Hit the highways and byways this fall! If October is a hectic month for you, a no-frills day trip brimming with crisp air and fall colors may revive you. Feel just a little bit less like a city slicker with minimal fuss. Pair your drive with a soundtrack and get your companions to sing along!

Pizza night on the farm


Wednesday evenings through October 17 and Sunday afternoon, October 21

Listen to: Down on the Farm (Tim McGraw); That’s Amore (Dean Martin); She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy (Kenny Chesney)

October is the perfect time to visit the Red Barn Farm – crowds have thinned and fall colors abound. This quaint dining setting is tucked into a picturesque farm with a big brick oven. The Winter family grows herbs and vegetables in their chemical free garden and crafts vegan-friendly, handmade pizza dough on site. There are plenty of options for meat lovers, too. You can keep it simple and sit on a blanket next to your cooler, but feel free to wear your over-achiever picnic hat, too. You’ll see tables set with color-coordinated linens, flowers and candles. Beer and wine are allowed, but it’s a family-friendly setting. Consider the pizza of the week – it will include whatever is ripe in the garden.

What to expect: pizzas are made to order, there may be a wait. Visitors move picnics into the barn if it rains. Kids are welcome; dogs are not (but they have farm animals to visit). Bring garbage and recycling bags to take everything home. Bring cash or check for payment. Redbarnfarmofnorthfield.com


New Ulm

October 5-6 and 12-13

Listen to:  Beer Barrel Polka (Frank Yankovic); I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs (Johnny Cash); Du, Du Liengst Mir Im Herzen (Marlene Dietrich)

It’s not quite Germany, but it’s also only 90 minutes away. New Ulm knows how to throw Oktoberfest – Food & Wine named it the best one in the country last year. Some of the fun includes horse-drawn beer wagon rides and “ceremonial tapping of the fest keg.”  Put on your polka shoes for dancing at Schell’s Brewery, then take them off to stomp on grapes at Morgan Creek Vineyard. New Ulm’s own German-Bohemian Society helps organize the participatory parades that open weekend festivities. They both end at the center of all the downtown action. If you own a dirndl, here’s your chance to rock it. We’re not sure what’s involved in a stein holding contest, but it’s listed as an event.

What to expect: lederhosen, classic Biergarten music (and the Johnny Holm band), games, food trucks, beer and more beer (please bring a designated driver). newulmoktoberfest.com

Fall colors train ride


Weekends through October 21

Listen to: City of New Orleans (Arlo Guthrie); Long Train Runnin’ (Doobie Brothers); Last Train to Clarksville (The Monkees)

Explore options on the Transportation Museum’s website. There’s a first class dinner train, a champagne brunch train, fall color tours to either Marine on St Croix (west, 90 minutes round trip) or Dresser (east, 50 minutes round trip) and even a Pumpkin Express trip for the little ones. The train rides offer splendid fall scenery while you experience taking a step back in time. Train car docents offer history lessons about traveling by train 100 years ago and you are “free to move about” the car.

What to expect: no strollers on the trains; call ahead if you need a wheelchair or walker. First class dinner riders must be at least 13. All other excursions are family friendly. The Pumpkin Express tour stops in Dresser, where costumed kids can explore a pumpkin patch.

Apple picking and pumpkin hunting

Jordan and New Prague

Through October (select days)

Listen to: American Pie (Don McLean); Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (The Andrews Sisters); Autumn Leaves (Natalie Cole)

Start your day at Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest. The family converted “the hill” to an apple orchard over 40 years ago. It’s a pretty place to pick a peck. They have over two dozen varieties of apples, some of them unique to their orchard. They’ll entertain you with an apple launcher and a free corn maze. There are animals to meet and a playground. It’s also a top Instagram destination.

Travel just 15 minutes south on scenic highway MN-21. Barten Pumpkins is open Wednesday through Sunday all month, with special events like a free caricature artist and pony rides on two Saturdays. Fill a wagon with pumpkins, squash, gourds, ornamental corn and straw bales. Barten’s is a multi-generation family enterprise that started in 1983 as a roadside stand. Now they grow over 45 produce varieties and offer activities like pumpkin bowling and free hayrides.

What to expect: use two hands to pick apples, turning the fruit while lifting upward. Check the website for availability of specific varieties. Minnesotaharvest.net

Barten Pumpkins offers all activities listed on October 6 and 13  from 10-2:00. Check availability on other days. bartenpumpkins.com


Harvest fun at pick-your-own farms

Eden Prairie is just a few miles away from fresh fall produce you can harvest yourself. What’s in season: cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, apples, onions, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, turnips, pumpkins, and winter squash.

  • Visit Minesotagrown.com and pickyourown.org/mn for locations
  • Bring cash or checks – most don’t accept credit cards
  • Dress for the field – vines and leaves can be scratchy
  • Dress for the weather – wear layers and leave your cutest clothes at home (it may be muddy)
  • Avoid bright florals – bees remain active through mid-October
  • Save your sandals for another day – choose old shoes (see “muddy”)
  • Check first before bringing your dog – they’re not allowed at some farms (also, see “muddy”)
  • Bring hand sanitizer- many of these farms offer irresistible treats to enjoy on the spot
  • Make sure they’re open on your harvest day – many pretty farms are also wedding venues