For the most part, though, the classic fall experiences are still out there, waiting for day-trippers and groups and families to make the most of weekend afternoons, even if the experience looks and feels slightly different.
Fall festivals for kids
The Fall Festival at Summers Farm in Frederick, Md., is everything a kid could want right now: A corn maze! Pig races! A tractor-pulled ride to a pumpkin patch! Except visitors are wearing masks, attractions are spaced out and employees are carefully sanitizing “high touch areas” multiple times per day.
“We didn’t plan to open” this season, says Teresa Summers, who launched the festival on her family’s farm in 1996, “until the end of July, when we heard the guidelines from the governor.” So instead of just focusing on giant slides and barnyard animals, Summers began to make changes with the smallest visitors in mind, because they like to touch everything and may not always remember to wear masks. Guests are now required to purchase advance tickets for certain time slots, in an attempt to space out the crowd on the 100-acre farm. Face masks are required on wagon rides and in animal barns, and “anywhere that you can’t socially distance,” Summers says, though that determination is often left up to individual visitors.
Social distancing means that face painting is out. So is the corn crib, where children would climb and jump in a sea of corn kernels, and the hayride doesn’t actually have any hay on the wagon (much to the relief of one Washington Post editor who visited the farm with her daughter recently).
Summers Farm isn’t the only destination where you’ll notice changes: The hayrides at the pick-your-own Larriland Farm in Maryland’s Howard County will have lowered capacity, and guests will sit on hay bales instead of loose hay, while Cox Farms in Centreville, Va., is making visits even safer by allowing visitors to drive the farm’s hayride route in their own vehicle. (It does include unpaved roads, so read the safety requirements.) Visitors are not allowed to stop and get out along the way, so if you’ve got an active child, this might not be the best option.
Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Va., is one of the region’s most popular fall destinations. Its 12-acre play area includes multiple mazes, slides, obstacle courses and jumping pillows, in addition to the farm’s pumpkin patch, corn maze and the “cow train” ride. This year, attendance is limited due to Virginia’s social distancing rules, and advance tickets are sold for a designated three-hour window, which means that some dates — including this Saturday and Sunday — are already sold out. — F.H.
Summers Farm: 5620 Butterfly Lane, Frederick. Fall Festival open daily. $15.50; children ages 2 and younger free. summersfarm.com.
Larriland Farm: 2415 Woodbine Rd., Woodbine. Hayrides offered Saturday and Sunday. $4 per person. pickyourown.com.
Cox Farms: 15621 Braddock Rd., Centreville. Self-driven hayride open Friday through Monday. $15 per car. coxfarms.com.
Great Country Farms: 18780 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont. Open daily. $10-$12 weekdays; $14-$16 weekends; children ages 2 and younger free. greatcountryfarms.com.
A pumpkin patch outing for grown-ups
Children aren’t the only ones who enjoy picking their own pumpkins. But so many of the pumpkins you find in patches or at farmers markets are bright orange, perfectly spherical and about as bland as a red delicious apple. For a quirky and attractive seasonal display — the kind that will make friends stop scrolling and ask “Where did you get THOSE?” — you need to head to Wegmeyer Farms in Loudoun County.
Wegmeyer grows dozens of varieties of heirloom pumpkins in its sloping fields: You’ll find pumpkins in shades of delicate cornflower, bright sea foam, and, if you’re lucky, swirls of millennial pink and soft green. Some are smooth and crown shaped, others resemble knobby, oversize gourds. The farm’s old stone barn is filled with an array of attractive pumpkins and gourds, but the fun is being sent out into the field with a wagon and a pair of garden shears. Whatever you bring back costs 69 cents per pound. (Reservations are strongly suggested and require a $25 deposit, which goes toward the pumpkins you pick.)
