Scenic orchards, new varieties and more in our guide to where to pick-your-own apples across Canada this fall
From Nova Scotia to Ontario to the Okanagan Valley, here are just a handful of places to fill your basket
Apple picking is one of those iconic early autumn activities that also happens to be fairly affordable, highly photogenic, and fun for the whole family. Plus, many of the most popular farms also offer value-added attractions such as fresh-baked goods, hay mazes, petting zoos, and tractor rides. So even if you're not planning to pick enough fruit for a dozen pies, there are plenty of great reasons to make a countryside pick-your-own excursion in the coming weeks.
Below, I've put together a short list (by no means comprehensive!) of some of the most interesting, family-friendly farms across Canada where you can pick a large variety of apples this season. Many of them do charge an admission fee or ask for a minimum spend per person, but the amount is generally justified by the number of extra activities offered on site during harvest season. And of course, there are still farms that are free to enter, where you'll simply pay for your haul by the pound, or by the bag.
Before you head out to one of these orchards, or another great local farm, here are a few apple picking tips and trends to note from Ontario farmer and apple expert Tom Chudleigh.
How to pick an apple properly
"To pick an apple, turn the eye to the sky," advises Chudleigh. "The bottom of the apple goes up to the top, separates off the stem, and leaves the fruit bud that's right beside that apple intact for next year." He also strongly advises against picking unripe fruit—which apparently happens more often than you would think—as the flavour won't be fully developed and it won't taste as it's supposed to.
The new varieties to know
One of the joys of apple picking is discovering and tasting new and niche varieties that are simply not available at the grocery store. "We have Silken and Creston as two new varieties, [and] about three apples here on the farm that haven't been named yet but they're excellent apples," says Chudleigh.
Why you probably won't see many red delicious apples
"There are so many new apple varieties available," says Chudleigh. "When a person has a choice of all these new apples, the Red Delicious variety has too much competition. It's old and not an exciting new apple, and it can get mealy in taste if it's not stored properly." Spartan apples have also declined in popularity recently, according to Chudleigh, who adds that Gala and Honeycrisp apples are not even considered new anymore.
THE apple for baking
If you're planning to simply eat the apples off the tree, you can pick the varieties based on your own flavour, size, and colour preferences. However, for pies and other baked goods Chudleigh highly recommends Northern Spy specifically. "We've used it for 40-odd years in our baking products here, and there's no question it's #1," he says. "Baking apples hold their texture when baked and don't melt down into apple sauce and overflow the pie and blacken the oven."
Vista Bella Farm, Malagash, N.S.
Vista Bella, also home to Malagash Cidery, grows over 100 varieties of apples — including 41 that are available to pick — on the Malagash Peninsula of Nova Scotia. Some varieties at the farm are 800 years old, and available for picking are a few varieties that date from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Dempsey Corner Orchards, Aylesford, N.S.
This popular farm in Nova Scotia's Northumberland Shore region boasts 57(!) varieties of apples, and other crops such as potatoes and plums. Plus, there's the opportunity to try your hand at bottle-feeding baby goats, gathering eggs, and snuggling cute farm animals.
Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, Saint-Pierre-Île-d'Orléans, Que.
There are dozens of cideries and orchards on beautiful Île d'Orléans near Quebec City, and one of the most popular "U-pick" apple destinations is Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, which has been open to the public since the mid '80s. There's a small petting zoo, and unique local condiments such as Maple Jelly and Hazelnut-and-Apple-Syrup-Mustard for sale.
Vergers et Cidrerie Denis Charbonneau, Mont St. Grégoire, Que.
A short drive south of Montréal, this cidery and orchard sells 19 varieties of apples, including lesser-seen ones such as Vista Bella and Gingergold, alongside other autumn fruit such as pumpkins, pears and plums. There's a restaurant serving traditional Breton crepes, and adults can grab a few bottles of the cidery's ice and rosé sparkling ciders to go.
Potager Mont-Rouge Halte Gourmande, Rougemont, Que.
You'll find everything from homemade doughnuts to cute alpacas and a tractor-pulled wagon at this farm near Montreal. In September, other crops available for picking at the farm include tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and eggplants.
Carl Laidlaw Orchards, Brampton, Ont.
This orchard, open only on weekends and holiday Mondays in September and October, grows over 20 varieties of apples for picking. There's a hay barn, orchard wagon rides, a pumpkin patch, and fields of sunflowers to see.
Chudleigh's, Halton Hills, Ont.
Since 1967, this Milton-area farm has been a pick-your-own favourite. This year, there are 19 apple varieties to choose from, live music performances, pony rides for little ones, a hay maze, and four 20-foot slides for the adventurous.
Apple Land Station, Dorchester, Ont.
This London-area farm offers several varieties of apples for picking, but it's one-of-a-kind attractions like the half-scale 1850 L-Train replica and a 500 dump truck-sized sand mountain that makes Apple Land Station stand out. Of course, there is also a corn maze, barn full of farm animals, and pumpkin patch to visit.
Taves Family Farms Applebarn, Abbotsford, B.C.
This family-owned Fraser Valley farm offers U-pick and pre-picked apples alongside kid-friendly attractions such as a corn maze, pumpkin patch, pedal cars and a farm-animal petting barn. The farm also sells honey and apple cider, and you can see both products get produced on site.
Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.