The leaves may change color and the kids may be back in school, but it truly feels like fall when pumpkin patch season rolls around!
Here in Central Oregon, where we are blessed to live among incredible local farms and ranches, visiting a pumpkin patch—or several!—is a major must-do on every family’s list.
Did you know that Oregon grows around 2,600 acres of pumpkins across more than 400 farms, worth almost $10 million, according to the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation? Pumpkins are a pretty big deal here!
With so many great local options, how is a parent to choose? To get the most out of your pumpkin-picking experience, know the lay of the land and make a plan. Depending on what you’re looking for, some places may be a better fit than others.
U-Pick Pumpkins & Fresh Produce
Every patch will offer “u-pick” options for selecting that special seasonal squash. The key is timing—early on in the season (end of September, start of October) the fields will be full and you’ll have your pick of the litter. However, by the end of October pickings may start to get a little slim.
Some places offer heritage pumpkins of all different shapes, sizes and colors. If you’re looking for a funky heirloom option that you can’t pick up at the grocery store, you’ll definitely want to visit one of the many local patches to get your hands on a white ghost gourd, rare silver-blue Jarrahdale pumpkin or an aptly named orange and black batwing pumpkin.
We’re blessed that our local pumpkin patches are also working farms where you can pick up fresh produce. Schillings Garden Market and Nursery in Tumalo sells many artisanal products like local honey and simple syrups. No trip home from Smith Rock Ranch in Terrebonne is complete without a jug of freshly made apple cider. For meat lovers, DD Ranch offers some delicious grass-fed beef products, too!
Many families plan special family photo sessions in the pumpkin patch to capture the seasonal magic, either with a professional photographer or just their phone camera. With a little advanced planning, these shots can make a great holiday card a few months down the road!
A key factor to consider is the time of day—the best time to go is late afternoon to capture that magical twilight hour where sunset lighting casts a glistening glow across your child’s face among the pretty pumpkins.
With its glorious view of Smith Rock in the background, Smith Rock Ranch is the obvious choice for autumnal sunset landscape photography. If looking for an old-timey Western vibe, its photo booth casts a sepia tone to your “wanted” cowboy or cowgirl poster.
Schillings also offers some adorably staged photo opportunities for little ones, from hay bales stacked in front of a “wall o’ pumpkins” to cute toddler-sized cardboard cut-outs of old-fashioned farm trucks. Load your toddler into one of its many little green wagons with some pumpkins and get out the camera!
Both DD and Smith Rock ranches offer fun animal options for kids of all ages. Pony rides at both places are usually a hot commodity, so get in line early and be prepared to pony up wallet-wise. Don’t forget to dress for the changing weather since October in Central Oregon can go either way.
With a weight limit between 70-100 pounds, pony rides are best for the younger ones, but everyone can enjoy the petting zoos and horse-drawn wagon rides. At DD Ranch, you can even grab a handful of hay and hand feed the cattle.
Schillings’ small hay bale maze is perfect for toddlers and preschool-aged kids five and under (bonus - it’s free!), while DD’s larger “Kids Corral ” hay maze is better suited for elementary-aged kids.
For older kids and teens, though (and adults who are kids at heart), nothing beats Smith Rock’s gigantic legendary corn maze, which comes complete with a hand-drawn map and a flag in case you get lost. The corn maze is the most expensive activity on the ranch but is well worth the cost if you’re looking for an adventure.
Tractor Train Rides
Regarding train rides, once again, both ranches deliver, but are best suited for different age groups. DD Ranch offers a classic tractor towing small train cars that are perfect for the younger ones, while Smith Rock offers a more extensive safari-themed train ride with animal-shaped cars even grown-ups can squeeze into.
At Smith Rock, I also like to split our household and send Mom on the train with the kiddos while Dad videos from the sidelines.
To summarize, if you want a laid-back, inexpensive farmer’s market vibe with good music and food that’s close by, go for Schillings. If you’re looking for an all-day adventure, try DD Ranch for younger kids or Smith Rock for the older set. Whatever you choose, have fun, and don’t forget to bring the camera to capture those memories!