Our family loves to pick apples.

Scratch that, two-thirds of us love to pick apples — my son, Boone, 7, and me. My husband doesn’t. But he works Sundays, so that’s the perfect time for Boone and me to set out on what we call “adventures.”

During the fall, this means we drive to our favorite apple orchards, and then bring home bags upon bags of locally grown varieties to chop, steam, then mush through a food mill to make applesauce with our neighbors.

This season, however, we decided to switch things up and visit a few apple orchards we have never been to before. Here are our experiences and tips if you decide to head out on your own family apple-picking adventures.

No matter where you live in the city or suburbs, your drive out to one of the area’s apple orchards will probably take at least an hour, if not longer. When Boone and I hit the road, we grab his backpack and stuff a water bottle, snacks, coloring books, markers and a Kindle downloaded with shows and movies inside. Thankfully, this brings fewer shouts of “Are we there yet?” from the back seat.

Kuipers Family Farm, 1N318 Watson Road in Maple Park, offers dozens of varieties of apples for picking and more for sale in its farm store.

Address: 1N318 Watson Road, Maple Park (view it on a map)

Website: kuipersfamilyfarm.com

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through October

Cost to pick apples: $10.99 for a ¼-peck bag (age 3 and older) if purchased online. Otherwise, $12.99 per person at the farm. Call 815-827-5200 and choose Ext. 1 to hear which varieties are available for purchase in the farm store and which are ripe for picking.

What to expect: Kuipers grows more than 30 varieties of apples on its 30-acre orchard, so it’s helpful to know the best way to pick them. And that’s what guests learn during a brief presentation before heading out to find the perfect crop.

“Before you pick apples, there’s this apple expert that you need to listen to,” Boone advises. “He told us the different types of apples to pick and how you should pick them. He said we should twist the apple until it breaks off from the branch. You can also give the apple a slight tug as you twist it.”

Boone Finley carefully twists a Gala apple off a tree at Kuipers Family Farm, 1N318 Watson Road in Maple Park, on Sept. 5, 2022.

Keep in mind: The apple orchard is located next to the parking lot, but depending on which variety you want to pick, there might be a long walk to it. Kuipers does not provide transportation into the orchard.

“If you want to pick Gala apples, then you have to walk pretty far down the path,” Boone said. “But the good news is that you get to eat a yummy apple on your way back to your car.”

He also liked the Gala variety because it reminded him of Poké Balls (he’s a big Pokemon fan).

Highlights: After you work up a sweat picking apples, Kuipers offers so many reasons to linger. There’s a great train ride ($5 per person; free for children younger than 3) that covers almost a mile and passes by sunflower, soybean and pumpkin fields. Boone thinks it moves a little too quickly: “I want to give you the heads-up in case you might be scared about a fast ride.”

The bakery offers many delicious options made on-site including caramel apples, pies and fudge. Keep an eye out for the second batch of a special apple cider doughnut beer Obscurity Brewing is working on with Kuipers — it was sold out when we visited. Fresh apple ciders — both with and without alcohol — are ready to take home, as are a variety of wines.

Boone Finley waits for a tractor-pulled wagon to arrive in the apple orchard at Goebbert's Farm in Pingree Grove on Sept. 7, 2022.

Address: 42W813 Reinking Road, Pingree Grove (view it on a map)

Website: goebberts.com

When: Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily — including Oct. 10, when Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day are celebrated — until Oct. 31.

Cost to pick apples: $10 for a ½-peck bag in addition to admission fee of $18 per person (age 3 and older) on weekdays; $22 per person on weekends. Tickets can be purchased online. Weekday season passes are available for $50 per person (includes admission to both the Pingree Grove and South Barrington locations).

What to expect: Goebbert’s is one of a few apple orchards in the Chicago area that is open during the week — and open late enough for an after-school visit. A wagon ride to the orchard is scenic and perfect for taking selfies. If the weather is right and the winds are calm, then you might spot a hot-air balloon or two.

“When we were there it was a rare sight — we got to see hot-air balloons inflating, and they were just so cool,” Boone says. “We had to stop and see them.”

Boone Finley cranks a handle to create a souvenir penny that features an image of a pumpkin-eating dinosaur on Sept. 7, 2022, at Goebbert's Farm, 42W813 Reinking Road in Pingree Grove.

Given the variety of activities available, however, you might not even make it out to the apple orchard during your visit. Train rides, slides, a jumping pillow, carousel, pedal karts, playground, tire mountain and haunted house are all included with the price of admission. Two shooting galleries are an extra fee. Paved walkways wind throughout the activities, making it easy to push a stroller or pull a wagon from one to the next.

Keep in mind: We only had an hour to experience Goebbert’s before it closed for the night, so we had to make a difficult decision — to pick apples or do the activities? We picked apples, but that left Boone disappointed.

Thankfully, we were able to convert our daily passes into weekday passes by paying the difference. So, we plan to go back at least a few more times to see everything the farm offers — including its animal land that features giraffes.

Kaia Prusfalcon, 6, and Dominik Prusfalcon, 9, react to smoke coming out of the dinosaur-eating pumpkin at Goebbert's Farm on Oct. 20, 2021, in Pingree Grove.

Highlights: I realize this story is all about apples, and the picking experience at Goebbert’s is really enjoyable. But there’s one key item that captivates kids at Goebbert’s like no other. I’ll let Boone describe it:

“There’s a pumpkin-eating dinosaur and it’s really cool! When it sneezes, it sneezes smoke out of its nose!”

