The crisp morning chill of fall, has returned to the air; each day is to be enjoyed while it lasts. October offers many fun activities, from a visit to the pumpkin patch, hikes with colorful leaves, Moose Madness scavenger hunts, and trick-or-treating. This fall, don’t miss out on the fun autumn has to offer in the Northern Wilds.
For those looking to get fall food, fun, and adventure all in one visit, Pumpkinfest at Gammondale Farm is your one stop shop. Located outside of Thunder Bay at the base of Candy Mountain in the Slate River Valley, the farm is surrounded by a sea of fall colors each autumn. Maple, birch, and poplar trees on Candy Mountain provide the perfect colorful fall backdrop for the fun happening below. A perfect spot for a picnic with food purchased from the farm.
Pumpkinfest, now in its 23rd season, runs five weekends from the last weekend of September through the end of October. The fun family-friendly activities are plentiful, from wagon rides and corn mazes to a corn cannon and pumpkin catapult. All ages are welcome, with activities to suit. Younger children will love to see the farm animals including two goats, a sheep, bunnies, chickens, and three Percheron work horses. Other favorites for young children are the Pumpkin Train, the Trike Trails, the Duck Races, and the Boreal Forest Maze. Older children will enjoy the BOO Barn, the Corn Cannon, and Pumpkin Catapult.
“Everyone likes the wagon ride and the Needle in a Haystack Photo Contest,” said owner, Sue Gammond.
The photo contest has you search for a secret scene at the farm, take a picture of your family when you find it, and post it to the Gammondale Farm Family Fun Facebook page to win prizes, including the grand prize of a sleigh ride party and spaghetti supper for a party of 20.
Between all the fun, be sure to make time to eat some fall fare. The farm provides a picnic table area outside and seating inside the Log House. The on-site menu includes local pumpkin soup, locally-made Gouda cheese and veggie trays, hot dogs, homemade chili, hot and cold drinks, and sweet treats like the signature caramel apple sundae, complete with a cherry on top, home crafted chocolate suckers, and locally made apple and pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are also for sale, just be sure to find the perfect one to bring home, whether for cooking or decoration.
Pumpkinfest admission is $10 CAD plus tax (HST), cash only. If you are coming from south of the border, Gammondale Farm will gladly accept USD (exchange rate of $1.20 CAD for $1.00 USD). Babies under two are free. While open rain or shine, one of the special parts of Pumpkinfest is that they offer rainchecks if the weather turns, so you can return on a nicer day. They also offer some fun additional indoor activities on bad weather days, including pumpkin decorating. In addition, when families have not been able to take a raincheck due to a long drive, for example, the farm has sent them home with extra pumpkins. The Gammondale Farm (426 McCluskey Drive, Slate River; about 70 miles from Grand Marais) and its family-friendly fall fest definitely know how to welcome all and provide a good time. For more information, visit the website (gammondalefarm.com/pumpkinfest) or call 807-475-5615.
If you plan to spend a weekend on the southern side of the border, Visit Cook County’s Moose Madness weekend, October 20-22, is one not to miss. This annual event, over MEA Weekend has become a staple each October, celebrating the unofficial local mascot: alces alces or the moose.
A favorite part of Moose Madness weekend is the scavenger hunt and other activities planned around Grand Marais to win “moose bucks.” As any scavenger hunt is apt to make you hungry, plan ahead and pack a picnic to bring along. The Cook County Whole Foods Co-op has a deli section that will make it easy to grab a lunch to go. The only hard part may be to pick just one thing. Choose from ready-made sandwiches, salads, dips, spreads, and more to craft your picnic lunch. A personal favorite is to grab red pepper hummus and egg salad from the deli, baby carrots in the produce aisle, and crackers to make a little dipping lunch. If you or your family has special diet needs (from gluten-free to vegan), the Co-op is a great stop.
Picnic spots are a plenty in Grand Marais. If you remember your picnic blanket, you’ll find locations across town, including on the beach along the Harbor. Picnic tables are also available behind the Co-op on the East Bay, on the first part of Artist Point, and at the covered pavilion at the Grand Marais Rec Park and Campground (on the west side of the harbor). If you have kiddos that need to burn off some additional energy, there are also picnic tables available at the playground and skate park adjacent to the Cook County Community Center.
Keep an eye out for Murray-the-Moose who will be around town during the Moose Madness weekend. Grab him for a photo op, so even if you don’t get to see a real live moose, you’ll have a photo of a Cook County moose. Local restaurants also offer moose themed items, such as a special chocolate mousse at Voyageur Brewing Company. More details available at visitcookcounty.com/event/moose-madness or from the Grand Marais Visitor’s Center.
In the West End of Cook County, the month of October is an ideal time for pulling out those hiking boots, packing a picnic, and hitting the trail. From Carlton Peak, Britton Peak, and White Sky Rock to the Lutsen Gondola hike and Oberg Mountain, you have many routes and views to choose from in the area.
Coho Cafe and Bakery, at Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte, has you covered for your picnic lunch, allowing you to focus on choosing which hike you’d prefer, instead of what to pack for lunch. The Picnic Package, which can be ordered through Bluefin Guest Services or at the Coho counter, includes all you’d need, with sandwiches, chips, fruit, cookies, and water in a canvas picnic bag, for $45. Coho Cafe also offers its menu to-go, if you’d like to grab a pizza or another item for your impromptu picnic. Great picnic spots nearby are the Tofte Town Park, adjacent to Bluefin Bay, and the Birch Grove School, just down the road, complete with a playground for the kids.
If the fall colors are waning, the Oberg Mountain hike is one to try. Tamarack are the last trees to turn, so even when most of the maples, aspen, and birch have lost their leaves, you’ll be able to see that pop of color from the tamarack trees. Oberg Lake, visible from the backside of Oberg Mountain, has some nice tamaracks for your viewing pleasure. There are seven overlooks on the 2.2 mile loop hike and many offer beautiful views of Lake Superior, no matter the time of year. This is a popular hike, so expect to see others on the trail.
Fall is a beautiful time in the Northern Wilds. Find an adventure, enjoy great food, and have fun this October.
By Maren Webb