Pumpkin farms, apple orchards, spooky fests, and all kinds of seasonal fun await
With sweltering summer days behind us and inevitable blizzards ahead, autumn is a truly special time here. When the air starts to feel crisp and the first blush of fall foliage emerges, it’s time to grab your favorite flannel and head out for some fall fun. “It’s just about making the most of our shortest and most beautiful season,” says Becky Harling, facility manager at Blackberry Farm in Aurora, where families flock for the park’s Pumpkin Weekends throughout the month of October. Whether you’re looking for an idyllic setting for an Instagram-worthy date or hoping to make some memories with your family, there are plenty of good times to be had. From local gems to far-flung destinations that are worth the pilgrimage, here are our favorites.
Now a sprawling destination for autumnal fun in West Chicago, Sonny Acres has roots extending back to 1883, when the Nagel family, German immigrants, established the farm and operated a small produce stand here. When the family put the farm up for sale in 2019, the Fontana and Joyaux families decided to step in to keep the nostalgia alive. “Our own children grew up visiting and making memories at Sonny Acres’ Fall Festival every year,” says owner Jeanine Fontana. “When it came for sale, we thought that keeping the farm running was a great opportunity to continue the tradition for many families like ours.” Browse prepicked pumpkins grown at the farm’s offsite patch, feed friendly goats, take a spin on classic carnival rides, and get in the Halloween spirit with a haunted hayride or a walk through the Haunted Barn (revamped with animatronics, live actors, and pyrotechnics for added drama). The outdoor grill with umbrella-topped picnic tables, ATMs, and restrooms are notable upgrades made in recent years. Admission is free, and you can pay as you go for activities with tickets ($4 to $6) or unlimited-access wristbands ($10 to $25). 29W310 North Ave., West Chicago; sonnyacres.com
First established as a Christmas tree farm by the monks of Marmion in 1949, Abbey Farms in Aurora added a fall festival and pumpkin patch about 15 years ago, says director Eric Mott. Hop a hayride out to the you-pick patch or browse the prepicked pumpkins in an array of shapes and colors, including heirloom varieties in shades of white, yellow, red, pink, and blue. The eight-acre corn maze, ziplines, and jumping pillow (picture a giant inflatable trampoline) are top attractions. “We’ve also got our Megadrop Slide, which is a big slide off the side of a hill, and corn cannons where you shoot ears of corn at targets,” Mott says. “We have a John Deere combine we turned into a slide and a tire mountain. And we’ve got what we call the Bouncy Cow, kind of a train-esque thing pulled by a tractor that bounces along for younger kids.” The fall fest runs through October 29, and all activities are included in admission ($15 to $23). On Saturday nights in October, bring your own flashlight to wander the corn maze in the dark ($12 to $13). 2855 Hart Rd., Aurora; abbeyfarms.org
Konow’s Corn Maze
A family-run working farm 365 days of the year growing corn and soybeans, this Homer Glen destination is known for its corn mazes. With the help of a drone, new original designs are carved through the cornstalks every year. “It’s all mapped out by latitude and longitude, and it’s amazing to watch,” says Jenna Pavlacka, who assists owner Walt Konow and operations manager Christina Neitzke-Troike (also the newly appointed mayor of Homer Glen) at the farm. “We have a large maze and a smaller one, depending on how long you want to walk for.” Photos of designs from years past—from a tractor to the farm’s name—are on display in the game room.
Before or after your jaunt in the maze, take a hayride or visit the animal barn. “We have goats and cows and mama and baby pigs, all sorts of animals—some live on the farm and some don’t and are here just for fall,” Pavlacka says. Kiddos can keep busy with two corn pits, a straw bale playground, and a giant wooden Plinko board inspired by the Price Is Right game of the same name. These activities are included in admission, which is $15 weekdays and $18 on weekends and Columbus Day. One activity that does cost extra is the Sluice Game, a mining-inspired search where you purchase a bag of potential treasures (various sizes, $6 to $32) and rinse them in a mining screen to uncover gems, fossils, and crystals.
