“Can you believe I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life and I’ve never been to an apple orchard?” my friend Sara announced the other day.
“Never?” I asked incredulously. “How is that possible?”
“It just never interested me,” she shrugged.
In her defense, she did grow up on a farm, so the allure of seeing acres of crops grown for our consumption loses the novelty it holds for us city slickers, but STILL—apple orchards are so much more than just apples. (If that was the case, I’d just buy my SweeTangos at Lunds & Byerly’s and call it good.) Apple orchards are corn mazes and hayrides and fresh air and walking trails and sprawling views. They’re freshly baked apple goodies and (sometimes) wine and so, so, so many varieties of apples. (If you ate a different apple variety every single day—starting now—it would take you 20 years to try them all.)
And the beauty of it all is that we have an abundance of orchards in the state, and this is the perfect time to visit. Here are a few of our favorites:
Aamodt’s Apple Farm
Address: 6428 Manning Ave., Stillwater • 651-439-3127 • aamodtsapplefarm.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
How do you like them apples?: You can pick your own apples (while they last!) at this family-friendly orchard/farm. (Check the website to see what apples are in harvest.) Or—if you prefer to buy pre-picked apples—you can pick those up in the sales barn. *The State Fair Apple is currently available for picking.
Activities: Kids love the tractor-pulled kiddie train ($2), John Deere kiddie trikes and tractors ($1), wagon rides ($2), and free treasure hunt and goat farm; adults love the bakery and store, and the fact that Aamodt’s shares acreage with St. Croix Vineyards. The winery and tasting room are just a few steps from the apple barn. Buy a glass of wine and sip it as you enjoy orchard activities. Check the website for hours of activities.
Tips: Shop online for Honeycrisp salsa, honey butter, jams, maple syrup, apples, and other made-in-Minnesota goodies (these items make great gifts).
Pine Tree Apple Orchard
Address: 450 Apple Orchard Rd., White Bear Lake • 651-429-7202 • pinetreeappleorchard.com (you’ll drive past beautiful mansions on a winding, scenic road on your way to the orchard)
Hours: Apple season: August through February, weekends only in March. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (*there are different hours for the outdoor activities offered in September and October, check the website for details).
How do you like them apples?: According to their website, “We are committed to growing high quality fruit in an environmentally sustainable method. We are Food Alliance Midwest Certified and part of the Minnesota Grown Program.” This family-owned orchard grows about 25 different varieties of apples, including SweeTango, Haralson, Cortland, and Honeycrisp. *If there’s a particular apple variety you want, call the orchard to see what’s currently in harvest before driving out.
Activities: The best way to get a tour of the orchard is from the back of a wagon—complete with a guided narrative about the history and the apple varieties in harvest. Get lost in the corn maze (open this year September 26-October 25), or pick your own pumpkin from October 3-25. Pony rides are available to smaller children (100 pound weight limit) on weekends through October 11.
The bakery: Not only can you purchase food to enjoy (cinnamon ice cream and apple pie!) on a covered patio at the orchard or outside on a picnic table near a pretty lake, you can buy freshly baked goodies in the store. Many visitors stock up on the donuts, pies, cookies, muffins, bars, and rollovers—as well as strawberry jam and delicious apple cider (among other items)—in the store.
Tips: You can pick your own strawberries here from mid-June through mid-July. You can’t, however, pick your own apples. Parking is free, but it can get busy/crowded on nice autumn weekends, so be prepared for long lines.