Fall in New England brings a rainbow of colors to the area and the opportunity for some wonderful outdoor family activities. Whether it’s apple picking, corn mazes, hayrides or pumpkin patches, the bright days and crisp air of the autumn season beckon families to be outdoors and take in the spectrum of color.
A wonderful way to spend the day is visiting an apple orchard and plucking your own apples right from the tree. Orchards throughout New England are open for picking right through the fall and often well into November. From the southern Maine seacoast all the way up to Augusta, you will find orchards offering pick-your-own apples, cider and other apple products.
“People love the idea that they can drive out to a working farm, take a little walk, see the gardens, the barn and the apple trees. It’s a great little outing,” says Greg Sweetser, who is the fifth generation to work his family’s orchard farm stand in Cumberland, currently growing 50 different varieties of apples. “When they want to spend more time, they head to a pick-your-own orchard, perhaps packing a picnic lunch and enjoying a wagon ride or other activities. Families love it.”
In addition to Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards, where you can pick your own or buy them, along with other apple products at the farm market, Maine boasts many more orchards producing and selling apples, cider, donuts and all kinds of goodies particularly associated with autumn. Farther north, Cayford Orchards in Skowhegan is another multi-generation farm specializing in heirloom apples from 1,200 trees growing on 18 acres.
In New Hampshire, Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook is a must-visit for apple picking, not only for its huge variety of apples, but also for its spectacular view reaching up toward the White Mountains. Picking here begins on Labor Day and continues until mid- or late October. The farm also has live music, a pumpkin patch, a farm store and a nature museum. Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon actually operates two businesses. The orchards themselves grow antique and unusual varieties and are open for pick-your-own. And Poverty’s Farnum Hill Ciders presses complex ciders from these unusual varieties and has a farm store and tasting room.
The Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm in Tamworth, N.H., has a variety of fun events this fall, including the Harvest Festival (Sept. 22), Hearthside Dinners (Oct. 20 and Nov. 17) and Herbal Root Fest (Oct. 13).
Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island also have many farms and orchards perfect for a day’s outing with the family.
Corn mazes are always fun for kids and adults in late summer and fall. In Danville, Vt., the Great Vermont Corn Maze is billed as the largest maze in New England. It consists of two options. The Big Maze is 3 miles of dirt trails on 24 acres surrounded by cornstalks 10 feet high. It takes approximately two hours to navigate the maze, which is located on a hill, so some up and down hiking is involved. It might take several hours to solve the maze, but staff is available to help out if not solved as it gets close to closing time. Children 15 and under must be supervised by an adult. For those not up to the challenge of the Big Maze, which can be frustrating, the Scenic Maze is a 40-minute walk through the Big Maze but with directions found along the way. An underground tunnel, dinosaurs, bridges with scenic views and a few surprises are found as you make your way through the maze. The Scenic Maze is great for families with young children.
After your maze adventure, or even if you don’t opt for the maze, check out Pretendin. This kids’ play village lets members of the younger set be a storekeeper, or the sheriff or more. There’s also a minigolf course, a 10-foot sling shot, a Wild East Rodeo, a barn with hay bales and a silo to climb. Dead North, a haunted nighttime adventure, is open Oct. 5, 6, 12 and 13. This mile-long walk through haunted buildings and a cornfield uses special effects to bring life to inanimate objects, guaranteed to make it a walk of terror. It might be too scary for very young kids, although some love it and some adults never want to go in again.
At Rhode Island’s Clark Farms Matunuck, every weekend in autumn is a fall festival. The giant corn maze is a hit with family members of all ages. This year the maze has the theme “Secret Agents.” Included in the maze is a children’s scavenger hunt best suited to ages 3-15. For additional excitement, stay around for Flashlight Nights, navigating the maze by flashlight only. Hayrides, leaving every hour, tour you through the wilds of the farm. And corn cannons, shooting real ears of corn across the farm, provide challenge and fun for adults as well as kids. Pedal-powered Go-Karts can be raced around a professionally designed track. And they are not just for youngsters. They have adult-sized ones, also, so everyone can get in on the fun. The younger set will love the mine at Maze Mountain. They can get a bag of mining rough and find out how old-time miners panned for treasures. Everyone will enjoy the 30-foot Mountain Slide running right through the mountain. What’s a trip to a farm without having a chance to see and feed the goats, donkeys and the other animal residents? Grab a bag of food and greet them up close. On Saturday nights from Sept. 24 through Oct. 22, you can top off your day with a campfire, s’mores, hot chocolate and hot cider until 9 p.m.
This year the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in Laconia will be held Oct. 12-13. Bring your own carved pumpkin, with a four-hour candle, or carve one at the festival and add it to the 35-foot tower of jack-o-lanterns. There will be live music and entertainment, food and craft vendors, a 5K/10K run/walk, kiddie rides, horse-drawn hay rides, climbing wall, a bungee jump, a duck derby and more.
State fairs have long been a staple in New England, starting in the summer and continuing through the fall. New Hampshire’s four-day annual Deerfield Fair will be held this year from Sept. 27-30. Like many of the other state fairs, this one features demonstrations, contests, entertainment, judging, shows and all of the activities you would expect at an agricultural fair. From a horse show to ox pulling, a woodsmen’s contest to a pumpkin/squash weigh-off, there is a myriad of activities highlighting all aspects of farm life.
There’s also a chance for participation by fairgoers. The pig scramble, for several kids’ age groups, plus one for adults, is always a hit. Women 18 years old and over can participate in the Fry Pan Toss. Kids can watch their contemporaries, members of 4-H, demonstrate their skills in showing sheep, goats and cattle. There’s a 4-H scavenger hunt open to the public and sheep herding and disc dog demonstrations.
In addition, there is a full schedule of entertainment — magic shows, circus high-wire acts, interactive puppet shows for children and music of all sorts from bluegrass to ’50s rock to folk, country and soft rock. With five different stages active from morning to evening, there is something for kids and adults with every type of taste in entertainment.
How about just enjoying the outdoors, with leaves crunching under your feet, colors blazing around you and refreshing mountain air to breathe in. In Vermont there are several gentle, two mile or less, backcountry hikes that are especially family friendly and offer breathtaking views as a reward at the end. In the southern area of the state Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington is the starting point to hike Mount Olga. This 1.7-mile, gently climbing roundtrip loop reaches a fire tower with a 360-degree view of northern Massachusetts and southern Vermont. Mount Philo, in Charlotte, is the centerpiece of Vermont’s oldest state park. The mountain itself is tiny as mountains go, but its expansive views of the Champlain Valley, Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond make it a favorite for families. The 2.4-mile roundtrip hike is easily doable for kids. Along the way you’ll find House Rock, a huge boulder hollowed out underneath. Games of hide and seek can be played among the large trees along the trail. At the top is a grassy area overlooking the view with many spots to rest and enjoy a picnic.