Pumpkins of all sizes are grown on the farm, from palm-size cuties ($1.50) all the way up to giants ($40 to $50). “They’re like the ones I have to call two guys to help me get it into your car,” Pavlacka says. This fall Konow’s hopes to launch some new food-centric events, including a pierogi fest and chili cook-off. The farm also offers free admission and some special treats for veterans and active military members. “[They] get a lanyard so that people can recognize them and our staff can say, ‘Thank you so much,’ ” Pavlacka says. “And inside there’s a coupon for a free pumpkin, a free popcorn, and a free coffee.” 16849 S. Cedar Rd., Homer Glen; konowscornmaze.com
Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm
This Lockport farm grows crops such as field corn and soybeans, but come harvest time, it’s the pumpkins that deservedly draw all the attention. Named for Frank Siegel, who purchased the land in 1909, the farm is now run by grandson Paul Siegel and his wife, Susan, both of whom led the effort to expand the autumnal activities in 1990. “[They] wanted a way to educate the young and old about the importance of farms but also to make it fun,” says Kaity Siegel-Grimmenga, Paul and Susan’s daughter and the farm’s event manager. “They started out with just a pumpkin field, haunted barn, corn maze—which we would hand-cut the paths—farm animals, and one unique play area.” There are now more than 35 activities, including a chick nursery, railroad ride, pirate-themed playground, four-lane 150-foot mountain slide, and a barn filled with animatronic dinosaurs. Admission ranges from $11.95 for after-school admission up to $36.95 for weekends and Columbus Day. 17250 S. Weber Rd., Lockport; cottonwoodfarms.net
Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm
If rides of the fantastical sort are just your style, you’ll want to make time for a visit to Bengtson’s in Homer Glen. In 1981 the Bengtson family decided to offer free hayrides back to their pumpkin patch rather than piling pumpkins up by the roadside for purchase. After adding attractions over the years, the farm has evolved into a full-fledged amusement park with a small cow-themed roller coaster and 13 mechanical family rides. Though pumpkins are no longer grown here on the farm, owners Scott and Dan Bengtson (grandson and son, respectively, of original owner Donald Bengtson) make sure to truck in tons from a nearby farm.
“My personal favorite [ride] is Tractor Town,” Scott says. “The ride vehicle is a tractor, and they all drive independently, and you’re going from scene to scene, through real crops—corn and sunflowers—and a barn with a party going on with a bunch of animatronics dancing and music playing. A lot of the animatronics we build here onsite, and we are always working on building something new.” One of the farm’s classic animatronic setups is a skeleton band that’s been in place since 1993. “A lot of people who came here when they were a kid and now come as an adult with their own kids will say, ‘Oh my gosh, the skeleton band!’ ” Scott says. “So, we maintain a lot of those original attractions, and instead of ripping something out, we try to add new things and also keep the originals that people remember.”
Though the nostalgia remains, the Bengtsons have made improvements over the years with accessibility in mind. “We’ve tried to pave all the walking surfaces so it’s easy to push a stroller, you can push a wheelchair, so it makes it really easy to include everyone in the experience,” Scott says. “We have a wheelchair lift up to our store, which is on the second level, and in our hayrides, the very back has a wheelchair lift as well.”
Local restaurants run many of the food booths here, so you can eat barbecue from Uncle Bub’s in Westmont or sandwiches from Rustic Knead in Lemont. Admission ($19.99 to $36.99) includes all rides and is demand-based, so you’ll pay less on weekdays and earlier fall weekends and more on prime weekends through closing day, October 31. The farm is totally cashless, so don’t forget your plastic. 13341 W. 151st St., Homer Glen; pumpkinfarm.com
Find more pumpkin-picking options in the Apple Orchards section as well.
Named for the Keller family, this farm has roots going back to the 1850s. “Through those early years, they had dairy cattle, they raised chickens, and they grew vegetables,” says Martha Abel, great-great-grandchild of the first owners. “It was called a truck farm—trucks loaded up there and went to market.”
