Why The Holiday Hayride Is A Beloved Southern Tradition

Climb aboard and celebrate the season.

Pumpkin Patch

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It’s autumn, and you know what that means: Hayride season. It's the time for climbing up on the back of a wagon, settling in on a scratchy seat, and feeling the newly cool air on your face as you ride along, ambling through a breezy field. What better way to take in the changing leaves? 

The history of hayrides is a blurry one. No one is quite sure when or where they got their start–or who exactly was the first to throw a hay bale on the back of a wagon and go on a leisurely, open-air ride–but when it comes to origins, farming country is a good guess. For one, wagons and hay bales are plentiful in places where farming is widespread.

The anatomy of a hayride, on the other hand, is simple. One: a wagon filled with seating. It might be wood slats or baled hay. Two: a tractor (or truck with four-wheel drive) to tow the cargo. Three: a group of people ready to embark, each bundled up with a cup of cocoa in hand (careful with that, though, it’s a bumpy proposition).

When it comes to beloved Southern traditions, hay rides are near the top of the list. “It’s a fun family experience,” says Wendy Barton, the marketing director at Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, Georgia, where hayrides have been running since 2008. “We see three generations of family members climbing aboard to have an experience together. It’s so basic–the tractor pulls the hayride around the perimeter of our corn maze and through a pecan orchard–but even though it’s simple, all of your senses are involved. The smell of hay alone brings me memories.” 

Lane Southern Orchards also has a cafe and a roadside market with fresh seasonal produce, jams, jellies, and gifts. While they’re best known for their peaches, they make the most of that fall feeling with a fall festival and a corn maze that draws visitors from near and far.

Hay rides are ubiquitous at Christmas tree farms during the colder months and at orchards year round, though autumn is a particularly popular time for them. Whether you’re at the pumpkin patch selecting a giant orange gourd to take home with you or passing the time until your newly cut Christmas tree is wrapped and strapped to the top of your car, there’s always time for a hayride. And a holiday gathering without a hayride is a bit of a letdown, don’t you think? 

Other popular hayrides around the South include the ones at Bear Wallow Farm (lighted hayrides during a Country Christmas celebration) in Nancy, Kentucky; Boyette Family Farms in Clayton, North Carolina; Shell’s Christmas Tree Farm (covered wagon rides) in Tuscumbia, Alabama; and Old Time Christmas Tree Farm in Spring, Texas. (Be sure to check websites for availability and seasonal opening dates.)

While each hayride has its own personality, everyone can agree: This long-standing tradition is a lot of fun.

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