By Jill Devine
There’s something about an autumn corn maze that can make even the busiest families put on the brakes. Every fall, Lansdowne mom Malinda Mahaffey’s calendar fills up with back-to-school and sports obligations.
“So much to do, but I make sure we block out time for our family to be together,” Mahaffey said.
Per their family tradition, some of that together time is spent at a corn maze — those harbingers of autumn that pop up every year in fields around Northern Virginia and across the country. Mahaffey, her husband Lathan, and daughters Lilly, 16, Ella, 14, and Layla, 8, love putting their busy lives on hold for a few hours to happily wander through rustling, sun-kissed stalks.
Mahaffey grew up in the Loudoun community of Mount Gilead. “We had 10 acres looking over the beautiful Blue Ridge,” she said. “I want my own kids to experience what I had, but it’s hard in suburbia.” However, the Mahaffeys found what they were looking for at a Fauquier County farm in The Plains, a small town just 45 minutes from bustling Ashburn.
That’s where each year — for two decades now — the iconic Corn Maze in The Plains has appeared as if by magic each fall. Kate and Hubb Knott are the owners of the maze and love helping area families discover the natural splendor of a Virginia autumn.
Newlyweds right out of college, the Knotts opened an organic seed farm in 2000 and thought a corn maze and fall festival would be a fun addition.
“Corn mazes were a new concept then – not many people had ever been to one,” Kate Knott said. “We had to advertise a lot.” Soon the maze was the star attraction, and the Knotts became devoted to designing mazes that help families connect with nature and each other.
Knott describes building their first maze as a backbreaking five-day process. They drew the maze on paper, and when the corn was short, they ran a tractor under the grueling sun, following 20-foot grid sections marked with flags. “Not fun,” she recalled.
So, the Knotts found an Idaho-based company willing to help — one that specializes in cutting corn mazes and travels around the country each fall carving up fields. Today, the Corn Maze in The Plains is created with the aid of a GPS-equipped tractor, producing highly accurate results.
This year’s theme: “Twenty Ears,” with a corn motif, to celebrate the maze’s 20th anniversary.
Plowed maze paths require considerable grooming to stave off regrowth and weeds. The Knotts say some farms use chemicals to keep new growth at bay, but they do it manually. “We don’t want our kids, or our visitors, exposed to chemicals,” said Kate Knott, whose two daughters are growing up on the farm.
The earliest recorded maze was the Egyptian Labyrinth, dating to roughly 1800 B.C. Through history, mazes have been used as artwork in churches and cut into hedges in the gardens of palaces such as Versailles in France. The complicated path of a maze has been used repeatedly in literature as a metaphor for the twists and turns each human life takes.
“We see life as a maze of choices that each of us must navigate,” said Knott, echoing Shakespeare, Balzac and others.
Mazes like Corn Maze on The Plains offer a safe way to experience the thrill and adventure of being lost while overcoming fears and building confidence. And don’t worry about truly getting trapped in the corn. Standing ready are “corn cops,” who vigilantly watch for raised flags that signal a request for a little help.
Malinda Mahaffey’s daughter Ella calls corn mazes “fun and exciting” and especially likes to go through them at night. The best part— “scaring each other with the flashlights and making up scary stories,” she said.
Knott said lots of families return every year, and she has witnessed at least a dozen engagements within the maze. The Mahaffey have gone many times over the years, often several times a season. Now that their kids are older, they go with their travel sports teams or they bring neighbors and friends.
“We stay the whole day, doing everything from choosing pumpkins and enjoying the maze to seeing farm animals and getting cozy by the bonfire with s’mores,” Mahaffey said. “Maze days are the best days ever.”
Jill Devine is a freelance writer living in Loudoun County. She served six years as an editor for Contract Management magazine.
Amazing Mazes Near You
Here’s a round-up of some of the corn mazes in the Northern Virginia area.
Temple Hall Farm Corn Maize and Fall Festival
15855 Limestone School Rd., Leesburg
Weekends, Sept. 28 – Nov. 5: Saturdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Amazing Farm Fun at Ticonderoga (Bamboo Maze & Willow Maze)
26469 Ticonderoga Rd., Chantilly
Sept. 21 to Nov. 3. Weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekends and Columbus Day 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cox Farms Fall Festival
15621 Braddock Rd., Centreville
Sept. 14 – 15 and Sept. 21 – Nov. 5: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in November).
Whitehall Farm Fall Fun Days
12523 Popes Head Road, Clifton
Saturdays and Sundays in October: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Great Country Farms
18780 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont
Sept. 30 – Oct. 31: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wayside Farm Fun
5273 Harry Byrd Highway, Berryville
Sept. 21 – Nov. 3: Weekends and Columbus Day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Corn Maze in The Plains
4501 Old Tavern Rd., The Plains
Sept. 28-29: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
October: Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Columbus Day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nov. 1-2: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Nov. 3: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
5620 Butterfly Lane, Frederick, Md.
Sept. 21 – Oct. 31: Mondays through Thursdays, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
3205 Hartland Lane, Markham
Sept. 14 – Oct. 27: Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.
Belvedere Plantation Fall Harvest Festival
1410 Belvedere Drive, Fredericksburg
Weekends Sept. 21 – Oct. 27: Fridays, 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Columbus Day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m..
Weekdays Sept.24 – Oct 31: Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. (Closed Tuesday, Oct. 9.)
- Dates and times subject to change, depending on weather, so call in advance.
- Most venues sell last maze tickets about an hour before closing.
- Check before bringing pets.