There’s a place in Northern California where apple-growing is practically a religion — and eating one is the best way to worship.
The place is called Apple Hill and it’s located in the Sierra foothills, a few miles east of Placerville. From Fallon, the drive via U.S. 50 takes about three hours. Exit at Camino (the sign also says Apple Hill Drive).
While the Apple Hill region grows a variety of produce year-round, including some delicious nectarines and peaches in the summer, apples are the main attraction. The best time to visit Apple Hill is during the harvest season, from September to December.
There is nothing quite like a cold glass of fresh-squeezed apple juice or cider. Thick and a little cloudy, the apple elixir is sweet, rich and filled with the memories of autumn — like jumping into a pile of just-raked leaves or walking through a field of bright orange, vine-ripened pumpkins.
The Apple Hill region is not just one big round hill. Actually, it is a string of nearly 50 apple ranches located on a mountain ridge. The Apple Hill scenic route, which is marked with distinctive red and green signs, follows the original Pony Express trail that, in the 1860s, passed through here on its way from Sacramento to St. Joseph, Mo.
The ride is pleasant and relaxing, taking you through lush pine forests and rolling hills of apple orchards. Almost every orchard operates some type of retail outlet that sells a wide array of incredible edibles such as homemade apple donuts, fresh apple juice, apple butter, apple jelly, apple wine and, of course, apple pie.
The pie is worthy of special mention. The closest thing to heaven on earth may be a piece of Apple Hill fresh apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, covered with a hot apple-cinnamon sauce.
High Hill Ranch (2901 High Hill Road) on the Carson Road loop (the main road through the region) is one of the most popular apple ranches in the area. Here, you can find many varieties of apples at good prices as well as a stocked trout pond for fishing, a large craft fair, picnic tables, a barbecue pit and an indoor snack bar with burgers and plenty of apple food options.
High Hill Ranch also offers pony rides on weekends, a fudge shop and tours of an apple press with an opportunity to sip a cup of fresh-squeezed cider at the end of the tour.
Many ranches, including Honey Bear Ranch (2826 Barkley Road), Kids Inc. (3205 N. Canyon Road), the El Dorado Orchard (2881 N. Canyon Road) and the Boa Vista Ranch (2952 Carson Road) offer craft booths that sell handmade items ranching from redwood clocks to dried apple dolls.
Honey Bear also boasts a restaurant, bake shop, fudge kitchen, general store and live music on weekends while the El Dorado Orchard has a kid-sized train ride and Kids Inc. offers a petting zoo with farm animals.
One ranch, Bolster’s Hilltop Ranch (2000 Larsen Drive) specializes in blueberries (as well as offering apples). From June to August, you can pick your own blueberries.
Nearly all of the ranches have some type of bake shop selling their prepared apple wares as well as picnic tables under trees that make for a nice place to enjoy an outdoor snack or any of the many varieties of apple pie, streudel, cake, turnovers or fritters.
In several places, such as Denver Dan’s Apple Patch, Patrick’s Berry Farm, Goyette’s North Canyon Ranch and Argyres Orchard, visitors can pick their own apples. There, you just pay for a bucket and wander out into the orchards to pick some winesaps, pippins or gravensteins.
To provide you with an idea of where the ranches are located in the region, the apple growers have produced an informative map. A pdf of the map can be found at: http://applehill.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/AppleHill2018MapWeb.pdf.
Additionally, in December, just after the conclusion of the apple season, the Apple Hill area again bustles with folks eager to cut their own Christmas trees. The region boasts more than dozen Christmas tree farms that allow you to choose and cut your own tree.
For information about the area, go to www.applehill.com.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.