I don’t care what the weatherman says. Once Labor Day is over, I’m ready for my boots, apple cider candles, pumpkin bread, crisp fall breezes, and maybe, dare I say it, a sweater. So despite it being in the mid-80s today, I’m all about fall. My candle is lit, and I’m assembling my bucket list of must-do activities for my family this fall.
Because here’s the other frustrating thing about fall: It is too dang short. I mean, really what we have is about six weeks, and then the magic of fall, with its many-colored leaves and cool, sunny days, is gone and BOOM, it’s winter. Maybe that’s what makes fall so alluring…its brevity. Every year I say, “Hey, I really want us to go apple- and berry-picking at Apple Hill this year,” or “That ghost walk looks fun—let’s do it!” And every year I don’t do it, because I spent too many weeks saying, “Yeah, I’ll do it next week,” and then BOOM, it’s winter. And life’s too short to continue on that path, isn’t it?
I’m breaking with tradition and setting myself a few New Fall Resolutions—call it a bucket list, if you will—which contains fall activities in our area that my family will not be skipping this year. And if you don’t have a calendar already packed full of things, I’d recommend you hit this bucket list too:
I’m starting with an easy one. As much as I enjoy cooking, and am a pretty good cook, I’m not so much with the baking. And there’s something about fall that makes me think, “Yeah, you know, I need to do more baking.” Because if I’m being honest, all I really ever want to eat for the entire month of October is pumpkin bread. I found an amazing recipe for it, and I add chocolate chips (yeah, you heard me) for extra yumminess. Then there’s apple pie, or really anything made with apples. Oh, and chicken pot pie. Yeah, baking will definitely be the top item on my bucket list.
My Pumpkin Bread Recipe
3 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup of water
1 15-oz can of pumpkin
3/4 cup of raisins, walnuts, or chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of two 9x5x3-inch, three 8x4x2-inch, or four 7.5×3.5×2-inch pans, and set aside.
In an extra-large mixing bowl, beat sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add eggs and beat well; set sugar mixture aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Alternately add flour mixture and the water to sugar mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat in pumpkin. (Here is also where I like to add 1 cup of chocolate chips to the batter and mix carefully until blended.) Spoon batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
2. Visit Apple Hill.
Located in Camino, California, in El Dorado County, Apple Hill takes a little bit of time to reach (about 2 ½ to 3 hours) but it is worth the effort. It is THE thing to do with your family in fall. A scenic drive loops around the area, winding up and down hills and around bends to family farms where they grow, you guessed it, apples, but also berries and Christmas trees. The scenery is spectacular, and there’s plenty for adults and kids, from wine and beer tasting to crafts, games, apple- and berry-picking areas, petting zoos, and more. Yes, it’s the height of tourist season and the place is packed, especially on weekends. But if you can find the time, go. There are lots of fresh farm stands, with affordable and delicious produce, and OH MY GOD the pies. Eight-inch-deep pies, and apple fritters, and cider, and cider milkshakes, and apple doughnuts. Funny how this post seems to mostly be about food…
This area has dozens of pumpkin patches in fall, and buying a pumpkin at the grocery pales in comparison. Because it’s not just about the pumpkin. It’s about taking your little ones to a farm and showing them where pumpkins come from, while they’re still on the vines. It’s about pretending they’re Cinderella finding a carriage pumpkin, and taking a hay ride, and finding scarecrows. It’s about the memories that come from going out to a pumpkin patch with a wagon and some gloves and picking the pumpkin with the best shape and the fewest bumps, and getting an apple cider back at the farm, which you sip while planning what kind of jack o’ lantern face you’ll carve when you get home. It’s a whole host of memories that you just can’t duplicate.
Here’s a list of some great pumpkin patches I know of and have visited, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list. A Google search might land you even more.
Lattin Farms: Located in Fallon, this farm is special, with a pumpkin patch and berry patch, it also offers kids rides on the famous “cow train”; a hay ride; a farm full of baked goods, preserves, and produce; a corn maze; and farm animals that you can see up close.
Andelin Family Farm: This one’s a favorite for us, since it’s about 5 minutes from home off Pyramid Highway in Sparks. Beyond the haunted hay ride and pumpkin-picking opportunities, there’s a farm full of kid fun, from a play garden for kids to pretend to be farmers to a hay maze, to horse and pony rides, to dress-up corners and story time, to a row of farm animals for kids to meet. And this year, they’ve added a nearly-three-acre corn maze.
Toll House Pumpkin Patch: Located in South Reno, near the Damonte Ranch Walmart, this farm has pumpkins, pony rides, a bounce house, and train rides.
V&T Pumpkin Express and Witches’ Delight trains: Any time before Halloween (check schedule), take a ride on the famed, historic V&T railroad in Carson City for the Pumpkin Express, and hop off at a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Or, wait for Halloween night and ride the Witches’ Delight train alongside witches, goblins, and ghosts (this is a kid-friendly ride, gang—nothing too scary!).
