- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

Cox Farms in Centreville is to pumpkins and hayrides what Disney World is to Mickey Mouse. It is 50 acres of over-the-top fun with hay castles, slides, rope swings, barn tours, hayrides, pumpkin patches and all-you-can-eat-and-drink apples and apple cider. Children love it.

“The hayrides are very popular with the kids,” says Lynn Hertz, spokeswoman for Cox Farms. “They tell us we have the best one around.”

The ride is certainly long and quite adventurous, featuring almost 30 minutes of bumpy road lined with festive and fun mannequins and two-dimensional cartoon and political characters. It may be one of the only places where Sesame Street’s Elmo and President Bush share the same stage.

Younger children (ones who don’t want to sit still for even 30 minutes) have a field day on the slides and hay castles and hay tunnels that litter the farm.

“Our philosophy is to keep it simple and let the kids use their own imagination,” Ms. Hertz says.

Also popular among the younger set is the Pooh House and a wooden train that looks like a giant, colorful Brio train in which children can crawl and climb.

While tasty kettle corn and other goodies are for sale, Cox Farms is delightfully noncommercial. Instead, it has an educational component consisting of barn tours and milking stations, where a farmer shows children the ins and outs of milking a cow. Those who wish can try their hands — literally — at milking.

Also scattered around are big signs with fun farm facts. Did you know, for example, that male sheep are called rams while females are ewes and that when a flock of these wool-producing four-leggers eat, they all face the same direction? And did you know that full-grown pigs weigh 400 pounds, while at birth piglets weigh 2 pounds? During our visit, adorable 2-day-olds were staying close to their warm mama.

The farm has been open for its fall festival since 1972 and will welcome about 100,000 people this season. It is clear that many of these visitors will be young children: A nursing and changing station is housed in what looks like a rainbow tepee, and several kiosks offer bottle-warming.

Though located in Centreville, the farm gets dozens of school class visits from as far away as Montgomery County and the District, Ms. Hertz says.

School classes, which normally come on weekdays, can hear live music for an hour or two during lunch, while weekend visitors can enjoy it all day long.

The farm is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and a family can easily spend half that time at the farm without being bored or hungry for a minute.

When the children have run off some energy and need a refill — and they can’t eat another free apple or drink another cup of great-tasting cider — head for the food stand, which serves barbecue sandwiches, pizza, burgers and french fries at reasonable prices.

If this menu is not your cup of tea, the farm invites visitors to bring their own picnic baskets. Plenty of picnic tables are scattered on the property.

At the end of the visit, each person gets his or her own take-home pumpkin. Beware, however, as the take-home pumpkins are not the giant kinds you see at the farm’s entrance. The free ones are nice, but grapefruit-size.

Also at the exit gate, visitors can purchase such farm items as apples, baked goods, fresh cider, honey, gourds and fall decorations at the farm market, which also offers huge pumpkins for sale.

A visit to Cox Farms means, if you’re an adult, equipping yourself with patience and energy because this might be the most child-friendly excursion you will make this year. Children definitely can outlast adults in this pumpkin wonderland.

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: Cox Farms is located at 15621 Braddock Road, Centreville.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 66 west to Exit 52. Turn right onto U.S. Route 29. At the third light, turn right onto Pleasant Valley Road. After about four miles, turn left onto Braddock Road. The entrance is the first driveway on the left.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Admission: $7 per person ages 2 and older on weekdays; $9 per person ages 2 and older on weekends. Children younger than 2 are admitted free.

Parking: Free parking is available.

Information: Call 703/830-4121, or visit www.coxfarms.com.

Other local fall festivals:

• Pumpkinville 2003

Location: Pumpkinville 2003 is at the Leesburg Animal Park at 19270 James Monroe Highway, Leesburg, Va.

Directions: From the Beltway, take the Dulles Toll Road/Virginia Route 267 west, continue on the Greenway Toll Road/Route 267 west; take the exit for Virginia Route 7 west/Virginia Route 15 south. Drive about one mile. Take the exit for Route 15 toward Warrenton. Drive about 1.5 miles. The park is on the left next to Leesburg Gardens.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Nov. 2

Admission: $5.50 per person on weekdays and $8.50 per person on weekends. Children younger than 2 are admitted free.

Parking: Free parking available

Information: Call 703/779-2332, or visit www.leesburganimalpark.com.

• Hill High Farm

Location: Hill High Farm is at 933 Barley Lane, Winchester, Va.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 66 west. Take Exit 1B and merge onto Interstate 81 north toward Winchester. Take Exit 307 toward Stephens City. Turn left onto Fairfax Pike. Turn right onto Virginia Route 629. Make another right onto Middle Road and then turn left onto Barley Lane.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 2.

Admission: Free admission; hayrides are $5, free for children ages 2 and younger.

Parking: Free parking is available.

Information: Call 540/667-7377, or visit www.thepumpkin-patch.com.

mHomestead Gardens

Location: Homestead Gardens is at 743 W. Central Ave., Davidsonville, Md.

Directions: From the Beltway, take U.S. Route 50 east toward Annapolis. Exit onto Maryland Route 424 south toward Davidsonville. Make a left onto Maryland Route 214 east. The entrance to Homestead Gardens is on the right.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today for fall festival activities, including pumpkin painting and pony rides.

Admission: Free admission; hayrides are $2 for adults and children older than 2.

Parking: Free parking is available.

Information: Call 410/798-5000, or visit www.homesteadgardens.com.

• Cherry Hill Farm and Orchard

Location: Cherry Hill Farm and Orchard, 12309 Gallahan Road, Clinton.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Maryland Route 295 south. Take the exit toward Indian Head Highway and merge onto the highway. Turn left onto Old Fort Road. Make another left onto Gallahan Road.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today for the fall festival

Admission: $6

Parking: Free parking is available.

Information: Call 301/292-4642, or visit www.cherryhillfarm.net.

• Butler’s Orchard

Location: Butler’s Orchard is at 22200 Davis Mill Road, Germantown.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 270 north to Exit 16, Father Hurley Boulevard; bear right off the exit onto Maryland Route 27. Make a right onto Brink Road. Make a left onto Wildcat Road. Make a left onto Davis Mill Road. The orchard will be on your left.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today for the 23rd annual pumpkin festival.

Admission: $7 per person, free for children 2 and younger

Parking: Free parking is available.

Information: Call 301/972-3299, or visit www.butlers-orchard.com.

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