That nip in the air signals not only that autumn is in full bloom but pumpkin patches and apple orchards have their best produce ready to roll. Don’t think of these as just places to pick up a future Jack-O-Lantern or apples for baking. No, these seasonal entertainment zones feature corn mazes and hayrack rides for a break from the ordinary weekend routine. Here, a look at eight pumpkin patches and apple orchards, all within one hour of Des Moines.
Center Grove Orchard
Head to this 18-acre orchard and pumpkin patch, which keeps you fed with grilled cheese sandwiches, brats, pulled-pork sandwiches and cider doughnuts at its eight food venues. Dig into burgers at the Feed Bunk, walking tacos at the Pumpkin House or coffee at the full-service coffee shop. Pick up a Farmyard Pass to wander the four-acre corn maze, hit the jumping pillow and see farm animals. Choose a pumpkin or gourd from the patch, or from a pre-picked selection. The orchard has pick-your-own apples, too.
• Cost: Saturday and Sunday admission fee is $10.95; Monday through Friday admission is $8.95. Age two and younger are free. No charge to purchase pumpkins only.
• Info: Open through Nov. 1 (store is open through Christmas Eve), 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, 32835 610th Ave., Cambridge; 515-383-4354; centergroveorchard.com.
The farm is all about finding the right pumpkins and fall produce. Here you can find all shapes and sizes of pre-picked pumpkins sold by weight and leave with straw, corn stalks, Indian corn, gourds, acorn and butternut squash, and mini-pumpkins to boot. Head over to the Fun Zone to ride the tube slide or play yard games, or bring the gang for the corn maze and hayrides. Pick up some hot cocoa and cappuccino, apple cider, popcorn, cookies, nachos, corndogs, sliced apple pie and cookies and call it a weekend.
• Cost: Visit the pumpkin patch for free. Maze and fun zone costs $8; Fun Zone and hayrides cost $5. Age 2 and younger are free.
• Info: Open weekends through Oct. 31, 5 to 8 p.m. on Fridays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays, 5251 N.E. 94th Ave., Bondurant; 515-964-2640; growingfamilyfun.com.
Howell’s Pumpkin Patch
Corn cannon. That’s all you need to know about Howell’s Pumpkin Patch. Head south to Cumming to pick a pumpkin based on weight from the patch, or be lazy and just go for one of the pre-picked gourds. This patch lets you run through a corn maze, hang out with farm animals and see the place on a wagon ride. That corn cannon goes for $1 for four shots, while pony rides cost $4. Chow down on homemade ice cream, hot dogs, chili, chips, candy, pumpkin bars and caramel apples at two concession stands. Howell’s is also home to a gift shop selling Halloween decor and a large selection of dried flowers.
• Cost: Admission is $9 per person; age 2 and younger are free.
• Info: Open through Oct. 31, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 3145 Howell Court, Cumming; 515-981-0863; howellspumpkins.com.
For sheer volume, Iowa Orchard has one of the biggest selections of pumpkins, with 1,000 on display. Pick up apple-themed fare including pies, caramel apples and cider, plus fruit crisps, honey and fudge. A hayrack ride on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays takes visitors to the Farm Fun Zone where you can challenge your friends at badminton, corn box and a horseshoe toss, or run the tire obstacle course.
• Cost: No admission fee. Hay rack ride and Farm Fun Zone cost $4 per person, with the fourth person and beyond costing $3 each, or $15 for a family of four. Age 2 and younger are free.
• Info: Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (hours may change slightly after Halloween), 9875 Meredith Drive, Urbandale; 515-276-0852; iowaorchard.com.
North River Adventures
The four giant corn mazes are the stars at this fall destination, offering miles of maze where you can play games such as “Farm Scene Investigation” and “Farm Tracks.” Reserve a campfire ring for an extra charge and roast your own marshmallows. Pumpkins, pre-picked or in the patch, are available for $5 to $12, as are pie pumpkins, mums, cornstalks, apples and gourds. Two food stands offer fall favorites like cider and caramel apples, plus sodas and cookies, hot dogs, pizzas and baked goods.
• Cost: $8 for age 4 and up, age 3 and younger are free.
• Info: Open through Oct. 31, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday; moonlight nights open till midnight. Open every night except for Monday during the last week of October. 2768 Hwy 65/69, Carlisle; 515-689-8349; northrivercornmaze.com.
The Pumpkin Ranch
Get lost in the 10-acre corn maze that’s the centerpiece. Two games inside let guests find different checkpoints or solve a mystery. Jump on an inflatable pillow, fly down a zip line or go down the 30-foot slide. Cut your own pumpkins in the patch, or choose from pre-cut options. There are also gourds, squash and honey in the gift shop. The Feed Bunk sells snacks and meals such as baked goods, cider, smoked meat sandwiches, hot dogs and popcorn.
• Cost: Admission is $6.50 on Fridays and $8.50 on Saturdays and Sundays. Age 2 and younger are free.
• Info: Open through Oct. 25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 2425 Hiatt Apple Trail, Winterset; 515-490-9281; thepumpkinranch.com.
Pumpkinville & Cornmaze
Challenge your friends to a sack race or play “Tug a Pumpkin” (similar to tug of war) at Pumpkinville & Cornmaze. Make like a kid and climb on hay bales, jump into a bed of straw and sift through corn in the granary. Or try the corn mazes. The large maze costs $7, or $1 for kids age 3-6, while the small maze is designed for children and costs $1 per person. Pick pumpkins from the patch or take home a pre-picked selection. Treats here include burgers, hot dogs, candy, nachos, cider and hot chocolate.
• Cost: No admission fee. Charge for corn mazes and some activities.
• Info: Open through Oct. 31, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 618 Center Ave. S., Mitchellville; 515-710-2843; pumpkinvillecornmaze.com.
Wills Family Orchard & Pumpkin Farm
Book Oct. 10-11 to head to the Apple and Pumpkin Fest at Wills Family Orchard, where hay wagon rides, live music and Applewood smoked barbecue are the calling cards of the weekend. Otherwise, head over to explore the five-acre pumpkin patch or pick up some organic apples. Check out the corn maze ($3) and farm animals and sample pie by the slice, caramel apples and cider doughnuts. A shop sells apple cider, apple wine, caramel, queen’s apple dessert and other treats.
• Cost: No admission fee. Charge for corn maze and some activities.
• Info: Open weekends through Oct. 31, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays, 33130 Panther Creek Road, Adel; 515-321-1847; www.willsfamilyorchard.com.