Autumn in Baltimore is a great excuse to go down to the farm.
Throughout the area, farming operations that spend most of the spring and summer producing food are winding down, preparing for the long break-in-the-action that is winter. But for many, October offers the chance to bring the crowds in one last time with a variety of fall activities, many with a Halloween theme.
Which makes the fall a wonderful time to be a kid in these parts. From petting zoos to corn mazes, hayrides to costume parades, youngsters have ample opportunities to run around outside, search for the perfect Halloween pumpkin, make like the farmers they’re always reading about and let their imaginations soar.
Here are a half-dozen destinations, all within easy driving distance of the city, where kids (and their parents) can enjoy the wonders of fall.
This family-run farming operation in Mount Airy has been home to a Fall Fun Festival since 2007, offering more than 50 attractions — everything from duck races to mini mazes.
Of course, there’s the obligatory corn maze, this year sculpted to resemble a procession of barnyard animals (cow, pony, rooster, etc.). There are hayrides, pick-your-own pumpkins (for 59 cents a pound), a chicken barn and, on weekends, pedal karts and a cow train.
And if you’re into a little advance planning, Gaver’s also includes 60 acres of Christmas trees, just waiting for you to cut one down and take it home.
Gaver Farm, 5501 Detrick Road in Mount Airy, Frederick County. The Fall Fun Festival runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through Nov. 4. Admission is $13.50 on weekends, $9 during the week; kids 2 and under get in free. gaverfarm.com.
There’s a definite prehistoric bent to this Baltimore County farm, thanks to the “Dinomite” dino-maze that visitors are encouraged to walk through (and doubtless get lost in). Besides the maze itself, the farm features a nine-foot T-Rex and a three-foot dinosaur egg. (Did they have corn mazes during the Jurassic period?)
If the kids get tired of dinosaurs (unlikely), the farm includes a petting zoo, pony rides, hay rides, a hay mountain and (on Friday nights) a nighttime maze and bonfire.
There are also fossil digs and a mining sluice perfect for fossil hunting. Because, really, who ever gets tired of dinosaurs?
Fresh McKenzie, 5445 Patterson Road in Baldwin, is open 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays through Nov, 3. Admission is $8, free for kids under 3. freshmckenziefarm.blogspot.com.
Clark’s Elioak Farm
The Enchanted Forest displays at this Howard County farm have been entertaining children for generations (they were once part of a 1950s-era Mother Goose-themed park off Route 40), so coming here is truly a Baltimore-area tradition.
But a visit to Clark’s Elioak farm — which also is home to a petting zoo with pigs, rabbits, turkeys and more — is about more than local history, and never is that truer than in the fall. There are hay rides, pony rides and cow train rides, plus one of the area’s best pumpkin patches.
Special events include Halloween costume parades at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 27-28 and, to bring the season to a smashing close, the propulsive Pumpkin Chucking Weekend, set for Nov. 3-4.
Clark’s Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike in Ellicott City, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 6, Admission is $6, $7.50 on weekends; free for kids less than one year old. clarklandfarm.com.
From its University of Maryland Terrapins-themed corn maze to its farm-fresh apples and cider, Rodgers’ Farm — once known as North Run Farm — goes the extra mile to make locals feel at home.
That’s especially true of the intricate corn maze, this year featuring a growling Terrapin complete with admonition to “Fear the Turtle.” Past mazes have paid tribute to the Ravens and Orioles, Fort McHenry, even Old Bay seasoning.
After you’re done getting lost in the corn maze, the Baltimore County farm offers hayrides, an “authentic” teepee and a pumpkin patch, filled with jack-o-lantern wannabes.
Rodgers’ Farm, 1819 Greenspring Valley Road in Stevenson, is open noon-6 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 4. Admission is $8-$10, free for kids under 4. rodgersfarms.com.
Weber’s Cider Mill Farm
For six decades, this Baltimore County farm has been making its own apple cider, which alone should be enough to ensure a pilgrimage.
But there’s more to do here than just drink in the deliciousness. The Barnyard at Weber’s includes not only the obligatory corn maze and farm-animal zoo, but also live music (on weekends), a hillside slide, mini-tractor rides, duck races and the fabled Tire Mountain.
And while you’re at the farm, why not do some advance planning for the next big holiday? Weber’s offers farm-raised turkeys for sale; you can order now and pick up from Nov. 17-24. Happy Thanksgiving.
The Barnyard at Weber’s Cider Mill Farm, 2526 Proctor Lane in Parkville, is open 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily through Nov. 4. Admission is $5-$7 weekdays, $7-$9 weekends (and Oct. 19); free for kids under 2. weberscidermillfarm.com.
Maryland Corn Maze
As you might guess, there’s a corn maze here: a bucolic scene depicting a pair of unicorns, plus birds, rabbits and more, spread over eight acres. For something different, try negotiating this thing after dark; it remains open on Fridays in October until 10 p.m.
But there’s more to Maryland Corn Maze than the name implies. There’s also (and this is just a partial list) a petting zoo, hayride, pedal carts, sling shots, hay jump, Jacob's Ladder, sand tire area and web swings.
While you’re in the area, check out the nearby Maryland Sunrise Farm (100 Dairy Lane, mdsunrisefarm.com), on the grounds of what used to be the U.S. Naval Academy Dairy Farm (all those middies drank a lot of milk), offering farm tours and other activities.
Maryland Corn Maze, 381 Gambrills Road in Gambrills, Anne Arundel County, is open 3:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 28, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 23, 3:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 2, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 3, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 4. Admission is $12, free for kids 2 and under. mdcornmaze.com.
More fall fun
A few more family-friendly events scheduled for the fall:
The Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival, a Patterson Park tradition in its 19th year, starts at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 27 (with the parade at 7 p.m.) at Eastern & Linwood avenues. Free. creativealliance.org.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s ZooBOOO, with games, prizes, contests, live entertainment and trick-or-treating, runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 26-28 at the zoo, 1 Safari Place. $15-$19 zoo admission. marylandzoo.org.
A Children's Halloween Paint & Punch Party is set for 3:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Liberty Rec and Tech Center, 3901 Maine Ave., $25. Tickets through eventbrite.com.
Several area nature centers have scheduled Halloween-themed events, including Pumpkin Love, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.n. Oct. 27 for kids 6-10 at the Carrie Murray Nature Center, 1901 Ridgetop Road, $5 (carriemurraynaturecenter.org); Tricks and Treats, 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Oregon Ridge Nature Center, 13555 Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville, $5 (oregonridgenaturecenter.org); Halloween Among the Trees, 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Robinson Nature Center, 6692 Cedar Lane in Columbia, $5-$10 (howardcountymd.gov/Robinson); and a Halloween Hike and Campfire at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, 700 Otter Point Road in Abingdon, 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Oct. 20, $7 (otterpointcreek.org).
Sykesville is holding its first Cider Stroll on Main Street, complete with stainless steel mugs to be filled with cider by participating merchants. Noon-4 p.m. Oct. 28 along Main Street. $10. sykesvillemainstreet.com.