You have it earmarked on your calendars for before it gets too cold, or too close to Halloween. You've cleared yourself of other on-the-side obligations and decided to make a whole weekend all about fall's splendor. Yes, it's apple and pumpkin picking time, people. And it's so seasonal you can practically smell its cinnamon-spiced lure from downtown Minneapolis. But where to go to get all the produce for your mulled cider, crumbly crisps, and flaky pies?
Fireside Orchard & Gardens Whereabouts: Northfield Drive time: 45 minutes from Minneapolis What you get: Zestar, Wealthy, McIntosh, Regent, Honeygold, Keepsake, and of course, Fireside apples. The store sells pumpkins for painting or carving, jams and jellies, caramel apples, fudge, and Minnesota cheese, which goes fantastically well with apples. What you can do: Check out the vintage tractors and tour the meticulously maintained rose, perennial, and water gardens on the premises.
Afton Apple Orchard Whereabouts: Hastings Drive time: 45 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: Cortland, McIntosh, Paula Red, and Zestar apples from the pick-your-own lanes, plus more varieties bagged and ready to go from the onsite produce and gift shop. The Cafe à la Apple here sells caramel apples, apple fritters, and best of all, warm apple doughnuts. You can also get whole apple pies and jugs of cider to take home. What you can do: Afton's annual Apple Fest is going on now through the third week of October. Come early for face-painting and cider pressing demonstrations. Stay late for fireworks and live music. Afton also has a pumpkin patch, petting zoo (with llamas!), straw mountain, hayrides, and a 12-acre corn maze.
Sweetland Orchard Whereabouts: Webster Drive time: 45 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: Uncommon varieties that you won't find anywhere else: Shamrock, Melinda, Bonnie Best, Northern Spy, Viking, and Jonathan. But the major leaguers are there, too: Honeycrisp, Haralson, and SweeTango. Sweetland also sells its four excellent farm-made hard ciders that range from sweet to dry, plus a quirky seasonal rotating option they call their Roundabout cider. What you can do: Apple-picking is definitely the main attraction here, but they have some lawn games and a picnic area, and the owners are lovely to talk to.
Eveland Family Farm Whereabouts: Andover Drive time: 30 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: Pick your own pumpkins for baking or Jack O' Lantern-making plus some fun heirloom varieties like Cinderella, Luma White, and Long Island Cheese. The farm also sells Acorn, Butternut, Spaghetti, and Festival squash. What you can do: Get up close and personal with animals on a working farm, including miniature horses, pot-bellied pigs, and donkeys.The farm has a picnic area if you want to bring lunch and they offer a hayride around the property with the $3 cost of admission.
Lendt's Pumpkin Patch Whereabouts: Wyoming Drive time: 40 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: All sizes of carving and pie pumpkins, as well as giant, prize-winning pumpkins for photo opps. Decorative corn, gourds, and honey from farm hives are also available for purchase. Concession stands sell festival favorites like corn dogs, mini donuts, and hot cider. What you can do: Take tractor-pulled hay rides, set up lunch in the picnic area, and get your face painted, open now until October 31.
Apple Jack Orchards Whereabouts: Delano Drive time: 40 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: Pick your own pumpkins from the patch or go for Honeycrisp, Haralson, Honeygold, Cortland, and Sweet 16 apples. There are country-chic gift items, all sorts of apple goodies from the onsite bakery, and lunch served daily in the cafe. What you can do: Apple Jack has a six-acre corn maze, goats and lambs, wagon rides on the weekend, and a kids play area.
Sever's Corn Maze Whereabouts: Shakopee Drive time: 35 minutes from Minneapolis What you get: Pick your own pumpkins or buy them at Sever's produce market and snack on roasted sweet corn on the cob, fresh-popped kettle corn, hot dogs, and mini donuts. What you can do: In addition to perhaps the most popular and elaborate corn maze in these parts (this year it's shaped like a train), Sever's has a giant slide, petting zoo, a corn pit (think like a ball pit but full of corn), and hilarious contraptions called pumpkin blasters that basically allow you to use small pumpkins as cannon balls and knock down various targets.
Aamodt's Apple Farm Whereabouts: Stillwater Drive time: 30 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: Haralson and Connell Red Firesides are currently available for pick your own, but many more varieties are for sale in Aamodt's store. Don't miss their signature apple brats or crunchy Honeycrisp apple salsa. What you can do: Go for a hot air balloon ride or sip fresh cider while walking around the grounds. There are pony and cow train rides for the kids, hayrides for the family, and St. Croix Winery is right next to Aamodt's apple barn, if you want to end your apple-picking day with something a little more grape-y.
Berry Hill Farm Whereabouts: Anoka Drive time: 45 minutes from Minneapolis What you can get: Berry Hill Farm is open on weekends only during the fall season, but pumpkins are ripe for the picking now. What you can do: Try to find your way out of the tallgrass maze or take a tractor-pulled hayride all around the farm and catch a glimpse of the turkeys that live on the property, just to get yourself looking forward to Thanksgiving.
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