These days, the farm continues to be a family operation in Oswego, boasting a 40-acre apple orchard and 20-acre pumpkin patch (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends). For apple picking, head to the little red Apple Barn to purchase a bag for each member of your group ($10 to $40 per bag, depending on the size; kids 4 and under are free). If you have your heart set on a specific variety of apple, you can browse a list on the farm’s website ahead of time and sign up for text alerts for your favorites. “Then as soon as we open [that section of the orchard], we can send out a text blast so you don’t miss it,” Abel says. “If we have really hot weather, that could speed it up. If we suddenly get cold and rainy, that can slow it down, and we are not going to open it until it’s amazing.” If you love Honeycrisps—a popular mid- to late September variety—you also might like the newer Ludacrisp variety, which has a late-season harvest in October, Abel suggests.
On weekends through October, the farm gears up for its Fall Festivities (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, plus Columbus Day). “It’s a wristband system, and your admission is good for the whole day,” Abel says. “We get people who come for the morning, go home and put the kids down for a nap and then come back.” Head to the animal barn to visit the farm’s newest addition—a miniature horse—or let the young’uns run wild on play structures shaped like a castle, Noah’s ark, and pirate ship. The corn maze—with viewing towers, old-fashioned paper maps, and an interactive digital map you can access via QR code—is cryptid-themed this year. “It’s like Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Moss Man—all the lore creatures that have never been proven but people swear they’ve seen them,” Abel says. Admission is $11.99 online in advance, $14 at the door, free for children 4 and under. 2500 Johnson Rd., kellersfarmstand.com
The Keller Family also operates two other farmstand locations that sell crops grown on the Oswego farm, including Naperville (516 Knoch Knolls Rd.) and Plainfield (15066 S. Wallin Dr.), both stocked with apples, pumpkins, gourds, and apple cider doughnuts through the end of October.
After horticulture classes at Kishwaukee College piqued his interest in growing apple trees, Gerald McArtor and his wife, Mary Lynn, purchased in 1984 this orchard in Malta, just west of DeKalb and about 45 minutes west of Naperville. Today, their children and grandchildren are involved in operating the orchard, which has grown in size and scope over the last few decades.
Though there is a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, the apple orchard is the main event. “One specialty apple that we grow that not a lot of orchards have is Pazazz; it’s a Honeycrisp hybrid variety and it’s really tasty,” says co-owner Jenna Spychal, granddaughter of Gerald and Mary Lynn. “Though we want to be on the cutting-edge and have these new varieties, people should know they can always get the old favorites from us, and that’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
For a boozy boost, a stop at the cider house is a must. “You can sit down on the patio and do a tasting flight of any four of our hard ciders or wines for $8,” Spychal says. “Or you can get a glass and take it around with you through the farm–so you can tackle the corn maze, but maybe you want to do it with a wine slushie, so you can stop there first and then go through the maze.” The maze spans 10 acres with three miles of pathways. “It is divided up into sections, so if you’re getting tired after doing the first half, you can always stop before doing the second half,” Spychal says. At nightfall on Fridays and Saturdays in October, the maze morphs into a haunted affair. “It’s very scary—not necessarily something you’d want to take little kids to, but it would be fun for teenagers, adults, and kids that are brave,” Spychal says. “We have all sorts of scare-actors that will jump out and surprise you along the way. It’s just a really fun, different experience from a haunted house—corn itself is scary at night.”
The corn crib play barn is fun for the young and young at heart. “It has loose shelled corn that’s like a big sandpit, but it’s corn. You can also climb into the hayloft and see a beautiful 360 view of the orchard, and you can race your friends with two 40-foot slides to get back down,” Spychal says. “Not necessarily everyone will want to get in the corn, but all adults have fun seeing that really great visual of the farm, and then I haven’t seen anyone not smile and laugh while going down those big slides, so that is something for everybody.”
One favorite for wee ones is the Tiny Town play area, which features miniature buildings and a trike track. “This year, we added a little gas station, so they can ride their trike around and fill up there,” Spychal says. “We like to focus on imaginative play—we think kids have the most fun with that versus a lot of rides.”
