For a list of orchards spanning the four corners of the Twin Cities metro area, visit our FFTC Guide to Twin Cities Apple Orchards.
TWIN CITIES EAST METRO APPLE ORCHARDS
Our first installment of the Family Fun Twin Cities Apple Orchard Guide looks to the East. There are some heavy hitters out there: Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater has been open close to 70 years. Pine Tree Apple Orchard of White Bear Lake is well-known for its bakery menu. And Afton Apple Orchard of Hastings sprawls over 190 acres into the pastoral country. Read on to find out how they stack up – and why visiting an apple orchard is one of my family’s favorite ways to spend a fall day.
Aamodt’s Apple Farm | Stillwater
Choosing to head to Aamodt’s on a gorgeous fall weekend is also agreeing to spend that day shouldered up against half the Metro. Plus a bus tour or three. At least, this was our experience a few years ago. Part of the popularity of the orchard is due to the winery on property. Personally, I would have loved to explore St. Croix Vineyards, but the children in the party had other ideas. They made a break for the toddler-sized John Deere trikes and giant hay bales. But wait! Don’t forget to bring cash for the activities: Aamodt’s charges small fees for the trikes, hay maze, a tractor-pulled kiddie train, and hayrides into the orchard. (The fees don’t seem quite so small when you’ve got a larger-than-average family, however.) Admission to the orchard itself is free as is the small goat petting farm.
I can’t say I’m a fan of Aamodt’s pay-in-advance policy for apple picking. This is the only operation I’ve visited that charges $10 per bag before you’re admitted to the orchard. I understand the need to make a profit, but I’ve gone to plenty of orchards during a poor harvest season and chosen not to pick based on the quality of the apples. I wish Aamodt’s would re-think their policy. There are plenty of other ways to spend money in their orchards, including treating the family to lunch (I hear the apple brats are tasty) and treats in the big red barn.
Hours: Now open daily in August 2020, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Picking: Use this chart or call ahead (651.439.3127) to find out what varieties are available to pick. The picking season lasts only a few weeks, but the orchard harvests summer, fall & winter apples available for purchase in their retail shop.
Prices: Admission is free. A fee is levied for the following activities: hay bales/maze, John Deere trikes (free in August only! Otherwise, $1), the Honeycrisp Express train, wagon rides, and PYO apples. ACTIVITIES MAY BE ON HOLD FOR 2020.
Special Events: The annual Taste of Aamodt’s will be held mid-September.
Pine Tree Apple Orchard | White Bear Lake
Don’t come expecting to hit the orchard and pick yourself a peck of Zestars. The website is not technically misleading, but does not state that apples are strictly sold in their retail barn, displayed alongside a wealth of baked goods and other apple products. Strawberries are available for the picking in June, pumpkins are picked in October, but Pine Tree politely, though repeatedly, asks you to stay out of the apple orchard.
Which is something tough for my children to do. They love to spend a fall day wandering through an apple orchard and sizing up a good pick. Harvesting is half the fun. As a consolation, Pine Tree offers a very short “orchard trail” to walk with informational signs meant to teach about harvesting and such. Other educational opportunities exist inside the retail barn where my children could get up close to the processing of the apples.
We visited on a fall weekday when there were almost no other visitors to this pretty orchard on Pine Tree Lake.Weekends get hopping with families enjoying the live music, wagon and pony rides, corn maze and other various special events hosted by the orchard. Get the complete fall schedule here.
Hours: Open daily for apples August – February, weekends in March. Shop is open 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday – Friday (6 p.m. on weekends). Refer to the schedule of events or call ahead for outdoor activity times.
Picking: No PYO apples available at this orchard. PYO strawberries are available in June and a pumpkin patch is ready for the picking in October. See website for times.
Prices: Admission is free to the retail shop and grounds. There is an extra fee for the wagon & pony rides and for the corn maze.
Special Events: Scenic wagon rides and pony rides begin mid-September, and the corn maze opens closer to the end of the month.
Afton Apple Orchard | Hastings
A reasonable fee ($5 per person ages 5+ and $4 per child under 5) is charged immediately upon your arrival to Afton Apple Orchard. We find it nice to have that squared away, to know the children are now free to explore the very large, unique playground at will. Plan to park it there while the kids discover the “retread hill” (for the uninitiated, it’s a mountain of tires with tube slides running through it), swings, hay bales to climb, and a pretty decent petting farm.
Tractor hayrides out into the expanse of the orchards are also included in the admission fee. And – best of all – you’re not required to pre-purchase a bag for picking. This spared us mucho disappointment during a year of poor harvest. Instead, we put the money towards picking fall raspberries – and were super impressed with the quality of the crop.
Afton turned out to be our family’s favorite of the East Metro apple orchards. It was large enough to offer activities suited to each member of the family, but at no time did we feel like we were picking on top of our neighbor. When fall rolls around and a free weekend pops up on the calendar the vote’s unanimous — time to head to the orchard!
Hours: Now open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily. Call ahead to check hours and availability of apples and raspberries for picking (651.436.8385). Apple picking begins in August and lasts through October.
Picking: This mostly PYO operation charges by the number of pounds you pick. Raspberries are available for picking through mid-October.
Prices: A $5 admission fee is charged for those 5 years and up, $4 is charged for younger children. The cost covers all orchard activities except pick-your-own fruit. A 15-acre corn maze is also offered — find hours, prices and more information here.
Special Events: Afton Apple Orchard hosts their annual Apple Festival on these select dates.