Apple orchards offer fall bounty just a short drive from Chicago

While the Midwest’s apple season really begins in September, my husband’s family established an early October tradition of apple picking. For more than 10 years, we’ve crossed the border to Twin Lakes, Wis., to visit Oriole Springs Apple Orchard. Some years the outing includes a caravan of cousins, uncles and grandparents. Some years, it’s just us. Either way, we spend a day enjoying nature and each other without distractions.

Twin Lakes is just an hour’s drive from the western suburbs, making it an easy weekend morning trip. Our first stop is Harvest Time Smokehouse. The kids can run around, climb haystacks and feed the goats in the small zoo. My husband waits in line for coffee and warm, delicious doughnuts. Consider bringing a small cooler since the smokehouse also offers a wide variety of Wisconsin meats and cheeses as well as fresh-pressed apple cider.

Then it’s back in the car for the two-minute drive up the lane and into the apple orchard. Not all apples ripen at the same time. If you know what you like, Red Delicious vs. Macintosh, find out the prime picking week. We chose early October because of the selection of ripe apples, plus the availability of freshly cut pumpkins. Employees will supply you with bushel bags and guide you to various picking spots based on your preferences. Be sure to ask for a couple of small bags since they get really heavy as they fill.

The real fun is in the picking. Kids can climb trees for good picks as well as great photo opportunities. Trust me when I say that picked apples are far superior to anything you can buy in the store. Even my fruit-finicky 9-year-old loves snacking on these tasty treats. Once we’ve filled our bushel bags, we stop in a pumpkin patch to find our perfect fall pumpkins. Small, large, skinny or fat, there’s a pumpkin for everyone early in October.

Before leaving the orchard, you’ll pay for the amount picked. Since you pay for a bag whether it’s full or not, combine your picks as much as possible for the best deal.

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