Fall is in the air and nothing spells fall in North Carolina like visiting a real farm and picking your own apples fresh from the tree.
Did you know that North Carolina is the seventh-largest apple producing state in the nation? There are over 5,000 acres of apple orchards in western North Carolina. The hill country between Asheville and Charlotte, with its rich soil, warm days, and cool nights, is perfect for growing great-tasting apples. Henderson County produces more than 70 percent of North Carolina's apples. That’s a lot of apples!
There are over 30 varieties of North Carolina apples that all ripen at different times throughout the fall. Varieties like Gala and Gingergold are the first to ripen in mid-August, then Honeycrisp, Golden, and Red Delicious. Fuji and Jonagold ripen in mid- to late September, Rome Beauty, Winesap, and Granny Smith in mid- to late October, and Pink Lady in early November. To find out when your favorite is ripe and ready to pick, check the Henderson County apple ripening schedule or visit the individual orchard websites.
There just might be as many farms, orchards, and roadside apple stands in and around Hendersonville as there are varieties of apples themselves. With apples ripening at different times, every day is a great day to visit an apple farm. They open mid-August, seven days a week, and the U-pick orchards are open through October. The barns will stay open with harvested apples and produce until close to Thanksgiving.
Most all the apple houses have in-house bakeries offering delicious apple treats like donuts, fried pies (what I’d call turnovers), apple cider, and slushies as well as a host of other goodies. Most have covered picnic areas. Bring a picnic lunch or grab a bite to eat at a food truck (if available).
Along with acres of delicious apple trees, most of the apple farms are family-oriented with lots of activities for the kids, like tractor rides, kiddy trains, petting zoos, play areas, and the ever-popular apple cannons (weekends only).
Call it a farm or an orchard, an apple house or an apple barn. Spend an hour or two or make a day of it. Either way, visiting an apple orchard spells fall -- and fun! Here is a list of some favorite North Carolina apple orchards between Asheville and Charlotte.
Sky Top Orchard
There is nothing quite like fall on a mountain-top farm. Sky Top Orchard is exactly what the name implies. Dozens of rows of apple trees, available for U-pick, sit atop beautiful McAlpine Mountain with a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.
Sky Top apple house offers fresh-made apple cider, hard cider, apple cider doughnuts, other fall produce, jams, jellies, and much more.
For the kids, there is a great play area complete with tractors to climb on, a bamboo forest to wander through, and a farm animal viewing and feeding area.
Pack a lunch and eat at the farm picnic area. Or just a few miles north of Sky Top is the historic village of Flat Rock where you'll find great little shops and restaurants.
Pro Tip: Once you turn off Greenville Highway, the orchard is a little over a mile up a narrow, winding mountain road. You'll see some spectacular views, but there is no space to pull off the road for photos.
Grandad’s Apples N Such
The first thing you notice when you pull up to Grandad’s farm is the traditional barn and silo. There’s a large, gray barn with a red roof and next to it, a matching silo that has a green tractor sitting high on top. The farm itself is quite beautiful. We enjoyed ourselves strolling the grounds admiring the picture-perfect farm setting. Follow the path past the cornfields that leads to an expanse of green grass adorned with a magnificent weeping willow tree and an impressive duck pond. A traditional farmhouse sits back in the distance.
In addition to apple picking, there is a corn maze, a pumpkin patch, an apple cannon, a great kids’ play area, and, beyond that, fields of tall yellow sunflowers. Sit and rest on one of the many high-back, white rocking chairs or snack on apple donuts or bread fresh from the bakery.
Inside the apple barn, we enjoyed looking at farm instrument wall decor while browsing through small booths with country items, fresh honey, jams, ’n’ such. In addition to barrels of apples, there are various fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm gardens.
Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard
A three-generation, family-owned and operated farm on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard is a fun, farm adventure. Turn off the road and follow a path through the orchards. You'll know you've arrived when you see the big, green barn. Over 20 varieties of U-pick apples are available as well as U-pick grapes and pumpkins. You can even pick sunflowers and colorful zinnias, when available.