Cap your outing by catching up over a few adult beverages. The nearby Stone Tower Winery has fantastic views to go with its French-style petit verdot and sauvignon blanc wines. Purcellville is home to Catoctin Creek Distilling, which offers 30-minute tours of its distillery, followed by guided tastings of its exceptional rye whiskeys, and Adroit Theory Brewing Company, where you can sip hazy, potent IPAs on the large patio. — F.H.
Wegmeyer Farms: 38299 Hughesville Rd., Hamilton. Open Thursday through Sunday. $25 reservation deposit.
A different kind of farmers market
The fruits of the fall harvest go beyond decorative gourds, and sometimes visiting a farmers market is the perfect excuse for a road trip. There are probably more stands at your neighborhood farmers market than the North St. Mary’s County Farmers Market, but how many of the producers arrived by horse and buggy? This charming little market, held in the parking lot of the Charlotte Hall Library off Route 5, features Amish vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables; jars of rhubarb jellies and pickled beets; and planters full of mums. Grab some baked goods to snack on in the car; millionaire shortbread bars — just 50 cents each! — were a favorite on a recent trip. It’s a great reminder that, while many associate the Amish with Pennsylvania, a sizable community lives and works about an hour south of the Beltway.
There’s designated buggy parking up the road at the Charlotte Hall Farmers Market and Auction, but it’s a very different kind of market than its all-Amish neighbor. While you can browse stands selling produce, plants and pumpkins — and, strangely, pineapples — the real draw is the bustling flea market, which stretches across multiple buildings, pavilions and parking lots. There are dealers selling comic books, Star Wars action figures, antique cast-iron Lodge skillets, used fishing poles, 1980s McDonalds glassware and vintage clothing, and tables loaded with brand new iPhone cases, reading glasses and Baltimore Ravens T-shirts. — F.H.
North St. Mary’s County Farmers Market: 37600 New Market Rd., Charlotte Hall. Open Wednesday and Saturday. visitstmarysmd.com.
Charlotte Hall Farmers Market and Auction: 29890 Three Notch Rd., Charlotte Hall. Open Wednesday and Saturday (vendor times vary). farmers-market-and-auction.com.
Few things compare to the first bite of apple during fall — especially when you’ve picked that apple yourself. But is that experience still satisfying when dealing with the anxiety that comes with doing any public activity during a pandemic?
On a recent visit to Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Thurmont, Md., those worries were immediately quelled: People were wearing masks, spacing themselves out in the line for the market and then spreading out in the vast fields of apple trees. Masks were occasionally pulled down to chomp on an apple or to quickly shove an apple cider doughnut down their throats. There were cooing babies and overflowing bags of hand-selected apples.
Apple orchards throughout the area have adjusted their safety protocols for the well-being of customers. Matthew and Shannon Davenport of Hollin Farms in Delaplane, Va., for instance, have added hand washing, sanitizing pumps and more staff to greet and monitor customers coming in.
Melinda Milburn, one of the three owners of Milburn Orchards in Elkton, Md., says she often works 18-hour days to accommodate changes they’ve made because of the pandemic. “We’re very tired, but we’re trying to make it happen, to keep everyone happy,” she says. The farm launched a reservation system, so customers can go online and book a block of time, lessening the anxiety of stranger interaction.
All three farms have seen a spike in popularity for apple-picking, noting that people still want to have a fun, normal experience for their family as long as proper safety measures are in place. Robert Black, president of Catoctin Mountain Orchard, points out that many of us are cooped up inside on our computers and don’t always realize the value of just going outside.
“The majority of folks now are so far removed [from nature],” Black says. “People want go back and have a connection with the local farmer.”
Note: Call ahead or check online before you go to make sure your preferred orchard is open, as a late freeze affected apple crops around the region. — A.G.
Catoctin Mountain Orchard: 15036 N. Franklinville Rd., Thurmont. Open Saturday and Sunday. $3 entrance fee per person. catoctinmountainorchard.com.
Milburn Orchards: 1495 Appleton Rd., Elkton. Open Friday through Sunday. $2 reservation fee per person. milburnorchards.com.
