Growing up in Long Valley, a place with few traffic lights and a general store, fall was the one season that I felt like living in my town was an advantage because of my proximity to countless farms, forests and autumn attractions.
During the summer, we braved over an hour-and-a-half of driving to get to the Jersey Shore, and in the winters we struggled on our winding roads, but at least in the fall, we were only moments away from pumpkin picking, apple picking and haunted hay rides.
Although there are close to 10,000 farms in New Jersey, some of which have national recognition, I continue to frequent the same ones from my childhood year after year. As a central Jersey resident, you’re probably better acquainted with other acclaimed farms and autumn attractions such as those found at pickyourown.org/NJ.htm orjerseyfresh.nj.gov/find/pickyourown.html. However, in today’s Travel Tuesday, I’m going to give you my personal 12-hour tour of some fall hotspots that might be further away than those you’re used to frequenting but are worth visiting.
First, I head to Ralston Cider Mill in Mendham around 10 a.m. for homemade hot and cold apple cider and cider donuts for an outdoor farm breakfast on the grounds. I always grab some cider and donuts to go home, as cider is sold by the cup as well as by the gallon and half-gallon. Hidden deep within Mendham’s dense woodlands, the mill is the last in New Jersey to operate as a fully functional apple cider mill and applejack distillery, now running as a museum that offers afternoon tours during October weekends.
Then, I drive to Ort Farms in Long Valley, at 11 a.m., just 13 miles from the Ralston Cider Mill, for a day full of farm activities. Although there are countless farms in the area that cater to visitors in the fall months, Ort Farms remains remarkably uncrowded compared to other nearby farms while retaining many activities in its 450 acres. The family farm, which is open year-round, hits its peak during the fall months with pick-your-own pumpkins and a hayride, an 8-acre corn maze, farm animals, a farm stand, a food tent, small historical exhibit and an 863-pound pumpkin grown by Long Valley local Michael Starr.
Next, I go to Riamede Farm in Chester around 3 p.m., just four miles from Ort Farms, for some end-of-day apple picking. Believed to be New Jersey’s first pick-your-own apple orchard, according to their website, the 35-acre farm has been operating since 1974 and features 34 apple varieties. To access the apple orchard portion of the low-key farm, a free hayride can drop off visitors, or they can walk in. The farm, which also offers pumpkin picking, is known for a peaceful setting without tourist fanfare. Right now is its peak season, which lasts from early September until the end of October.
For a fine sit-dinner after a busy day, I make a reservation at the Gladstone Tavern in Peapack-Gladstone around 5 p.m., seven miles from Riamede Farm. This rustic American restaurant, equipped with a fireplace and a bar, is made for fall; it’s cozy and comfortable. Always featuring new seasonal specials, both original and traditional, the Tavern most recently celebrated local apples with items such as apple-parsnip bisque, pecan crusted trout with apple-bacon butter and apple fritter. This week, they will be making pumpkin-themed dishes.
Finally, I make the hour drive to the Forest of Fear in Tuxedo Park, New York, at 10 p.m. New York’s No. 1 scariest haunted attraction features two haunted attractions and various vendors and food trucks. For $25, I visit this 12-years-and-over recommended park with its attractions The Slaughterhouse, a haunted house, and Blind Panic, a pitch-black indoor haunted maze. For an additional $5, you can also step inside The Last Ride, a buried-alive coffin simulator. They will also be hosting various special events in the coming weeks before Halloween, including the showing of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a game show party and a costume contest.
Five fall activities
Ralston Cider Mill at 336 Mendham Road in Mendham: Hot apple cider by the cup, gallon and half-gallon and cider donuts by single, half-dozen ($5.50) and dozen, as well as tours from 1 to 5 p.m. on October weekends for $5 for those under 7. Visitwww.ralstoncidermill.org.
Ort Farms at 25 Bartley Road in Long Valley: Visit this large farm for various fall activities, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Pumpkins cost 59 cents per pound, hay ride is $1, corn maze is $5. Call 908-876-3351 or visit www.ortfarms.com.
Riamede Farm 122 Oakdale Road in Chester: Open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., also with a pumpkin patch. Apples cost $1.89 per pound. Call 908-879-5353 or visitwww.riamede.com.
Gladstone Tavern at 273 Main Street in Peapack-Gladstone: Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Recent seasonal dinner entrees ranged from $21 to $26. Call 908-234-9055 or visit www.gladstonetavern.com.
The Forest of Fear at 600 Route 17A in Tuxedo Park, New York: Two haunted attractions for $25, additional $5 for one smaller attraction. Open from 7 p.m. to midnight Friday, 1 a.m. Saturday and 11 p.m. Sunday. Call 845-351-5174 or visitwww.renfair.com/forestoffear.