With its rolling countryside, vast expanses of farmland, and ubiquitous forests, autumn is a no-brainer in Pennsylvania. Colors explode, the harvests roll out, and you might even start imagining that the tap water tastes vaguely of apple cider. There’s no need to stay on the blacktop for your leaf-peeping, as the Keystone state provides ample opportunity to appreciate autumn on foot as well as by train, bike, or canoe. You can navigate corn mazes, pick apples, and even get into the Halloween spirit with zoo animals. We found seven activities that will make you fall in love with Pennsylvania’s most colorful season.
Get onboard the Foliage Express
Nothing plunges you into the countryside better than riding the rails, and kids tend to like it a whole lot better than the back seat of a car. —a tourist train whose working-railroad roots go back to the 1830s—offers weekend rides in 1920s-era cars. In October and November, the 90-minute Fall Foliage Express whisks you through the rich foliage of the Upper Chester Creek Valley, less than an hour east of Philly. For the last two weekends in October, the train dresses up for Halloween and invites passengers to do the same. Kids get treats, but not scared, the train folks promise. (Fares: $10/adult, $8/child 2-12; 610/430-2233)
Climb a trio of treehouses
At 1,000 acres, takes its role as a horticultural showplace very seriously, and this fall it is giving the star treatment to treehouses. Both kids and parents can climb around in the Nature’s Castles exhibit, featuring three elaborate tree houses modeled after a birdhouse, an Adirondack cabin, and a cathedral. The whole family can check out the fall foliage, not to mention the 20,000 blooming chrysanthemums, at this former weekend estate of industrialist Pierre DuPont. In October, the gardens will display 100 kinds of exotic pumpkins and gourds (look for one called “Long Island Cheese”), as well as a selection of glittering glass-blown gourds. Year-round, Longwood’s Bee-aMazed Garden lets kids run a path shaped like a bee’s flight and learn about the parts of flowers. On chillier days, head to the Indoor Children’s Garden, where you’ll find dozens of different plants, 17 fountains, a glass-ceilinged rain “pavilion” and a bamboo maze with kid-activated water features. Longwood also offers regular storytimes and a kid-friendly map that junior gardeners can use to explore the park, scavenger-hunt style. (Admission: $16/adult, $6/child 5-12, free for kids 4 and under; 610/388-1000)
Be knighted by a queen
Mount Hope Estate & Winery, in Lancaster County, is home to food and music festivals year round and, as the name implies, plenty of wine for tasting. Late summer through fall, however, is its banner season, when Mount Hope channels the 16th century for a 12-weekend Kids can swing on a Hippogriff ride, watch jugglers and magicians, and be knighted by Queen Elizabeth I herself—all in a single day. The whole family, meanwhile, can watch creative interpretations of Shakespeare and dine on the obligatory turkey legs, fish ’n’ chips and Scotch eggs. (Grown-ups can also sample the homegrown berry and Honey Mead wines.) In November, the fun moves inside the estate’s Victorian-era mansion for lively performances of Edgar Allen Poe stories. (Faire admission: $28.95/adult, $9.95/child. Online deal: “Family four-pack” for $59.95; 717/665-7021)
Take on the big ears
Corn mazes—where visitors can get happily lost amongst the stalks—are hot tickets at farms throughout autumn. Lancaster County’s boasts that its Amazing Maize Maze is the nation’s biggest, at five acres with 2.5 miles of trails. You can use maps and guides for assistance, or really test your navigation skills by coming at night with flashlights. Once you find your way out, little ones can take part in old-fashioned hay rides, a petting zoo, and they can even pick their own ears of corn. Kids can also get a hands-on introduction to Amish culture in the Make-a-Friend workshop, where they try their hand at doll making, mini-barn-building and quilting, and take home their creations. (Admission: $8.95/person, free for kids under 3; 717/687-6843)
Get into the harvest spirit
Some fall festivals are created to merely look like farms, then rapidly morph into Christmas-tree lots the week after Halloween. , however, is the real deal. This 400-acre farm along the foliage-lined Monongahela River, south of Pittsburgh, grows corn, green beans, tomatoes, berries and, of course, pumpkins. Its Fall Pumpkin Festival features a small carnival, gently scary haunted barn, rope maze and “Storybook Pumpkinland” of fairy-tale characters all rendered into pumpkin heads. On weekends, you can take home bags of cider doughnuts and caramel apples. Year round, there’s also a petting zoo and “play barn” with a giant slide, hay bales, and climbable tractor tires. (Info: 724/258-3557)
Go crazy for apple-picking
As harvest chores go, apple-picking scores high: it requires little effort but offers sweet rewards. Nestled in this apple-loving state between Philadelphia and Reading, traces its roots back to the 1940s and still sets itself apart with its pick-your-own season that stretches until October 26. Choose from varieties such as Galas, Romes, Fujis and Stayman Winesaps (can your local supermarket beat 80 cents a pound?), and if you make it for the October 4 festival, you can share in wine-tasting and bluegrass music. This place even claims to have invented the fruit-filled gift basket in the 1950s—a great excuse to take one home. (Info: 888/367-6200)
Say “boo” at a zoo
Kids can celebrate Halloween early at the and the four-legged residents get to join in the fun, too. During October weekends, hippos, turtles and other residents can be seen dining on pumpkins, gourds and other fall veggies, as part of the zoo’s Beast Festival. On the last weekend of October, kids and grown-ups are invited to dress up for Boo at the Zoo, featuring storytelling, games and trick-or-treating at candy stations. If you book ahead, you can even attend a zoo sleepover ($50/person) or an after-dark “Beast Feast” adventure on select weekends. Kids can pet and feed animals in the on-site Children’s Zoo and though October, everyone is still enjoying summer pleasures such as swan boats, pony rides, and even camel rides. (Admission: $17.95/adult, $14.95/child. Parking: $12; 215/243-1100)
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