Hop on the wagon

In Charlie Brown's classic cartoon, Linus camped out in the most sincere pumpkin patch he could find to wait for the Great Pumpkin.

Most of us won't be spending a night surrounded by orange orbs, but many families will be visiting local farms to pick out the perfect pumpkin to carve into a jack-o'-lantern to decorate front porches. As the air turns chilly and cornstalks brown and crinkle, it's also time to grab the kids and a bushel basket to pick apples to add to lunchboxes or bake into pies using Grandma's recipe. Catch a free lift into an orchard on a hay wagon, and the day turns into an outdoor adventure.

In Saratoga County, there's a long list of weekend destinations offering seasonal favorites. Sunnyside Farms in Saratoga Springs is a virtual autumnal playground, with an enormous pumpkin field filled with tombstones bearing jokes (How do you make a witch itch? Take away the `w') and an old-fashioned, child-sized train zipping around its perimeter. There's also a hay mountain for kids to scale and a tame hayride through "haunted" woods. On most weekends through Halloween, there's live music and on-site baking of apple-filled confections. You can also pick up mums and any number of plants, crafts and home decorations.

One of the newest crazes in outdoor fall activities is getting hopelessly lost in a maze carved out of cornfields. Schuyler Farms in Schuylerville was one of the earliest in the area to carve an intricate design into an enormous dried corn patch for the specific purpose of confusing wanderers.

"I've owned this farm for 41 years, and five years ago we started designing and cutting patterns into the field," said Anna Macica. "Every year more people come out. We expect 2007 to be our best year ever."

It takes about 45 minutes to navigate your way out of the corn maze; extra time is required at night for the "Haunted Maze" offered on weekend nights. Bring a flashlight, and be prepared for various ghosts and ghouls to jump out of the stalks (but they won't be dragging you away; they're not allowed to touch you, and vice versa). Mazes have been cut in the shapes of pirates and aliens in previous years; this year's design is an elaborate mining cave. The farm also offers hayrides, pick-your-own pumpkins, miniature golf, gemstone and fossil mining, petting zoo, gift shop, farm- fresh snacks, and a complete garden center.

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