On the weekends, food trucks pull up to feed hungry apple-pickers. “We also have a concession stand where we make our own kettle corn, and make cider doughnut sundaes and caramel apple floats and other specialty treats that you can only get here and make everybody think of fall.” You also can rent a campfire site for two to 25 people ($60 to $100) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in October and bring your own hot dogs or marshmallows to roast over burning apple wood.
Admission is $10 per person ($8 online in advance) for weekends and Columbus Day, and there’s also a $5 after-school special (2 to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday). Some activities—pony rides, train rides, apple cannons—operate with a token system (one to three tokens, which are $2 each or six for $10), and the haunted corn maze is $17 per person. 19412 Shabbona Rd., Malta; jonamacorchard.com
School tours tend to pack the maze on weekday mornings, so after noon is a good time to visit during the week to avoid the crowds.
Royal Oak Farm
Back in 1989, Peter and Gloria Bianchini bought some farmland near the Illinois-Wisconsin border in Harvard and hired a manager to oversee it while they planned a quiet retirement in the country. When that manager asked if he could plant some apple trees, they obliged. “After a few years, the trees started to produce, so they had to figure out what to do with all of the apples,” says the Bianchinis’ granddaughter Sarah Bell. They decided to turn an old tractor shed into what is now the farm’s gift shop and bakery and opened to the public as a you-pick apple orchard, adding various attractions over the years.
Instead of charging admission, Royal Oak offers pay-as-you-go activities. The petting zoo and playground are free, while rides such as the carousel and trackless train are one token ($4) each. The farm’s claim to fame is an apple tree maze called Amaze’N Apples with about 1.5 miles of walking paths ($8 per person; includes two pick-your-own apples). “It feels like a European hedge maze, but it’s all apple trees,” says Bell, who now co-owns and operates the farm with her parents, brother, and sister-in-law. “Inside the maze we have different activity areas: some cool musical instruments, like a PVC pipe organ and wooden xylophone; a game area with hopscotch and checkers; and another one with wooden structures to climb on along with a central tower with an antique tractor. There’s also a search game; if you collect the letters and unscramble them you can win a cider doughnut.”
To pick your own apples, buy a quarter-peck bag—it costs $12 and holds about three pounds—and head out to the orchards. When you need a break from picking, stroll through the pollinator garden or visit the Royal Oak, the orchard’s giant namesake tree, which dates back to 1776. Though predicting which apple varieties will be ready to pick at any given time isn’t an exact science, Bell says in October you might encounter Liberty, Empire, Red Delicious, SnowSweet, Candy Crisp, Crispin, Braeburn, Gold Rush, Evercrisp, and Granny Smith varieties. “EverCrisp is a hybrid of Fuji and Honeycrisp, and it’s absolutely delicious,” she says. “It’s probably one of the best ones we grow, and you have to wait all season for it. They store really well. [This summer] my kids were still eating last year’s EverCrisps.” On the weekends, you can hop a tractor-drawn wagon ($4 per person) for a 30-minute informational tour of the orchards. “We talk about the history of the farm, about how we grow the trees, about the honeybees, and all our agricultural practices,” Bell says. You also can head to the pumpkin patch to pick your own future jack-o-lantern ($8 per person for ages 4 and up, includes one pumpkin).
The 90-minute drive to the farm is easily doable for a day trip, and you can plan for lunch at its Country Kitchen (chicken pot pie is a specialty) and stop for sweets at the bakery. “Apple cider doughnuts are the No. 1 thing that we do, and we have a lot of homemade cookies…and 10 different flavors of pie,” Bell says. Or you can easily turn your orchard trip into a weekend getaway. “We’re only about 20 minutes from Lake Geneva,” Bell says. “Mid-October between the 15th to 25th is really peak fall color time, and it’s just gorgeous here at the orchard and definitely by the lake, too.” 15908 Hebron Rd., Harvard; royaloak.farm
The Fall Color Festival at the Morton Arboretum (4100 Rte. 53, Lisle; mortonarb.org) comprises a slew of seasonal events. Join a Fall Foliage Walking Tour (1 to 3 p.m. October 20 or 28, $32) or a walking play production of Anne of Green Gables (4 to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays to Sundays through October 22, $15–$25). Stroll around Meadow Lake to see the Scarecrow Trail (daily throughout October) featuring displays crafted by local Scout groups; marvel at the Glass Pumpkin Patch, a display of thousands of hand-blown glass pumpkins (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. October 13 to 15); and sample some brew at the Cider and Ale Festival (October 21, $60–$80).
