Fall Family Adventures

Fall is here! It’s time to get outdoors and enjoy a scenic hayride, get lost in a corn maze and lick ooey gooey- just-roasted marshmallows from your fingers. And that’s just what some local families did when Atlanta Parent sent them out to experience autumn adventures around the metro area. Each had a day – or night – to remember.

The Rock Ranch

5020 Barnesville Highway, The Rock
706-647-6374; therockranch.com
Cost: $15; Season Family Pass $140. Children 3 and younger, free.
Open: Saturdays through Nov. 16
All I have to do is mention “The Rock Ranch” and my boys will stop in their tracks, eyes round, faces aglow and whisper ‘when’? Their wait is finally over: Fall Family Fun Days are here! Each Saturday, Rock Ranch hosts guests as they explore and enjoy a day in the country. 
While each Saturday is a different theme, the paddle boats, hayrides, pony rides, train rides, corn maze, corn box, pedal carts, petting zoo, cane pole fishing, carousel, jumping pillow, slides and family dodge ball are always open. Guests can also zip line for an additional cost.
The ranch is breathtakingly beautiful with pristine grounds. Every Rock Rancher we had the pleasure of interacting with was helpful and genuinely cared about our experience, taking the time to ask us what attractions we’d already experienced and then directing us toward the next one on our list. Little ones loved the cow train rides, girls loved the dress up areas in Tiny Town, and older kids were zip line enthusiasts. We all enjoyed the live music playing throughout the day. We plan to save our Halloween pumpkin and bring it with us when we return to the ever-popular Pumpkin Destruction Day!
– Dana diLorenzo

Cagle’s Family Farm Bonfire Hayride

355 Stringer Road, Canton
770-345-5591; caglesfamilyfarm.com
Cost: Bonfire hayrides $7; Corn maze $10. Combo tickets available.
Open: Fall activities through Nov. 17
We recently visited Cagle’s and spent a laid-back, lazy afternoon enjoying some farm-fresh fun. When we arrived, my children and their friends immediately spotted the jumping pillow. Shoes were kicked off and carefree jumping commenced. Friendly staff members helped us find our way and kept watch over the jumping area to make sure that the safety rules were being followed. From there, we navigated our way through the corn maze as my husband and I were led by our four excited explorers. We had a short visit with the resident goats, and then headed through the underground tunnel for our bonfire hayride.
We eagerly climbed aboard the tractor with hay-filled rider space and had bounced our way through the pastures! We arrived at the bonfire site and were greeted by more friendly Cagle Dairy Farmers. Moments later, we had our complimentary marshmallows in hand and were relieved to see that each fire pit had an ample sized wall built around it and were spaced far enough apart that there was plenty of room for kids to freely frolic. We listened to music and enjoyed our treats by the fire until it was time to head back. We boarded our return hayride and got in a few more jumps before heading home, tuckered out from all the outdoor fun. 
– Dana diLorenzo

Hillcrest Orchards Apple Pickin’ Jubilee

9696 Hwy 52 E., Ellijay
706-273-3838; hillcrestorchards.net
Cost: $7; Petting Zoo $3.
Open: Apple Pickin’ Jubilee through Oct. 27
My daughter Micah and I took a day trip to North Georgia to visit the Hillcrest Farm not far from Ellijay for their apple picking jubilee. The drive was very scenic as we passed pumpkin patches, cows and horses in anticipation of our full day planned at Hillcrest.
We arrived just in time to find great seats for the pig race! My daughter and several other children were selected to go up on stage to cheer the pigs by waving flags. There were even trophies for the child with the winning pig and participation ribbons for everyone.
Next, we took the short walk to the petting zoo. “So much fun!” my daughter kept repeating as she held the baby chicks and kittens. She was brave enough to pet the little calf but kept her distance from the goats. Later, we took a wagon ride to see more of the farm, which includes a miniature golf course, pony rides and a huge playground.  When my daughter saw the ponies she was sold. We hopped off the wagon and ended up riding the pony two times!
This farm gave us the opportunity to really enjoy so many things that you cannot enjoy in the city. We took advantage of everything that the farm had to offer, including the jumpy inflatable pillow, gigantic slide, playground and the little trikes.
We topped off our amazing adventure with apple picking from the “dwarf” apple trees and we milked Buttercup, a real cow! Micah kept saying “this is the best place ever”! On our way out, we stopped by the gift shop to pick up some apple cider slush, a sweet end to a great day!
– Caren Davis Lightfoot

