Dr. Maze's farm corn mazeWe look doubtfully at the corn maze in front of us. The corn is short enough that we can almost see over it (it’s a drought year), and the path leading into it looks dusty and kind of hot. I’m pushing my small daughter in an all-terrain stroller, and two grade-school-age boys — my son and his friend — lope along beside me. The Overenergetic Kid, my son’s friend, glances around and complains: This isn’t going to be much fun.

Oh, how wrong he is.

We’re at the South 47 Farm (now Dr. Maze’s Farm) in Redmond, because I’m looking for a cheap way to keep three kids busy on a warm fall afternoon. I want fresh air, I want to wear them out, and I want to do something we’ve never done before.

As we enter the maze, my son and Overenergetic Kid spy the first turn and run up ahead to see which way they should go, shouting happily to each other. The previous complaint is already forgotten as they confer — do we go this way or that way? They choose a direction, and my daughter and I follow along behind. And again: this way or that way? I’m already smiling to myself, pleased and a bit smug that the boys are engaged so quickly. We come to a sign that contains a clue as to where we should go next, and they realize that there will be more; now it’s really on as they try to beat each other to the next sign.

Dr. Maze himself, otherwise known as owner and operator Roger Calhoon, says that he builds fun little diversions like the signs into the maze because “some people get into the corn maze and think, OK, there’s just more corn.” To keep those folks — like my son and Overenergetic Kid — interested, this year Dr. Maze’s corn maze features signs about crows and a series of inner mazes.

“I suspect people will have trouble solving some of the inner mazes,” he says. “They’re very simple-looking things, but they’re not trivial.” But don’t recoil if you don’t feel up to a challenge; other inner mazes are simple enough for small kids to solve. “I have a big spiral of hay bales,” he adds, “and it’s just run in and out.”

Calhoon says that his maze attracts families because there’s something for everyone, from a gentle walk for small kids or grandparents to an energetic run and brain teasers for older kids and adults. It’s an inexpensive activity (a consideration in tough economic times) that can be done in a relatively short time. It’s educational; kids can find out about farms and farming, practice remembering directions, and work on cooperation and persistence — but in the fun, low-stress type of way that Calhoon calls “soft learning.” And — something I didn’t think about initially — visiting a corn maze directly supports local farming. “Most of the corn mazes are a substantial part of the farm income,” Calhoon says.

We take a few wrong turns in the maze, but no one’s complaining. The kids laugh loudly as we realize we have to retrace our steps. My daughter hops out of the stroller and tries to follow the boys, who by now are working together to find the way out; my son will run down a path and shout back to us that it’s a dead end, or Overenergetic Kid will go first one way and then another in order to find out which way goes through. And they wonder: How’d they make this thing?

Calhoon, who takes inspiration from farm themes, likes his maze to “look like a big piece of art.” He draws the design on a piece of graph paper, then puts flags out in the field every 10 feet. “We turn the field into a giant piece of graph paper,” he says, “and then I’m walking through the field with a clipboard and a mower, and I’m kind of just connecting the dots.” Creating this year’s maze out in the field took about six half-days of work.

When we find our way out of the maze, his work has definitely paid off — everyone’s exhilarated, and the boys whoop in triumph. Fresh air, exercise, challenges and supporting a local farm: Check, check, check, check.

Kris Collingridge is ParentMap’s Out + About editor.

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Check with each farm for current hours of operation (some activities are available on weekends only) and admission prices, which run about $5–$10.

Remlinger Farms. Maze benefits Children’s Hospital, carnival activities, pumpkins. 32610 N.E. 32nd St., 425-333-4135, remlingerfarms.com [CARNATION]

Camp Korey at Carnation Farm. Proceeds benefit Camp Korey, which serves kids with life-threatening illnesses. Maze, alpacas, pumpkins, stories, hayrides. 28901 N.E. Carnation Farm Road, 425-844-3100, campkorey.org [CARNATION]

Foster’s Corn Maze. Maze, pumpkin slinger, Old West Town, Kidz Corral, “goat comedians.” 5818 S.R. 530 N.E., 360-435-5095, fosterscornmaze.com [ARLINGTON]

Carleton Farm. Four-acre corn maze with puzzle, free kids’ maze, tube slide, pumpkins. 630 Sunnyside Blvd. S.E., 425-334-2297, carletonfarm.com [EVERETT]

Biringer Farm. Corn maze, carnival activities, pumpkins. 4625 40th Place N.E., 425-259-0255, biringerfarm.com [EVERETT]

Stocker Farms. Maze, pumpkins, farm stand. 10622 Airport Way, 360-568-7391, stockerfarms.com [SNOHOMISH]

Craven Farm. Fifteen-acre maze, hayrides, pumpkin slinger. 13827 Short School Road, 360-568-2601, cravenfarm.com [SNOHOMISH]

The Farm. Twelve-acre Washington state map maze, pumpkins, hayrides, petting farm, story trail. 7301 Rivershore Road, 425-334-4124, thefarm1.com [SNOHOMISH]

Bob’s Corn & Pumpkin Patch. Ten-acre corn maze, night maze, reservable fire pits inside the maze, pumpkins, corn cannon, playground, pony rides, cow train. 10917 Elliott Road, 360-668-2506, bobscorn.net [SNOHOMISH]

Carpinito Brothers. Two corn mazes, pumpkins, hayrides. Check website for $1-off coupon. 1148 Central Ave. N., 253-854-5692, carpinito.com [KENT]

Dr. Maze’s Farm. “Crows in the Corn” maze with educational component and internal mazes, farm animals, pumpkins. 15410 N.E. 124th St., 425-869-9777, drmazesfarm.com [REDMOND]

Mosby Farm. Corn maze, pumpkins. 3104 Auburn–Black Diamond Road, mosbyfarm.com [AUBURN]

Thomasson Family Farm. Five-acre corn maze, pumpkins, activities in the Kid’s Korral. 38223 236th Ave. S.E., 360-802-0503, thomassonfamilyfarm.com [ENUMCLAW]

Picha’s Pumpkin Patch. Five-acre corn maze with questions, pumpkin slingshot, pumpkins. 6502 52nd St. S.E., 253-841-4443, pichafarms.com [PUYALLUP]

Maris Farms. Ten-acre corn maze, farm animals, pumpkins, carnival activities, pony rides, Destruction Zone. 24713 Sumner-Buckley Highway, 253-862-2848, marisfarms.com [BUCKLEY]

Rutledge Corn Maze. Captain Phil Harris Memorial Maze, pumpkins. 302 93rd Ave. S.E., 360-357-3700, rutledgecornmaze.com [TUMWATER]

Hunter’s Pumpkin Patch. Giant and kiddie corn mazes, farm animals, pumpkins, slide, hayrides, kiddie train, pony rides. 7413 Yelm Highway S.E., 360-456-0466, hunterchristmastrees.com [OLYMPIA]

Schilter Family Farm. Corn maze, hay maze, petting farm, hayrides, pumpkins, pumpkin cannon, corn shooter. 141 Nisqually Cutoff Road S.E., 360-459-4023, schilterfamilyfarm.com [OLYMPIA]

Bring water, snacks if you’re traveling with smaller kids and hats if it’s sunny (it can get hot). Wear sturdy shoes and bring a backpack or large-wheeled stroller for smaller kids. Mazes vary in size, of course, so ask about the average traverse time if you’re concerned about being out too long. Most mazes take 45 minutes to an hour to navigate [or “wander through” or “negotiate” or “walk”].

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