Finally, the 90 degree days are over, and between the weekend soccer games, birthday parties and other obligations, it's time to kidnap your family and its overburdened schedule and go find a great pumpkin -- or four. Before you hold those kids hostage near just any old pumpkin pile, here are almost a dozen good ones to choose from. All of these locations offer hayrides, food, activities for the smallest toddler to the largest teen and, of course, something you can proudly display on your front stoop. Get picking.
Summers is always a winner. A family can spend five hours and still not experience every adventure available here. My three children look forward all year to the two orange jumping pillows -- massive in-ground, open-air trampolines - as well as the pumpkin train, rubber ducky races, slides and apple cider donuts. Football fans will enjoy two additions this year: a corn maze in the shape of the Baltimore Ravens logo and six-foot cannons that allow fans to shoot apples into a field filled with targets of rival teams. For (alcohol-free) tailgate-style parties, groups can reserve campfire sites on days or evenings. On the peak night of the fall season, Oct. 19, families will be treated to a fireworks show at dusk.
"Our main goal is family togetherness," says Jeff Greenwood, owner of Summers Farm with his wife, Teresa Summers Greenwood. "We want families to have a farm experience, educate them a little and forget all that other stuff going on."
Monday-Thursday 1 to 7 p.m., Friday 1 to 10:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., through Nov. 3. 5620 Butterfly Lane, Frederick. 301-620-9316. www.summersfarm.com. $6.50 weekdays; $10 weekends; $6 seniors; kids 2 and younger free.
Butler's can be swarmed on the weekends, but what a marvelous hive it is. There are hilltop slides, multiple rides (including a pumpkin coach), face painting and tactile toddler play areas such as a hayloft and "ball pit" of corn kernels.
Weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Oct. 27. 22200 Davis Mill Rd., Germantown. 301-972-3299. www.butlersorchard.com. $11; free for kids younger than 2; pony rides, pumpkin cannon, face painting and kid crafts extra.
Gaver may offer the highest activity count, with 30 play stations. New baby goats, bale roping and various slides, games and mazes top the list for toddlers through tweens.
Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 3. 5501 Detrick Rd., Mt. Airy. 301-865-3515. www.gaverfarm.com. $6 weekdays; $8 weekends; free for kids younger than 2.
Homestead is one of the most popular patches in Montgomery County. Families love picking pumpkins right off the vine and plucking apples from the tree, not to mention petting (and feeding) farm animals before snagging a few treats from the store.
Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Oct. 31. 15604 Sugarland Rd., Poolesville. 301-977-3761. www.homestead-farm.net. Free; $3 hayrides, free for kids younger than 2.
The vibe at Larriland is preschooler pumpkin paradise, with beloved storybook character displays along the hayride, a junior straw maze and a not-too-scary "Boo Barn" for G-rated thrills.
Weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 3. 2415 Woodbine Rd., Woodbine. 301-854-6110. www.pickyourown.com. Free; $4 hayrides, younger than 2 free; $3 straw maze, parents free; $2 Boo Barn for kids, parents free.
Sharp's at Waterford Farm
A favorite of frugal families, Sharp's doesn't charge for admission, parking or the hayride to the pumpkin patch. Affordable extras include two corn mazes and make-your-own scarecrows.
Weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Nov. 3; weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Nov. 15. 4003 Jennings Chapel Rd., Brookeville. 410-489-2572. www.sharpfarm.com. Free; prices vary for corn mazes.
Zip lines, trike tracks, barrel train, pedal cars, a straw jump and a swine speedway are only the tip of the autumn iceberg of family activities at Belvedere. On Friday and Saturday nights, the pumpkin patch is illuminated, allowing kids to play Linus and catch a glimpse of the Great Pumpkin.
Tuesday-Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Friday 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 3. 1410 Belvedere Dr., Fredericksburg. 540-373-4478. www.belvedereplantation.com. $9.25 weekdays; $17-$23.50 weekends; $12 Friday night; kids 2 and younger free.
My sister-in-law is a discriminating customer when it comes to family outings. Cox Farms gets her glowing recommendation for an idyllic October afternoon. She gives props to the all-you-can-consume cider and apples, patch pumpkins included with admission and play zones individualized by ages. She and her children enjoy the imaginative hayride, which, during the day, features a spaceship with merrily dressed alien characters who high-five young attendees. After dark, teens and adults can experience Cox Farms' scary side with Fields of Fear, which includes an extraterrestrial attack during the hayride and a fright-filled corn maze.
Andrea Khoury, founder of the Real Housewives of Northern Virginia blog, has been visiting Cox Farms every year of her 5-year-old's life, and she appreciates the all-ages offerings. Her kindergartner's favorites include the dinosaur, volcano, castle and barn-themed slides. Khoury also loves the many photo opportunities: "It's just beautiful," she says. "You can plop your child down in front of a bunch of perfect mums in the back of a wagon and, boom, you have a great pic."
Daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 5; Fields of Fear Friday-Saturday 7:30 to 11 p.m., through Nov. 2. 15621 Braddock Rd., Centreville. 703-830-4121. www.coxfarms.com. $9 weekdays; $17 weekends through Oct. 20; $14 weekends through Nov. 3.
Great Country Farms
City mice can go country for the day with catch-and-release fishing (no license required, worms for purchase, but bring your own tackle), pig races and visits with more than 15 farm animal breeds. Imaginative possibilities abound with acres of playgrounds and mining for fossils, arrowheads and gemstones.
Daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Oct. 31. 18780 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont. 540-554-2073. www.greatcountryfarms.com. $8-$10 weekdays; $10-$12 weekends; free for military families and kids 2 and younger.
Leesburg Animal Park
Halloween-themed inflatables, hill slides, pedal carts and mini tractors transform the zoo into Pumpkinville. Visits with the animals are included with admission, but pony and camel rides cost extra.
Daily 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 2; 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 3-5. 19270 James Monroe Hwy., Leesburg. 703-433-0002.
www.pumpkinfestleesburg.com. $8.95-$10.95 weekdays; $11.95-$14.95 weekends; free for kids younger than 2.
Parents may appreciate Ticonderoga Farms' organic farming practices and that no chemicals are used on the premises. Creative kids will like playing on the giant bamboo xylophone, crossing Virginia's longest swinging bridge and checking out antique tractors and fire engines.
Daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Nov. 3. 26469 Ticonderoga Rd., Chantilly. 703-327-4424. www.ticonderoga.com. $9.95 weekdays; $14.95-$16.95 weekends; free kids younger than 2.