I’m not sure whether there’s something intrinsically better about homegrown orchard apples, or if the mere act of rooting through rows of trees to pick the fruit yourself is enough to make them taste that much sweeter than the store-bought variety. Whatever it is, nothing can compare to that first bite into a ripe, red apple with the brisk October wind beating your jacket. It’s as crisp, pure, refreshing and comforting as early fall itself.
Moments like this, often foregone in the frenzy of the start of a new school year, make fall such a delicious season — yet it’s fleeting, so make sure to savor it. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a car (or a friend who does), high tail it to one of these orchards for a priceless autumnal experience, not to mention more apples than you can shake a stick at.
Whether you prefer your apples fresh off the branch or baked into pies, cobblers and pastries, or even if you don’t like them at all, these five orchards offer tiny fall-themed retreats from the academic grind where you can trade in new book smell for campfire smell, backpacks for bags of apples and pencils for pumpkin patches. Some even have petting zoos — is there a better way to beat the back to school blues than feeding pumpkin seeds to baby goats?
And when you get home, keep the fall magic alive by putting your hard-earned apples to good use in one of these three simple, cozy recipes.
Top 5 Apple Orchards
This orchard teems with pumpkin-toting kiddos and apple-laden families wandering through wafts of fresh apple cider donuts and hay. It’s like they pump all the best autumnal aromas into the air here to draw the crowds. A sprawling corn maze, petting zoo, pumpkin patch and various barnyard ephemera give way to hayride paths leading up to the idyllic orchard, filled with a bounty of Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Asian Pears, Fuji and Red Delicious. Munch on the fresh fruit while you wander the orchard aisles, then stock up on more seasonal goodies in the farmers’ market and bakery on your way out — the apple cider donuts are devilishly good.
Cost: $10.50 per ½ peck, or $18.50 for apples and activities
Address: 14510 Illinois 176, Woodstock, IL
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri: 10am to 5pm, Sat-Sun: 10am to 6pm
This family-run orchard, just an hour’s drive from Evanston, features unique draws like horseback riding, wagon rides, a petting zoo, a corn maze and a farm equipment museum. Of course, there’s plenty appeal on the apple front — guests prepay $35 for a basket to fill. Despite all this, the main attraction might be Edwards’ prepared foods — their apple pie and ice cream, baked potatoes and apple cider doughnuts have been known to draw hour-long lines and are proof of the endless decadent possibilities of apples. Case in point: their apple pie with Cheddar cheese. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!
Cost: $35 per basket
Address: 7061 Centerville Rd, Poplar Grove, IL
Hours of operation: Mon to Sun: 9am to 6pm
Don’t be put off by its address — this ultra nostalgic, year-round orchard is just an hour away. Enjoy a musical dinner theater, orchard tours, hayrides, campfires and picking everything from apples to peaches, pumpkins and sugar snap peas in the fall. You can even return in the winter for horse-drawn sleigh rides and pig roasts! From McIntosh, Fuji and Jonathan to Golden Delicious, Cortland and Macoun apples, their inventory is unbeatable. But what makes Apple Holler worth a visit is the quirky, yesteryear festiveness incorporated into everything from the delicious fall pies and treats to the scarecrow contest. This place is perfect for both the apple enthusiast and the vertically challenged — the trees are specially cultivated so ladders aren’t needed.
Cost: $12 per ½ peck per picker
Address: 5006 S Sylvania Ave, Sturtevant, WI
Hours of operation: Mon-Sun: 9am to 6pm
A soaring timber frame barn stocked with incredible treats, a Pac Man-themed corn maze, an intoxicating bakery, a pumpkin patch and sprawling, diverse fields of apple trees make this orchard well worth the hour drive. Catch local musicians every weekend in the fall performing their Barnyard Jams.
Cost: $10 for admission, $1.75/lb. of apples
Address: 200 S County Line Rd, Hobart, IN
Hours of operation: Mon-Sun: 9am to 6pm
The cinnamon sugar doughnuts here are so popular you should order them before you start picking, as they take an hour to make. Once you’ve got your hands on one, dunk it into the apple cider made right before your eyes. Relax after a blustery day of apple picking on the rooftop patio area, which offers fortifying campfire favorites like brats and pulled pork (not to mention, alcohol). Of course, make sure to gather the Gala, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Braeburn, Fuji and Zestar varieties the orchard offers.
Address: 36116 128th St, Twin Lakes, WI
Hours of operation: Sat-Sun: 9am to 4pm