Pumpkin Weekends (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and Columbus Day) at Blackberry Farm (100 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora; blackberryfarm.info) offer all the activities that the farm is known for year-round—including rides on paddle boats, ponies, the carousel, miniature train, and hay wagon—with an added layer of fall festivity. “We deck the whole park in different fall-related decor,” says Becky Harling, facility manager. “We have tons of corn stalks and scarecrows and things like that scattered throughout the park. There are tons of photo ops for people to grab their family photo…and we have such a variety of trees, it looks like a painting when you walk in because there are so many different hues of colors.” Children’s entertainment such as bubble making, pumpkin carving, and stilt-walking will pop up throughout the month, so check the farm’s website for schedule updates. Admission ($10 per person for ages 1 and up) includes all rides; there are additional charges for feed for the farm animals ($3) and pumpkin painting ($3).
Naper Settlement (523 Webster St., Naperville; napersettlement.org) hosts a trio of fall events, starting with the German-inspired Oktoberfest (5 to 10 p.m. October 6 and 3 to 10 p.m. October 7, $15 to $20 admission). Fill up on schnitzel, bratwurst, and seasonal brews both imported (think Hofbrau and Spaten) and local (Alter Brewing’s Festbier) and try your hand—literally—at the stein-holding contest. Come October 20 and 21, the living-history museum’s 13-acre grounds take a scary turn for All Hallows Eve ($20 admission), a spooky weekend fest featuring creepy scenes and performances plus interactive experiences like axe-throwing, zombie maze, and a 15-foot werewolf art installation by Naperville artist Paul Kuhn. The month wraps up with Howlin’ at the Moon, a 21-and-up event (October 27 and 28, $20) with outdoor concerts, food trucks, a costume contest, and out-there entertainment including an impalement artist and reptile show.
Get your workout and some stellar leaf-peeping in all at once at the Cantigny 5K Run/Walk (7 to 10 a.m. November 4, $25), which winds through the tree-filled grounds of Cantigny Park (1S151 Winfield Rd., Wheaton; cantigny.org). There’s also a one-mile Kids Run (ages 6 to 10, $5) plus a cute-as-can-be Tot Run (5 and under, $5), with all proceeds benefiting Wheaton’s Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans. If a slow stroll is more your style, visit the park earlier in the month during the annual Cantigny Fall Festival (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. October 14 and 15, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, free for kids 15 and under), which expands to two days this year and features harvest-themed activities, a craft fair, and more.
Mark Your Calendar For More Fall Fun
Downtown St. Charles
Featuring: More than 85 handmade scarecrows, live music, a craft fair, Family Zone, and professional pumpkin carver
Danada Fall Festival
Danada Equestrian Center, 3S507 Naperville Rd., Wheaton
Featuring: Equestrian performances and demonstrations, wagon rides, barn tours, and children’s activities
Sugar Skull City
October 15–November 5
Featuring: Decorated storefronts, scavenger hunt, and ofrenda contest
6 to 9 p.m. October 27
Warrenville Park District Recreation Center, 3S260 Warren Ave.
Featuring: Inflatables, games, crafts, petting zoo, and live music
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. October 28
DuPage Children’s Museum,
301 N. Washington St., Naperville
Featuring: Build-your-own FrankenBuddy, wearable art, gooey slime, and pumpkins guts
Photos: Scott Bengtson (Tractor Town); Mark Wedow (Sonny Acres); Jen Banowetz (Abbey Farms); Harlan Horn, Photographic Artist (Konow’s Corn Maze); Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm; Scott Bengtson (Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm); Keller’s Farmstand; Jonamac Orchard; Blue Chair Stories; The Morton Arboretum (Glass Pumpkin Patch); Fox Valley Park District (Blackberry Farm)