By Denise Castañon and Tiffany Hill
We talked to the people behind the events and activities that pump up the Halloween and fall fun in Portland.
It wouldn’t be fall in the Portland area without intricate corn mazes on Sauvie Island, fields of orange (and white and yellow) pumpkins and haunted displays. And while these quintessential events are accessible and fun for everyone in the family, a lot of time and effort goes into creating these Halloween and harvest attractions. Not to mention a passion for all things spooky. Here’s a peek behind the scenes at your favorite fall-time attractions.
Pumpkin Patch: Topaz Farm
Did you know that pumpkins have a sweet tooth? Kat Topaz, the co-owner of Topaz Farm on Sauvie Island, waters the farm’s thousands of pumpkins with a bit of molasses twice a week. “The sugars in the molasses help the pumpkins grow nice and big, but it also helps their stems be very strong, and not break when you go to pick them up.”
Intrepid visitors might notice that Topaz’s pumpkin fields are in different spots each year; staff rotate the crops annually. This year, there are three pumpkin fields; the largest is more than 16 acres. Topaz says many of the approximately 5,000 pumpkins that visitors come across — more than a dozen varieties — were planted by hand. “The ground was so muddy we couldn’t get our tractors in the fields when it was time to plant, so we planted acres of pumpkins entirely by hand,” she says. “I feel an intimate relationship with every plant! It’s been extra satisfying to watch them grow.”
New this season: Topaz Farm is charging $20 per car to enter the farm on the weekends. “Last year, the farm got so crazy on October weekends that we wanted to find a way to prevent the farm from getting too packed, so everyone would have a really lovely time while they are here.” Pro tip: Go during the week for a less-crowded visit, and free admission.
Also new, Topaz Farm is debuting two designed corn mazes each planted in the middle of the pumpkin fields, something Topaz says she’s always wanted to do. Littles will also love the cow train — now with side-by-side seating — and the mini-digger. “(Kids can) channel their inner farmer and pick up and move dirt and gravel,” says Topaz.
Open daily until October 31. Get tickets here.
Kat Topaz’s Top 5 Pumpkin Uses:
- Carving them and putting a candle inside.
- Roasting pumpkin seeds.
- Cutting the pumpkin meat out and freezing it, to enjoy in soups and dishes all winter.
- Getting a bunch of different colors and sizes and decorating the front porch.
- Using pumpkins as a vase for flowers.
Pumpkin Patch Like a Pro
Yes, there are families that coordinate cute outfits for pumpkin patch family portraits. But as a Pacific Northwest family, you are more than likely to encounter a very muddy field. And we all know that there’s no sweeter siren song to a toddler than a mud puddle. Pro tip: Dress your toddler in a rain suit and rain boots and snag adorable muddy photos. You should wear rain boots, too!
Sauvie Island is beautiful and idyllic and the perfect place to go on a fall weekend. And that’s why everyone will be there on any given Saturday in October. Pro tip: Go early and leave early. There are few things worse than being stuck in traffic off the island at 5 pm with a 4-year-old who is coming down from a kettle-corn high.
Lots of pumpkin patches have corn mazes, farm animals, pumpkin doughnuts, you name it. Some include lots of extras with admission, some charge for the extras. Check their websites ahead of time to pick one or two things or plan on a splurge. Pro tip: Avoid a kid meltdown by managing expectations for your child ahead of time! “So, yes, we can do two fun activities and then we’re going home. Let’s find the two you’d like best!”
This whole thing is supposed to be fun right? So find a pumpkin patch you love and start a tradition. Have your child pick out the smallest or weirdest looking pumpkin every year. Or base your family’s new tradition on something you (as a parent) love: like trying a different farm’s pumpkin doughnut each year. Pro tip: Yes, you’re making memories for your kids, but you should have some fun along the way, too!
View our comprehensive list of pumpkin patches here.
Corn Maze: Bella Organic Farm
Hope. That’s the theme of this year’s 7-acre corn maze at Bella Organic Farm on Sauvie Island. And something we could all use more of. The farm is known for its intricate, thought-provoking themes creatively crafted into a giant cornstalk labyrinth. This fall, families can wander through the word “hope,” along with “Dial 988,” the new toll-free National Suicide Prevention hotline, the Lifeline.
Sofia Kondilis-Hashem, the marketing director of Bella Organic, says members of the farm have lost friends and family members to suicide, so this year’s theme is particularly meaningful. “(We want to) spark conversation about mental health this fall, and how we can lean on each other during difficult times inside and outside of our communities.”
Farm staff spend months thinking and brainstorming each year’s theme. In fact, discussions start roughly a year ahead of each fall opening. Each preceding winter, they talk about current events and topics and how the maze can provide a gathering place to not only have fun, but also have a positive community impact. Once the theme is decided, thousands of stalks of corn are either planted into the design shape, or meticulously cut from traditionally planted fields. This year’s maze was cut since all the springtime rain prevented an early planting. “A tractor with GPS cuts out the maze to be precise and make the design perfect every time,” says Kondilis-Hashem.
