For many families in the Sacramento area (northern California, USA), making a trip to Apple Hill is a fall tradition. In part this is because here in the Sacramento Valley we are “seasonally challenged.” It’s not that we don’t have seasons, it’s just the two main ones we experience are 1) Incredibly Hot (summer) and 2) Rainy and Cold (winter). Spring and fall are just brief periods during which the weather jumps back and forth between these two extremes, as if unable to make up its mind.
So for many of us, a day trip up in the mountains to Apple Hill helps us feel like we are experiencing what autumn should be like: cool yet sunny weather, gorgeous fall colors, and apples everywhere you look – in barrels, boxes, and bins, and in cider, tarts, jams, sauces, breads, and – of course – pies.
The Apple Hill Growers – Contact Info and Schedules
Apple Hill is an association of apple orchards, all located within driving and sometimes even walking distance of each other in the towns of Camino, Placerville, and Polluck Pines, California. But if you think Apple Hill is just about apples, you’d be mistaken. Most of the orchards feature bake shops and/or craft stores, and many also have small cafés or specialty shops. And best of all, there are quite a few with activities for kids, such as petting zoos and hay rides (more on this below). You can even pick your own apples and pumpkins at some of the orchards.
From the association’s main page you can find a complete list of growers, with addresses, phone numbers, websites, and schedules. They even have pages just for organic orchards, those where you can pick your own apples or pumpkins, and those selling Christmas trees.
Activities for Kids
Every year the association also publishes a complete list of growers offering kids’ activities. There are pony rides, hay bale mazes, nature trails, crafts, and face painting. (Please note that some of these activities are only offered on the weekend, and some may involve a small fee).
There are so many orchards at Apple Hill that it is impossible to visit them all in one day. I have only visited a handful, although I have a friend who makes sure to visit a new orchard every year, with the goal of eventually visiting them all. She is the person to ask about who has the best pie! (See her recommendations below).
There are so many good spots to visit in Apple Hill. Here are just some of our favorite places to go:
We always have a good time at Apple Ridge (which my Monkey always calls “Apple Bridge,” undaunted by the fact that there is no bridge!) This is without a doubt my favorite place to visit. Monkey loves running up and down the hill that leads to the petting zoo, where he gets to see and even feed goats, sheep, chickens, and bunnies. There is also a pumpkin patch and a nature trail, but by far my Monkey’s favorite thing to do is climb up on the tractor!
This is also where we usually stop to eat, either for a picnic lunch or a sandwich from their cafe; it is truly beautiful to sit out and enjoy a meal (or pie or cider) under the trees. This is also a good place to pick up a pie to take home or goodies such jams and sauces.
Denver Dan’s is a great place to take kids, especially if you’d like to pick your own apples. Don’t be put off by the odd look of the large silver bunker that houses their shop. This is a really fun place for little ones, and it’s a great spot to buy a whole pie (see recommendations below) or some of the other specialty items. Sometimes there is a (very) small petting zoo outside (think llamas!), but for me and Monkey, the main attraction is the older gentleman who works at the back of the store. He will let you sample all of the many kinds of jams and jellies they sell (including many flavors you would have never imagined), but he is best known for showing kids how to use the hand-cranked apple peeling gadget mounted on the back table. He is such a sweetheart and a real character – trust me, he alone is worth the stop!
This is one of the most popular spots in Apple Hill to take kids (as you may have guessed from the name!) You can pick pumpkins, walk on the nature trail, see farm animals, or play in the corn maze.
This is one of the most popular spots in all of Apple Hill, partly because they have such a variety of activities and products, and partly because it is one of the first stops off of the highway. One of the most popular features is a large fish pond, where you can either feed the fish or catch them with your fishing pole! There are also ducks wandering around, which my Monkey loves.
A warning, however: If you have a child as curious and active as mine, you may want to hold off visiting High Hill Ranch until they are old enough to not want to run straight into the water (or go before they are old enough to walk!) Monkey really enjoyed High Hill Ranch this year, but Mama did not, as I spent most of my time chasing him around. This is especially difficult because the pond is located at the bottom of a steep hill, which he also found very entertaining.
Beyond this, though, High Hill Ranch is a lot of fun. One of the highlights for us was seeing workers clean and peel the apples in big machines and then making them into cider, which they give out in free samples.
This is another fun spot for kids. Behind the fully stocked bakery and specialty shops, there are a hay maze, pumpkin patch, and pony rides, plus a large field for running around.
Boa Vista is not known for its kids’ activities, but I mention it because it is such a popular spot to stop and enjoy some baked goods or buy jams and sauces. I don’t like that it has a busy road running right through the orchard, which you have to cross to get to the picnic tables, but they have such a great store that many people make sure to stop by whenever they are in the area.
If you go to Apple Hill, you must pay attention to the schedule, especially if you are looking for something fun to do with the kiddos. While some of the locations are open year-round (though often on a limited schedule), many of the orchards only open in the fall (usually September through December). If you are unsure whether a location will be open, it is best to call ahead before making the drive.
Apple Hill is located in a beautiful area, but this means that once you arrive, your drive will be on narrow, winding roads. (The drive to and from the area is all on highways). This makes for a scenic drive, which is lucky because if you go on an autumn weekend, chances are you will spend much of your time in your car, looking out at the fall foliage, since there will be so many other cars on these small roads.
This year we tried going with some friends on a weekday morning instead and had a much more relaxed experience. Since it was October, all of the locations we wanted to visit were open during the week, and we didn’t run into any traffic as we went from one location to another. We will definitely do that again next time!
Parking is free at each location, in parking lots of varying sizes, and usually easy to find, although if you go on the weekend, you may have to walk a bit at the most popular spots from the back of the lots.
Keep in mind that cell reception is very spotty throughout Apple Hill, so don’t count on having service until you get back on the highway.
Bathrooms are available at most places, but be aware that this often means a port-a-potty or a tiny stall at the back of a store. I have yet to find a changing table, so we always just do diaper changes in our car.
The main food you can find at Apple Hill are baked goods. I believe that we paid about $3 for a slice of pie and about $12 for a whole apple pie. Prices vary some, but I have found that they are fairly consistent across the orchards I have visited.
Since not all orchards offer lunch, we typically pack a picnic, and it is easy to find beautiful spots for this. We have also found good meals to purchase as well. Most are casual dining, offering sandwiches, salads, or barbecue that you can eat from paper plates at nearby picnic tables. It has been a while since we have purchased meals there, but I don’t recall them being much more expensive than you would find elsewhere in the area.
So, who really has the best pie in Apple Hill?
Every person you ask has a different opinion, and truthfully, it would be hard to go wrong with any Apple Hill pie. (Pie is, admittedly, one of my main reasons for going to Apple Hill in the first place!) But I asked my friend Crystal, who grew up visiting Apple Hill with her family and has now visited nearly every orchard, whose pies she likes best.
- Bavarian Hills, especially the French (crumble top) apple pies
- Denver Dan’s, especially for apple berry pies
Have fun deciding which orchard you think has the best pie (or doughnuts, or breads, or tarts, or cider…)!
So if you are in Northern California in the autumn, be sure to visit Apple Hill, then come back and tell us which orchards were your favorites! (2650)