Come autumn, almost everyone hankers to take in the fall color and relish the outdoors before temperatures plummet. Fortunately, plenty of orchards provide the opportunity, along with enough apples to keep you supplied deep into winter. Here is a selection of Minnesota orchards -- and nearby attractions -- ripe for a day trip.
AAMODT'S APPLE FARM
A weather-worn barn welcomes visitors to Aamodt's Apple Farm, where visitors can pick their own or buy apples from the store. Also for sale: locally produced honey, cider doughnuts, apple brats and apple cider. Grapes are grown there, too; the land is shared with St. Croix Vineyards. Children will enjoy the hay maze and hay tower, a tractor park with tractor-style trikes and a petting farm. Visitors can also arrange to take a hot air balloon ride (6428 Manning Av., Stillwater; 651-439-3127; www.aamodtsapplefarm.com).
Nearby: Downtown Stillwater, nestled along the St. Croix River, is a nice place to shop -- think antique stores and art galleries. The Fall Colors Fine Art & Jazz Festival is slated for Oct. 2-3 (651-439-4001; www.ilovestillwater.com).
DEER LAKE ORCHARD
A hayride passes three ponds and a grove of maple trees before it stops at the 1911 red barn that is the centerpiece of Deer Lake Orchard. Buy apples and gift items in the store, pet farm animals and listen to the music that resounds through the grounds on weekends through Oct. 24. A pumpkin patch, accessed by wagon ride, opens Oct. 11 (1903 10th St. SW., Buffalo, Minn.; 763-682-4284; www.deerlake orchard.com).
Nearby: Lake Rebecca Park Reserve offers 20 miles of hiking trails amid rolling hills and wetlands in Rockford, Minn. (763-694-7860; www.threerivers parks.org).
Expect a quieter apple-picking experience at Sweetland. There are no hayrides, no corn mazes, none of the usual trappings -- just quiet walks amid the trees. "We're focused on food and on growing good things to eat," the website declares. Visitors can buy apples, cider, jam and frozen apple desserts or head to the ripened fruit with a basket in hand. Owners Mike and Gretchen Perbix enjoy chatting about growing and cooking with apples. The barn provides a kids' area (26205 Fairlawn Av., Webster, Minn.; 651-252-4337; www.sweetlandorchard.com).
Nearby: Stop by the Crofut Family Winery and Vineyard in nearby Jordan (952-492-3227; www.crofutwinery.com). Spend time before your afternoon orchard visit taking a self-guided tour of area artists' studios on Oct. 9; that's the day of the Scott County Art Crawl (www.scott countyartcrawl.org).
WHISTLING WELL FARM
Pick your own apples from a 5,000-tree orchard or shop the market, where apples sit in buckets among honey from the orchard's bees, gourds and other fall staples. The farm also offers mums for digging and pumpkins for picking. The farm's Applefest is scheduled for the weekends of Oct. 2-3 and Oct. 9-10, when the Back Porch Band will perform and farm animals will add to the ambience (8973 S. St. Croix Trail, Hastings; 651-998-0301; www.whistlingwellfarm.com).
Nearby: Follow trails through prairies, down deep ravines and up to grassy bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River at Afton State Park (651-436-5391; www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/afton).
Find other apple orchards at www.minnesotagrown.com.
Kerri Westenberg • 612-673-4282