Visiting Vala’s Pumpkin Patch: An Iconic Nebraska Tradition

From ultra-humble beginnings nearly four decades ago, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, located just outside Omaha, has become an honest-to-gourd family-friendly tourist mecca.

This 400-acre pumpkin patch and adjoining apple orchard may only be open two months out of the year, but it’s become an annual fall rite of passage for many Midwesterners. This expansive acreage is old-timey county fair meets gigantic farmstead meets vintage carnival. You’ve never quite seen anything like it.

We visited on a relatively quiet Tuesday afternoon when the lines were short, and parking was a breeze. On weekends, however, expect a veritable crush of humanity. Yes, the place is that popular thanks to some 50-plus attractions including a three-acre corn maze, hayrack ride, and a built-in haunted (farm)house. Besides ample animatronic shows, Vala’s offers plenty of live musicians strumming and plucking throughout the park. Need to sit for a spell? Go put your feet up and check out any of the multiple live shows such as the Pigtucky Derby Pig Races.

This season Vala’s Pumpkin Patch touted one of their biggest expansions yet. Vala’s opened a new barbecue restaurant, barn pavilion area, and several new rides, including Stefan’s Country Drive. It’s a winding track featuring Tin Lizzie cars on an impossible-to-run-off rail course. Little kids and even tweens can get their swerve on, so to speak.

Vala’s other new ride? Go spy the aptly named Jan’s Carousel, an antique carousel, named after co-founder Jan Vala, who passed away unexpectedly last year.

The Cider Mill Rules
After four years of planning, Vala’s also opened their spacious cider mill, an impressive mother ship that sits in the middle of the acreage. The new building is a perfect respite for guests to enjoy cider (both hard and non-alcoholic) and kick back on the massive outdoor patio. While welcoming, it lacks any tiny bit of shade, so plan accordingly. Guests can even peer inside the mill’s large windows and watch cider being pressed.

Unlike most theme parks, guests are welcome to bring in their own refreshments. Want to make a night of it? You can rent a private campfire site for family and friends to enjoy. Staff members will graciously start your fire and supply you with wood, picnic tables, and benches to sit on. All you need are S’mores supplies—and maybe some whiskey to turn your cider into a hot toddy.

Foodie Finds
Food options, meanwhile, are not in short supply at Vala’s. We counted nearly 25 eateries and food barns (pun intended) on the acreage. The most decadent offering was the new-this-year donut tower, which stacks a half dozen apple cider donuts drizzled with caramel on top of, you guessed it, a halved caramel apple. (Two words: pack insulin.)

The nearby Pie Barn is also a must-visit culinary pitstop. It’s filled with a bevy of comfort food staples like mac-n-cheese, chicken pot pie, and potato soup bread bowls. The barn’s hand-made, from scratch pies, however, are the joint’s true claim to fame. There’s a salted caramel apple pie that borders on euphoric. And their bourbon pecan pie rivals any diner in the deep south. Oh, and gird your loins, pie specials change weekly.

A new novelty this season? Kid-friendly train rides that circle a pond will be offered for free this year; they used to cost $3.50. (That’s an added bonus as ticket prices increased this year for the first time since the pandemic.)

Better Hurry!
If you’re looking to make a pumpkin pilgrimage, you’ve only got a few weeks left to do so. The place closes for the season on Halloween. But, until then, there’s plenty to see and do at Vala’s, including Friday night fireworks.

Vala’s is located at 12102 S. 180th St. near Gretna, Nebraska. General admission tickets for Monday through Thursday are $19.99 per person plus tax. Friday’s tickets are $33.99 plus tax. Tickets on Saturdays and Sundays are $39.99 plus tax. (Save money by buying tickets online.) Children ages 2 and younger are admitted free.