Pumpkins Ablaze! A Day at The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze and Croton Gorge Park

It’s finally starting to feel a bit like fall out there, which always gets me excited for the various festive events of the season.  While I’m a huge fan of fall and foliage and definitely go crazy for all things apple and pumpkin, I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween. I grew up in the country and trick-or-treating was always pretty hit or miss. Unless you could get someone to take you to a more densely-populated neighborhood, you had to walk a lot to get to the next house and in the end, you didn’t get much candy. Also, half the time it was too cold (or sometimes even SNOWING), so you had to wear a heavy coat over your costume just to stay warm. As an adult, I can’t say I’ve learned to enjoy it any more than I did as a kid.

That said, there IS one Halloween activity that I love and think is absolutely worth doing, and that’s the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson, NY! This event features more than 7,000 hand-carved pumpkins that are grouped together and illuminated to create larger objects such as dinosaurs, sunflowers, clocks, and even the Statue of Liberty.  The 2019 season runs from Friday, September 20th through Saturday, November 30th, and tickets go on sale September 3rd. If you want to check it out, buy your tickets soon because they sell out quickly every year.  

Jack O'Lantern Blaze Train
This whole train is made out of carved pumpkins!

I had heard of the Blaze several years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that my husband and I finally made the trek up there.  We went the Friday after Thanksgiving, thinking a lot of people wouldn’t be in town and therefore it might be less crowded.  It was still fairly crowded, though not as bad as we expected, but then I really don’t have anything to compare it to!  We had tickets for 7:00 pm (because it seems fairly essential to do this sort of thing in the dark), so we combined our visit with a couple other fun activities in the area beforehand.

We started our day off with a visit to Croton Gorge Park, which is home to the New Croton Dam and the Old Croton Aqueduct. The Croton River was dammed in the 1830s and the aqueduct was built between 1837 and 1842 in order to supply NYC with an additional source of fresh water (which it did until the 1960s).  

Croton Dam
Croton Dam and its spillway

When we drove into the park, we were first greeted by the sight of the dam, built in 1907 to replace the old dam. The thing is just massive! It stands over 200 feet high and can hold back more than 34 billion gallons of water. (Supposedly, it’s the third largest hand-hewn stone structure in the world after the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China.)

Walls of the Croton Dam
The massive walls of the Croton Dam

From the parking lot, we could see people walking on top of it (and, of course, we needed to figure out how to get up there ourselves.) As it turns out, you simply walk all the way to the other end of the park and head up a trail in the woods which brings you to the path across the top of the dam (as well as to the Old Croton Aqueduct trail which you can walk or bike on all the way down to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.)

The View from on Top of the Croton Dam
The view from the top of the Croton Dam

And though the dam looks massive from below, it’s even more massive from the top! Here you can see the insane amount of water that’s being held back, as well as where it tumbles down through the spillway.  We walked all the way across and then did the complete loop back to our car since it wasn’t clear how to get back to the parking lot from the other side of the dam.  If you’re smarter than us, you’ll take a look at a trail map before setting out so you’ll know where to go. When I had originally picked the park as a place to visit, I hadn’t realized you could walk on top of the dam, but I’m glad we figured out how to do it because it’s quite a treat!

Croton Dam Spillway
The Croton Dam spillway.  The water from the spillway becomes the Croton River here.

After we did some exploring in the park, we headed out for dinner and some beer sampling at the Peekskill Brewery, which was pretty decent. It’s only about 10 minutes north of where you’ll go to the Blaze, so you will need to backtrack a little if you decide to go to the park, brewery, and Blaze like we did, but it’s an easy enough drive. However, if you’re looking for a really good fall brew, the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company isn’t far from Croton Gorge Park, and they make a delicious pumpkin ale. They have a counter you can order food from as well, but Peekskill has sit-down table service if you would prefer to sit and relax a bit more instead.

After we were done eating we set out for the Blaze, and as you might expect for a hugely popular seasonal activity, the traffic was insane.  We arrived early because you have timed tickets and we didn’t want to miss our entry time. However, if you’re TOO early, they won’t let you into the parking lot. Instead, they’ll send you down the hill into a grocery store parking lot, and when it’s your time to enter, you can just skip the line and come back in from the side to enter the parking lot, which is what we ended up having to do.

Once we were actually parked and headed in, there wasn’t much of a line, fortunately. (There was, however, a line for the bathrooms which are just port-a-potties, so you may want to plan to go ahead of time.) When you’re ready to go through the display, note that they do sell wine, beer, cider and all kinds of other fall treats, which you can take along with you.

After you enter, you’ll follow a trail, all of which is lit by carved pumpkins!  It reminded me a bit of a Christmas light display we used to go to as kids back home, where all the lights were strung together to make images.  In this case, Blaze combines multiple pumpkins into single objects, all of which are amazing to look at. The detail and design is spectacular, and you can’t help but wonder how long it must have taken to come up with the ideas and do all the carving! You can easily spend an hour or more wandering through all the displays because you’ll want to take time to look at all the detail.  

Jack O'Lantern Blaze Dragon
A dragon made out of pumpkins!

Fortunately, leaving the show is much less chaotic, especially if you go later in the evening like we did when there are fewer people trying to get in and fill up the parking lot.  We were so delighted by the show that we decided to make it an annual tradition and have already bought our tickets to go back this year. We’ll also see what new adventures we can add to our visit this time!

Have you been to Croton Gorge Park or to the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze? I’d love to hear about your own visits!

And remember, tickets sell out fast, so be sure to buy yours soon if you don’t want to miss out on this spooktacular fall event!

Next week, we’ll stay in the Hudson River Valley for more fall adventures, and you might just learn a little something about that abandoned building on an island in the Hudson River that you’ve spied from Metro-North…

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