In autumn, our thoughts turn to the bounty of the land. If you’re in search of the perfect pumpkin, cider doughnut, or apple orchard, here are nine classic Midwestern destinations to visit.
It’s time to focus on the fun activities that come with fall.
For many families that means a trip to the local apple orchard, where you can sample some of the rich harvest gathered by our region’s plentiful farmland.
In addition to picking apples and corralling pumpkins, many of our region’s orchards have additional activities such as petting zoos, gift shops and fire pits as well as tasty treats including apple pie, apple cider and those ever-popular apple doughnuts.
With the arrival of cooler weather, you can find an exciting taste of autumn at these true Midwestern destinations.
Jonamac Apple Orchard
19412 Shabbona Road, Malta, (815) 825-2158, jonamacorchard.com
Jonamac Orchard wasn’t open even five minutes on a cool, late-summer morning when carloads of families began pulling into the parking lot.
“People have been waiting for us to open because they think of us as fall,” says Jenna Spychal, co-owner and manager of the family-operated orchard. “Since we are seasonal, the cravings start to set in for those apple doughnuts.”
Available inside the bake shop, those classic doughnuts are available with fresh apple cider, caramel apples and many other sweet treats.
Jonamac Apple Orchard sits on 105 acres of land that harbor some 16,000 apple trees. Many visitors flock to the 20-acre pick-your-own orchard, which has 40 varieties of apples available through the season.
While you’re exploring the orchard, be sure to reserve one of the private campfire sites. Available on weekends only, these sites come with firewood, benches and a countertop to prepare food.
“That’s a big draw for people from the city,” Spychal says. “They can’t have fires, so a lot of kids haven’t experienced an actual camp fire. People can come out, sit around the fire and enjoy the cool, fall air.”
Jonamac also has a 12-acre haunted corn maze, which is open Friday and Saturday nights in October.
The corn maze and apple picking are available through the end of October. The bakery is open until Nov. 23 – the day before Thanksgiving.
“Families look forward to purchasing their Thanksgiving pies from us,” Spychal says.
All Seasons Orchard
14510 Illinois Route 176, Woodstock, (815) 358-5637, allseasonsorchard.com
Instead of throwing away dirty apples, the owners of All Seasons Orchard have come up with a fun way to use them: chucking them with an apple cannon
“In our you-pick fields, you see a bunch of apples that have fallen on the ground,” says Eddie Hong, operations manager. “We had to figure out a way that we could recycle those dropped apples.”
Apple cannons are just the beginning at this orchard and farm, which offers you-pick apples and pumpkins as well as a 12-acre corn maze.
From homemade caramel to fresh-pressed cider, everything is made on site.
“We work extremely hard 10 months out of the year so that we can watch families come in and pick apples and enjoy the farm for a day,” Hong says. “It’s an amazing feeling to see so many people enjoy a day out picking apples, eating donuts and having fun.”
To satisfy increasing demand, All Seasons recently unveiled a new cider mill and bakery where visitors can see how these products are made.
The nearby farm market carries all of the seasonal favorites, including apple cider doughnuts, pre-picked apples, fresh cider, preserves and honey.
“Our apple cider doughnuts are probably the second-most important thing on this farm – other than the apples,” Hong says.
The orchard is open daily from Sept. 3 to Oct. 30.
Royal Oak Farm Apple Orchard
15908 Hebron Road, Harvard, (815) 648-4141, royaloakfarmorchard.com
Royal Oak Farm has what may be the country’s only apple tree maze. The 4.5-acre maze, shaped like an apple hanging on a tree, holds more than 3,000 apple trees in nine varieties.
The maze includes more than 1.5 miles of walking trails, three activity areas, a climbing tower and a variety of children’s games. The climbing tower also serves as an observation tower, where guests can see the entire orchard if they get lost. People are able to see the path they need to take.
“It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete,” says Sarah Bell, co-owner of the family-operated orchard.
