What it’s like to be a corn maze designer who creates 90 mazes a year for up to $2,500 each

Don Watts designs around 90 corn mazes a year for up to $2,500 each.

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Don Watts designs around 90 corn mazes a year for up to $2,500 each.
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Don Watts

  • Corn mazes have become a classic fall tradition, like apple picking, pumpkin carving, and hayrides.
  • Don Watts, known as the Corn Maze Guy, has been designing these labyrinths of grain since the mid-1980s.
  • He uses GPS technology to create about 90 mazes each year, and gets paid between $1,900 and $2,500 per maze.
  • Read on to find out how Watts creates these intricate mazes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As if you couldn’t tell by the dropping temperatures, football on TV, and Halloween decorations in stores, fall is upon us. Fans of the season love its cozy traditions, like apple picking, pumpkin carving, leaf peeping, and taking hayrides.

Another long-held autumn tradition in the United States is the corn maze – a large-scale design cut into a field of corn with high stalks, built for visitors to find their way through the labyrinth. They’re often attractions at fall festivals, pumpkin patches, and Halloween events.

If you’ve ever seen an aerial photo of a corn maze – or spent considerable time trying to find your way through one – you might have wondered how such a complicated project is created. As it turns out, corn maze designers are dedicated professionals who create dozens of mazes every season and earn thousands of dollars in the process.

We spoke with a corn maze designer who’s been doing the job for three decades to find out what the job is really like.


Corn mazes are actually younger than you might expect. The first modern corn maze was designed in 1993 by Don Frantz in Annville, Pennsylvania.

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Jim Young/Reuters

Source: NPR


Called the Amazing Maize Maze, it was shaped like a dinosaur, and was the first maze “designed for private and public entertainment,” according to Frantz’s website. Before 1993, the site says, “the maze was seen as a mostly passive art form.”

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Amazing Maize Maze

Source: American Maze


According to NPR, he got the idea while gazing out the window during a cross-country flight, when “he looked down over the farms of the Midwest and saw crops planted in perfect, amazing contoured lines.”

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Shutterstock/shipfactory

Source: NPR


Corn mazes have skyrocketed in popularity since then, and designers are constantly upping the ante. In 2014, Cool Patch Pumpkins set a Guinness world record for the largest temporary corn maze with a 60-acre labyrinth in Dixon, California.

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Guinness Book of World Records

Source: Guinness World Records


Don Watts, aka The Corn Maze Guy, is a corn maze designer in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He serves clients in the Northeast and some of the Midwest and South.

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Don Watts

Source: The Corn Maze Guy


Since designing his first maze in 1989, Watts has created more than 900 labyrinths in locations as far as Maine, Florida, and Iowa.

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A pirate-themed corn maze designed by Don Watts in Benton, Pennsylvania.
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Don Watts

His designs range from pumpkins, farm animals, and eagles to the Grim Reaper, Benjamin Franklin, and the Statue of Liberty.

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Don Watts

After high school, Watts worked at a farm for a few years, but left to start his own graphic design business. When the farm later hired him to design a corn maze, he drew on his experience in farming and design to create one. Soon, word spread of his talents, and other area farmers began commissioning his mazes.

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The entrance to a corn maze in Moriarty, New Mexico.
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Eirik Gumeny/Shutterstock

“I had acquired skills and training in art, farming and computers. I didn’t know it at the time, but these three experiences would later be the necessary fundamentals for designing and creating corn mazes,” he told Business Insider.


In the late 1980s, affordable GPS equipment wasn’t widely available, he said, so he got up in a bucket truck to visually map mazes on plots of land. For the first 15 years, he said, “we did all the mazes using a grid system with stakes and spray paint.”

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Rudy Umans/Shutterstock

But technology has allowed the profession to evolve. Nowadays, designers use drones and GPS-equipped tractors and mowers that can zoom in on single stalks of corn, according to NPR.

Source: NPR


Once a customer approves the design, Watts plots the coordinates into his GPS software. His equipment is accurate to within less than a foot.

Don Watts designs around 90 corn mazes a year for up to $2,500 each.

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Don Watts

When the corn has grown to about 2 feet tall, Watts brings a commercial zero-turn mower to the site and cuts the design into the field by following the paths displayed on the GPS. This usually takes less than two hours.

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Don Watts

“Interestingly, we’ve cut mazes at night in total darkness,” Watts said. “It is a little eerie being out in the middle of a large corn field at night, but the GPS display lets us know exactly where to go.”

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Matusciac Alexandru/Shutterstock

Watts said that most customers come to him with their own design ideas and that pumpkins, tractors, farm designs, and patriotic designs are the most popular.

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A maze designed by Don Watts in Montgomery, New York.
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Don Watts

He said he typically designs his mazes between January and April and cuts the stalks in the summertime.


July and August are the busiest time for corn maze designers because they cut when the corn is not yet fully grown, Watts said. Creating the design and doing the GPS plotting takes three to eight hours per maze.

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Getty Images

In 2008, after years of making mazes part-time in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, Watts decided to invest in his equipment and create a corn maze website. Business began to boom, and the gig became his full-time profession.

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A screenshot of the homepage of TheCornMazeGuy.com.
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TheCornMazeGuy.com

Source: TheCornMazeGuy.com


Of all the mazes he’s done, Watts’ favorite was based on the iconic 1945 photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” taken during World War II. The maze was created on a farm in Halifax, Massachusetts.

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Don Watts

Watts says that some design requests make him cringe, like when they contain large circles and long, straight lines. These are challenging to cut precisely if he drives over bumps and ruts in the mower, which disrupt the GPS.

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A maze designed by Don Watts in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
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Don Watts

Nationwide, there’s only a handful of maze designers, Watts said, and each has a different process and target customer.


Watts specializes in small- to medium-size mazes — about three to eight acres — and markets himself as an affordable choice. Most customers find him via Google.


Every season, Watts designs about 90 mazes, with prices ranging from $1,900 to $2,500 each, he said.

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A maze designed by Don Watts in Long Valley, New Jersey.
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Don Watts

But it isn’t all about the money for Watts. “The thing I like best about this business is the people I meet and making their day when I show them a photo of their maze,” he said.