When you visit Hendersonville, North Carolina, an apple becomes much more than a tasty snack. Apple season in this Blue Ridge Mountain town means walking through rows of apple trees in the middle of an orchard, picking fruit straight from the branch, taking in mountain views that stretch far beyond the farm and making memories as a family.
Henderson County is the largest apple producer in North Carolina and the seventh-largest producer in the nation. In the past, orchards primarily sold to wholesale buyers, but today many orchards open to the public and allow visitors to pick their own apples.
The beginning of August signals the start of apple season. Honeycrisp, gala and McIntosh are some of the first varieties to ripen. Golden delicious, Jonagold and Granny Smith follow in September, while pink lady, Rome and Arkansas black take until October.
Just south of Hendersonville, Sky Top Orchard grows 22 varieties of apples on 100 acres atop Mount McAlpine. The lofty location provides long-range views that create a beautiful backdrop for the sloping fields. The orchard is a popular spot for family photos.
Customers pull wagons and tote baskets, loading them with red, green and yellow apples. Kids hurry to the next tree, searching for just the right one to pick. Hayrides full of all ages cruise through the farm, and passengers admire the barnyard sheep, goats, turkeys and ducks.
Sky Top’s large fruit stand stocks prepicked apples for sell, as well as jams, jellies and fresh-pressed cider. The made-while-you-watch apple cider doughnuts are a tradition that customers love.
Grandad’s Apples N’ Such also fries apple cider doughnuts in its onsite bakery. Customers grab a hot one and then snag a rocking chair on the back porch that overlooks the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge. Other delicacies include apple turnovers, fried apple pies, caramel apples and apple dumplings.
Grandad’s, a fourth-generation farm, has greatly expanded its agritourism offerings. Visitors can pick apples, choose a pumpkin from the patch, ride a cow train, bounce on a jump pillow, get lost in a corn maze and see barnyard animals.
Sky Top and Grandad’s are two of 20 stops along the Crest of the Blue Ridge Orchard Trail. The self-guided trail allows visitors to pick from farms, markets and roadside stands to build their own apple-country itinerary. Free brochures are available at the Hendersonville Visitor Center or online at www.VisitHendersonvilleNC.org.
The apple culture permeates downtown Hendersonville as well. A stop at the Henderson County Curb Market reveals vendors selling fresh apples, apple butter, dried apples and other goods. The market has been in operation since 1924. All sellers are Henderson County residents, and all products are locally grown or handmade. Specialty items include fresh cut flowers, hand-woven rugs, pen-and-ink drawings and all-natural soaps.
Another fun family activity is the Apple Quest scavenger hunt along Main Street. Created by a local Girl Scout troop, the search for bronze apples leads to interesting places and landmarks, such as the retro soda shop, history museum and general store. Brochures with clues are available at the Visitor Center. Hendersonville has one of the most welcoming Main Streets in the region with a curvilinear design and wide sidewalks. Trees and brick planters line the street, and fountains and public art dot several blocks. Downtown is full of retail shops, galleries and boutiques, and home to 25 independent restaurants. Families particularly enjoy the Main Street gem mine, aquarium and pinball museum.
Hendersonville’s abundant orchards make the area a prime location for the growing hard cider market. Three cideries now operate in the county. Bold Rock Hard Cider, the largest craft cidery in the country, opened a production facility and taproom in rural Mills River, just west of Hendersonville, in October 2015. Visitors may tour the apple pressing barn and cidery on Saturdays and Sundays. The taproom and cider garden maintain a family-friendly and dog-friendly atmosphere and often host concerts and events. Bold Bites, the cidery’s permanent food trailer, serves smoked meats and satisfying sides.
Old Orchard Tavern pays homage to the area’s apple heritage with its name and several dishes. Sliced local apples show up on the cheese board and in salads, and apple-cider-cured bacon completes the BLT and cheddar burger. The restaurant is located inside Cascades Mountain Resort. The locally owned hotel received a $4 million renovation in 2016. Improvements included installing a 110-foot indoor waterslide in the lobby pool area and outfitting the 100 guest rooms with new furnishings. The resort has quickly become a destination for families and large groups.
Booking a trip to Hendersonville apple country this fall is more than just another vacation. It’s an experience waiting to be shared with family and friends, and remembered long after the last apple is picked.