Apples are the superheroes of the fruit world – they have the power to keep doctors away, butter up teachers and sweeten snack time. Good thing Chicago-area orchards are keeping up with the demand. Fill your bags with the juicy, ripe fruit at a kid-loved u-pick nearby — they’re entering prime season, which runs through the end of October or beginning of November. Flip through our list to see where to reap the harvest.
Kuipers Family Farm
Distance from city: 50 miles
Since their start in 1998 as a pumpkin farm, Kuipers has grown to a 230-acre apple-growing powerhouse committed to showing families kid-powered fun focused on running, climbing, adventure and fresh air. Visitors pay admission to enjoy a delightful hayride to the orchard where they gather 1/4 peck of apples. For an additional charge, kids can tire themselves out with the corn maze, tractor tire mountain, haunted forest suitable for tiny tots, humungous slide, pony rides, giant bouncy pillow, climbing web and much more. For a squealing good time, be sure to get a front-row view of the pig races that occur every hour on the weekends. Before you hop in the car for the inevitable nap time that occurs after that much excitement, mosey into the Orchard Shop and Bakery for their crave-worthy homemade apple cider donuts, caramel apples, fudge and freshly squeezed apple cider.
Good to know: Be sure to call ahead to make sure the extra activities are open before making the drive. Also, strollers, wagons and backpacks are not allowed in the orchard.
1N318 Watson Rd., Maple Park (815-827-5200 or online at kuipersfamilyfarm.com)
Distance from city: 70 miles
This family-owned and -operated business has grown since its beginning 30 years ago to include 105 acres dotted with over 10,000 trees sprouting dozens of apple varieties. In addition to the solid selection of apples, the Barn Yard Play Area draws kids in with a giant jumping pillow, slides, duck races, hay bale pile, pedal trikes, rope spider web, tractor-driven barrel rides, apple shooting cannon and petting zoo. Entrance to the play area is free on weekdays, with some exceptions, but there is a charge on weekends. Satisfy rumbling tummies in The Country Store and Bakery, with apple cider donuts, fresh-baked bread and pies, caramel apples, delicious fudge and apple pizzas.
19412 Shabbona Rd., Malta (815-825-2158 or online at jonamacorchard.com)
County Line Orchard
Distance from city: 45 miles
The search for the perfect apple to bake, juice, slice or nibble couldn’t be easier at this orchard with 40 tree-blanketed acres comprised of over 35 varieties. While it’s true apples are the core of this northwest Indiana fruit-bearing destination, the activities are as plentiful as the apple selection. A ride aboard a tractor not only takes you to the orchard but it swings by the pumpkin patch so you can stock up on pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, hay and fall flowers. Because of a collaboration with Culver's, orchard-goers who are up for getting a little lost can navigate their way through a themed corn maze that gives thanks to farmers. Visit the Kids Farm to find a wide variety of animals to feed, Peter The Pumpkin Eating Dinosaur, pedal tractors waiting to plow imaginary fields, and a toddler-sized corn maze to tackle. Be sure to leave enough time to ride the “Moo Choo” (cars made out of cow-inspired barrels pulled by a tractor) because it’s a highlight of the orchard -- second only to the 10,000 apple- and pumpkin-spiced donuts baked fresh daily.
200 S. County Line Rd., Hobart, IN (219-947-4477 or online at countylineorchard.com)
Distance from city: 40 miles
If picturesque and simple is the experience you’re seeking, go to Heinz Orchard. This is a great place to unwind and enjoy a low-key apple picking experience that’s easy, fun and affordable without the added expense of play areas, food and tractor rides. Branches are low enough for kids to reach, but poles with pouches are available when you spot that prime apple at the tippy-top of the tree. Parking and admission are free, bringing your own wagon is welcomed and cameras to capture the giggles is an absolute must.
Note: The polar vortex hit this spot hard, so they may not have apples until September this year. Be sure to check their website for availability.
1050 Crest Rd., Green Oaks (847-770-3449 or online at heinzorchard.com)
Royal Oak Farm
Distance from city: 76 miles
Spanning 120 acres with 16,000 apple trees containing 30 varieties of apples, Royal Oak Farm is a great place to spend a day. Once you’ve picked your fill of apples, saunter over to the entertainment area to take a spin on the carousel, ride the train or kick back on the hayride orchard tour on Saturdays and Sundays. Visit the snack shop for a hot cup of cider or coffee and a delicious apple cider donut and watch from a picnic table as your kids play upon the John Deer tractor, fire engine, Noah’s Ark and full-sized dollhouse in the play area.
15908 Hebron Rd., Harvard (815-648-4141 or online at royaloakfarmorchard.com)
Distance from city: 65 miles
There’s no shortage of apples at this 74-acre Wisconsin standout with 30,000 trees bearing more than 30 varieties. You'll also find juicy pears and a mighty selection of pumpkins to ready your home for fall. Sure to bring a smile to kids' faces is the outdoor amusement area with gentle ponies to ride; chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks; a small bunny village in Bunnyville; and goats that cross overhead on the “Golden Goat Bridge.” You’ll also find mazes, tractor-pulled train and wagon rides, gemstone mining, and pedal carts. Down-home goodness can be found in the Country Store that’s filled to the brim with homemade pies, apple cider donuts, jams, butters, salsa, candies, crafts and a varied selection of Wisconsin wines and cheeses — because no trip to Wisconsin is complete without cheese.
5006 S. Sylvania Ave., Sturtevant, WI (262-884-7100 or online at appleholler.com)
— Maria Chambers