Photo By Natalia Solovii
In a region that has deep roots in the agriculture industry, apple picking is a tried and true fall experience in Wisconsin, and Driftless Wisconsin has an abundance of locally owned and operated apple orchards that are worth a visit this autumn season. A great place to visit with family, and friends, and for people of all ages, setting aside a weekend to head to the apple orchards in Driftless Wisconsin can be a great way to get together with loved ones and enjoy the changing of the seasons. This orchards itinerary highlights the apple orchards through Vernon and Crawford counties, making it easy to choose which orchards you may want to visit, and when. Most of the orchards are only open through the end of the apple season, or the end of the fall harvest season, so visitors to the region will want to visit during September and October. Visitors can also find other fresh fall produce, treats, and goods at many of the orchards. And if you plan your trip between September 1st and September 30th, you can save money at various participating businesses with Driftless Wisconsin’s Special Deals.
This itinerary will also highlight nearby places where travelers can stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on when they visit the orchards. Before you head out for your trip, be sure to check the opening and closing times for the orchards you intend to visit and make sure the orchard is open on the day you will be visiting.
Photo by Janine Lamontagne
With most of the apple orchards on the itinerary residing in Gays Mills and Crawford County, the first apple orchard you may want to visit (if you’re planning on visiting more than one) is J & R Country Ridge Orchard in La Farge, Wisconsin. This pick-your-own orchard offers visitors 19 different apple varieties and manages over 3,000 trees. Upon arrival, you will receive your picking bags and can explore the orchard picking the apples that you want, whether you’ll be using them for baking or eating. Open from 9:00am to 5:00pm Wednesday through Saturday, and 10:00am to 5:00pm on Sunday, this is a great orchard to stop by in the morning. It is an added bonus that arriving earlier may score you some of the orchard’s popular fresh Apple Cider that they make on a weekly basis. Along with apples, visitors can purchase Maple Syrup made from trees on the farm, honey from the farm, as well as fall produce like squash, ornamental corn, and a variety of pumpkins.
From La Farge, travelers will head southwest on Highway 131 towards their next destination, Gays Mills, Wisconsin. On the way there you will pass through Soldiers Grove, and if you’re visiting during the third weekend of September you can make a short pit stop at the Driftless Area Art Festival. Once you arrive in Gays Mills, you will notice the next 5 apple orchards mentioned in the itinerary can be found throughout the area. That is because early farmers who lived in the area around the early 1900s found that the land on both sides of the Kickapoo River offered excellent conditions for apple-growing, causing orchards to pop up all along the river valley and creating over a thousand acres that are used today to produce apples nationally. There is even a Gays Mills Apple Orchards Historical Marker along Highway 171, where you can stop and read about the history. Also, if travelers visit in the last weekend of September, they can enjoy the annual Gays Mills Apple Festival complete with a carnival, parade, markets and vendors, a run/walk race, tournaments, food, entertainment and music.
While you may not want to visit all of the orchards in Gays Mills, quite a few will be discussed in the itinerary, so you can decide which orchards pique your interest the most. Keep in mind that if you want to make it to the last apple orchard of the day in Prairie du Chien, you will have to leave the Gays Mills area by 3:30pm to have an hour at the last destination. The next orchard destination is West Ridge Orchard, which can be found on Highway 171. West Ridge offers pre-picked apples, cider, doughnuts, mums, pies, pumpkins, squash, and decorative corn for those who stop to browse. Certain apple varieties are only available at certain times of the season, so you may skip the apples at this stop and purchase some of their other hand grown goods.
Another orchard that you may choose to visit in the area is Sunrise Orchards located high above the Kickapoo Valley. This orchard is a great place for families, especially those traveling with kids. Being a third generation family owned and operated orchard, there is plenty to do besides buy apples (but the apples are delicious, too). Visitors can choose from 21 apple varieties, and enjoy warm apple cider doughnuts and hot apple cider while they shop the various products. As a part of the Driftless Wisconsin Special Deals, you can receive one free apple cider slush and one free apple cider donut, per person with a $10.00 purchase. There are also caramel apples for the kids, specialty foods for sale, and a gift shop. The big draw for families, though, is the amazing playground and dog park for the kids and dogs to get some energy out while on the road.
Photo by S847
Depending on how long you spend at the first three destinations, and if you visit all of them, you should be heading to or arriving at your next apple orchard tour destination around 1:30pm to 2:00pm in the afternoon. These orchards are still in the Gays Mills area, so travelers won’t have much drive time between them. The next apple orchard, Kickapoo Orchard, is located just down the road from Sunrise Orchards on Highway 171. Open from late summer to late fall every day from 9:00am to 5:00pm, travelers can stop to buy pre-picked apples, apple pies, apple pizzas, doughnuts, and other fresh bakery items. You can also try your hand at making it out of their fun, but challenging corn and sunflower maze.
From Kickapoo Orchard, you can continue east down the road if you want to visit Hillcrest Orchard. All of the Gays Mills apple orchards are found on Highway 171, so it is easy to pick and choose which you would like to visit. Hillcrest Orchard is another popular orchard for picking your own apples (over 24 varieties). But visitors can also pick up pumpkins, squash, gourds, sweet corn, Indian corn, and other fresh fall produce. Other Wisconsin products that you can pick up here include potatoes, cranberries, honey, sorghum, maple syrup, apple butter, various jams and jellies, cheese, and apple cider.
Photo By Natalia Solovii
The final stop of the day will be at Shihata’s Orchard in Prairie du Chien. It takes about a half hour to get to the orchard from Gays Mills, and the orchard closes at 5:00pm. This means travelers will have to be sure to leave the area at 3:30pm to give themselves enough time at the final apple orchard. With an apple orchard where you can schedule a private walking tour, the Apple House where you can buy treats and produce, the bakery, the pumpkin patch, and the Country Fun Stop play area for the kids, this last stop is one you might not want to miss.
Shihata’s Orchard is known for its unique family experience and beautiful views of the Mississippi River Valley. Special treats that visitors can purchase include 13 varieties of apples, pumpkins, fresh pressed cider, wine, cider doughnuts, and more bakery items. Depending on when you visit, Shihata’s also has its annual Orchard Fest in October, which includes a corn maze, wagon rides, food stand, product samples, pick your own apples and pumpkins, pumpkin painting, and more!