Hollin Farms: 1584 Snowden Rd., Delaplane. Operating hours updated weekly. hollinfarms.com .
To prevent the transmission of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, at Halloween, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding certain activities, such as: “participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door,” “going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household” and “going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.”
Basically, forget everything you love about the holiday.
For some attractions, the risks are too great: The popular Fields of Fear at Centreville, Va.’s Cox Farms is off — “Maybe 2020 is scary enough as it is,” organizers posted on social media — and plans to return in 2021. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has yet to announce plans or restrictions for the holiday, leaving the state of perennial favorites like the 17th Street High Heel Race uncertain, but other events are forging ahead.
Boo at the Zoo, which welcomes thousands of excited trick-or-treaters to the National Zoo, has adopted a drive-through format that sounds similar to holiday light displays: Children stay in their family cars while looking out the window at characters — including “Count Pandula” — and receiving bags of treats at the end. Helen Moore, the event manager for Friends of the National Zoo, says the old format, where children would receive treats at more than 40 stations throughout the Zoo, “means guests coming into close contact with each other and receiving candy that was recently handled by individuals,” which should be avoided under CDC guidelines. Instead, the new procedure is entirely contact-free, including photo opportunities.
If your child would prefer a more traditional trick-or-treating with animals, the Maryland Zoo is hosting ZooBOOO! over Halloween weekend, with treat stations set up throughout the zoo. (There’s a one-way path for visitors to follow, to cut down on crowding.) Costumes are encouraged.
Haunted houses for adults will look and scare differently, too. Field of Screams, the vast Olney, Md., attraction that The Post ranked as the area’s scariest last fall, is slimming down its offerings to just two outdoor trails on weekends this month, which visitors will experience back-to-back on a 50-minute walk. One leads through a gruesome summer camp “where a group of 20-year-old campers once laughed, played and brutally died.” Mike Lado, the director of operations for Field of Screams, says that the actors along the trail will stay six to 13 feet from the public, but that doesn’t mean it will be less creepy than previous Fields of Screams. “We’ve been doing this for 19 years, and you learn there are certain ways to scare people,” even from a distance. Because groups can have a maximum of six people, and will be spaced out from other groups on the trail, Lado says attendance will be much more limited than previous years, and timed admission tickets will only be sold in advance.
At the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Va., which last year hosted a scary trail through the woods and former prison buildings, visitors to “Nightmare Alley” will drive past 13 different scenes — think zombies or scary dolls — without getting out of their cars.
Those who prefer spooky settings without terrifying clowns leaping out of the darkness should check out Congressional Cemetery’s Soul Strolls, which stretch over two weekends at the historic D.C. burial ground. Docents lead small groups of living visitors to the graves of some of the cemetery’s most notorious permanent residents, where costumed interpreters tell stories of madams, assassins and (shudder) politicians. Beer, wine and cider are served before and during the hour-long tour, and the bobbing flashlights on headstones and grass are wonderfully atmospheric. — F.H.
Boo at the Zoo Drive Thru: Smithsonian National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. Oct. 24-25. $55 per car. nationalzoo.si.edu.
ZooBOOO!: The Maryland Zoo at Baltimore, 1 Safari Pl., Baltimore. Oct. 30-31. Free with Maryland Zoo admission ($18-$22, free for children ages 2 and younger). marylandzoo.org.
Field of Screams: 4501 Olney Laytonsville Rd., Olney. Open Friday-Sunday Oct. 3-Nov. 7, and Thursdays Oct. 15-29. Admission TBA. screams.org.
Nightmare Alley: Workhouse Arts Center, 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton. Open Friday and Saturday through Oct. 31, and Sundays Oct. 11-25. $60 per car. workhousearts.org/nightmare-alley/.
Soul Strolls at Congressional Cemetery : 1801 E St. SE. Oct. 16-17 and 23-24. $35 adults, $15 children. congressionalcemetery.org.