A dramatic “Ewwwww!” comes from across the barnyard at Nelson Farm in Litchfield, Minn.

My 11-year-old ponytailed daughter, both amused and indignant, yells out, “The goat licked my phone!”

These things happen when you mix modern kids seeking selfies with an old-fashioned petting zoo. But goats, llamas, pigs and other animals offer timeless agri-tainment that’s perfect for a kid-focused fall farm getaway — especially with a four-day weekend coming up for the Minnesota educators’ conference on Thursday and Friday.

Take your pick from lively orchards, supersized corn mazes and petting zoos, with additional attractions and treats tossed into the mix. Each hums with its own vibe, but all can coax your family onto country roads to see Minnesota’s harvest underway and into the outdoors to enjoy the last warm gasps of the season.

Nelson Farm, now in its 26th year of fall festivals, started as a simple pumpkin patch and expanded steadily into a sprawling country playground filled with elementary and preschool kids who love to run and explore.

A tractor-pulled barrel train carrying kids rumbles down the road while sugary whiffs of mini-doughnuts and earthy hints of hay drift across the acreage. Families line up for a clip-clopping ride through the woods in a wagon pulled by a team of sleek black horses that look primed for a Budweiser commercial.

Kids meander through a historic barn’s old stalls, holler into an echoing empty silo, climb across elevated logs running downhill, play tic-tac-toe with giant X’s and O’s, and clamber up and down giant drain tiles that double as tube slides. They stumble and giggle through a gunny sack and flit between pens holding a donkey, a sweetly snoozing curled-up calf, and a llama with a toothy caricature grin that begs for a voice-over.

By 2:30 p.m., kids and adults gather downhill from the barn, where Youngstrom Lake glitters behind oak trees. Farmer Ron Nelson built a “pumpkin chucker flinger thinger,” or trebuchet, years ago. Farm staffers grab a megaphone to explain the ancient war machine that uses a sturdy slingshot arm and 1,000 pounds of fieldstones as counterweights.

The crowd counts down, “Three ... two ... one!” and a pumpkin flies skyward, arcing high and whacking through oak tree branches before landing somewhere unseen with a sturdy thunk. On a good day — with the trebuchet’s angles and weights finely tuned — the pumpkin can clear the trees and hit the lake. But even without nailing its target, it scores by sneaking history and science lessons into the day — not bad for a day of no school.

(Nelson Farm, 23618 County Rd. 1, Litchfield, Minn. Open weekends through Halloween, plus Oct. 15-16. $8; ages 2 and under free; $7 to do the corn maze by flashlight Oct. 16-17. To get there, take Hwy. 12 about 70 miles west of the Twin Cities to Litchfield. The farm is about 5½ miles south of town. 1-320-693-7750; nelsonfarm.com.)

 

Freelance writer Lisa Meyers McClintick (lisamcclintick.com) wrote “Day Trips From the Twin Cities” and “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path.”