Richardson Adventure Farm knows how to grow tulips, sunflowers, Christmas trees and corn — but its most flourishing crop may just be a taste for fun.
Located in rural Spring Grove, some 60 miles northwest of Chicago, virtually each of the farm’s 500 acres is devoted to some type of family entertainment. The biggest draw this time of year is Richardson Adventure Farm’s corn maze. Literally the world’s largest, the maze is an intricate labyrinth that covers 28 acres with nearly 10 miles of winding trails. It’s actually comprised of four smaller mazes, each with its own in-and-out path, and there are multiple checkpoints and overhead bridges to keep wanderers from straying too far.
“We have not lost anybody yet,” George Richardson says with a laugh. “I personally don’t like to feel lost, and it is huge out there. So we designed it with no dead-ends and a 60-foot tower you can see from almost all over if you lose your bearings.” Three families of Richardsons own and operate the farm. Brothers George and Robert, their wives Wendy and Carol, and George’s son, Ryan with his wife Kristen make up the fifth and sixth generations.
The maze design changes each year. Appropriately enough, this year’s maze celebrates two decades of Richardson Adventure Farm history with the theme “20 Years of A-MAZE-ING.”
How the maze happens each year
Building the maze itself is actually quite an amazing endeavor that blends agriculture, engineering and science.
After mulling a theme and design, the team plants the cornfield in early May. When the corn reaches 10 inches, the trails are tilled with a small tractor guided by GPS. The bridges are set in place with a large forklift and the posts for checkpoints and trails are drilled in. Then in July, most of the trails are tilled again to clean them up and get them ready for opening day on September 11.
Sterile corn — the kind that has no kernel seeds — is used for safety reasons because, as the Richardsons learned (literally the hard way), some people “get a little goofy” and just can’t resist picking off a cob and launching it into space. “This corn produces an ear but there’s no kernels so it’s nice and fluffy,” Richardson says. “Once the maze closes, we just plow it back under. It’s good organic matter – and much safer for our customers.”
Other a-mazing fun at Richardson Adventure Farm
While the maze may literally be the biggest attraction, it’s far from the only choice of entertainment at the farm. There are sunflower fields, train and wagon rides to the pick-your-own pumpkin and gourd patches, a petting zoo, a 30-horse carousel, jumping pillows, go-karts, air cannons and a paintball shooting gallery. There’s a special play area for younger kids, a 100-foot slide for all ages and mining for gemstones. The adventurous can try a 750-foot-long zipline, bungee-enhanced bouncing, and zorbing, which entails rolling down a hill while strapped into an 11-foot ball. There’s even an animatronic chicken show.
The maze stays open till midnight during full moons (September 17-18 and October 22-23) and visitors can ride their horses through on November 13. The expansive grounds also offer wine tasting, a beer garden and more than 100 private campfire sites to rent.
“Some people love to make that their home base for the night,” Richardson says. “They let their kids run through the grounds — because everything is all fenced in, they can’t get lost and they know they will come back eventually.”
Last April for the first time, the farm offered a Tulip Festival with five acres of colorful blooms (300,000 bulbs to be exact, with another 200,000 coming next year) to give visitors an early taste of spring.
“People just had the biggest smiles on their faces,” Richardson says. “It was wonderful.”
The farm closes on November 7 and then the day after Thanksgiving, it reopens as a Christmas tree farm with more than 50,000 cut-your-own trees spread over 75 acres reached on a fun family wagon ride. Hot drinks, donuts, wreaths and gifts await inside the cozy barn.
“We are busy all the time,” Richardson says, “though we do take off the summers so we can build things.”
After decades as a working farm of corn, soybean and pigs, the Richardson family decided to transform their property into an entertainment venue.
“Our goal was to make it a nice destination,” says Richardson. “I like this much better – it’s way more fun.”
Richardson Adventure Farm is located at 909 English Prairie Road in Spring Grove, Illinois. To learn more, call 815-675-9729 or visit richardsonadventurefarm.com.