You’re not gonna miss a thing. I’ve already told you about the Best Place on Earth for pumpkin picking, the largest corn maze in the world (that I know of) and the most ghoulish indoor fun a whole family can have for Halloween (hint: It’s at the Liberty Science Center). Now I’m gonna break down even more family fun for you. Buckle up because it’s about to get cray-cray up in here.
I like to think of myself as the best, most well-rounded and thorough source on Halloween activities in the tri-state area, or, at least, in northern New Jersey, which to me is all you need to know about the tri-state area. Just kidding New York and Connecticut. You guys are pretty good, too.
If you’ve read my other pieces (and you should), you may have gathered that I like good, clean, calm (and calm is the operative word here) fall family fun. But for those of you ready for some fall fun that’s gonna blow it out the box, I got two words for you: Ort and Alstede. They’re both farms, and they’re both in N.J. (not in any of the other members of the triumvirate in the tri-state arrangement. See what I’m sayin?)
Let’s start with Ort in Long Valley, which was one of my first pumpkin picking experiences with my own family when my daughter was just two, and we went with her preschool class. It was a nice, open, rambling farm that straddled the road leading up to the entrance and had plenty of room for a busload of toddlers to roam and enough bucolic attractions to amuse even the most severely attention-challenged folk. And, it seems to have grown every year since. Ort actually touts itself as the “most spacious farm in Morris County,” for those of you judging your farms based on total acreage. In addition to pumpkin picking, Ort offers a hay pyramid, corn maze, hay tunnel and farm animals during the week and pony rides, tractor train rides and moonlight hayrides on the weekends. They even have monster truck rides on weekends in October. That’s right. Throw a little monster truck derby into your pick-your-own outing because pick-your-own isn’t just for pumpkins anymore.
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In terms of sheer size of crowds, magnitude of farm-friendly family activities and visual spectacle, however, it’s Alstede Farms all the way. No one can touch them when it comes to turning a simple pastoral activity into a buzzing carnival atmosphere. It’s something akin to when Fern from Charlotte’s Web takes Wilber to the county fair. They got tents and corn mazes and giant climbing haystacks and pony rides and petting zoos and wagon train rides and a moon bounce. A moon bounce. Who needs a pumpkin patch?
Alstede also has a bunny run, a goat walk and something called Corn Kingdom, which looks similar to a ball pit only with corn kernels. Throw your kids in and watch them sink. Then go about your business, merrily picking pumpkins and apples with carefree abandon. Just dig your kids out when you’re done. (This suggestion not officially sanctioned by Alstede). The farm also offers a harvest moon hayride and night time corn maze complete with blazing campfire, country music DJ and all the hot and cold cider you can drink. S’mores roasting kits, hot food and other refreshments are also available for purchase, but this Friday and Saturday nights are your last chance to get in on the action this year. Last ticket sold at 9 p.m. Ort Farms’ Flashlight Night runs a little later with last entrance to the corn maze at 9:45 p.m., but nighttime maze and moonlight hayrides operate on Saturday night only.
Check websites for hours, pricing and directions. Alstede offers a single-price Activity Pass option, covering a multitude of attractions, which can be bought on-site or online. Ort’s website provides alternate directions to help avoid traffic jams. All the farms mentioned here and in links on this post are practically right next to each other so if one doesn’t suit you, you can always drive up the road (literally, in a few cases) to another.
If you’re looking for something a little tamer this Friday night, enjoy an enchanted evening in the garden, the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, at Gardens Aglow in Upper Montclair, N.J. This annual celebration of the season, showcasing the fall-blooming irises, lines the flower beds with hundreds upon hundreds of exquisitely carved pumpkins to create one large, brilliant display. With the twinkling jack-o-lanterns lighting up the night, take an evening stroll and watch the gardens glow. When you’re done wandering the grounds, stop to hear a spooky story, partake in some children’s activities or enjoy a light refreshment. Friday, October 25th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Rain date, Saturday October 26th. 474 Upper Mountain Avenue. Free.