Fall often means the beginning of a season cooped up inside with your, but autumn is a fantastic time to venture outdoors as landscape colors ignite. If foliage isn't enough to keep your kids interested on a weekend away, perhaps you need to plan a trip that combines the beauty of the countryside with activities, participation, and fun. One solution is a weekend away on a Farm stay -- a few days for you and your family to experience life on a working farm and get back to nature at the same time.
Younger children in particular will love rolling up their sleeves and getting involved with the animals as a farm stay generally includes the opportunity to do chores and help out around the property, including collecting eggs, milking cows, feeding animals, and grooming. Fall is also apple cider season so many farms that have orchards will get their guests involved in the cider-making process. If you and your children are big city folk, a farm stay will not only be educational, but invariably it will provide a much needed respite from the concrete jungle and a chance to slow down the pace and bond as a family.
Accommodations can often be very comfortable and set up like a bed and breakfast, or in more rustic properties, families may share large open spaces or cottages with kitchen facilities. Hearty, fresh breakfasts are usually served and children who think that food comes from a supermarket will soon learn about the origins of produce they are eating. Pennsylvania is the country's farm vacation capital and the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association (tel. 888/856-6622; www.pafarmstay.com) has two dozen member farms, offering guests a glimpse of rural life and an escape from the confines of the city.
Hummerhaven Farmstead (tel. 717/589-7748; www.sixreflections.com) is127 acres of planted fields, woodland, pastures, streams and ponds. It is located two hours from Philadelphia and three hours from Baltimore or Washington, D.C. Guests here are invited to help with feeding and care of farm animals like miniature donkeys, angora rabbits, llamas, pot belly pigs, dwarf goats, babydoll sheep, horses, dogs, ducks, and chickens. After chores there's time for hiking, fishing, paddle-boating, canoeing, fossil hunting, swimming in an enclosed hearted pool, ice skating on the pond (when it gets really cold), or just resting and taking in the fresh country air. The cottage and farmhouse accommodates eight people with two full bathrooms, two kitchens, all linens, cribs, and high chairs for $85 per night plus tax (payable by cash or check) for four people. A two-night minimum is required during off peak season (September to April).
Rocky Acre Farm (tel. 717/653-4449; www.rockyacre.com) is located between Amish Country and Hershey. This 200-year-old dairy farm offers your family the opportunity to discover the simple life by feeding baby animals, gathering eggs, milking cows, or riding miniature horses. There are also hayrides, swing sets, and a colorful playhouse just for the kids. The family-style breakfasts include pancakes, waffles or French toast, sausages, hash-browns and straight-from-the-oven baked goods. Rates start from $125 per night for a room in a historic Victorian farmhouse that sleep four people. The price includes breakfast daily, hot coffee or tea available anytime, air conditioning, private bathrooms, farm activities like morning pony, train, and tractor rides, and the use of outdoor equipment like bikes, balls, sports equipment, and rowboats. Vermont is known for its fresh produce like maple syrup and cheese plus it has the distinction of having more cows than people, which is a good thing when you are looking for a country getaway. The Vermont Farms Association (www.vtfarms.org) provides listings of farms that take part in farm stays and farm vacations, although pricing details are best secured by telephone with the individual properties. Falkenbury Farm (tel. 802/537-2979; www.falkenburyfarm.com) in Benson, in southwest Vermont is a small-scale farm with a three-bedroom, fully contained guesthouse that sleeps seven people for $150 per night. Although they only milk four cows a day, guests are welcome to participate and help with the chores for their small stock of beef cattle and a menagerie of Boer goats, rabbits, chickens, pigs, and turkeys. The "farm experience" is totally optional so if you'd like to just lounge around the house and relax, that is just fine. The farm also makes a good home base for visiting local antique stores, picking fruit at nearby orchards, going to the Pond Hill Ranch (www.pondhillranch.com) horse events or visiting several lakes in the district.
Liberty Hill Farm (tel. 802/767-3926; www.libertyhillfarm.com) in Rochester, VT is a working dairy farm with 150 head of cattle and lots of cats. This farm vacation offers lodging with meals (dinner and breakfast) served at the family table. Visit the barn, feed the animals, help with chores, fish in the river, or hike in the surrounding woods. Liberty is also one of the Cabot Cheese making cooperative farms. Adults are $110 per person per day, children under 12 are $55 and teens are $70. Meals are made with local fresh ingredients and accommodations are in seven comfortable guest rooms (with four shared bathrooms).
Iowa is the nation's farming heartland and the small town of Fredericksburg is located three hours' drive from Des Moines, as well as Madison, WI and Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. It is home to The Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast (tel. 563/237-5969; www.thefarmhousebb.com) an early 20th-century restored home on a working farm with dairy cattle, goats, chickens, peacocks, llamas, Jacob sheep, cats, and a dog. Guests can help with egg gathering, feeding of animals and general farm chores, discover their four mile nature trail, fish in the farm pond and walk through the property's vineyard. All guest rooms feature private bathrooms, television, DVD players, air conditioning, and queen or king-size beds. Two suites are available each with a Jacuzzi and a deck. The Farm House offers a full home cooked farmer's breakfast using locally grown products. Room rates start from $70 per night (the Bovine Room) and go up to $150 for the Safari suite that can sleep four people. The kids will love the Mickey Mouse room, complete with Mickey furniture, bedding and decoration, priced at $75 a night.
Brink Farm (tel. 712/353-6730; www.iowafarmvacation.com) in Castana, IA is less than an hour's drive from Sioux City and a little under 90 minutes from Omaha, NE. This farm stay includes lodging and all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) which you share with the Brink family. The cost for an overnight stay is $100 per adult and $50 per child (children under five are free) and there is a 10% discount for stays longer than one night. No alarm clocks are necessary, the property's roosters will get you up in time to do your chores or you can take a more leisurely approach and just spend time admiringÂ the cattle, hogs, miniature donkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, kittens, and the quintessential farm dog, Bob. There's also fishing off the dock, paddle boats, tractor and hay rides, feeding the fish at the farm pond, walking in the Loess Hills, looking for deer and wild turkeys and picking mushrooms and wild flowers. Guests are invited to take home produce from the farm garden and orchard plus any eggs they gather.