Put on a Scarf and Head to These-Apple Picking Spots Near Chicago
An apple a day keeps the winter at bay.
Fall in Chicago is as fleeting as it is festive. One minute, we’re collectively sweltering at a street festival, and the next we’re bundling up against a polar vortex, wearing more layers than a croissant. These next few precious weeks, though, are the sweet spot we wait all year for—that precious pocket in time when a scarf will suffice, foliage becomes a familial sport, and pumpkin spice permeates every facet of our being. When it comes to quaint, quintessential fall vibes, though, it’s hard to out-do the homiest tradition of them all: good ol’ fashioned apple-picking.
As ubiquitous as pumpkins may seem this time of year, there’s always room for fresh apples. And apple pie. And apple cider. And apple cider donuts. Basically, if there’s an apple-flavored delicacy you crave, there’s an orchard outlet for you. While Chicago itself may not be teeming with orchard groves, the city’s surrounding communities and states are well worth a drive for festive fall fun at its seasonal apex. In addition to apple-picking, these are the kinds of destinations that feel more like fruity amusement parks, complete with petting zoos, corn mazes, and playgrounds. Put on your best fall sweater, snag a PSL for the road, and visit one of these worth-the-drive apple orchards near Chicago this season.
Cottage Grove, Wisconsin
How far is it: 2.5-hour drive
Making the trek out to the Dairy state will be worth it as soon as you catch sight of this quaint orchard’s vast selection of modern and heirloom varieties (they even host an annual Heirloom Apple Dinner in November). That’s 90 different types of apples to be exact, some with Medieval-sounding names like Glockenapfel and Black Oxford, and you’d be hard-pressed to find that much diversity elsewhere. Although small, this delightful farm is extremely meticulous about integrating sustainability practices, including beehives for pollination and rare Chocolate Welsh Mountain Sheep for keeping the soil rich and fertile. After you get your picking fix, take a moment to soak up the scenery by meandering through the rolling fields, serene prairie, and lush woodlands. Also, check out their fellow orchardist Eliza Greenmans’s ugly apple blog if you want to educate yourself on the wonders of blemished fruit.
Cost: Admission is free; U-pick starts at ~$12 per 1/2 peck bag
How far is it: 1-hour drive
It’s a real hootenanny in Hobart, Indiana, where the sprawling County Line Orchard is anchored by a barn that’s basically the size of the Mall of America. The grounds are spread with row upon row of apple trees, with everything from Honey Crisp and Gala to McIntosh and Ginger Gold ripe for plucking. There’s also a massive corn maze, frequently in a Chicago-themed design scheme, periodic live music in the picnic area, a petting zoo, and the Moo Choo tractor ride for little ones. Back in the red barn, the wafting aroma of cider donuts and fudge steals the show. Donuts come in apple-cinnamon and pumpkin flavors, pies feature autumnal requisites like pumpkin and pecan, and fudge is made the old-fashioned way.
Cost: $3 U-pick general admission; apples are $2/lb., pumpkins are $.40/lb.
Poplar Grove, Illinois
How far is it: 90-minute drive
Along with 50,000 apple trees, this family-run and environmentally conscious operation also grows raspberries and pumpkins (u-pick available), and has been perfecting their stellar apple cider donut recipe over the last 30 years. After you've picked your bounty of autumn beauties and ginger golds, head over to the Cider Cellar for pulled pork sandwiches and sweet treats like homemade fudge and warm apple pie. They also hawk a variety of specialty food items like apple butter, spicy jams, and sweet salsas.
Cost: Admission is free; U-pick prices vary
How far is it: 70-minute drive
This lively all-season farm thinks of everything when it comes to providing an eclectic and exciting harvest experience, with pig races, pumpkins slides, magic shows, camel rides, a giraffe barn, and a carousel. Oh—and a pumpkin-eating dinosaur (?). All the perks, including apple picking, of course, are included in their Fall Festival price. In addition to the curious list of attractions and oddities, the Farm Stand provides a cornucopia of autumn’s best, including crunchy green beans, squash, and sun-ripened berries.
Cost: Admission runs $17 - $20 per person; U-pick prices vary
How far is it: 90-minute drive
This pastoral Dekalb County destination is chock full of seasonal attractions, tasty treats like pies and cider donuts, and, of course, plenty of farm-fresh apples. Depending on the time of year, visitors can (literally) pick from 25 different varieties including coveted heirlooms like Winesap and Cortland. The charming country store, wagon rides, and picturesque 1880’s converted apple barn only add to the allure. Check out the harvest schedule to keep tabs on what deliciousness awaits.
