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The Ultimate Guide to Fall Fun in Southwest Missouri

From pumpkin picking to football to trick-or-treating in Rountree, we've packed your Ozarks fall bucket list.

By Lillian Stone

Sep 2018

mother and daughter at a pumpkin patch
Photo by Brandon AlmsTake home the perfect pumpkin from Pick’n Patch Farm in Marionville. Purchase Photo

Can you feel it? 

That delicious crispness in the air. That autumnal hush that falls over our region come September. It’s undeniable: Something about fall in 417-land compels locals to slow down. Maybe it’s the fact that our fall season is notoriously short, requiring us to enjoy it while it lasts. This year, we’re giving you the tools you need to enjoy that brief period of respite between a scorching summer and a hectic holiday season. From fall football to pumpkin carving, this is our love letter to fall in 417-land—however fleeting it may be.

Think you're as much of a fall fanatic as we are? We thought you might be, so we put together a comprehensive list of some of our favorite seasonal activities mentioned within this ultimate guide to fall fun and offered some suggestions for how to complete them all. Download our free bucket list, hang it on the fridge and get to planning!


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child in a corn maze
Photo by Kyle Davis

Get Lost in a Corn Maze

The Maize

The Maze: Carved into a 7-acre cornfield, this two-part maze is stuffed with creepy costumed characters, dead ends and ghostly sounds.
The Other Fun Stuff: Don’t miss the kid-friendly daytime maze, carnival games and classic horror films screened after dark.
The Cost: $10 maze pass
The Dates: September 22 through November 3, 2018
The Hours: Wed. 5–8:30 p.m., Fri. 5–10 p.m., Sat. 3–10 p.m.

Campbell's Maze Daze

The Maze: Campbell’s Maze Daze and Pumpkin Patch is tame during the day and spooky on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Other Fun Stuff: Campbell’s offers a pumpkin patch, a kids’ play area, hayrides, bonfire zones and live music on the weekends.
The Cost: $9 general admission; discounted group packages available
The Hours: In 2018: September 29–30, Sat.–Sun. noon–7 p.m.; October 1–28, Fri. 5–11 p.m., Sat. noon–11 p.m., Sun. noon–7 p.m.

Exeter Corn Maze

The Maze: After 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the family-friendly maze is transformed into a gleefully spine-chilling attraction.
The Other Fun Stuff:
Little ones will love the cow train, the petting zoo, face painting and the pumpkin jumps—two giant inflatable pumpkins.
The Cost: $5–20
The Dates: September 8 through November 4, 2018
The Hours: Wed. 5–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. noon–10 p.m., Sun. noon–7 p.m.

woman in plaid shirt picking apples
Photo courtesy Stocksy

Do it for The 'Gram

This is our manifest on sweating it out for that ideal plaid-infused fall photo.

Southwest Missouri has the shortest fall season ever. And that, readers, gives us little time to capture the perfect fall Instagram shot. 

You know the one. Besweatered friends smiling broadly in a sunflower field. A well-coiffed couple cuddled up next to a bonfire. Flannel shirts of all shapes and sizes.

“I don’t want to sweat out half of my body weight for the sake of my social media game,” you say. Get your priorities straight, 417-landers. You cannot waste valuable time waiting for cooler days when you could be wrapping yourself in at least two layers of plaid to capture the perfect fall photo.

First, choose your apparel wisely. Throw on an oversized sweater, and you’ll be able to tape ice packs to at least 40 percent of your body.

Secondly, choose a quality deodorant—preferably something with a warm, spicy fall scent. Be prepared for backlash—after half an hour of sweating while you pose, your loved ones might protest. “You smell terrible,” they will complain. “It is for the ’Gram,” you will reply coolly. “It is for the ’Gram.”

Visit a Pumpkin Patch

Your perfect pumpkin awaits.

