compound is home to one of the Washington, D.C. area's premier autumnal events: the Fall Festival. Visitors beeline to the pumpkins but know to save plenty of time for other attractions: giant slides, rope swings, unlimited hayrides, barnyard critters and more. (You'll get a small pumpkin, by the way, with admission.) New this year is the one-and-only Foamhenge, a full-sized replica of the prehistoric monument rendered in plastic foam, relocated from Natural Bridge, Virginia. At night, the festival gives way to Fields of Fear, a spooky agritourism adventure complete with haunted hayride and zombie-plagued cornfield. Still, nothing is quite as terrifying as the Cox Farms mascot.
The Great Pumpkin Farm – Clarence, New York
You'll find 'zillions of pumpkins' at the aptly named Great Pumpkin Farm. (Photo: Gardener41/flickr)
Located just northeast of Buffalo (not far from Niagara Falls), the semi-rural suburban community of Clarence has established itself as a real squash Shangri-La, all thanks to the Great Pumpkin Farm.
Founded in 1996, The Great Pumpkin Farm is less a proper farm and more a full-on fall harvest festival site from mid-September through the end of October. Crowd-pleasers include a zombie paintball train, pumpkin cannon, 5-acre corn maze and hayrides. Despite the attractions and special events (World Pumpkin Pie Eating Contest, anyone?), most folks come for the "zillions of pumpkins" that are up for the taking: standard pumpkins, mini pumpkins, massive pumpkins, pie pumpkins, decorated pumpkins, decorative gourds up the wazoo. A word of caution, however, to pick-your-own adherents: there is no actual pumpkin patch at the Great Pumpkin Farm. All the goods have been pre-picked and put out for purchase. Other u-pick farms around Buffalo — there are several — may offer a more classic (and more subdued) pumpkin patch experience.
Jumbo's Pumpkin Patch – Middletown, Maryland
With a name like Jumbo's, how could you not make the list?
A Mid-Atlantic pumpkin pickin' hotspot found roughly between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in beautiful Frederick County, Jumbo’s is the quintessential pumpkin patch. Located on the grounds of a working 130-acre family farm, a wide variety of competitively priced pick-your-own pumpkins and glorious gourds are the main draw here while a manageable number of autumnal activities keep families (and first dates) happy: hayrides, a petting zoo, playground, food stands, craft barn and 15-acre cosmic corn maze are among the offerings. Unlike other large patches, admission to Jumbo's — now running over 20 seasons strong — and its 30-acre pumpkin patch is free. Just be sure to save some scratch for funnel cake.
Papa's Pumpkin Patch – Bismarck, North Dakota
Not to be confused with a handful of other pumpkin patches of the same name, the North Dakota institution known as Papa’s Pumpkin Patch bills itself as "One of the Country's Best." The glowing reviews say this assessment isn't too far off.
This pet-friendly (leashed dogs are welcome to sniff around) establishment is located near the banks of the Missouri River and open for a relatively short season from early September until the week before Halloween. You'll find a slew of free activities like hay bale mazes, corn cribs and giant slides along with a few paid diversions such as hayrides, pony rides, a kiddie train and corn cob sling shots. Pumpkins, gourds and other ornamental crops are available in great abundance. Open since 1983, Papa's follows a pay-it-forward model: the patch is largely operated by volunteer groups who make sure things are running smoothly in exchange for charitable contributions that go toward the cause of their choice.
Peebles Farm Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze – Augusta, Arkansas
Ranked among the finest patches in the South by Southern Living magazine, Peebles Farm is the only spot on this list that offers a u-pick pumpkin patch and a u-pick cotton patch. That's handy in the event that you want to bestow your jack-o'-lantern with a wispy white beard or drape it with faux spider webs. Or something like that.
Sprawling across 60 acres in rural Woodruff County (about a 90-minute drive northeast of Little Rock), this family-owned pumpkin patch is big enough to spend an entire afternoon lost among the squash. But visitors should, well, carve out enough time for other agri-amusements including a corn cannon, tractor train, barnyard, general store, hayrides and an impressive 16-acre hand-cut corn maze that turns "haunted" after dark. In addition to pumpkins, Peebles Farm also grows a decent range of crops including sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon and purple hull peas. All are available for wholesale and retail sale.
Pigeon Roost Farm – Hebron, Ohio
Along with Illinois, California, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, Ohio leads the way in domestic production of pumpkins — specifically four different species belonging to the genus Cucurbita. Go figure then that the Buckeye State has more top-notch pumpkin patches than you can swing a cinnamon-scented broom at ('tis the season!).
A standout in the greater Columbus area is Pigeon Roost Farm, where even the most discerning pickers will be pleased to find a large and diverse selection of ornamental squash, from dainty ones perfect for painting to prize-winning 100-pound behemoths and everything in between. There's also heritage squash varieties, decorative gourds and pie pumpkins. After selecting the perfect specimen, kids will gravitate toward the farm’s Great Pumpkin Fun Center, which features a corn maze, slides, obstacle courses and a giant stationary hamster wheel. The Jutte family has owned the 80-acre farm since 1979 and expands its seasonal offerings each year to the delight of return visitors making the trek from across Central Ohio.
Vala's Pumpkin Patch – Gretna, Nebraska
Find your way to pumpkins and more at Vala's 400-acre patch. (Photo: Jdog90/flickr)
Really, there's not a more wholesome way to spend a fall Saturday afternoon in the American Heartland than by tromping around in the dirt on the hunt for the ideal pumpkin. That is, after you've fired an apple from a slingshot, watched a pig race, sailed down a giant slide, mined for gemstones and inhaled a corn dog.
You can do all that and much more at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, a family-run Omaha-area institution that started as a small u-pick fruit farm. Over the past three decades it's morphed into something much bigger: a homespun agri-theme park that sprawls over 400 acres and employs upward of 800 workers for a six-week season that kicks off in mid-September. Despite the Knott's Berry Farm-esque origin story and significant growth over the years, Vala's Pumpkin Patch — the titular patch is a 55-acre affair — still maintains a strong focus on its agricultural roots without relying on thrill rides.