Children may enjoy the maze’s companion book, “The Amaze ‘N Apple Adventure.”
“The story is about the maze and the creation of the maze,” Bell says. “It teaches kids about fears and not being afraid.”
In addition to the orchard’s 160 acres of apple trees in 30 varieties, Royal Oak has 20 acres of park and entertainment, including a petting zoo, market/bakery and a cider mill, which has a viewing window where you can watch the cider-making process.
“When you think of apple orchards, you think of fall and we try to make it a family-friendly atmosphere,” Bell says. “We want to create an experience for people and give them a chance to spend time with their families.”
The orchard is open from mid-August through mid-November.
1050 Crest Road, Green Oaks, (847) 770-3449, heinzorchard.com
Anthony DeMoon, owner of Heinz Orchard, likes to keep things simple.
The orchard has no corn mazes, no hayrides, no pumpkins and no places to purchase apple cider and apple doughnuts.
“This is not that kind of place,” DeMoon says. “We are a no-frills orchard. This is a throwback to what the orchards were like in the 1950s.”
Focusing only on apples has provided Heinz Orchard quite the expertise in this delicious fruit. The farm produces five types of apples, which range in flavor and texture: McIntosh, Jonathan, Empire, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.
Raw, natural honey is for sale on a first-come, first-served basis.
The orchard, which has been producing fruit for nearly six decades, typically opens in mid-September and stays open for about six weeks. It’s open to the public every weekend, Friday though Sunday.
Visit the orchard’s website to see when your favorite apple will be available, and to double-check operating hours, which can vary.
“I want people to come out and enjoy the fall temperatures before the harsh Chicago winter comes,” DeMoon says.
Enjoy Pioneer Farm
17N400 Big Timber Road, Hampshire, (847) 683-2863, enjoypioneerfarm.com
The annual Fall Extravaganza is big deal at this family-owned farm, which is open year-round.
During the annual Fall Extravaganza, which runs through October, these fields near Hampshire yield a bounty of fresh pumpkins, gourds, summer squash and corn stalk bundles, among other things.
“Just come and remember what farms used to be like,” says Carol Burnidge, co-owner. “We have many return customers year after year, which makes our small farm feel special to so many.”
Pumpkins are aplenty and available pre-picked or you-pick. Other fall staples like mums, Indian corn, popcorn and straw bales are available, in addition to freshly picked winter squash that are ready to eat.
Fall is a bounteous time at Enjoy Pioneer Farm, but that’s just one season. Come Christmastime, the farm sells wreaths, roping and boughs.
“In the spring, we feature “Hold a Baby Lamb,’ where people can hold the lambs, goats, pig, chicks, ducklings and feed the calf a baby bottle,” Burnidge says.
June begins the U-Pick Farm Garden, a special subscription package that enables the public to harvest whatever’s growing fresh on the farm. The 2016 season runs for some 20 weeks and includes crops like micro greens, beans, broccoli, cabbage, peppers and spinach – among many others.
The farm is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch
42W813 Reinking Road, Hampshire, (847) 464-5952, goebbertspumpkinpatch.com
It’s pretty hard not to find Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch. The large pumpkin sitting atop its silo is a definite giveaway. Whether families visit this Hampshire-area farm or its sister farm in Hoffman Estates, they’re sure to find a classic assortment of fall fun.
Because this is a family operation, co-owner Terry Goebbert wants to treat every guest like family.
“From pumpkins, apple cider and family to the leaves changing colors, it’s a beautiful time of year to be outside,” she says. “You can get all of that here.”
In addition to the pumpkin farm, where families can pick a freshly grown orange orb, kids can enjoy riding ponies and camels, or visiting the petting farm.
The youngsters also get a kick out of the pumpkin-eating dinosaur: a handmade, mechanical dinosaur that squashes any pumpkin in its jaws.
There’s plenty of food served as well, including apple doughnuts, apple cider and homemade caramel apples.
Starting next season, visitors will also find a you-pick apple orchard.