In addition to meandering through the maze — laser focused maze-goers can finish in about an hour — visitors can play games inside the maze, and there’s family-friendly trivia based on the theme of hope to raise awareness about suicide prevention and help ease its stigma.
In addition to the Hope corn maze, Bella Organic also has cow and grain train rides around the farm, a pumpkin patch and a petting zoo. Or come after hours, when things get spooky inside the Haunted Maze.
Open daily until October 31. Visit bellaorganic.com/pumpkin-patch for tickets.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 250,000 corn stalks comprise the Hope corn maze
- 7-acre farm
- 2.7 miles of start-to-finish corn maze paths
Haunted Display: Davis Graveyard
Perhaps the most well-known house in Milwaukie, the ghoulishly talented owners of 8703 SE 43rd Ave. sure do love Halloween. Chris and Jeff Davis, of Davis Graveyard are back at it for the 13th year of family-friendly haunting.
Each year, the husband-and-wife team transform their yard with dozens of handmade tombstones, mummies, spooky monuments and more for the public to view from the street. They start prepping the displays in May, but brainstorm new designs a few years out. “We keep creating new things to display,” says Chris Davis. “We love making the tombstones and the monuments over the years. We are always cycling out old props for new ones, so things change every year.”
While the tombstones and mausoleums look like actual stone, Chris Davis says most of the displays are made from Styrofoam. “It’s lighter to move and handles the rain better.” They look so realistic though, that Davis says visitors often ask to buy their displays. “We say, ‘better yet, let us teach you.’” The couple started offering workshops to teach fellow scary aficionados how to make their own grave markers and creepy corpses.
Davis notes that eagle-eyed visitors will notice new tombstones with clever epitaphs this season. And don’t miss Chris Davis’ favorite piece, the chapel. “It’s a work of art not only in the design so that it can be installed year after year, but it was a labor of love for the whole crew.”
Open daily October 1-31. Visit davisgraveyard.com for more information.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 75: gravestones at Davis Graveyard
- 2,000: the number of visitors each year
More Spooky Fun
In the ’90s, a kitschy, little Disney Channel Halloween movie etched the sleepy town of St. Helens into cinema history. Every September and October the Spirit of Halloweentown brings back sets, actors and thousands of visitors who adore Halloween and the Hallowteentown movies. September 17 to October 31.
Older kids, tweens and teens into spooky stuff (or history) will dig a guided tour of the Lone Fir Cemetery in Southeast Portland (with their grown-ups). Catch the Stories in Stone Tour on Saturday, October 1 and the Guided Historical Tour on Saturday, October 8. Both start at 10 am. $10 suggested donation.
The Pumpkin Display at West Linn has grown from a small setup for friends and neighbors to more than 200 intricately carved pumpkins with a cool laser light display! Pro tip: The display is wheelchair- and stroller-friendly! October 15-16, 22-23 and 28-31, 5-9 pm.
Covens of witches are planning to congregate on the Willamette River for the Standup Paddleboard Witch Parade. Grab a viewing spot from John’s Landing, the South Waterfront, or the Tilikum or Hawthorne Bridges to watch the creepy/cool floating parade that hugs the west side of the river and starts at Willamette Park then heads to Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Saturday, October 29, parade starts at 11 am. Free.
Don’t miss the Oregon Zoo’s annual Howloween event! Kids are encouraged to wear their costumes while zooming around the zoo for a scavenger hunt! October 22-23 and 28-31. Free with admission.
Harvest Event: West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta
Think of Heidi Marx as the fairy godmother of the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta. She is, after all, the coordinator of the October event that transforms humongous pumpkins into boats. She doesn’t wave a magic wand like Cinderella’s fairy godmother though — the two-day event that culminates in pumpkin boat races on Tualatin Commons Lake takes seven months to plan. And those gigantic pumpkins take five and a half months to grow. “The pumpkins are provided by the members of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers,” says Marx. “The PGVG is a club whose members are giant vegetable enthusiasts. They grow all types of giant vegetables including giant pumpkins. The pumpkins come from all over Oregon, Washington and even Canada.”
The pumpkins are then sawed open and hollowed out. And then event sponsors and lucky winners of a pumpkin racer lottery board the pumpkin boats and paddle away.
But the boat races are just one part of the fun at the festival that’s back after a COVID hiatus. Visitors can browse arts and crafts vendors, run in a 5K or try out pumpkin bowling and golf. “My favorite part of planning the Regatta is thinking up fun new ways to use pumpkins at the event,” says Marx. And she says the hardest part is not knowing the exact number of pumpkins available to paddle until the morning of the event!
What are Marx’s tips for families who plan on visiting the regatta this year? “All of the activities and admission is free! Make sure you explore all around the lake. There are activities and vendors throughout.”
Saturday, October 15: Pumpkins and Pints and the Terminator Weigh-Off at Stickmen’s Tualatin Beer Hall. Sunday, October 16: Regatta Run and West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta Festival. Pumpkin races start at noon and 2 pm.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 15,000-20,000 visitors attend
- 7 Months to Plan
- 51/2 months to grow
- Pumpkins weigh 600-1,200 pounds each
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