Pumpkin patch

Fall has never been my favorite time of year.

To be honest, I think it has more to do with the impending winter season than autumn itself. I suppose knowing what's coming next makes fall that much more difficult to enjoy.

On the other hand, there are a few aspects about the season following summer that I simply love — cooler weather, campfires and, of course, visiting pumpkin patches with my family.

Since having children, the annual trip to the pumpkin patch has always been a top priority once fall rolls around. From picking the pumpkin itself, to letting my children explore the various activities, there is always so much to do and see.

In fact, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming.

Throughout the years, I have a learned a lot of tricks to help me make the most out of my trip to the pumpkin patch. Here they are below.

1. Do your research. Most pumpkin patches offer more than just pumpkins. So if you don't see what's available, you could miss out on loads of fun activities. Before you head out, visit the patch’s website to scope out available activities, hours and even a map of the patch to get a feel for what you can expect during your visit. Also, be aware of what costs may be associated with your trip in addition to admission price.

2. Look for ways to save money. A trip to the pumpkin patch can add up quickly when you consider what additional costs you may be expecting. Luckily, there are a few ways to save money on your trip. For example, some patches offer discounted rates earlier in the season or even during the weekdays. If you're planning on going more than once, you might even look into a season pass. Another way you can save money is to bring your own food if the patch you’re interested in visiting will allow it.

3. Bring cash. Speaking of money — have some cash on hand. Some pumpkin patches don't accept credit cards. You don't want to be stuck needing to buy water or food and not have a way to pay for it.

4. Know how to beat the crowd. When you’re visiting a patch with toddlers — especially for the first time — I’ve found it’s beneficial to go when there are less people. If you’re able, plan a mid-week trip when most children are in school. If the weekend is your only option, plan to get there right when the patch opens. Going earlier in the season is also a good option for littler ones. With such a short season, pumpkin patches can get pretty crazy the closer it gets to Halloween.

5. Dress accordingly. Autumn in the Midwest is unpredictable, so I always like to take a jacket — especially if it’s cooler in the morning. Along those lines, be sure to bring sunscreen to protect yourself and the kiddos. Also, plan on getting dirty. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed, but in my experience we generally leave with more dirt than we arrive with. So I suggest wearing old shoes and taking along a couple of old towels — especially if it has rained recently. Most pumpkin patches are simply farms that have been expanded into family-friendly activity centers, which means outside elements will still exist and mud will be in abundance. It's also a good idea to pack some hand sanitizer, especially if your kids venture into the petting zoo.

6. Allergies. Speaking of outside elements, be aware of the potential for allergic reactions or flare-ups. Between the excess amount of hay and farm animals present, be aware of how these factors may affect you or your little ones. Take extra precautions, if necessary, and be sure to pack any medications you may need.

7. Designate a meeting location. If the group you’re going with includes varying ages of children — some of whom may not require constant supervision — consider designating a meeting location and time for check in. This can be helpful if you plan to be there for several hours. This way, the older children can feel free to navigate the patch in search of age-appropriate activities without feeling obligated to participate in activities geared toward the littler ones.

8. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’re used to visiting the same patch year after year, don’t be afraid to check out a patch that’s off the beaten path. You may find that smaller, family-owned businesses may offer more unique food choices or reduced prices in comparison to the larger farms. Check out this list of available patches around town to help plan your trip.

What are your tips and tricks when visiting pumpkin patches?

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Amanda Smith, a working mom of two children, writes weekly for momaha.com. Read more from Amanda »

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