If like us, you harbor an ardent faith in Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin, you know that scouring a pumpkin patch for a gorgeous gourd is an essential part of fall fun in the Ozarks. Although there’s certainly appeal in strangely colored, funky shaped gourds, there’s something special about selecting a classic carving pumpkin. It should be round, not too warty and large enough for a broad, toothy grin. Luckily, 417-land is home to several pumpkin patches with an ideal carving crop. Take Pick’n Patch Farm (22813 Highway ZZ, Marionville, 417-258-7132), home to a picturesque assortment of pumpkins sold alongside homegrown corn and other fall goodies. We also recommend heading to Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park (3825 W. Farm Road 146, 417-837-5949) for the annual Harvest Festival, where you can scout out the perfect pumpkin plus enjoy other kid-friendly fall activities like visits with barnyard critters and lots of other fall fun.

Get the Fancy Pumpkins

Wickman’s Garden Village
1345 S. Fort Ave., Springfield, 417-862-3707
What You’ll Find: Heirloom pumpkins, unusually shaped gourds and colorful mums.

Fieth Family Farm
1663 E. 490th Road, Bolivar, 417- 326-6758
What You’ll Find: Specialty pumpkins in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

Cider Days on Historic Walnut Street
Downtown Springfield, September 15–16 2018
What You’ll Find: Exquisitely carved or painted pumpkins.

Fassnight Creek Farm
1366 S. Fort Ave., Springfield, 417-866-5011
What You’ll Find: Heirloom pumpkins and other porch-friendly decor such as hay bales.

guys getting into a deer stand
Photo by Starboard & PortFor Nixa’s Matt Hoesch, hunting is a family pastime. Hoesch started taking his oldest son out when Henry was 4 years old and has also taught his two other children to enjoy the sport.

Go Hunting

Experience this proud local tradition for yourself.

Our corner of the world has a deep-seated tradition of loving the outdoors and prioritizing conservation. For some, hunting is a family tradition, a way to stay in touch with nature. For others, it’s a way to source local meat, harvested responsibly before it’s served at the Thanksgiving table. Over the years, hunting has continued to serve as a national pastime; in fact, a 2017 study by the U.S. Department of the Interior indicated that 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 and older participated in hunting, fishing or other related outdoor activities. Missouri hunting seasons are divided based on different species, but for most hunters, fall means one thing: deer season. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s annual deer harvest summary, more than 136,000 antlered bucks were taken in 2017, more than 53,000 of those during opening weekend. In 2018, archery season for deer and turkey kicks off September 15 and concludes November 9, then picks back up again November 21 and ends January 15. For fall firearm hunting dates and more information, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation’s hunting website at huntfish.mdc.mo.gov.

father and son playing football
Photo by Chuck TraversSpringfield’s Phelps Grove Park is a perfect spot to toss around a football—just ask Chris Coon and his son, Kaden.

Embrace Fall Football

Play Football in the Park

Springfield-Greene County Park Board: A pickup football game is one of the best—and cheapest—ways to take advantage of a crisp Sunday afternoon. Throw on your favorite old sweatshirt, gather up a ragtag gang of friends and toss a pigskin in your nearest park.

Go Tailgating

Missouri State University Bears Football: Missouri State’s tailgate culture has taken off in recent years with the introduction of Bearfest Village, a tailgate zone that opens prior to each home football game. Village visitors have access to live music and food vendors and can participate in a pregame pep rally.

Watch an Ultimate Rivalry Game

Webb City Football: You don’t have to go to Texas to see a classic Friday Night Lights–style high school football faceoff. Rivalries abound in 417-land, including between Webb City and Carthage high schools. Head to Cardinal Stadium in Webb City to see the two varsity teams compete on September 21 at 7 p.m. Fans line up outside the stadium for hours to get primo seats, so arrive early.

two women horseback riding
Photo by Brandon AlmsEnjoy the crisp air and bright colors of fall on horseback like 417-landers Carley Inskeep and Heather Kane. Purchase Photo

Go Horseback Riding

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

2038 W. State Highway 86, Lampe, 1-800-225-6343
Horseback riding at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park gives you a front-row seat to fall color as it descends on Dogwood Canyon’s tree-covered hills, hollows and old logging roads.

