These 15 Orchards in the West Offer the Best Apple Picking Experiences
From a third-generation orchard at the base of Mt. Hood to an Arizona farm with world-famous apple pie, these are the family-run orchards you’re going to want to add to your fall bucket list
Apple picking is right up there with pumpkin patches and fall hiking as a quintessential fall activity. As the weather gets crisper and apple trees ripen, there’s no better place to be than at a u-pick orchard in the West, where we have some of the best apple growing conditions in the country (we’re looking at you, Washington and Oregon). Even if you have your own apple trees, going to the orchard will open up a whole new world of possibilities with which to enrich your apple pie, torte, and caramel apple recipes. So, whether you’re in the market for a lo-fi, no-frills orchard with nothing but quality heirloom fruit; you prefer your apple picking to come with a side of quality hard cider; or you’re looking for a county fair-like experience with petting zoos and horse-drawn carriages, you’ll find what you’re looking for among these 15 farms.
Gabriel Farm, Sebastopol, CA
Gabriel Farm is nestled deep among Sonoma County country roads, giving it the aura of a wonderful secret you’re happening upon. After parking, you’re greeted by a scarecrow shaped out of metal scrap. In order to pick, you’ll need to purchase a yearlong CSA membership to the farm; in return, you get to choose a generous case of Asian pears or multiple jugs of apple cider pressed onsite. Grab a basket (or a couple!) and head to the orchard, where you’ll find multiple apple varieties for the picking. In addition, the farm offers guests to pick the remaining summer flowers and raspberries in the garden. One of our editors has snagged gorgeous dahlias, poppies, and more blooms that rounded out the perfect shoulder season haul.
Apple Annie’s Orchard, Willcox, AZ
The apple pies at Apple Annie’s are legendary. Made with a secret recipe concocted by owner Annie Holcomb in the farm’s early years, the pie is made with hand-peeled apples picked from the 7,100-apple tree orchard (with about another 2,000 pear, peach, and cherry trees). It’s the perfect reward for an afternoon spent picking Fujis, Granny Smiths, and Pink Ladys on the 125-acre farm opened in 1986.
Johnson Orchards, Yakima, WA
At the turn of the 19th century, Eric Johnson’s great-granddaddy, Alfred, took the railroad up on a sweet deal for a free train ride over to the sunny Yakima Valley to scope out land ripe for planting fruit trees. Johnson Orchardswas born in 1904, and today it’s one of the few left in an area built out with residential and commercial developments. Eric, a fourth-generation apple grower, and his family cultivate Pink Ladys, Honeycrisps, and Red Delicious apples, among others. For those who don’t want to do their own picking, the original packing house serves as a fruit stand stocking all the classics. Don’t miss the bakery for apple pies and tartlets, and the perfect apple pairing: caramel made onsite by Coppet Pot Caramels.
SLO Creek Farms, San Luis Obispo, CAOrganic fiends should get the fam to SLO Creek Farms, where Braeburns, Granny Smiths, and Fujis are grown with no pesticides or other chemicals. The farm is wild, lush, and backdropped by San Luis Obispo’s hilly landscape, offering apple picking at its most unadulterated. Of SLO Creek’s 44 acres, 40 are reserved for apples, but you’ll also find patches with certified organic veggies, other fruits, and colorful flowers. Check the Facebook page for updates on wellness-driven events like wild edibles and oil infusion classes and a family-favorite pumpkin patch. If you’re not driving, snag a bottle of Liquid Gold—the farm’s sparkling, dry hard cider released last year—to enjoy among the orchards.
Willow View Farms, Abbotsford, B.C.In B.C.’s Fraser Valley, Willow View Farms is about as photogenic as it gets with its lush orchards, charming barn, and cotton candy-colored sunsets. Since 1960, the family owners have been growing a range of apples, plums, pears, and other fruits and veggies. Start at the country store, where you can pick up an orchard map that will point you toward trees ripe for apple picking, as well as the pumpkin patch. While you’re at it, this is a good place to fill up on all sorts of apply treats like cider slushies, donuts, and pies.
Paradise Valley Orchard, Paradise, UTOn Saturdays from mid-September through October, look for a colorful, wooden sign pointing the way to this orchard in Utah’s Cache Valley. On a visit, you can pick from the 10 to 12 varieties that are usually available to harvest on any given day. Then, head to the shed where the team, who runs one of the biggest cider presses in the area, can turn your loot into juice. For the same reward without the work, just get the farm’s house cider made with a perfectly balanced mix of sweet and tart apples and zero additives.
Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch, Sebastopol, CAStart your day of apple picking at Ratzlaff with a glass of the winningest cider around. The ranch, set among Sonoma’s rolling hills, has earned dozens of gold medals and Best of Show awards at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and other competitions for its pure juice made with hand-sorted apples, no sugar, and minimal fuss. The base products—fruits that comes from decades-old Gravensteins, Goldens, Reds, and Rome trees—shine on their own, and they’re the same ones you’ll pick when you visit.
Kiyokawa Family Orchards, Mt. Hood, ORFall is epic in the PNW thanks in big part to the scenic and fertile orchards this region produces. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque location for your apple picking pursuits than Oregon’s “Fruit Loop”—a 35-mile route stretching from the town of Hood River with more than 30 fruit stands and wineries. Along that path, Kiyokawa benefits from stunning views of the snow-capped Mt. Hood. The family-run operation was established in 1951 by the current owner’s grandfather (a man who spent World War II in an internment camp in Oregon). The orchard remains a labor of love and talent with the third-generation grower dealing in 25 apple varieties (including Arkansas Black, Crimson Gold, Empire), as well as 15 types of Asian pears.
Chileno Valley Ranch, Marin County, CA
Chileno Valley Ranch, located on the edge of northern Marin County just outside Petaluma, is a 600-acre grass-fed beef and lamb ranch that also happens to include a small orchard producing over a dozen varieties of apples and several varieties of pears. At the time we visited, the ripest fruits were Senshu, Mutsu, Pinova, and Candy Crisp apples (you can probably guess which one the kids were most excited about). Also on offer are short tours of the animal life on the farm, as well as the ranch’s own grass-fed beef and lamb for purchase by the pound and a local honey farm stand providing honey tastings. You need to reserve your u-pick spot in advance, as the ranch tries to limit the number of visitors and resulting impact on the farm; this amounts to an $8 fee on top of what you pick and buy by the pound.