Full Moon Hike at Panola

Mountain State Park
2600 Hwy 155 SW, Stockbridge
770-389-7801; gastateparks.org/PanolaMountain
Cost: $7 per person, $5 parking per car
Open: Advance registration required; Upcoming dates Oct. 19 and Nov. 16.
We went on the Full Moon Hike at Panola Mountain State Park with our twin 11-year-old girls. The 1.5 mile hike began just before sunset and was led by a state park ranger, who shared stories of the land’s history along with facts about the ecosystem and plant life along the way (we saw resurrection moss in action!) Our group hiked to a pristine lake that in itself was worth the trip. Then we began the ascent up the mountain, being careful to not step on the various forms of lichen that the ranger said took hundreds of years to form. Minutes later, we saw the most incredible, unobstructed view of the Atlanta skyline and sat down on the granite to watch a magnificent sunset. We heard only the sounds of crickets and cicadas, as well as the “oohs” and “aahs” from the hikers around us. It was hard to believe we were only 18 miles from downtown Atlanta.
We continued climbing to another vantage point, where we saw both Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain at dusk. By the time we reached the summit, the moon had risen over the horizon and it was nighttime.
Then came the fun part – we had to descend the short, but steep path down the mountain with flashlights. Fortunately, there were numerous footholds in the granite and it wasn’t difficult. As we neared the end of the 90-minute hike, one of my daughters said,
“I loved it! When are we coming back?”
– Rebecca R. Leffler

Uncle Shuck’s Corn Maze

4520 Highway 53 E, Dawsonville
770-772-6223; uncleshucks.com
Cost: Corn Maze $10. Combo tickets available.
Open: Through Nov. 24
My 5-year old raved as we drove from Uncle Shuck’s, “Oh my gosh, that was so fun!” We had just spent over an hour exploring the farm, getting lost in the corn maze, and taking a hay ride.
The corn maze covers 12 acres of land with four miles of trails. It’s divided into two sections: a shorter trail for newbies and younger kids, and a longer, more extensive maze for experienced pioneers. My son enjoyed navigating the twists and turns, but for him, the highlight of the maze was climbing one of several bridges that provided a view across the rows and rows of corn!
Enhance a daytime maze excursion with a scavenger hunt card when you buy tickets. As a member of the FSI: Farm Scene Investigation you can help solve the mystery of missing Farmer Joe by collecting clues as you make your way through the maze. For older kids, weekends in October bring the Haunted Maze, a scarier version for more daring adventurers. 
Families can purchase refreshments on site, and a series of covered picnic tables overlook the Kiddie Corner where young children can venture through a soybean maze or climb a mound of monster truck tires.  Looking for more fun? Shoot cobs from the corn cannon at an abandoned truck, hop on a daytime or evening hayride, or watch goats balance atop the multi-story goat walk. Don’t forget to grab a pumpkin to bring home before you leave.
– Lesli Peterson

The Original Howlpharetta Ghost Tour

Historic Downtown, Alpharetta
800-979-3370; alpharettatours.com
Cost: $15/person
Open: Year-round weekend tours; Recommended for ages 13 and older.
Will you capture an orb on a photo in front of City Hall? Will you feel shaky in front of a retail store? Will you see the street light flicker at the Dodd Hotel? You might, if you’re open to it!
This unusual Alpharetta history tour is full of information, great ghost stories, and fall is an ideal season to take an evening walking tour. Our group of teens and adults gathered at the old Dodd Hotel at dusk to sign waivers (in case one of us disappears – just kidding!) and go over the tour rules. Our guide and owner of Alpharetta Tours, Jen, is a true historian and great storyteller who shared the historical significance of several sites, what might have happened to the owners, and what could account for the eerie and strange happenings at these places. Through Jen’s descriptive narrative about the legends and ghosts of Milton Avenue, small town folklore comes to life.
We also visited Resthaven Cemetery to learn about its notable spirits, and although some found the setting spooky, Jen added humor and silly jokes to lighten the mood. (For example, What’s a skeleton’s favorite thing to order at a BBQ restaurant? Ribs!)
After about a two-hour walk around downtown Alpharetta and many “experiences” of our own, we all agreed that this was an enjoyable and entertaining tour that made us think more about the history of the places we visit every day!
– Amy Smith