As red, orange and golden hues decorate the hillsides around the Gallatin Valley and the morning air begins to snap, Montanans thoughts turn toward fall frolics. Sweaters and scarves are dug out of storage and free time is more precious to school-bound children than it was in the summer; its the perfect season to spend time outdoors as a family.
October just isnt October without a visit to the pumpkin patch. You could buy your gourd at the grocery store, but it is so much more fun to pick it out on a trip to the farm.
At Rocky Creek Farms, theyve made the pumpkin picking experience about more than just pumpkins. There are hayrides, hay tunnels and play areas, swings, apple cider pressing and pumpkin and face painting.
We love riding the tractor-pulled trailer (with hay seats, of course) to the pumpkins. Kids have the opportunity to drive the tractor, which seems to be scary to some and a big hit to others. The pumpkins are harvested from their vines and placed in the cornfield to protect them from frost. Other pumpkins are brought in to meet the high demand.
From Bozeman take the frontage road east of town about 2.5 miles past the I-90 interchange. Look for the Rocky Creek Farm sign on the left, cross the railroad tracks and park near the farmhouse on the right. For more information call 585-0025.
Another activity that is becoming a tradition in our family is apple picking. Our next-door neighbors tree has more apples than they can deal with and we are happy to lighten their load. We spend an evening making batches of apple concoctions, and then we freeze enough applesauce and apple pie filling to last most of the year. You can also take your apples to Rocky Creek Farm to press into apple cider.
After picking pumpkins and apples, its time for fall colors. Whether its a drive up Hyalite Canyon or a walk along the Yellowstone River, the changing leaves signal the change in season like nothing else.
Our favorite fall hike is the Yellowstone River Trail. The trail drops towards the river immediately, but mostly stays above the Yellowstone until it crosses a bridge over Bear Creek at about 2 miles. Just past the bridge it is an easy scramble down to a black sand beach ideal for picnicking and wading.
The route follows the river, ducking into a grove of brightly colored cottonwoods near the beginning. The rest of the trail is wide open, allowing for views up and down the river. This trail is best avoided if it is rainy because it can get really slick. From Gardiner, turn east on the road to Jardine (just north of the Yellowstone River Bridge). Turn right just past a private campground and look for a trailhead sign between the campground and a church.
To really get into the autumnal spirit, host a harvest festival. Harvest Festivals were traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon, or the first full moon after the Equinox. But there is no reason you cant have a festival whenever you want.
Gather friends and family to cook a harvest dinner (or lunch) using local, seasonal foods. Decorate with garlands of locally gathered dried flowers. To entertain your guests and put those pumpkins you got at the farm to good use, hold a pumpkin-carving contest. The apples can be used for bobbing.
Another important rite of fall is giving thanks. Traditionally, the thanks was for the harvest, but I also give thanks for friends, family and getting to spend my fall in Montana.