4. Watch the Kokanee salmon spawn at Taylor Creek Visitor Center.
My family heads to Taylor Creek anytime we’re spending a day in South Lake Tahoe. But an October visit is rewarded by one of the most beautiful, colorful, close-up nature displays you’ll find in this area. Relatives to Alaskan Sockeye salmon, Kokanee salmon turn bright red during spawning season, which reaches its peak during October, and literally pile on top of each other in Taylor Creek as they swim upstream to procreate. The shallow creek becomes a virtual red bridge of salmon flopping around in mere inches of water, and you can almost touch them as you approach the water’s edge and watch this incredible process. You might even spot other kinds of wildlife along this nature trail, including deer and birds of prey, as it winds into a profile chamber, where you and your kids can feel as if they’re underwater, standing alongside the thousands of fish. It’s free and not to be missed.
5. Walk among ghosts in Carson City.
Every year, I say to my husband, “I really want to do that ghost walk thing.” Every year, he says, “Okay.” Then, every year, we forget. This year, I vow not to forget, and to ensure this, I have already purchased tickets. Departing every half hour from behind the Firkin & Fox pub on 3rd and Curry Streets in Carson City, a theatrical tour guide leads you on a 90-minute historical tour of the city’s haunts, mixing in plenty of spooky stories. It’s not exactly kid-friendly, which is likely why I’ve put it off. But what’s exciting is that this year, they’ve added four 50-minute, family-friendly, inexpensive, “mini” ghost walks, complete with a stop at an old-fashioned lemonade stand, trick-or-treating, and a glimpse of the ghost bride. Kids are invited to dress in costume. Tours run rain or shine on October 19. Get tickets here.
6. Attend cultural festivals.
My Italian/Irish husband and I have missed the Eldorado Great Italian Festival and the Reno Celtic Celebration every year since our daughter was born, and if I have anything to say about it, we’re putting an end to that this year. Again, these will be giant opportunities for eating tons of food—pasta, zeppoli (fried dough), Italian cheese and deli meats, produce of all kinds, pasties (a Celtic meat pie), and lots more. Not to mention live cultural music, games (grape-stomping and highland games, for example), and Irish farm animals at a petting zoo. We are there!
7. Catch some fall color.
I was born in New England, so I came grudgingly to the idea that there’s fall color in the Reno-Tahoe area. But there is, and it’s so beautiful, and so fleeting, you should make a point to see it. Take a hike, bring a picnic, and breathe deeply that crisp fall air. It’s what this time of year is all about! My favorite spots for catching fall color in this area are:
Idlewild Park: The walking path alongside the Truckee River that runs from downtown through the park and beyond will take you past some tons of yellow foliage, which when viewed beside the rushing blue river is truly breathtaking. And it’s great exercise. Bring your child in the stroller or wagon, and stop for a little playtime at the playground.
Old Southwest community: Park downtown, stroll the neighborhood streets, and find towering, mature trees in a host of fall colors. And the best part is that when you’re done, you’re downtown – hit the museum, grab lunch, or browse at Sundance Books & Music.
The Feather River Scenic Byway: Take 395 north to Highway 70, and follow it west. Once you leave the desert, you’ll be riding alongside the Feather River, and will begin to see some fantastic foliage. The scenic byway takes you through Quincy – stop and grab lunch, maybe take a hike – and continue on. It will take you all the way to the Oroville Dam, if you’re so inclined. It’ a spectacular drive full of fall foliage, waterfalls, mountains, and the winding river.
8. Get to the Animal Ark.
It’s open most of the year, but here’s why fall is great—you’ll see fall color and catch the animals frolicking in the not-so-hot air. A trip to the Animal Ark involves a lot of walking on a dusty trail. Fall is the perfect season to do it, before the snow falls and the Ark closes for a few months.
9. Pumpkin Palooza.
This two-day event in mid-October features a pumpkin-carving contest and official lighting of the pumpkins, a kids’ costume parade, a high school Zombie Prom, pumpkin derby, numerous contests (pumpkin seed-spitting, anyone?), live music, fortune tellers, carnival games, and lots of yummy things to eat and drink.
10. Spend a weekend at Lake Tahoe.
One fall a couple years ago, in a desperate attempt to get away without spending a ton of money, our family rented a little cabin at the Franciscan Lakeside Lodge on the north side of the lake. It was off-season, so the cabin—which offered rustic furniture, a kitchen, and a lake view—was a bargain. It was still warm enough (late September) to dip our toes in the water, and the beach was ALL OURS. We rode the M.S. Dixie, walked the trail at Taylor Creek, and watched the sunset, all for a real bargain. Take a day or two between tourist seasons and enjoy what’s in our backyard up at Tahoe.
So now that I’ve shown you my fall bucket list, you show me yours!