Fall drives are an annual Minnesota tradition, and the ones we’ve selected include everything you need to make the most of the season.
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For apple lovers, this Winsted orchard is Honeycrisp heaven
At the restaurant at Carlson’s Orchard, an hour west of the Twin Cities in Winsted, there’s no mistaking the star ingredient. Stenciled apples dance along the ceiling’s border, paintings and posters of apples cover the walls, and apple products—everything from jams to ciders—fill the floor displays. The menu tempts diners to “add apple pie and ice cream to any meal for $0.99.” If ever there were a shrine to fall’s favorite fruit, this is it.
But despite the restaurant’s tasty food—get the ham sandwich on fresh focaccia and, of course, the apple pie—Carlson’s acres of you-pick apple trees are the main attraction. Apples are Minnesota’s largest fruit crop, and the University of Minnesota’s fruit-breeding program is famous for developing the homecoming queen of apple varieties, Honeycrisp. (How many other apples do you know that have been profiled by Esquire?)
Carlson’s wisely devotes much of its acreage to the sweet-tart, super-crunchy Honeycrisp, and I'm more than ready to fill my bag with the juicy gems. On the afternoon of my visit, the endless rows of green treetops are dappled in warm sunshine, a slight hay-scented breeze rustling the leaves.
This is my first you-pick mission, and it takes me a few fails—stretching rather, well, fruitlessly for a grapefruit-sized beauty just out of reach, thinking any windfall apple is edible (can you say maggots?)—before achieving a major win: a row of Honeycrisp trees so heavy with fruit that I think they might topple over. The plucking and plopping of the red-and-green speckled beauties becomes like a dance; it's a far more engaging experience than grabbing a few of the fruits from a uniformly stacked supermarket display.
I get a little nervous as my waitress-turned-cashier weighs my bounty. After all, Honeycrisps are notorious for their diva-like price. Instead, my total is less than half of the going grocery-store rate. I consider pocketing the savings and heading home, but the lure of another slice of that $0.99 pie proves too strong to resist.
Where to Stay
Nature’s Nest Organic Farm and B&B for a rustic retreat (5412 Brighton Ave. SE, Montrose, 763-972-6891, naturesnestfarm.com). Dutch Lake Farm Guest House for a contemporary take on country living (6624 Hoyt Ave. SW, Howard Lake, 320-543-2944, dutchlakeguesthouse.com).
Where to Eat
Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the B&B. Add a slice of apple pie to your lunch at Carlson’s Orchard (11893 Montgomery Ave. SW, Winsted, 320-485-3704, carlsonsorchardbaker.com). Snack on handpicked apples.
What to Do
Pick your fill of apples at Carlson’s, then head 30 minutes west to LuceLine Orchard (2755 Rose Ave., Watertown, lucelineorchard.com) to explore their 155 acres of creek-side trails, corn maze, pumpkin patch, and vineyard. Be sure to say hi to the über-friendly sheep.