Bear Creek Trail Rides

3400 Highway 65, Walnut Shade, 417-337-7708
Bear Creek Trail Rides takes riders through Bear Creek Hollow, a scenic route once used as a western passage through the Ozark Mountains. This beginner-friendly trail service has a host of experienced guides and easygoing equines ready to make your trip memorable.

Shepherd of the Hills Homestead Adventure Park

5586 W. Highway 76, Branson, 417-545-0061
Enjoy a relaxed trail ride among the Ozark hills at the historic Shepherd of the Hills homestead. Hop on the back of one of the friendly performing horses and explore tall oak forests dotted with bursts of stunning oranges and reds.

Do the Time Warp (again)

Get weird at an annual Rocky Horror Picture Show screening.

If you’re a fan of 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you’ve probably dipped your toe into the zany shadow cast screenings that descend on theaters during the Halloween season. If you’re unfamiliar, allow us to explain: Fans of the sci-fi musical extravaganza flock to screenings of the film, which are shown while a small cast of thespians lip-sync the lyrics to hit songs such as “Time Warp.”

Live screenings include flying props and aggressive boogieing, and audiences get very engaged. If you’re a newbie, we recommend watching the film before the live showing so you can sing along and keep up with the dialogue at the event. Expect to see a variety of wacky sights, including people of all genders, shapes and sizes dressed in slinky maid costumes. To make the most of the experience, be sure to dress up as your best Brad, Janet or—if you’re bold—Frank N. Furter himself. 

This year’s event, hosted by Crystal Methyd, occurs October 26, 2018 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at gillioztheatre.com.

Carve a Pumpkin

Impress your neighbors with a jolly jack-o'-lantern.

When it comes to carving the perfect pumpkin, there is a distinct formula one must follow. It starts with selecting the gourd of your dreams. It might be old-school, but we tend to prefer a traditional round, richly orange pumpkin for carving. Extra points for a hefty one—after all, the bigger the pumpkin, the bigger the carving canvas.

After selecting your superior squash, the carving process begins. We like to keep it classic with the assistance of a sharp pencil and an even sharper kitchen knife. Draw a silly grin or a creepy leer on your prized pumpkin, then get straight to the messiest part of the process: the goop scoop. Ditch the spoon and dive in elbows-deep to remove the innards. Don’t forget to set the seeds aside for roasting.

Once you’ve gutted your gourd and carved your most ghoulish grimace, scrub the inside of the pumpkin with a bit of bleach mixed with water to keep it fresh. Then, light up your masterpiece and place your jolly jack-o’-lantern on your front porch for all to see. It’s a Halloween tradition that’s definitely more treat than trick.

mulled cider illo
Illustration courtesy Shutterstock

Make Fall Inspired Dishes

Enjoy a perfectly spiced mulled cider with family or friends, roast those pumpkin seeds from your carved creations and generally enjoy all of the flavors fall has to offer.

Photo courtesy Kate Jone

Tiny Paradise on the Quarry

Photo courtesy River Chase Group

River Chase Whitetail Haven

Get Away

Pack your overnight bag and check out these nearby destinations that are extra-lovely during the peak of fall.


Tiny Paradise on the Quarry

City: Rolla
Lodging: In 2017, the Tiny Paradise on the Quarry was listed as one of House Beautiful’s top tiny houses in the country. Don’t just take our word for it: Book this little slice of heaven—complete with a private deck and dock—on Airbnb at airbnb.com/rooms/20228445.
Fall Fun: Plan your visit for September 29, 2018 when you can pop over to nearby St. James for Oktoberfest featuring goodies from St. James Winery and Public House Brewing Co.

