After a long, hot summer, the appearance of pumpkins always marks a welcome start to fall. A staple of U.S. folklore, pumpkins herald the autumn harvest, and festivals across the country celebrate the squash that’s such an integral part of the season. With National Pumpkin Day on October 26th, there’s still plenty of time to catch pumpkins from coast to coast, nosh on pumpkin pie, trek through a pumpkin patch—even feed one to a pumpkin-eating dragon.

2016 Pumpkin Weigh-Off Winner Cindy Tobeck sits atop her prized pumpkin in Half Moon Bay.

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival
Half Moon Bay, California, October 13-14, 2018

The coastal community of Half Moon Bay, California, has the perfect not-too-hot, not-too-cold climate for pumpkin growing. The city’s 48-year-old pumpkin festival, boasting “Volkswagen-sized” pumpkins, kicks off with its annual world championship pumpkin weigh-off, where multi-ton gourds—the defending champion is 2,363 pounds—compete for a new, world-record-breaking cash prize. Snap a picture with the heavyweights and with the world’s largest pumpkin sculpture. The festival unfolds with four stages of live entertainment and offers a full weekend of fall-themed activities, including a homespun parade, pumpkin carving, costume and pie-eating contests, and naturally, pumpkin concoctions like pumpkin-flavored Jack-o-tinis and pumpkin harvest ale, premiering from local Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. Admission is free.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Vala’s Pumpkin Patch
Gretna, Nebraska, September 14 through October 31, 2018

With 400 acres of farmland—55 of those just for pumpkins—and more than 50 attractions, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch operates like an autumnal amusement park. A classic hay ride carries visitors to the pumpkin fields to pick their own pumpkins, while a Lost Pumpkin Mine, Graveyard Golf, petting zoo, and three-acre corn maze also draw fall-lovers. Three live shows run daily, including pig races, a mechanical pumpkin-eating dragon, Xander, who’s fed hourly, and a Pumpkin Chunkin air cannon that launches the gourds a quarter mile away into a field. Although its Disney-esque scale might suggest otherwise, Vala’s remains a multi-generational family affair after 30 years, with all three Vala daughters, now grown, helping to manage the farm. You’ll find one of them running Kelsey’s Sweet Shop, whipping up her signature brown-butter salted honey pie. Tickets $12 to $22.

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Last year’s festival featured scenes from “The Wizard of Oz” constructed from pumpkins.

Autumn  at the Arboretum
Dallas, Texas, September 22 through November 21, 2018

Hosted by the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, this annual fall festival sees the grounds explode with color as horticulturalists transform summer’s flowerbeds into a fairy-tale Pumpkin Village. More than 90,000 green apple gourds, traditional orange “pie” pumpkins, and mini white pumpkins—as well as hay bales and cornstalks—adorn the gardens. This year’s Pumpkin Village, “The Adventures in Neverland,” features scenes from Peter Pan, with a pumpkin Lost Boys hideout, a pirate ship sailing through a pumpkin-and-gourd sea, and Tick-Tock the Crocodile crouching among pumpkins. The kid-friendly festival also holds special events throughout the season: a Halloween maze, scavenger hunt, face painting, live music, and an interactive animal show by the Dallas Zoo. $15 for adults, $10 for children.

Pumpkins pile high at the Hiram House Camp Pumpkin Festival in Ohio.

Hiram House Camp Pumpkin Festival
Chagrin Falls, Ohio, October 14, 2018

Unrolling across 172 wooded acres, the Hiram House Pumpkin Festival packs the best of the season into a daylong event. A bevy of activities lets visitors make their own slime, test their aim at archery, dip candles, decorate cookies, ride ponies, take rocket car rides, wander a haunted hay maze—and of course, peruse the pumpkin patch for a gourd they can carve and decorate. These are also pumpkins for a cause: originally founded in 1896 as a settlement house for immigrants, nonprofit Hiram House now runs camps for children. Pumpkin festival proceeds help provide “camperships” for children to attend. Admission $5, children under 12 free.

 

The Great Pumpkin Farm Fall Festival
Clarence, New York, September 15 through October 31, 2018

Home to another world-record-breaking pumpkin—the first 1,000-pounder—the Great Pumpkin Farm’s Fall Festival began by hosting annual weigh-offs in 1996. Since then, it’s evolved into a dawn-to-dusk event, with rides, attractions, and shows. The festival’s pumpkin patch, proclaiming “zillions of pumpkins,” also sells stalks, gourds, and mums and abuts a crowd-pleasing Boo Barn with vortex tunnel. Zombies overrun this year’s five-acre corn maze (and visitors can shoot them from the zombie paint ball train). The trigger-happy can also slingshot pumpkins and launch them out of a cannon. The festival’s Pumpkin Palace serves up such fall treats as pies made with fruit picked from the farm, fresh doughnuts, and apple cider. $8 base admission on weekends (rides and attractions are additional fees); free admission on weekdays.

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Find your next favorite pumpkin in a town 45 minutes south of Nashville.

Lucky Ladd Farms Fall Family Fun Fest
Eagleville, Tennessee, September 9 through October 28, 2018

Billing itself as an “ag-venture fun farm park,” the Ladd-family-owned farm brings in the harvest season right by heaping on fall attractions to its roster of 50+ activities. Lucky Ladd’s pumpkin patch lets you pick from thousands of different shapes, sizes, and colors, while a Pumpkin Princess strolls the grounds on weekends. A miles-long corn maze—awarded best in the state last year—pays homage to the Nashville Predators hockey team, challenging visitors with in-maze games and winding paths. Other fall add-ons include pumpkin slingshots, a corn cannon, and archery—in addition to the park’s usual offerings of mega slides, pony and wagon rides, and Lucky’s Barnyard with more than 100 farm animals. General admission for adults starts at $14, with some activities for additional fees—or grab a Pumpkin Pass for $18.

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