A slice of Apple Hill
Sweets, sips and memorable stops along the historic apple trail
Every fall, I pack up the husband and our dog and drive up Highway 50. I enjoy how the dry, golden hillsides of Folsom transform into the woodsy backcountry of Eldorado National Forest. This routine jaunt is marked by my favorite time of year—Apple Hill season. We always stop at the closest farm and indulge in thick slices of apple pie and mounds of apple dumplings followed by spiced apple cake paired with sweet caramel apple milkshakes (and maybe a tri-tip sandwich for good measure). Yet after the gluttony, no matter how satisfying, we lose all motivation (and mobility) to explore any farther. Not this year.
This year, I took my little family to Apple Hill armed with a plan, a map and an app. We spent a long day enjoying all the different attractions that make up this association of over 50 local family farms. From corn mazes and pony rides to Bluestone Meadow’s old-fashioned pumpkin trebuchet (a fancy word for catapult, only through October), to wineries, bakeries, and artisan craft fairs, it’s impossible to take it all in during one visit. With that in mind, here are the top places to visit at Apple Hill that offer delicious bites and even breathtaking views. That is, if you’re willing to resist the urge to pull over at the first farm you see and stuff your face full of pie.
Sips and sweets. Four years in production, and first year on tap, Delfino Farms offers a delicious hard cider called Henrietta Stich, named after Great Grandma Henrietta. At 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, the cider is light, tart and just as effervescent as champagne. Pair it with a slice of the sweetest, creamiest apple cheesecake on the menu. No one leaves Delfino’s without a sample of their popular Walkin’ Pie: pie dough stuffed with delicate ringlets of spiced apples and an optional ladle of cider sauce. With ample space for walking, sitting and eating, this stop has a more modern, mountain-y and secluded feel than other Apple Hill attractions, so feel free to roam the orchards and marvel at the lush flower garden.<div class="star-rating"> 3205 North Canyon Road in Camino; delfinofarms.com. </div>
History lesson. No frills-yet-picturesque Larsen’s Apple Barn might be easy to pass on by, but don’t. They have one of the most intriguing destinations at Apple Hill: A family museum. A giant outbuilding holds not just tools of the apple farming trade from late 1800s to the 1930s, but the Larson family also recreated—like a movie set—“early home life” living spaces, complete with giant mannequins and stuffed dolls. Yes, it’s a little creepy. But I especially enjoyed seeing all the apple-separating machines and even an old-timey pioneer wagon. Don’t forget to visit their giant barn store on your way out; with its extensive array of apples to purchase, as well as a fantastic pear cider.<div class="star-rating"> 2461 Larsen Drive in Camino; larsenapplebarn.com. </div>
For the kids. There are several fun stops for kids at Apple Hill, and Apple Ridge Farms is at the top of the heap. Less a farm and more like a mini theme-park, Apple Ridge has a working mining station to unearth gemstones, a convoluted maze with walls almost too high to get a parent’s help, pony rides, nature trails and face painting. The whole family wins when it comes to food, because I found the best barbecue tri-tip here at Apple Ridge, with perfectly spiced cuts of beef on a thick hoagie and sharp, vinegary sauce on the side. I stood confounded at the bakery, seduced by cinnamon rolls, and beguiled by fruit blossoms and dumplings, but settled on a slice of Dutch apple pie spiced with a nice kick of cinnamon. I couldn’t help but order a whole pie to take home.<div class="star-rating"> 1800 Larsen Drive in Camino; appleridgepies.com. </div>
Freshly picked. If you’re looking to pick apples, Denver Dan’s Apple Patch is where it’s at. I was impressed at how many orchards people can wander through, picking apples and putting them in quaint little buckets. Crops vary based on season, but when I was there, trees were dripping with beautiful, multicolored apples. For a different U-pick experience, head out to 24 Carrot Farm, where vine-ripened cherry tomatoes were just waiting to be plucked on one visit. For even more fun, walk the rows of blooming flowers to pick and make a gorgeous bouquet. 24 Carrot Farms also offers U-pick strawberries and pumpkins when in season. On the way back to my car, I found a marshy pond with a short pier. As I stood there quietly, I realized I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by dozens of green frogs (some of them scary-big). The frogs, the flowers and the fruit-stand feel made 24 Carrot Farm one of my favorite stops.<div class="star-rating"> 4354 Bumblebee Lane in Camino, denverdansapplepatch.com; 2731 Jacquier Road in Placerville, 24carrotfarms.com. </div>
Drive-by. Just driving through? Don’t forget to grab the freshest, piping-hot apple cider donuts at Rainbow Orchard. If you can find parking, stop at High Hill Ranch for delicious apple milkshakes and gooey Carmellow Cups (a generous dollop of fluffy marshmallow drowning in a plethora of soft caramel). O’Halloran’s Apple Trail Ranch has holidays covered with a pumpkin patch and Christmas tree farm. The pony rides at Abels Apple Acres are worth a pit stop, and the Fudge Factory has over 50 flavors of fudge available at any given time.<div class="star-rating"> 2569 Larsen Drive in Camino, rainboworchards.net; 2901 High Hill Road in Placerville, highhill ranch.com; 2345 Carson Road in Placerville, abelsappleacres.com. </div>
There’s a lot to taste and experience at Apple Hill, and most of it involves apples—the sheer amount of apple pies alone will keep you busy for a day. A good plan to tackle all the attractions is to download a map at applehill.com and also download its very handy app at an app store of your choice.