River Chase Whitetail Haven

City: Fort Smith, Arkansas
Lodging: Enjoy a rural escape at a stunning three-bedroom chalet just outside Fort Smith. Take in the gorgeous fall views in the outdoor hot tub, or bunk down with your sweetheart in the cozy cabin. Book it at airbnb.com/rooms/17647939.
Fall Fun: Just 20 minutes away in Ozark, Arkansas, get a front row seat to an impressive fall foliage display along the winding switchbacks of the Pig Trail Scenic Byway.

Photo courtesy The Greenhouse Inn

The Greenhouse Inn

Photo courtesy River of Life Farm

River of Life Farm

The Greenhouse Inn

City: Kimmswick
Lodging: Unwind at The Greenhouse Inn, an adorable cottage in Kimmswick just outside of St. Louis. The cottage can be reserved through Airbnb at airbnb.com/rooms/19715255.
Fall Fun: Don’t miss Kimmswick Witches’ Night Out on October 13, 2018. The annual festival is more kitschy than witchy, making it a safe bet for families.

River of Life Farm

City: Dora
Lodging: Escape to River of Life Farm, home to a private treehouse retreat within earshot of the serene North Fork River. Book it at riveroflifefarm.com.
Fall Fun: After the summer months, it’s too chilly to tube down the North Fork. Luckily, River of Life is a family-owned outfitter happy to equip visitors with kayaks or canoes to explore the river’s crystal-clear waters.

Pick Apples

Whether they're tucked inside an apple pie, jarred for apple butter or simply served as an after-school snack, fresh-picked apples are a hallmark of good fall eating.

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a day spent picking apples in the fall sunshine must be just what the doctor ordered. That’s where Sunshine Valley Farm comes in. The family-owned farm (8011 E. State Highway AD, Rogersville, 417-753-2698) offers a variety of fruit ripe for the picking throughout the year. Come August, apple picking begins, with more than 20 apple varieties to choose from. Tart Suncrisp apples—one of our favorites—can be picked in late September through early October. They’re delicious when eaten fresh—just give them a good scrubbing and take a messy, crunchy bite, letting the flavorful juice run down your wrist. And, of course, the ever-popular Granny Smith apple is also available to pick in October, perfect for cooking and storing. 

Depending on the haul you’re looking to bring home, Sunshine Valley allows guests to purchase a bag for picking ranging from $5–20. Sunshine Valley is open for picking from 8–10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but be sure to give the farm a call before you make the trip, as the schedule is subject to change.

halloween parade
halloween parade
Photos by Chuck Travers Rountree’s annual Halloween parade dates back almost 20 years.

Trick or Treat in Rountree

Every kid in southwest Missouri knows exactly where to go for the best Halloween candy, costumes and decorations: Springfield's charming Rountree neighborhood.

For 19 years, Rountree parents have organized an extravagant kid-friendly Halloween parade followed by some serious trick-or-treating. Rountree Elementary teacher Amy Hopkins says the parade has humble roots. When her eldest son was in second grade, Hopkins teamed up with another Rountree mother to plan a small Halloween parade. They gathered their kiddos for a casual parade between their homes, ending at the Hopkins house for snacks. The next year, the parade grew to include around 60 kids. Now, 19 years later, Hopkins estimates that more than 1,000 people join in the spooky fun.

Like any growing community event, the parade has experienced a few logistical issues, according to Rountree Neighborhood Association Chair Laurel Bryant, who offered her assistance when city officials began to require heavier security and permitting. However, Bryant points out that the concept is still simple, casual and, above all, kid-friendly. The event unites the Rountree community in a dazzling show of creativity. It’s common, for example, to see a flash mob of friendly witches dancing past stately neighborhood homes, which are often transformed into eerie haunted houses.

The parade occurs each year on October 31, beginning at 5:30 p.m. sharp at 1055 S. Weller St. and ending down the street in Weller’s 800 block. Then, trick-or-treating begins. Don’t forget your camera: This is one local fall tradition you’ll want to capture for the scrapbook.

front porch decorated for fall
Photo by Brandon AlmsTurn your porch into a harvest wonderland like Lara King did at her Springfield home. Purchase Photo

Get in the Spirit

Create a gorgeous fall-inspired scene on your front porch.

