There are few things more deliciously fall than biting into a juicy apple just plucked from a tree. Fortunately there are plenty of orchards where you can discover the simple pleasure of picking apples for yourself.
But before you load up the car, there are a few things to know.
Many orchards add entertainment on weekends to create a family environment, which tends to bring crowds. If you're looking for a quieter farm experience, weekdays are your best bet.
"Different farms offer different things," says Carey Garwood of Garwood Farms. "They should think about what interests them."
Orchards tend to be open rain-or-shine (except if there's lightning), so dress appropriately-high heels aren't a good idea on uneven ground. If your kids can't do much walking, bring a wagon-especially helpful for bringing back your haul.
Remember, this is nature, so be prepared. Wear sunscreen and bug spray. If you or your child has a bee allergy, bring along an Epi-Pen.
"Bees are part of it," says Nancy Tipton of Tree-mendous Farm. "Without the bees, we have no fruit."
Pesticides are also part of it, but most orchards say their fruit is safe to be eaten from the tree. If that concerns you, call and ask about the spray protocol.
Check whether you should bring your own containers for the fruit. And know how you want to use the apples-sauce? pies? school lunches?-so you easily can choose between the many varieties. Many orchards offer taste-tests so you can discover which variety you and your kids prefer.
"The advantage to u-pick is they can pick exactly what they want and know what they're getting," Tipton says.
You'll also want to look into what the cost covers. Some orchards charge an admission or parking fee on top of the u-pick prices; others charge for the wagon ride to the field or containers for your fruit.
On the car ride there, discuss appropriate behavior with your kids: no climbing trees, throwing apples or discarding apples after a single bite. Garwood says the more you prepare your kids for what they'll see, the more engaged (and better behaved) they'll be.
Consider bringing along a picnic lunch (if that's allowed) and making a day of it. When you get home, look up some recipes for your apples or do a blindfolded taste-test between the varieties.
Above all, keep this perspective from Royal Oak Orchard Farm's Sarah Bell in mind: "It's just a fun time to spend with the family," she says. "We try to provide a nice relaxing atmosphere here, a getaway from city and busy suburban life…It's definitely a tradition for families."
Once you chomp into that first juicy apple, it just might be a tradition your family enjoys for years to come.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.