“We put in 10,000 apple trees over the past two years, so we will be having a you-pick apple orchard starting next season,” Goebbert says. “People have been asking for it.”
The pumpkin patch and farm are open from mid-September through Halloween.
Hafs Road Orchard
W632 Hafs Road, Genoa City, Wis, (262) 279-3638, hafsroadorchard.com
Hafs Road Orchard is bursting with fresh apples for pies, applesauce, apple crisp and any other apple-related dishes.
Apples are the stars at this small, no-frills orchard. There’s no pick-your-own, no hayrides and no petting zoos.
But apples and produce are aplenty, in the form of fresh fruit, fresh cider, Honeycrisp caramel apples, pumpkins, gourds and many varieties of winter squash.
Although the orchard grows 45 kinds of apples, the Honeycrisp variety is a specialty.
“Roughly half of our 2,500 trees are Honeycrisp,” says Debbie Polansky, co-owner of the family farm. “We also sell local honey and sweet cider made fresh weekly from our apples.”
Polansky invites apple lovers to enjoy the quiet, rural and leisurely orchard, which comes alive during the fall season.
“Cooler fall temperatures and blue skies seem to send an ‘apples’ message to the brain,” Polansky says. “Autumn can be a bittersweet season, with winter around the corner. Fresh crisp apples, sweet, tangy cider, piles of beautiful pumpkins and the changing colored leaves help banish the thoughts of cold, darkness and snow.”
The orchard is open daily from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. In the past, the orchard has remained opened later, until the apples are sold.
Kuipers Family Farm
1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park, (815) 827-5200, kuipersfamilyfarm.com
What started out as a 71-acre pumpkin farm in 1998 has blossomed into a 230-acre family farm.
Kuipers Family Farm has a pumpkin patch, apple orchard and a Christmas tree farm, which makes this a great multi-season attraction.
The pumpkin patch has a variety of fall activities, including hay wagon rides, a petting zoo and haunted forest. The farm store carries plenty of fall favorites, including apple cider doughnuts, pies and apple cider.
“We have seasonal gifts, specialty foods and we have farm-related home decor,” says Kim Kuipers, who owns the farm with other members of her family.
The 160-acre apple orchard has more than 20 apple varieties suitable for snacking or cooking.
The orchard also serves as a wedding venue, with spectacular views of the orchard. Weddings are available from November through mid-August. Because of the autumn harvest, weddings are not available late-August through October.
Saturdays are already booked for next year, but Kuipers says plenty of dates are still available on Fridays and Sundays.
“Fall has become special to me because I can enjoy hosting so many folks who come to our farm to enjoy the simpler things the season brings,” Kuipers says. “Apple picking, hayrides, spending time outdoors – it’s so simple and so satisfying in today’s busy world.”
Kuipers Family Farm is open daily until Dec. 18.
Lindberg’s Pumpkin Patch
3178 IL Route 173, Caledonia, (815) 765-2587, thegreatpumpkinpatch.com
Who can resist picking pumpkins in fall? The new owners of this Caledonia tradition want to share their love for pumpkins.
“There used to be a charge, but now it’s free to get in,” says Cheryl Lindberg, one of the co-owners of The Pumpkin Patch.
To make it even easier to grab your favorite pumpkin, the Pumpkin Patch gives old-fashioned wagon rides to the you-pick fields, which contain some 30 varieties of pumpkins.
Set on an old farmstead, the Pumpkin Patch has plenty of activities for kids and adults to enjoy.
There’s Wanda’s Web, a seven-acre corn maze that follows a different route each year. The petting zoo introduces you to chickens, goats and other barnyard animals that the whole family can feed. Get something to eat for yourselves at several food stands.
The farm is a great place to enjoy all that fall has to offer, says Lindberg.
“Our patch is full of trees and the leaves are changing colors,” Lindberg says. “It’s really pretty out here and it’s peaceful. People can come out here and eat and enjoy the nice weather.”
The Pumpkin Patch is open daily through Halloween.