Apple picking: Where to pick your own at suburban orchards
Drought had varying effects on the apple crop this season, but there were no calamities and growers say visitors can expect a good you-pick experience.
Generally, operators say there will be plenty of apples and varieties to choose from this fall.
"This year we will have one of the best apple crops we've seen in quite some time," said Kim Kuipers, proprietor of Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park, where visitors can choose from 40 varieties.
"Although it was very dry midsummer, the recent rains have really helped to allow the apples to begin to size-up nicely," she said in early August.
An abundance of blooms in spring were the first sign of a good crop. And the sunny warm conditions that followed favored pollination as bees don't like to fly when it's cold and windy, she added.
But for growers, too many blooms that become apples is not necessarily a good thing since each apple needs room to grow and be in the sun, according to Kuipers.
Too many apples on a branch causes them to be smaller and fall off easily if touched, so they are thinned in spring to give the crop the best chance.
More than 40 miles north, Sarah Bell of Royal Oak Farm Orchard in Harvard expected the crop to be about average for the season. A lack of rain caused concern for the size of apples, but irrigation offset that, she added.
And at Heinz Orchard in Green Oaks, the last you-pick in Lake County, Anthony DeMoon said he was grateful that the early season drought didn't really hurt the crop and the apples look great.
And remember, lift and twist rather than tugging while picking apples to preserve the buds for next year.
Royal Oak Farm Orchard in Harvard has four orchards with 30 varieties of apples.
- Courtesy of Royal Oak Farm Orchard
Royal Oak Farm Orchard
15908 Hebron Road, Harvard, (815) 648-4141, royaloak.farm
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday through October. Gift shop and bakery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Nov. 22. Check the website or Facebook for updates on hours.
Admission: Free, but fees apply for apple picking ($12, includes a 1/4 peck bag), maze ($8) and rides ($4 each).
Voted the Best Orchard in McHenry County, the 160-acre farm features four different orchards, 20,000 apple trees and 30 varieties of apples with new varieties planted each spring.
Amaze 'N Apples, billed as the country's first apple tree maze, offers 1.5 miles of trails. A 300-foot-long pollination garden and cover crops that are attractive and beneficial to birds, butterflies and other pollinators add to the picking experience. Plus, pumpkins, giant pumpkins, gourds and winter squash are also available.
Attractions include a restaurant, harvest barn, gift shop, bakery, playground and petting zoo, a 19th-century replica train, carousel and orchard tour rides.
Kuipers Family Farm
1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park, (815) 827-5200, YouPickFun.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 31. Also open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 2-22.
Admission: $11.99 weekdays at the gate. Weekend and holiday tickets are $11.99 online and $13.99 at the gate.
Forty varieties of apples are sold by the quarter peck in the you-pick orchard or by the half-peck or peck (about 10 pounds) in the Orchard shop. Prices vary by supply and variety. You-pick orchard admission includes a quarter-peck bag of apples.
The 230-acre farm and store opened Aug. 26 with apple picking and the Sunflower Festival. On weekends the Farmview Railway takes guests on a scenic ride around the orchard and the Sunflower Fest goes full-bloom with music and food trucks.
The Kuipers family say they try to offer as close to a true farm experience as possible without having to get dirty.
"Our purpose is to connect people to agriculture and each other," general manager Joe Kuipers said.
Kid-friendly activities include a cow train ride, new for 2023, and more than 20 farm-themed activities at the Pumpkin Farm, which is open Sept. 16 through Oct. 31.
Specialty foods, unique gifts, fresh-baked pies, caramel apples, kettle corn, fudge, apple cider pressed on site and apple cider doughnuts are available at the Orchard Shop.
1050 Crest Road (corner of Atkinson and Crest), Green Oaks, (847) 770-3440, heinzorchard.com
Hours and dates: Check the website.
Admission: Free, but at least one person in a car must buy a bag to fill.
A no-frills favorite for nearly 70 years is expected to open in mid-September. Offerings include McIntosh, Empire and Jonathan apples and raw, natural honey. Prices will remain the same as the past several years: One peck (10-12 pounds) of apples is $20; a half peck (5-6 pounds) is $10; and, one pound of honey is $8.
All Seasons Orchard in Woodstock offers apple picking.
- Courtesy of Eun Ju Choi
All Seasons Orchard
14510 Route 176, Woodstock, (815) 338-5637, allseasonsorchard.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, Labor Day and Columbus Day, now through Oct. 29.
Admission: $9 weekdays; $17 weekends; $49 all-season pass; free for kids 2 and younger.
Celebrating its 30th year, the 129-acre orchard has 14 apple varieties among 16,000 apple and pear trees. It is especially popular for its many Honeycrisp trees.
Other attractions include a pumpkin patch, sunflowers, a barnyard play area with more than 30 attractions and a 6-acre corn maze. Dozens of activities include wagon rides, pig races, magic shows, a petting farm, a bakery, a cider mill, a farm market store, a gift shop and a Country Kitchen.
New attractions for the anniversary celebration include a ropes course, Jumbo Jumper air pillows, zip lines, an indoor corn box, barnyard ball zone, and an apple and pumpkin train.
Visit the website or Facebook page for information on apple availability.
Prairie Sky Orchard
4914 N. Union Road, Union, (815) 923-4834, prairieskyorchard.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday starting Sept. 1 and Labor Day and Columbus Day.
The family-run orchard offers 15 varieties of you-pick and pre-picked apples. Plus, plenty of fresh-picked apples, including Honeycrisp, will be available in the farm store, which includes specialty foods, gifts and decorations, jams, salsas, butters and several varieties of frozen pies.
Hot dogs, apple slices with caramel, pulled pork and other goodies are available at the Koffee Kiosk, which is open weekends only.
Check the website for available apple varieties. No animals allowed.
Other orchards to check out
Goebbert's Farm Pingree Grove
42W813 Reinking Road, Pingree Grove, (847) 464-5952, goebberts.com
Hours: Fall festival opened Aug. 25. Check the website for hours.
Admission: Fee (to be announced) includes almost all farm activities.
Known for its fall festival featuring 15 attractions of family-friendly activities for all ages. Apple picking is not offered as its own activity, but guests can pay for apple bags and pick apples in addition to their Fall Festival admission. Open rain or shine.
Stade's Farm & Market
3709 Miller Road, McHenry, (815) 675-6396, stadesfarmandmarket.com/
Shades of Autumn hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in September and Fridays through Sundays in October and Columbus Day.
Admission: September: $20 for ages 3-59, $10 for ages 60 and older; October: $25 for ages 3-59 on Saturdays and Sundays and $20 on Fridays, $10 for ages 60 and older; free for kids 2 and younger.
The popular you-pick destination includes a you-pick apple orchard with many varieties and about 30 acres of you-pick pumpkins. You-pick options also include strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, green beans, peppers and more. The Shades of Autumn Fall Festival is a harvest-time favorite with more than 40 farm-related attractions including a petting zoo, corn maze, giant slides, hayrides and more.
811 E. State St., Cherry Valley, (815) 332-9696, thevalleyorchard.com
Hours: To be determined. Call ahead for details.
Dog-friendly (must be leashed) 35-acre family-owned orchard with about 5,000 apple trees. Choice of you-pick or pre-picked in the farm store. Honey Crisp available while they last. Also available to pick in season: rhubarb, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, red, white and black currants. Homemade cider, no additives.
The store sells cider doughnuts, apple pies, cinnamon bread, caramel apples and fudge, plus fall decorations, jams, jellies, salsas, honey, squash, pumpkins, gourds and more.