Apple orchards bursting with fall fun for families

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic was top of mind at suburban orchards, which opened with changes and precautions in place.

Operators this season will follow current guidelines and recommendations, but the atmosphere is expected to be more relaxed. Still, it’s always best to check before you go.

“We hope that like last fall, customers look to our farm and orchard as a safe, outdoor day of entertainment for families, couples and groups,” said Kim Kuipers of Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park.

Weather has been a big factor in 2021. Extremely localized rain has drenched some areas and left others dealing with severe drought. A devastating frost also had an impact on crops and availability.

“There are so many micro climates around here now, it’s crazy,” said Anthony DeMoon, owner of Heinz Orchard in Green Oaks. His season will be abbreviated due to a small quantity of apples available.

At all venues, visitors are advised to be patient this year as a labor shortage is presenting challenges.

For you-pick and other experiences, check the latest updates on websites. Visit pickyourown.org to find a pick-your-own farm near you. Here are some options:

All Seasons Orchard

14510 Route 176, Woodstock

815-338-5637, allseasonsorchard.com

Fourteen varieties are among the 15,000 apple and pear trees. Honeycrisp is the most popular, with picking beginning in mid-September. All Seasons has one of the largest Honeycrisp picking apple orchards in northern Illinois. Wagons take visitors to one or both orchards. Dozens of activities include pumpkin picking, a 10-acre corn maze, magic shows, bakery, cider mill, farm market store and gift shop, and Country Kitchen. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, Labor Day and Columbus Day, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Visit the website or Facebook page for information on apple availability.

Royal Oak Farm Orchard

15908 Hebron Road, Harvard

815-648-4141, royaloak.farm

The farm features more than 17,000 apple trees and 30 varieties of apples with new varieties planted each spring. Pumpkins, giant pumpkins, gourds and winter squash are also available. Apple trees are offered for purchase. Amaze ‘N Apples, billed as the country’s first apple tree maze, has 1.5 miles of trails with nine varieties of apples. A 300-foot-long pollination garden and a children’s ride are new this year to accompany a train, carousel and orchard tour rides. Fees apply to the maze and rides. Hours are currently 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Check the website or Facebook for updates on hours. Online ordering is available.

Kuipers Family Farm

1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park

815-827-5200, YouPickFun.com

The 230-acre farm and store opened Aug. 28 with apple picking and the debut of the Sunflower Festival. A barnyard challenge low ropes course and another animal exhibit at the pumpkin farm are new.

Apples are sold individually, by the half-peck or peck (about 10 pounds) bag. Admission to the orchard costs $12.99, and includes a quarter-peck bag of apples. Apple picking is on weekends and holidays, but some weekday picking is available.

Celebrating their 20th season, operators Wade and Kim Kuipers say they try to offer as close to a true farm experience as possible without having to get dirty. Kid-friendly activities include a train ride and more than 20 farm-themed activities at the Pumpkin Farm, which opens Sept. 18. 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.

Heinz Orchard

1050 Crest Road (corner of Atkinson and Crest), Green Oaks

847-770-3449, www.heinzorchard.com

The no-frills favorite and last you-pick orchard in Lake County will have a light crop this year because fewer than the usual number of trees bloomed.

“I’ll be open this year, but it will be an abbreviated picking season due to the small quantity of apples available,” said owner Anthony DeMoon.

He expects to open in mid-to-late September. Hours and dates will be posted on the website.

The mask restriction is expected to be eased, but picking sticks will be limited to one per party so they can be cleaned. Field trips won’t be allowed, and restrooms will not be available.

Apple prices remain $10 for a half-peck (5 to 6 pounds) and $20 for a full peck (10 to 12 pounds). There’s no admission or parking fees, but at least one person in a car must buy a bag to fill.

Prairie Sky Orchard

4914 N. Union Road, Union

815-923-4834, prairieskyorchard.com

More than a dozen varieties of you-pick and pre-picked apples are offered, although you-pick selections will be limited because of early frost this season. Plenty of fresh-picked apples, including Honeycrisp, will be available in the barn store, as will fall decorations, jams, salsas, butters and several varieties of unbaked pies. Hot dogs, pulled pork and other goodies are available at the Koffee Kiosk. Check the website for availability. There’s free parking and admission, with no animals allowed.

Others to check out:

• Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard, 42W813 Reinking Road, Pingree Grove, 847-464-5952, goebbertspumpkinpatch.com. Apple picking is not offered as a separate activity, but can be selected with the purchase of general admission.

• Valley Orchard, 811 E. State St., Cherry Valley, 815-332-9696, thevalleyorchard.com. About 5,000 apple trees grow at this 35-acre, family-owned orchard. Free admission and parking.

• Boggio’s Orchard & Produce,12087 Highway 71, Granville, 815-339-2245, www.boggiosorchardandproduce.com. Apple cider donuts are a specialty of the bakery.

• Bronkberry Farms, 18061 S. Bronk Road, Plainfield, 815-436-6967, www.bronkberryfarms.com. They will offer pre-picked apples for sale in the general store.