I’m sure that I’m not the only traveler who believes that Minnesota’s most beautiful season to be out and about is autumn. Crisp cool breezes, long shadows, golden leaves, and apples. Visiting an area orchard to pick our own peck right from the tree has become a regular fall activity for my family. One of our regular orchards we visit is Afton Apples, not far from Hastings.
Located only about 45 minutes southeast of Minneapolis, Afton Apple Orchard is a perfect getaway for an afternoon enjoying the countryside. It’s the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy some of the warm September weather we’ve been experiencing. The orchard’s 190 acres offer ample space to grow a large variety of apples, many of which originated through research conducted by the University of Minnesota. While it might sound overwhelming, especially if you are planning to pick your own apples, a hayride will take you into to orchard.
During my recent visit, the much-valued Honeycrisp wasn’t quite ready for picking; a late, wet spring set this year’s fruit season back a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, two just as tasty apples were Zestar and Estival. To my taste, the Zestar, which is the newest apple developed at the U of M, is every bit as good as a Honeycrisp—large, with white, crisp, and sweet flesh beneath a thin bright red skin. The Estival is a slightly smaller, more sour tasting apple, but just as good.
Each fall it seems like the orchard continues to add a feature or two to make a day at the orchard with the family that much more fun, even if you don’t like apples. Pick your own raspberries instead, as the season goes into October. Beginning this weekend, visitors can begin to pick pumpkins from a large patch at the center of the farm, along with gourds, several varieties of squash and ornamental decorating corn. And if fruit isn’t tempting enough for a visit, kids can enjoy a large playground area, a petting zoo, and a very large 15-acre corn maze that features more than six miles of paths.
Weekends can be busy, especially with nice fall weather, so you may want to plan to arrive early. If your schedule allows, you may pick apples during the week as well. Check their schedule. And if you like, you can buy apples, along with many other treats, jam and gifts, in the orchard’s small store.
Afton Apple Orchard
14421 S. 90th Street, Hastings
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.