Cost: Admission is free; U-pick runs $9 per 1/4 peck bag
How far is it: 75-minute drive
This sprawling fruit-filled oasis sits just over the Wisconsin border near Racine and is well worth the drive up to Cheesehead territory. Lush apple and peach trees dot the verdant landscape, offering pickers an incentive to load up from early July through late October (peep the full bounty, including 30+ apple varieties, here). Come hungry, because the Red Barn Cafe is loaded with all-day comfort food like apple French toast, French dip sandwiches, and fruity sweets like cider donuts, caramel apples, and apple turnovers. If you venture up, make sure to clear your calendar for the day—it’s all but impossible to resist a restorative, post-pick nature walk through the 78-acre orchard and hardwood forest.
Cost: Admission runs $20 per person (includes 1/4 peck bag)
How far is it: 95-minute drive
Lose yourself in the country’s only apple tree maze, a breezy one and a half mile stretch of trails bursting with nine varieties of u-pick apples, a climbing tower, games, and other open-air curiosities. Afterward, hit the Country Kitchen’s sunny porch for some good old-fashioned home cooking (AKA chicken pot pies, homemade egg salad sandwiches, Chicago dogs) and make sure to save room for the ideal sugary finish: a square of fresh, velvety fudge and an ooey-gooey hand-dipped caramel apple.
Cost: Admission runs $12 per person (includes 1/4 peck bag)
How far is it: 75-minute drive
The rare apple orchard that offers a little something extra for the 21+ crowd, head due west out of Chicago and a little over an hour later you’ll pull up on this 105-acre family-owned beauty, home to over 20,000 blossoming apple trees and 30+ apple varieties plus a corn maze and bustling cider house (yes, that means there’s hard stuff, too). Grab a sixer of bright, effervescent JonaSMACK dry hopped cider to fuel your apple-hunting expedition and set out to discover mother nature’s riches. Because, let’s be honest, a labyrinth of corn is more fun when you’re buzzed. Looking for something in particular? Sign up for text alerts on Jonamac’s markedly impressive website and they’ll ping you whenever your prized fruit is ripe for the picking.
Cost: Weekday admission is free ($6 per person on weekends and holidays); U-pick runs $16 per 1/2 peck bag
Maple Park, Illinois
How far is it: 65-minute drive
Pumpkins, sunflowers, tulips, Christmas trees, and, most importantly, apples, abound at Wade and Kim Kuipers’s year-round family-friendly fun fest, an autumnal tradition since 1998, stationed just a stone’s throw from Chicago’s western suburbs. Over a dozen varieties of the autumnal crunchers take center stage from mid-August until late-October and availability is updated weekly via a handy hotline (815-827-5200 Ext. 1). An onsite eatery provides sustenance in the form of hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, and the like while the orchard’s bakery beckons with a steady stream of cider donuts, fruit pies, caramel apples, homemade fudge, and more. Come hungry.
Cost: Admission runs $11.99 per person weekends/holidays online (includes 1/4 peck bag), or $13.99 at the gate; $11.99 per person weekdays at the gate only
How far is it: 70-minute drive
Upwards of 15,000 fruit trees, heavy with different types of shiny apples and luscious pears from late August to mid-October, welcome fall day-trippers to this upbeat Woodstock escape. All that picking got your stomach grumbling? The Country Kitchen has your chicken tenders and cheeseburger needs covered and for a quick fix, a concession stand hawks kettle corn, donuts, and sweet apple cider slushies. Cornhole boards, giant mazes, a petting zoo, a mini zip line, bounce-y air pillow, and a 10-acre pumpkin patch are on hand to keep things interesting.
Cost: Admission starts at $17 per person (includes 1/4 peck bag and orchard hayride)
How far is it: 80-minute drive
There’s much more to this northwestern Illinois favorite than apples. Depending on the season, enterprising pickers can diversify their loads by piling on a whole slew of other freshly harvested produce from raspberries and strawberries to pumpkins, tomatoes, and sugar snap peas. Throw in an entire “Farmtractions” theme park—carousel, kiddie train, water wheel, tractor lift, swing ride, corn maze, and so much more—and you’ve got yourself one heck of a Saturday afternoon. Pro tip: Follow Stade’s on Facebook for the latest on what’s popping.
Cost: Admission starts at $10 per person (includes 1/4 peck bag)