Some traditions you just don’t tamper with — like the annual pilgrimage made by thousands of visitors ready to pluck bushels of apples from trees and turn them into homemade pies, jellies and cider. Here's a look at some of the apple orchards that dot the St. Croix Valley:
AAMODT’S APPLE FARM
6428 Manning Av. N., Stillwater; 651-439-3127; www.aamodtsapplefarm.com
Owner Chris Aamodt’s grandfather, then a professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota, started Aamodt’s in 1948 as a “retirement project,” his grandson says. A winding road takes visitors past rows of low-hanging apple trees to the retail store — nestled inside a 100-year-old restored barn — that carries apple butter, honey, maple syrup and 21 varieties of apples. Aamodt’s has about 50 acres of apples and 10 acres of grapes in an adjoining vineyard. “Folks can get a glass of wine and walk around and watch their kids play,” Aamodt said.
AFTON APPLE ORCHARD
14421 90th St. S., Denmark Township; 651-436-8385; www.aftonapple.com
Afton Apple Orchard is spread over 250 acres, 70 of which are devoted to an array of apples including Paula Reds, Regents and the ever-popular Honeycrisps.
Though its name might suggest otherwise, the orchard also grows pumpkins, raspberries and strawberries, according to owner Cindy Femling. Regular and sugar-free jams, and freshly pressed cider are also for sale. The farm’s annual apple festival, held the first three weekends in October, includes hayrides, a petting farm, a 15-acre corn maze, and cider pressing and chain-saw carving demonstrations.
FISCHER’S CROIX FARM ORCHARD
12971 St. Croix Trail S., Denmark Township; 651-437-7126; fischerscroixfarmorchard.com
Fischer’s Croix’s annual apple festival , held on the first two weekends of October, promises “good old country fun,” according to its website, with pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, a corn maze and wagon rides for children. You can pick your own apples or choose from the 22 prepicked varieties sold in the orchard’s store.
MCDOUGALL’S APPLE JUNCTION
14325 110th St. S., Denmark Township; 651-480-4701; www.apple-junction.com
What started in 1986 as a self-described “mom-and-pop” apple orchard has evolved into a popular weekend getaway for apple and pumpkin pickers. As long as the weather cooperates, pick-it-yourselfers can be found filling their bags with late-ripening apples like Cortlands and Honeygolds. McDougall’s annual apple festival is the first two weekends of October and features wagon rides, an observation tower, duck races and a kids’ play area.
WHISTLING WELL FARM
8973 St. Croix Trails S., Denmark Township; 651-998-0301; www.whistlingwellfarm.com
Whistling Well Farm, which first opened in 1980, has 20 varieties of apples developed at the University of Minnesota and shipped to local grocery stores, farmers markets and school cafeterias around the Twin Cities. “We’re a smaller orchard, but we have pick-your-own, and we have a little store where we sell jams and jellies,” said Charlie Johnson, the owner. Johnson said the store also sells squash and honey made by bees from Whistling Well’s bee yard. The 5,000-tree orchard’s annual apple picking festival is held on the first two weekends of October and packed with family-friendly activities and music, Johnson said.
Pine Tree Apple Orchard
450 Apple Orchard Road, Dellwood; 651-429-7202; www.pinetreeappleorchard.com
Pine Tree Apple Orchard has grown from 25 acres to more than 300 acres today, with 25 varieties of apples – including late-bloomers like Firesides, Golden Delicious’ and Honeygolds. Activities include pony and wagon rides, and a corn maze. An on-site store sells homemade apple-themed products – caramel apples, cider, muffins and pies – to weary pickers.