By Natasha Anderson
With apple harvest season in full swing, September is the perfect time to experience Henderson County’s Crest of the Blue Ridge Orchard Trail. More than 20 orchards, roadside markets and produce stands are located within easy driving distance of one another, offering a full day’s worth of activities including fruit and flower picking, wagon rides, corn mazes and food and cider tasting.
“I think there is an intrinsic and nostalgic draw to visiting an orchard or farm during harvest season,” says Jocelyn Hunsader of Jeter Mountain Farm. “Here in WNC, this fun kind of outdoor family experience paired with the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it a perfect outdoor activity.”
Jeter Mountain Farm offers u-pick apples, peaches, grapes, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries and pumpkins, according to season. This year, the 400-plus-acre farm added u-pick zinnias and sunflowers and a 6,000-square-foot indoor play area that features a tractor jungle gym, blacklight chalk house, corn pit, apple-basketball hoops, a giant hay mountain and tractor tire trampolines. Parents can sip hard cider at an elevated bar area while their children play below. Families can also enjoy warm apple cider donuts, a gift shop and live bluegrass music on the weekends.
“Everything we do here is to serve families in our community and in surrounding communities, and we have tried to set our farm up in a way that provides something fun for each family member at every age,” says Hunsader.
For those who are interested in specialty fruits and vegetables, a visit to McConnell Farms is a must. An on-site seasonal market offers apples, peaches and Asian pears as well as harder-to-find items including fresh figs, fresh ginger and homemade ginger ale. At Mountain Fresh Orchards, one can purchase fall mums, scarecrows and pumpkins as well as baked goods including hot fried apple pies and cider donuts, apple caramel cake and apple dumplings with cinnamon sauce. Apple and peach cider slushes and hot mulled apple cider are popular beverage options.
Animal interactions are part of the fun at destinations including Justus Orchard and Sky Top Orchard. Sky Top features ponds with ducks and geese, and a barnyard area with sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys and peacocks. The property also contains a nature trail through a bamboo forest, and a working beehive. Learning boards educate visitors about the apple and Asian pear varieties grown on-site.
“People will say the highlights of an orchard visit are tangible things like the apple cider donuts or the cider slushes,” says Lindsey Butler of Sky Top Orchard. “But I think the big draw is that there’s just something about being on a farm and getting in touch with how and where your food is grown that is incomparable.”
Learn more at VisitHendersonvilleNC.org.