There’s something about the slight change in October temperatures that habitually coincides with images of toasty beverages, knit sweaters, and fresh baked desserts. It’s for these precise reasons that countless Sacramentans make their annual pilgrimage to Apple Hill. And it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about. With its rolling green ridges, miles of orchards, and the scent of apple doughnuts, pies, or cider at nearly every twist and turn, this quaint mountain destination is full of Instagramable moments.
But as with any popular locale, crowds and traffic can quickly diminish the anticipating excitement felt as day’s start. The farms and roads along Carson and especially near the 5-Mile Road exit are infamously congested this time of year. So, for a less crowded still-busy-but-not-packed experience, try driving the couple extra miles up the highway to the Cedar Grove exit and hang a left to get to another Apple Hill treasure trove: Larsen Drive.
Here the road is not necessarily off the beaten path, but is definitely the road less traveled by Apple Hill goers. There’s more to Larsen Drive, though, than simply a gratifying lack of vehicles. It doesn’t take long to realize that the farms here are no less seasoned at pleasing the masses than at the more visited farms, and that it is the dedicated people working tirelessly behind cider cranks and cash registers that make this place so special.
We suggest starting at Rainbow Orchards. Not only will you find an on-site cider mill, a bakeshop (with fresh apple donuts, of course), and a barn full of fruits, pumpkins, and squash, but also an unexpected non-apple treat. Here Miss Edie, with her hand-stitched apple apron and red bandanna, hand dips each and every one of their extremely popular house-made corn dogs. With a deep fried sweetness and savory taste, the corn dogs are not to be missed, especially when received by a smiling face behind a long-anticipated counter.
For a slice of heaven after lunch at Rainbow, make your next stop Larsen Apple Barn, the longest family-owned farm in Apple Hill with roots that date back to the 1860s. Look for a kind soul handing out samples of apple varieties offered at this historic establishment for recommendations of precisely which are best for baking, ciders, and snacking. The Apple Hill veteran we spoke to slipped us each a sliver of her favorite golden pear as if she were sneakily passing notes in an elementary class. Not surprisingly, few people were seen leaving the barn without armfuls of produce and fresh-pressed ciders.
On the next stop down Larsen Drive you’ll meet Mike Semer and Marley Coody at Jack Russell Brewery. Mike offers a rare occasion on which visitors might not even notice the full parking lot. Marley, daughter of owner David Coody and a “Jane of all trades”, also demonstrates friendly enthusiasm. Her uncanny knowledge of the brewery’s liquid refreshments makes it easy to enjoy any beverage.
Recommendations? Try the Mourvèdre Red or the Apple Ale for a seasonal treat with a grown-up kick. And if that doesn’t sound like your thing, there’s plenty more to choose from. In short, Jack Russell is one watering hole that is definitely worth stopping.
Those are just a few of the stops Apple Hill’s less traveled roads offer. There are countless others, too many to list, that will make your visit to Apple Hill as unforgettable as a Nat King Cole ballad. So perhaps on your next visit, it might enhance the experience to check out the other farms that make Apple Hill so popular.
And don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the personal love and care that goes into every moment in this place that is so special to our area. A backwards route might also land future visitors in similarly unforgettable situations.