Every year after the end of the back-to-school hubbub, and before the engulfing obligations of the holiday season, we get a bit of a breather. The month of October offers lots of low-stress, purely fun activities for families -- no houses to clean, no turkeys to brine or presents to buy; all you have to do is get in the car with a couple of bucks and a sense of adventure, and drive to a farm.

Visit almost any area farm this month for an amalgam of harvest and Halloween activities, from farm animal petting zoos and rides for tots to pumpkin U-pick and imaginatively designed corn mazes. If you have older kids who demand more stringently scary Halloween fun, you'll find some unusual "haunted" experiences out there in addition to the big haunted houses that pop up all over town this month.

Corn mazes are a great way to get kids of grade school age and up outside, while teaching them about map reading, navigation and clue-decoding. The corn is cut into a detailed picture, complete with clues at various places that point the way out. And -- not incidentally for a Halloween amusement -- wandering a maze is also an exercise in the thrill of getting safely lost.

If it's a warm day, bring hats and water. Once you're in the maze you may not be able to find your way out quickly if the kids get thirsty, and there's not much shade since you're in... a field. Wear sturdy shoes or boots. If the weather's dry, the ground will be hard and sometimes uneven; if it's been rainy, you might encounter mud. And if you're going with very young kids, it's also a good idea to call ahead: Can you bring a stroller in? Are there any shortcuts out of the maze in case of a bathroom emergency?

Snohomish is a good place to start if you want to visit a number of close-together farms. Within a short distance of each other you'll find Bob's Corn (farm-themed corn maze that's also open by appointment only for a glowstick-lighted, night visit pumpkin patch); the tot-friendly Craven Farm (Alice in Pumpkinland corn maze, pumpkin patch, baby farm animals, children's story time tours); The Farm (Washington State Corn Maze, pumpkin u-pick, petting farm, barn hay maze); and Stocker Farms (Wild West corn maze, pumpkin patch).

Look for an "Earth-to-Mars" corn maze, pumpkin patch and Halloween-themed carnival rides at Everett's Biringer Farm. In Carnation, Remlinger Farms also offers carnival-type amusements for small children in its Country Fair, in addition to a pumpkin patch and corn field, and Jubileefarm is open on weekends for pumpkin picking, pumpkin catapulting and pony rides. Carpinto Brothers in Kent has a Dracula/haunted house-themed corn maze this year, and in Redmond, South 47 Farm's "Our Farming Heritage" corn maze features questions and answers about the role of farm in our region. The farm also offers free wagon rides on the weekend and farm animals for viewing.

A couple of organizations around the area play host to scary outdoor fun for older kids. Bastyr University's "Haunted Trails Halloween" takes visitors down the dark trails at St. Edwards State Park. In Everett, the Everett Jaycees Haunted Forest is another outdoor scare-o-rama. Stocker Farms in Snohomish also offers the "Field of Screams," a section of its corn maze that is haunted on weekend evenings by a troupe of local actors. If you're looking for something more traditional or more frightening, check out The Cold Spot at theflagship.net/coldspot/index.html, then click on "Haunted Attractions" for a list of Seattle-area haunted houses.

Kris Collingridge is Parentmap's calendar editor and mother of two.


Originally published in the September, 2004 print edition of ParentMap.

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