Get a Jump Start on Apple Hill Season: An Insider’s Guide
Think it’s too soon to head to Apple Hill? Think again! Early fall is one of the best times to explore the picture-perfect farms that dot the mountain landscape just outside of Placerville in El Dorado County. A visit to Apple Hill is a Sacramento-area tradition, the crisp mountain air and turning leaves setting the stage for a day of apple picking, pie eating, and cider sipping!
But for those who’ve never been to Apple Hill, a visit can be a bit intimidating. It can be difficult to figure out where to go, what to see, and most importantly, what to eat! Luckily, we’ve done all the research and put together this insider’s guide to Apple Hill, so you can save time planning and instead spend your time taking in the fall vibes. Following are some ways to get a jump start on Apple Hill season.
When to Go to Apple Hill
Although October is primo season to visit Apple Hill, it’s also the busiest. In fact, it gets busier the closer you get to Halloween, so we recommend visiting as early as possible. Apples ripe for the picking, ranches are open and awaiting visitors, and there’s no reason to wait until later in the season. We also recommend visiting on a weekday if possible. Weekends are much busier, and a midweek visit means you won’t have to battle crowds or traffic. Full disclosure: many activities and events (including craft markets) are held on weekends, so if this is important to you, try to arrive early — before 10 a.m. — on Saturdays and Sundays.
Where to Go in Apple Hill
Apple Hill is actually a collection of dozens of local farms, ranches, orchards and vineyards. While best known for its apple growers, many farmers grow other produce, including pears, pumpkins, berries, grapes, flowers, and vegetables. Many farms have bake shops, kids activities, and other events as well. You can have a look at an interactive Apple Hill map to see where each farm is located and what they offer.
What to Do in Apple Hill
Unsurprisingly, apples are the main focus of Apple Hill! The area has the ideal climate for apple growing, and is home to dozens of apple orchards turning out every imaginable apple variety, including Arkansas Black, Braeburn, Jonagold, Macintosh and Rome, among others. Some farms offer U-pick opportunities, where you can pick your selections straight from the tree. Following are some of the farms in Apple Hill where you can pick your own apples (note: U-pick apples typically have limited quantities, so when they’re gone, they’re gone – it’s recommended to check in advance).
- Sloan Winters Mountain Orchard & Garden
- Denver Dans’s
- Pine-O-Mine Ranch
- Harris Family Farm
- Smokey Ridge Ranch
In October, pumpkin hunting is one of the most popular things to do in Apple Hill. There are several farms with pumpkin patches, as well as Halloween-themed activities for kids such as corn mazes and hay rides. Some options to consider include Delfino Farms, which has a 3-acre you-pick pumpkin patch as well as a 2-acre corn maze; O’Hallorans Apple Trail Ranch, which has a you-pick pumpkin patch; and Apple Ridge Farms, which has a pumpkin patch and a hay bale maze for the little ones. High Hill Ranch also has pumpkins, as well as hay rides through the orchards. Boa Vista Orchards has a scenic pumpkin patch overlooking the canyon beyond. Other U-pick pumpkin patches include 24Carrot Farm, Sloan Winters Mountain Orchard & Garden, Harris Family Farm and Smokey Ridge Ranch.
Shopping is another big draw of Apple Hill. In addition to fresh fruits and veggies, many spots also have farm stands selling gourmet food products such as jams and jellies, fruit and nut butters, honey, dehydrated fruit, sauces and other items. Apple Ridge Farms has homemade fudge, BBQ sauce and apple butters as well as local handicrafts; Rainbow Orchards has jams, butters, syrups and vinegars, and Grandpa’s Cellar has local honey, jams and jellies, vintage cookware, soup mixes, home decor and local crafts.
Many farms host artisan craft fairs on weekends during the busy season. High Hill Ranch has one of the largest, with local vendors selling handmade jewelry, artwork, clothing and more. Boa Vista also has a large arts & crafts fair, with everything from hand-sewn aprons to bath bombs, meat rubs to yard art.
What to Eat in Apple Hill
Fresh apples are the main draw, but Apple Hill is known for offering apple-centric food in all shapes and forms, whether baked into pies, pressed into juice, or candied. Apple pie is hands-down the most popular thing to eat here, as are apple fritters, apple cider donuts, apple turnovers, apple cake, and caramel apples. Most bake shops also offer frozen pies to take home. Following are some options:
- Larson Apple Barn has a wide variety of pies, including apple, pumpkin and berry, as well as turnovers and dumplings.
- High Hill Ranch also has an expansive shop with pies, donuts, fritters, caramel apples and even caramel apple cider milkshakes.
- Apple Pantry Farm has vegan options and do not use any nuts in their recipes.
- Grandpa’s Cellar has a 7-pound party pie and is one of the only spots where you can find gluten-free pastries like crisps, cookies and muffins.
- Rainbow Orchards is known for its hot-from-the-fryer apple donuts, as well as pies, cobblers, crisps and tarts.
- Boa Vista Orchards has apple pies, apple cookies, apple strudel and even apple fudge. They have other fruit pies as well, such as blackberry and blueberry.
For those responsible enough to NOT eat dessert first, Apple Hill also has spots that offer lunch. Some places to consider include Bodhaine Ranch, which serves comforting dishes like pot pie, tamales and tri-tip sandwiches; Abels Apple Acres, which specializes in smoked meats like pulled pork and tri-tip; and High Hill Ranch, which serves BBQ items like tri-tip, burgers and sausage. Or, if you prefer, you can pack your own lunch and picnic beneath the trees. Many farms offer lovely picnic areas with scenic views, including High Hill Ranch, which has picnic tables and a grassy hillside overlooking a pond.
What to Do in Apple Hill — For Adults
True, Apple Hill is best known for its family-friendly attractions and kid-centric activities. But there are also spots where adults can have fun too! The climate that makes for ideal apple growing conditions also makes for ideal wine grape growing conditions — warm days and cool nights — and there are several great wineries in the area. You can learn more about El Dorado County Wines and download a map at eldoradowines.org. Following are some spots to visit:
- Lava CapWinery. With scenic views of the surrounding mountains, Lava Cap offers estate-grown varietals including Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet and Zinfandel.
- BoegerWinery. This family-owned winery offers tastings looking over its charming garden, complete with a pond. Their portfolio runs the gamut, including both varietals and blends. They also offer harvest tours and yoga.
- Madroña. Known for its Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, Madroña offers estate-grown varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Reisling. They offer special events such as tasting classes, pairings, and winemaker dinners.
- Fenton HerriottVineyards. This small winery offers tastings in its quaint picnic area overlooking the vineyards. Wines offered include Zinfandel, Barbera, Gewurztraminer and more. They also have bocce ball!
- Starfield Vineyards. It’s all about the calming mountain scenery at this charming winery. They have miles of nature trails, a beautiful lake, and an amphitheater surrounded by manicured gardens. They offer dozens of wines, including sparkling wines and rosés, and they serve lunch on their outdoor patio.
- Delfino Farms. Delfino Farms produces small-batch wine under the Edio Vineyards label. Selections include Albariño, Chardonnay, Grenache, Primitivo, and several blends. They offer tasting and pairing experiences, plus folk music concerts during the summer.
Wine not your thing? No worries. Apple Hill has other options as well. Jack Russell Farm Brewery has craft beer, mead and cider to enjoy on a large patio with picnic tables, while Hwy 50 Brewery offers blondes, IPAs and stouts alongside pizza and bar bites — plus live music. If it’s hard cider you’re after, you can follow the Apple Hill Hard Cider Trail and check out Delfino Farms, North Canyon Cider Company, Hidden Star, and High Hill Ranch.