Inside the apple house, huge boxes of pre-picked apples and a variety of pumpkins await. Stepp’s bakery offers lots of goodies including pumpkin and apple cider donuts. The country store offers a variety of local honey, molasses, apple butter, and unique souvenirs.
There is a large covered picnic area for relaxing and enjoying Pig Out BBQ, available on weekends. Also on weekends, wagon rides, a jump pad, apple cannons, and a five-acre corn maze round out the fun at Stepp's.
Justus Orchard is probably our favorite only because it was the first North Carolina apple orchard we visited. Bonus: They open in July for blackberry picking, then in mid-August the apples are ripe and ready to be plucked from their branches.
Even if the blackberries are gone, take a stroll through the orchards, past the blackberry patch, toward the farm animal feeding and petting area. You'll want to just sit for a while and enjoy the view of the beautiful farmhouse, windmill, and duck pond.
Watch fresh apple donuts being made in the bakery. Try a candy or caramel apple, or take home a whole pie (frozen and packed to go). When the weather turns cold, they offer hot cider and coffee. Good To The Bone Barbecue is available on weekends.
Justus has a host of outdoor weekend activities including a jump pad, apple cannons, a play area, cut-outs for picture taking, farm animal feeding, and more.
Pull up to Coston's wide front porch complete with rocking chairs. Inside, along with apples, you'll find everything you need to decorate for fall. There is farm, country, and apple decor and gift baskets. Peruse the shelves of unique jams and jellies like F.R.O.G. and B.E.A.R. Jam, Christmas Jam, raspberry chipotle jelly, and Amish-made sorghum. Make sure you visit the bakery for the best-ever warm apple fritters. Coston does have U-pick, but I think the Apple House and Gift Shop are the best attractions here.
Buy fresh North Carolina apples straight from the orchard at Lyda Farms, along with a large variety of pumpkins and winter squash (and other produce) for eating or decorating. The roadside market is open June through November and carries a variety of fresh, seasonal local fruits and vegetables.
A favorite apple house, Freeman’s has a great variety of fresh apples, each with a thorough description and history. They also sell other produce and goods as well as their amazing homemade pies. They don't offer U-pick, but you can mix and match all the varieties you want.
A unique stop, Twisted Apple is small and very friendly. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular apple variety, they cut one open and offer a taste while explaining it. The store has a fun vibe (just look at their logo) with lots of organic apples and produce, fresh-made donuts, old-fashioned apple cider, and craft-brewed apple ale. Open on weekends only.
For some mature travelers, the weekend crowds might be daunting. I know it sometimes is for us. Or maybe the thought of tromping around an apple farm is just not appealing (pun intended). You can still enjoy the scenic drive to Henderson County and get all the feels, and fruits, of apple country by visiting one of the many roadside apple stands.
For a list of roadside stands and farm markets, click here.
Bring a sweater as the fall mountain air can get chilly. A small wagon or rolling basket is handy for hauling apples from the orchards. Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.
Before heading out, always check orchard websites (or Facebook pages) for apple varieties that are available (and what’s not), events, scheduled tours, and up-to-date information.
Weekends in apple country can get pretty crowded. That’s when all the children’s activities and rides happen. Be prepared to wait in line for parking and purchasing produce or baked goods. Weekdays are much less crowded (unless a school-group tour is scheduled) with the best times being early when the orchard opens or late afternoon.
Parking and admission to all orchards are free. Parking lots and pathways are mostly gravel and the terrain throughout the orchards can be uneven and steep in some areas. Wear sturdy shoes or sneakers. Handicap parking is available. Most restrooms are port-a-potties.
How To Get There: From Asheville head south on Interstate 26 for 26 miles. From Charlotte go west on US Hwy 74 for 103 miles and from Greenville, South Carolina, take US Hwy 25 north for 48 miles. All three points will lead you to the intersection of US Hwy 64 and I-26. All the apple farms listed are no more than 15 minutes in either direction from that point.Take the scenic back roads instead of the highways. It’s gorgeous, especially in the fall.