It’s that time of the year again when the air is cool and crisp, trees are aglow with golden colors, and pumpkin spice latte is back at Starbucks. This means it’s The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze season! Now what is it, you ask? It’s an evening outdoor walking tour through a breathtaking display of thousands of illuminated, hand-carved pumpkins, laid out on the estate of the Van Cortlandt Manor.
The historic setting, sound effects and the darkness give it a spooky vibe, but I promise you, nothing and no one will jump out and grab you (at least that’s not part of the program). It’s a gorgeous display of jack o’ lanterns arranged in themes like:
and spooky characters like Frankenstein and friends,
Witches and more.
There’s even a Tunnel O’ Pumpkin Love!
It has become a Fall family tradition for us, so it’s not entirely a “new” adventure, but there’s always additions to the collection and it just never ceases to amaze me. It has gotten a little crowded over the years, so keep the following in mind when you go:
- Book early because tickets get sold out very quickly. As of this writing, all Saturdays and most weekends of October are sold out. We tried to go in November one year, but the pumpkins tend not to be in the best shape by then since they have been exposed to the elements for a long time.
- Wear comfy shoes that you don’t mind getting a little wet because usually the ground tends to be damp. Bring a jacket and gloves because it can get cold depending on when you go. I would say it took us around 2 hours usually to see everything.
- Some of the walking trails are a bit narrow, so parents, while kids are welcome and will enjoy it, not all strollers may fit.
- Everyone will be taking pictures and will probably need to be steady for a few seconds with their cameras on night mode. Tripods are not allowed so this just means there will be some pauses and stops on the walk through. If you are the picture taker, be considerate of the people around you, and if you are the walker, be patient and enjoy the display or see if the trail has widened and you can perhaps walk around the picture takers.
- There are some warm fall goodies for sale, apple cider and chili among other things. It’s only good for snacks so it’s a good idea to eat dinner before hand so you can stay as long as you want. There is also a little shop where you can buy souvenirs, not just pumpkin-related, but they also have beautiful paintings of Hudson Valley scenes.
- People are let in by batches according to your ticket times, and it’s always good to show up early. They are not too strict about it, but I advise you to park towards the outer area just so it’s easy for you to get out after.
It has also become tradition for us to make a day of it. You can pack a picnic and head on over to the New Croton Dam and eat with a beautiful waterfall view right in front of you. I did not get a chance to view the dam from the walkway but have seen the awesome pictures people have taken, so I guess that’s an adventure for another day.
If you would rather go walk around opulent historical estates, then you should visit the Rockefeller property, Kyukuit Mansion. The tours charge a reasonable fee, but I think they are worth it and you can select the ones that suit your interests the most. I did the Classic tour and thought our tour guide was very informative, and liked how the interiors and furnishings were well preserved and indicative of the affluence of the time. It also makes you appreciate the visionaries of the past, who saw the beauty of the natural surroundings and purchased many plots of land in order to preserve them as they are for future generations.
If you have worked up an appetite after that, go for an early dinner nearby at Lefteris, a popular local spot that serves Greek food. It is a little tight in there and they do have outdoor sidewalk seating, and there is usually a line, but trust me, it’s worth it. The grilled octopus appetizer is really good, and you can’t go wrong with any entree. The servings are big and usually come with a salad so consider sharing.
Take a short walk after dinner to an excellent coffee place nearby, Coffee Labs Roasters. It’s a wonderful-smelling quaint shop where you can warm up with a latte before you head out to The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze.
There are also other attractions held in the other historical mansions or venues in the area that I have never tried, either because I’m a scaredy cat (Horseman’s Hollow), or it’s more of a storytelling type thing that’s better for kids (Irving’s Legend). I’m due for a trip back this year and I hope to make some new discoveries in the area.
This just goes to show, if you just do a bit of research, you’ll find adventure is never too far away!