Fall Family Fun: 6 Unforgettable Minnesota Experiences
The fall season is a busy time for families. It’s back to school time, a ramp up to the holidays and that oh-so-nice breath of fresh air — fall break! And what a perfect time for a break. Fall is a season packed with the sort of activities that have enthralled generations of children and parents: harvest festivals, apple-picking, pumpkin patches, corn mazes. Drive any country road in Minnesota for just a few minutes and you’ll likely find one or two (or all) of these — the Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the Land of Timeless Autumn Fun!
1. Share Quality Family Time at Fall Festivals
Fall festival season starts right after Labor Day. Kick things off with the Burnsville Fire Muster (Sept. 6-10). The highlight is a parade of fire trucks, old and new, from near and far; in 2004, it set the record for the world’s largest fire truck parade, with more than 120. A week later, the Lakeville Art Festival (Sept. 16-17) features demonstrations, a youth art tent and 80 artists selling their work, including painters, sculptors and ceramicists. For quintessential fall festival, head up the road to Bloomington, where Heritage Days (Sept. 16) cover all the bases: a parade, a vintage car show and even a pie-eating contest. The festival also salutes the diversity of its local heritage, particularly in the line-up of performers, which include Mu Performing Arts Taiko drummers, Los Alegres Bailadores Mexican folkloric dance group and Hui’s Lucky Lion Dance Team.
2. Go Back in Time and Celebrate Like a King
Weekends through Oct. 1
Celebrating its 47th season, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee has become the largest Renaissance Festival in the United States. Attendees can enjoy themed weekends, artisan crafts, games, thrilling performances, seasonal foods and, of course, breathtaking jousts and medieval reenactments!
3. Scare up Some Fun Halloween Thrills and Chills
When the air gets chillier (and just a bit spookier), the place to be is Anoka, the Halloween Capital of the World (really!), which goes all-in with costume contests, parades and the annual Gray Ghost 5K. There’s also a house-decorating contest, so be sure to take a stroll or a drive around town. Other signature family-oriented Halloween events around the state include Edina’s 50th and France Pumpkin Festival (Oct. 21); Haunted Harmony (Oct. 20-22), in the self-proclaimed Spookiest Little Town in Southeast Minnesota; and, for those who prefer a more retro scare, try All Hallows Eve, a 1900 Halloween (Oct. 20-21), at the Dakota City Heritage Village in Farmington.
4. Get Adventurous With Fall-Themed Mazes
September through October
There are also plenty of ways to get in on the autumnal action without marking your calendar for a particular day. Sever’s Fall Festival, for example, runs from early September to late October. It’s the sort of place where you can play for hours. Want a maze? There are two: one slicing through a field of corn, another formed from bales of hay. Also hay rides, corn pits (think “ball pit” but substitute kernels of corn) and pumpkin blasters. If you’ve ever dreamed of shooting a pumpkin out of a cannon, here’s your chance. The Twin Cities Harvest Festival & Maze is a similar sort of something-for-everyone experience, featuring its own sprawling corn pit and hay rides — and, yes, you can send some pumpkins airborne here, too, with the Pumpkin Slinger, which can send the orange orbs more than 100 yards. This Brooklyn Park attraction’s primary claim to fame, though, is the largest corn maze in the state, which always features a new theme (last year, it celebrated the Viking’s inaugural season in U.S. Bank Stadium).
5. Pick the Perfect Pumpkin in a Pumpkin Patch
September through October
If all you want to keep things a bit more subdued, it’s easy to find a pumpkin patch to suit your needs. Want to procure your future jack-o-lantern while also stocking up on some obscure candy from around the USA and the world? Drive to Jordan, where Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store (that’s what it’s called!) awaits. It’s heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth. Want a quiet spot with a postcard-perfect red barn? Head north to Kelsey, northwest of Duluth, to Simek’s Farm. Or would you want your pumpkin purchase to help do good? Farmer John’s, an eight-acre patch in Austin, donates a portion of proceeds from select pumpkins to support breast cancer research.
6. Take a Bite out of Autumn Flavors at an Apple Orchard
Early August through the end of October
Finally, no autumn in Minnesota is complete without a trip to an apple orchard. Fun fact: some of the most-loved varieties of apples were developed at the University of Minnesota, including Haralson, Fireside, SweeTango and that perennial favorite, Honeycrisp. These apples were bred to be winter-hardy, while packing great flavor, and they’re the pride of orchards around the state. They taste even better when you pick them yourself, at places like Aamodt Apple Farm and Vineyard in Stillwater; Afton Apple Orchard in Hastings; Applewood Orchard in Lakeville; and Fireside Orchard in Northfield. And here’s a local tip: you have to try the apple cider doughnuts!