Scorching summer temperatures in 417-land often stretch far into the month of September, making it tough to get in the fall spirit. Kick your late-summer woes to the curb by upgrading your front porch style with lush fall decor. With blooming purple mums, rustic corn stalks, friendly scarecrows and sinister jack-o’-lanterns, 417-land’s fall front porches are nothing short of festive. With the promise of cooler temperatures just around the corner, show off your fall front porch flair, then stroll through your neighborhood. Feast your eyes on colorful baskets of fall flowers nestled among rustic displays. You’ll be in the fall spirit in no time.

performance of michael jackson's thriller
Photo by Brandon AlmsCreepy vibes abound at Thriller on C-Street, a time-honored Springfield tradition. Purchase Photo

Dance with the Undead

Bust a move at the spookiest dance party in Springfield.

Since 2010, hordes of Michael Jackson fans have flocked to Historic Commercial Street in Springfield for the spookiest party around: Thriller on C-Street, featuring dozens of dancers dressed as zombies for a performance of Jackson’s “Thriller” dance. This year, witness the funk of 40,000 years on October 27 on C-Street between Robberson and Boonville avenues. Bring the kids to the 4 p.m. matinee, or grab a seat at the highly creepy 7:30 p.m. show. Plus, individuals ages 10 and older can get their ghoulish groove on by joining the C-Street Zombie Corps. A $65 registration fee gets you lifelong Zombie Corps membership, which includes dance classes prior to the performance. Get more info at facebook.com/ThrilleronCStreet.

fall color at a cemetery
Photo by Brandon AlmsTake a gander around the mature trees at Maple Park Cemetery in central Springfield. Purchase Photo

See Fall Color

This fall, we're all about exploring unexpected settings for stunning foliage. Take cemeteries, for example. Spooky? Maybe. Beautiful and historic? Definitely.


Hazelwood Cemetery

Hazelwood Cemetery has stood the test of time. It opened in 1867 after Springfield’s original cemetery was badly damaged during the Civil War. Now, this 60-acre cemetery is strewn with vibrant, towering oak and sugar maple trees.

Maple Park Cemetery

One of Maple Park’s standout features is a large Victorian-style gazebo, built in the late 1800s, near the entrance. For an unexpected day date, stroll around the cemetery in search of the burial site of Davis Tutt, who was killed by Wild Bill Hickok on Springfield’s Park Central Square.

Carter Cemetery

Carter Cemetery lies at the intersection of gorgeous and ghostly. This small burial ground is located atop a hill on the two-mile Busiek State Forest red trail. Home to a few dozen gravestones in varying states of decay, this cemetery drips with breathtaking fall color and the beautifully chilling remnants of days gone by.

kids in a sunflower field
Photo by Brandon AlmsIt's hard to not smile while surrounded by golden sunflowers at Golden Grove Farms. Purchase Photo

The Last Chance List

Don't miss your last chance to enjoy these warm-weather outings.

Early September

Your last chance to snap a pic in a sunflower field. Local sunflower fields typically begin to wilt in mid-September, so don’t wait to visit Garbee Sunflower Field in Billings, Crighton Family Farms Sunflower Field in Willard or Golden Grove Farms in Fair Grove.

Late September

Your last chance to swim at the lake before it’s too cold. Check out fishing websites such as anglerspy.com for up-to-date water temperatures.

October 7

The last Baker Creek Harvest Festival of the year. Don’t miss the season finale of this family-friendly harvest festival—an excellent opportunity to pick up some seeds and start dreaming about your spring garden.

Late October

Your last chance for outdoor dining at local farms throughout 417-land. Green Thicket Farm’s Dinners at the Thicket move from open air to indoors as soon as the chill picks up, and your last day for Millsap Farms’ Pizza Club is October 25, 2018.

Fall Fest it Up

FIND AN EVENT

Looking for a specific event or want to browse through your options? Check out our list of fall festivals happening this year, or check our full calendar for other activities for you and the family.