The leaves are changing color and there's a nip in the air; autumn is upon us. One of the symbols most closely associated with fall and Halloween is the pumpkin.
While you can purchase pumpkins almost anywhere -- farmers' markets, grocery stores and even Wal-Mart -- why not turn your search for the perfect pumpkin into a day trip by visiting one of several nearby destinations that offer more than just a place to buy a pumpkin.
With a name like Pumpkinville, you know what they specialize in. Pumpkins, lots of pumpkins. Pumpkinville, New York State's oldest continually working pumpkin farm, was started in the late 1960s by the Halloran family. Today, the destination, which is located in Great Valley, near Ellicottville, is operated by Dan and Diane Pawlowski and their children, Jim and Lisa.
Pumpkinville was the winner of the 2008 New York State Agri-tourism award from the "I Love New York" campaign.
My family made the trek down to Pumpkinville a couple of weeks ago on opening weekend. It's a family friendly fall entertainment destination with activities for all ages. Some are free, others have a nominal fee. Activities include a Spook-um barn, farm animals, a six-acre corn maze, pony rides, a cow train, ducky derby and new this year, a corn cannon, when you can fire corn cobs at hay bale targets.
My 6-year-old, who last visited when he was a baby, was amazed at the rows upon rows of pumpkins on display. (They range in price from $2 to $15.) What I first noticed was a delicious aroma that seemed to permeate the place. The source of that wonderful smell was Di's Pie and Bake Shop, which features made-from-scratch baked goods, including pumpkin muffins, pie, bread and cookies and my favorite, pumpkin donuts. You can watch the donuts being made through a large glass observation window.
Next door at the Snack Shack, you can get pumpkin or vanilla ice cream, apple slices with caramel sauce, popcorn and candy apples. Fresh cider is made in a circa-1870s apple cider mill, which the Pawlowski's moved to the property in 2004 and refurbished.
Pumpkinville's BBQ Pit has hot dogs, beef on weck, pulled pork, Italian sausage, chili and fries. On weekends, a chicken BBQ is also available.
Pumpkins, fudge, baked goods, jams and more are sold at the Bounty Barn. I picked up one of the Pumpkinville cookbooks, which has dozens of pumpkin and apple recipes. The Boo-tique has craft items, Halloween decor and candy. Maple products from Moore's Maple Shack are also available. You can also get mums, apples and squash.
Upcoming events include Fall Festival Weekend, Oct. 11-12, which coincides with the Fall Festival in nearby Ellicottville.
Great Pumpkin Farm
If you want to stick closer to home, try the Great Pumpkin Farm on Main Street in Clarence which boasts one of the largest pumpkin patches in the world. A variety of festival-related activities such as crafts, face painting and entertainment is offered this weekend and next. (A $5 fee is charged for these weekends only; the rest of the time, it is free.)
The facility has a hay maze and playground for young children, farm animals and a large retail shop filled with Halloween decorations and handmade crafts. On weekends, hayrides are offered. There is also a corn maze, magic show, a bakery and a number of food concessions.
The Pumpkin Olympics will take place on Columbus Day weekend and the annual Pumpkin Drop is Oct. 13. Other upcoming events include the third annual High School Trebuchet Contest on Oct. 19 and a family friendly "Boo-Bash" on Oct. 25.
Pumpkin fiesta time
To me, it isn't fall without a trip to Becker Farms in Gasport. The annual Pumpkin Fiesta takes place weekends through Oct. 26. The event features live entertainment, a corn maze, labyrinth, farm animals, pony rides, kid's activities and u-pick pumpkins and apples. They've added a 60-foot slide, referred to as Becker Mountain. The retail shop is open daily for delicious homemade pies, apples, seasonal decor and more.
Becker Farms has been family owned and operated for more than 100 years. Current owners, Mindy Becker Vizcarra and her husband, Oscar, added a winery, Vizcarra Vineyards, to their operation several years ago. They specialize mainly in fruit wines.
While buying pumpkins is not the main attraction at Holiday Hollow in Genesee County, it is a unique attraction that will get you and your young children in the Halloween spirit. (Plus, pumpkins are sold in the gift shop.) The Walker family has been operating this attraction, which has been featured on the "CBS Morning Show" and on HGTV, each October for the past 17 years. It is a happy, family friendly, non-scary destination.
George Walker commented that the place has really gown over the years. "We've evolved from a place where you might spend a couple of hours, to a real spend-the-day 'day-cation' destination for gas-conscious families," he said.
"We're now called the Holiday Hollow Halloween and Pirate Festival and we've expanded to seven live shows, in addition to our other attractions. This makes us more like a miniature Renaissance Fair, but with a Halloween and Pirate theme. We've also added a beautiful new indoor theater, so we are now a rain or shine destination."
Great Pumpkin Walk
Enjoy an evening stroll along a trail lined with more than 600 carved jack-o-lanterns. The one-mile round-trip trek is a fund raiser for the Ontario Pathways Trail, a 23-mile hiking trail near Canandaigua in Ontario County. This annual event takes place on Oct. 18 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
>If you go
*Pumpkinville, 4830 Sugartown Road, Great Valley; (716) 699-2994; www.pumpkinville.com. Open daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m. until Oct. 31.
*The Great Pumpkin Farm, 11199 Main St., Clarence; 759-8483; www.greatpumpkinfarm.com. Open daily 10 a.m.-dusk.
*Becker Farms/Vizcarra Vineyards, 3760 Quaker Road, Gasport; (716) 772-2211; www.beckerfarms.com. The annual Pumpkin Fiesta is noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through October. Admission is $7 for Fiesta, $10 to include Fiesta plus Becker Mountain and Mazes. No admission charged to visit farm market.
*Holiday Hollow, 1410 Main Road, Corfu, one mile east of Route 77; (585) 762-8160; www.holidayhollow.com. Open every Saturday and Sunday in October, plus Columbus Day (Oct. 13). Admission is $10 for ages 10 and up, $9 for kids 3-9, children 2 and under are free. (No credit cards are accepted.)
*The Great Pumpkin Walk, parking at the Ontario County Fairgrounds, CR 10, Canandaigua; (585) 398-2424; www.ontariopathways.org.