It’s so popular the farm store offers T-shirts and books for sale with it. Or, you can crank out a pressed penny for 51 cents with the dinosaur’s image on it — the perfect inexpensive souvenir.

The Long Grove Apple Haus, 145 Old McHenry Road in Long Grove, offers a variety of candy and apple-themed breads and desserts.

Address: 145 Old McHenry Road, Long Grove (view it on a map)

Website: On Facebook

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Closed Mondays.

What to expect: As I mentioned earlier, be prepared to drive at least an hour to get to an apple orchard if you live in or near Chicago. Sometimes you don’t have that much time. Or, like me, you make a mom-fail by underestimating Friday afternoon traffic. That’s why I’m glad the Long Grove Apple Haus was nearby.

Keep in mind: OK, so you’re not gonna head home from this experience with a bag of apples, but there is definitely a variety of sweet treats to choose from, including Long Grove Confectionery Co. chocolates, caramel apples (I recommend the white cinnamon-covered option) and apple breads, doughnuts and pies — baked or take-and-bake options available — in a brown paper bag.

Was Boone disappointed that our plans changed? I don’t think so.

“It has golden nugget gum!” he told me.

Highlights: Patting myself on the back for arriving at the store 5 minutes before it closed, we took our snacks and walked a few blocks to eat them next to the historic Long Grove covered bridge. It makes a great photo prop too.

Boone Finley shucks sweet corn to take home from Keller's Farmstand, 2500 Johnson Road in Oswego, on Sept. 11, 2022.

Address: 2500 Johnson Road, Oswego (view it on a map)

Website: kellersfarmstand.com

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Cost to pick apples: $9 (¼-peck bag), $18 (½-peck bag) or $36 (1-peck bag) per person (age 5 and older).

What to expect: Ever wish you could have an apple orchard all to yourself? Then visit during a Chicago Bears game. Better yet, visit during a Bears game when it’s raining.

Boone and I arrived at Keller’s when it was still misty and a little bit breezy. It’s not ideal weather for this popular fall activity, but we had so much fun stomping through puddles and collecting apples with raindrops hitting our faces each time we yanked another one from a tree.

“We got to pick apples in the rain, but close to where you enter the apple orchard,” he said.

Boone’s correct — the orchard is located next to the parking lot, so it was fast and easy to make our selections then jump back into our car to dry off. Keller’s offers about 20 varieties of apples in its fields. Check its website for what’s ready to be picked.

Is your family competitive? Then try out the "Who's Your Apple?" guessing game inside the apple orchard at Keller's Farmstand, 2500 Johnson Road in Oswego.

Keep in mind: The staffers could not have been happier to walk us through the open areas in the orchard, which remains open so long as lightning is not a concern. In these conditions, however, it’s best to wear a pair of boots and a rain jacket. Maybe save the photo opportunities for another visit, which we are planning for a better weather day.

Highlights: Are you competitive? Then don’t miss the “Who’s Your Apple?” guessing game that is located just beyond the orchard entrance. If I were you, I would make the loser buy the winner one of Keller’s yummy apple cider doughnuts.

The farm store sells honey, plants, kettle corn and produce including Boone’s favorite — locally grown sweet corn. He doesn’t mind putting in a little work either.

“I like shucking corn,” he said.

Inside the store at Stade's Farm & Market, 3709 Miller Road in McHenry, is a time capsule of the farming family's history, including this John Deere tractor, which was purchased in 1938 and used on its Arlington Heights land.

Address: 3709 Miller Road, McHenry (view it on a map)

Website: stadesfarmandmarket.com

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Cost to pick apples: $10 (¼-peck bag), $30 (peck bag) or $50 (½ bushel) per person (age 3 and older). Or, $1.99 per pound in the farm store.

What to expect: The orchard at Stade’s is closed on rainy days, but don’t let that stop you from visiting. It was really fun for us to explore the store. A farmer’s market of homemade or homegrown items are for sale here — meats, cheeses, pies, honey, fruits and vegetables, cider and sodas — meaning you might find everything you need to take home and make a great dinner. Many of the items come directly from the farm or its neighbors.

Even when it's raining, it's still possible to pick apples — from a bushel — at Stade's Farm & Market, 3709 Miller Road in McHenry.

Boone still picked his own apples while inside Stade’s — though this time from bushels instead of trees. And, OK, maybe that wasn’t ideal.

“It was really fun inside, but it was supposed to be fun outside,” he said.

There’s also a collection of cars and tractors — almost like a Stade family museum — with plaques telling visitors when each was purchased. It seems, too, the family has kept every handmade sign ever made for its farm. So many decorate the walls of the store. Don’t forget to snap a selfie while sitting in the giant wooden rocking chair. And good luck going home without a T-shirt, beanie, coffee cup or root beer with Stade’s name on it.

Keep in mind: Since we visited Stade’s during a rainstorm, most of its special events and attractions were closed. An arts and crafts fair was canceled. So were the ice cream and funnel cake stands. So I really don’t have a good sense of all that’s offered on-site. Guess Boone and I will have to make a return trip.

Love the smell of apple cider donuts? Bring it home in candle form from Stade's Farm & Market in McHenry.

Highlights: Don’t miss the Illinois-grown cantaloupe! It was delicious and so soft it could be scooped with a spoon. Before our Stade’s visit, I didn’t even know cantaloupe could be grown in Illinois. We also enjoyed the “Wisconsin stogie” smoked string cheese by The Cheesery and hickory smoked beef jerky by Townsend Cattle & Meats. Love the smell of apple cider doughnuts? Stade’s sells a candle that smells like one.


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