9 farm outings worth the drive

This story was first published on Sept. 8, 2018, and has been updated.

Head down to the farm this fall for apple picking, pumpkin festivals and an opportunity to talk to the animals.

These annual family-friendly adventures are not only a lot of fun, they give kids a chance to learn more about where and how their food is grown. Set your GPS, fill up your gas tank and hit the road.

The mini-village at Soergel’s will give kids a chance to burn off energy.

1. Soergel Orchards

Kids can race through the Old West-style Tiny Town to play and pose for photo ops at Soergel Orchards. When it’s time for a break, the fresh food options are diverse and tasty. Mom and dad can relax with local craft beer or Arsenal Cider House offerings. Kids will love a visit to Soergel Scoops with a full menu of ice cream, sundaes and milkshakes.

Pick-your-own apples and pumpkins are available for October harvest. Friday night hayrides and Fall Festival weekends run through Oct. 27. Tractor rides, games and pony rides are part of the fun. And don’t forget about Soergel’s weekly storytime at 10:30 a.m. Mondays.

Apple picking can be a team sport at Triple B Farms.

2. Triple B Farms

Weekend fun at Triple B Farms in Monongahela stars Pop’s Farmyard, a huge playground with a giant board game, Duck Derby and Bee Barn. Energetic kids will be challenged by the climbing rope maze and Liberty Tunnels slide. October weekends bring Triple B’s Fall Festival with additional activities, like a corn maze, scarecrow tent and slingshot target practice.

Pick-your-own apples and pumpkins are scheduled on weekends through October, too. Right now, kids can choose Honeycrisp, Fuji and Jonagold among the apples ripe and ready in the orchards.

Feeling snacky? Brace yourself: Triple B is famous for its Sky-High Pies and farm-fresh fudge. Irresistible!

Fall welcomes a big season of family fun at Trax Farms.

3. Trax Farms

This year marks the 50th-annual Fall Festival at the 150-year-old Trax Farms. The festival runs Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 27. Catch a hayride to the pumpkin patch and find the perfect pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern. Get lost – and found! – in the giant-sized 3-acre corn maze.

Entertainment includes train rides, a bouncy house and a great big slide. Little ones will love the petting zoo and pony rides, while older kids might be brave enough to try the bungee jump and rock wall.

No festival would be complete without yummy food. Temptations include apple dumplings with ice cream, pulled pork nachos and apple cider slushies. Food trucks will be on hand, too.

Flowers are part of the pick-your-own lineup of apples and pumpkins at Simmons Farm.

4. Simmons Farm

Simmons Farm in McMurray offers a different take on pick-your-own with Cut-Ur-Own Flowers. Grab a bucket and fill it with fresh blooms like snapdragons, zinnias, dahlias and marigolds. U-Pick Apples is in daily operation, too, with Gala, Molly Delicious and Golden Supreme currently ready to pop into a basket.

Fall activities run daily through Nov. 3 with 5 acres of pumpkins, rubber duck races and a human hamster wheel. Two corn mazes give an option to kids with a 2-acre version, as well as a more advanced 4-acre maze.

Take a scenic hayride into the fields to pick a pumpkin and an ear of Indian corn. Or gather friends and family to reserve a group night-time hayride that includes a bonfire and marshmallow roasting.

Is the biggest pumpkin the best one to pick? Decide for yourself at Shenot’s Farm.

5. Shenot’s Farm

There will be no shortage of delicious eats at fall gatherings on Shenot’s Farm in Wexford. The farm has a close association with delicious menus, having hosted a series of Farm-to-Table dinners throughout the summer.

Along with regular farm concessions of apple cider, caramel apples and kettle corn, food trucks are scheduled during the fall celebration weekends running through October, plus Columbus Day. Be sure to visit the Fudge Room, where chocoholics could experience delirium from 50 flavors of small-batch fudge.

Climb aboard the hayride or stroll the ½-mile path to the pumpkin patch on this seventh-generation family farm.

But the best part is yet to come. Most fall festivities end with an explosion of jack-o-lanterns and tired old pumpkins. Visit Shenot’s on the weekend after Halloween for the Pumpkin Smash when kids can wreck and roll their pumpkins with a blast of glee.

Pumpkins set the scene at Cheeseman Farm.

6. Cheeseman Farm

Combine a trip to Cheeseman Farm with a family hike and picnic at nearby McConnels Mill State Park for a rousing day trip.

The Portersville farm invites visitors to pick the perfect pumpkin at its Pumpkin Festival on weekends through Oct. 27. Mom can shop for a seasonal supply of honey, apple butter and pumpkins. Kids can enjoy hayrides, hay jump and petting zoo of farm animals.

For families with older kids, the annual Fright Farm, complete with haunted hayride, corn maze and walkthrough attractions, runs through October. Warning: The ghoulish fun begins at dark and is geared toward teens and adults. An adult must accompany kids ages 12 and younger.

Rare heirloom varieties of apples will give kids the chance to experience a range of apple flavors, from sweet to tart.

7. Norman’s Orchard

Don’t expect the thrills and frills of hayrides and petting zoos at Norman’s Orchards in Tarentum. This 60-year-old, family-owned farm specializes in fruit trees. The trees include many heirloom and antique varieties of fruit. Right now, apples and Anjou pears are fat and juicy.

Fill a basket and revel in the sweet, crisp fruit with intriguing names like Roxbury Russett, Northern Spy and Myers Royal Limbertwig. There are lessons to be learned in the orchards (What the heck’s a peck?), and even more once you’re home in the kitchen. Depending on the weather, apples may be available for picking into November.

Harvest Valley Farms has been in the same family for four generations. They share the joy during their annual Fall Festival.

8. Harvest Valley Farms

Harvest Valley Farms in Valencia has been celebrating the fall season in a big way for 34 years. On weekends through the end of October, this small family farm is transformed from a self-sustaining vegetable farm into a fun-filled, pick-your-own pumpkin festival. Live music keeps a bouncy soundtrack with tunes from the likes of Rick Bruening, Laurel Colonello and Brian Junker.

Kid-friendly activities keep the little ones entertained with a corn pit, hayrides to the pumpkin patch and exploring a straw tunnel.

In addition to the more than 160 varieties of fruit and vegetables sold at the market, stop in the bakery for temptations like Apple Brown Betty Pie, frosted raisin bread and chocolate gobs.

And to keep your family more in tune with country life, sign up to receive Farmer Art King’s weekly “News About the Farm” newsletter.

Little farmers can get a look at how pumpkins grow at Hozak Farm.

9. Hozak Farms

Free tractor-drawn hayrides to the pumpkin patch are offered weekday afternoons in October at Hozak Farms in Hanover Township, near Raccoon State Park. The farm’s 35th-annual Fall Festival runs on weekends, plus Columbus Day, throughout October. Kids can participate in pumpkin painting, explore the maze and meet farm animals. Check out the Gift Barn for seasonal decorations like scarecrows and corn stalks.

Once you know your way to the farm, return during the holidays to cut-your-own Christmas tree or choose a pre-cut from the lot.