Apple picking is one of those fall activities that never grow old. Senior food editor Amy Traverso shares her list of the best apple orchards in New England.
By Amy Traverso
Aug 15 2022
Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, VT | Best Apple Orchards in New EnglandPhoto Credit : SP Reid/Courtesy of Champlain Orchards
Late summer and early autumn is a magical time of year for many reasons, but one of our favorite traditions is the annual trek into the orchard to gather up as many apples as we can carry. Looking for a few good places to pick? Amy Traverso, Yankee senior food editor and author of the award-winning The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, shares her list of best apple orchards for the best apple picking in New England.
First, a caveat: there are hundreds of wonderful orchards in every corner of New England offering not just fresh fruit but everything from cider donuts to hay rides to pumpkins. But as a lover of apple history and diversity, Amy frequents the following spots for the sheer variety of apples on offer—more than 100 different cultivars in some cases. “In the early 1900s, the USDA surveyed apple growers around the country and counted about 14,000 different varieties in production,” she says. “Since then, that number has shrunk dramatically. But these orchards keep this history alive in every sense.”
The apple harvest runs through early November, so don’t miss your chance to seize the season.
The view from Alyson’s hilltop orchards is a close second to the one at Gould Hill Farm, with long views to the west toward Vermont. The orchard is run by Homer Dunn, a true-blue New Englander who takes tremendous pleasure and pride in his fruit. He grows all the regular favorites but has a soft spot for rare heirlooms like Ashmead’s Kernel, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Belle de Boskoop, Reine des Reinettes, and Esopus Spitzenburg. The orchard (which also grows peaches, plums, nectarines, and berries) spreads over 450 acres and there’s a seasonal farm stand, plus family-friendly entertainment on weekends. One visit and you’ll see why it’s one of our favorite apple orchards in NH.
Is this the most beautiful orchard setting in New England? We certainly haven’t seen another one that matches its 75-mile view, which can spread as far as the White Mountains, making it a natural fit for our list of the best apple orchards in New England. It’s worth coming back just for that. You can also make a project of tasting the seventy-plus apple varieties that Tim and Amy Bassett now grow. One variety particular is worth noting: Hampshire, a tree that sprang up from seed on this very farm and, with its abundant juice and rich flavor, makes a great pie. There’s also live music, a pumpkin patch, a farm store with cider donuts, and a charming little nature museum.
Steve Wood and Louisa Spencer operate two businesses on this beautiful hilltop farm overlooking the Connecticut River Valley: Poverty Lane Orchards, where they grow dozens of antique and unusual apple varieties, and Farnum Hill Ciders, where they make complex ciders from the aforementioned apples. Both are worth exploring for their nuance and quality, whether in the pick-your-own orchards or in the farm stand/tasting room.
This family-owned farm overlooking Lake Champlain is one of the oldest continuously operating orchards in Vermont. Bill Suhr and Andrea Scott grow more than 100 varieties of apples, along with berries and stone fruits, and do so using Integrated Pest Management techniques that minimize the use of pesticides (eight acres are also certified organic). You can stop by the farm’s market, where you’ll find a range of Vermont-grown-and-made products, or pick your own. Can’t make it to Shoreham? You can also enjoy Champlain’s apple and cider tastings at festivals and farmers’ markets around the state. An added bonus: their website offers a wonderfully comprehensive guide to each variety, organized by best uses.
This 626-acre property, owned by the non-profit Landmark Trust USA, produces more than 130 varieties of “ecologically grown,” low-spray heirloom and unusual apples, such as Roxbury Russet, Belle de Boskoop, Winter Banana, and Hidden Rose. It also served as the primary location for the filming of the movie Cider House Rules. There are classes on pruning and grafting, apple pie baking, hard cider making. And you can rent any of several historic structures on the property for a weekend getaway—including Rudyard Kipling’s estate, Naulakha, where he wrote “The Jungle Book.”
Six generations, 18 acres, 1200 trees, 57 varieties. These numbers form the broad outline of the Cayford operation, but for Jason and Heather Davis, now in their third decade of running the farm, this work is rooted in a passion for preserving their family’s heritage as well as that of the apple itself. Unlike some of our favorite farms, which more recently swapped out rows of Red Delicious and McIntosh for heirlooms, the Davises found many surviving antique trees on the property when they set out to revive it in the early 1990s. So they tended to those and added a few more and soon had customers young and old asking for the old apples in addition to Cortlands and Honeycrisp.
With gorgeous views of the White Mountains and more than 50 varieties on offer, Pietree is a pick-your-own dream. Sample apples you’ve probably never tried before: Dudley Winter, Black Oxford, Antonovka (a Russian heirloom). Or, stick with your usual favorites: Cortland, Empire, Honeycrisp. The farm stand has donuts, baked goods, and fresh produce and local grains, and the wood-fired oven turns out delicious bubbling pizzas.
This is not your typical pick-your-own orchard, but it’s well worth a mention on a list of the best apple orchards in New England and, for passionate enthusiasts, maybe even a visit during the off-season. Why? Because it belongs to John Bunker, the self-described “fruit explorer” who has devoted four decades of his life to tracking down rare and unusual apple varieties and preserving and propagating them all over the state, including here at his own farm. His orchards are a living catalog of global apple varieties, and Mainers have come to savor these fruits through the “Out on a Limb” heirloom apple CSA he operates each fall, with multiple pick-up locations from Portland to Mt. Desert.
Red Apple Farm, run by fourth-generation farmer Al Rose, offers the full gamut of apple orchard attractions (a farm stand, weekend barbecues, hayrides, cider donuts and fudge, farm animals to pet) while also operating a diverse horticultural program with more than fifty apple varieties, from Arkansas Black to Roxbury Russet. Right by the entrance, you’ll find an apple tree that has been grafted with nearly all fifty of the farm’s varieties sprouting off a single trunk—a spectacular sight that alone is worth the trip, and easily makes Red Apple Farm one of our favorite apple orchards in Massachusetts.
Tom and Ben Clark, the father-son team behind Clarkdale farm, are two of the most personable growers you’d ever hope to meet. But that is just one of the charms of this hilly parcel located just off the Mohawk Trail. True apple aficionados, the Clarks replant about five percent of their orchard every year, adding 19th-century heirlooms, along with popular modern cultivars like Honeycrisp and Suncrisp, to their collection. Currently, they offer about 60 different apple varieties, but that number grows each year. At the farm’s rustic store, you’re invited to taste unfamiliar cultivars and ask about their best uses (the pick-your-own operation is limited to McIntosh trees). And don’t forget to pick up a gallon of Clarkdale’s excellent pear and apple ciders.
Set in a historic region for fruit production in New England, this beautiful winery/restaurant/wedding destination is also home to acres of pick-your-own Cortland, McIntosh, and Roxbury Russet trees, as well as a spectacular antique apple orchard stocked with rare finds like Pink Pearl, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Esopus Spitzenburg—nearly 100 in all. You do need to make an appointment to pick from the antique orchard, but all it takes is a phone call. Tack a wine tasting and dinner at J’s Restaurant onto your day and you have the makings of a harvest festival.
Where else can you find one of New England’s most beautiful beaches within a five minute drive of an apple orchard? Take a walk on Crane Beach, then head down to the road to this idyllic farm where the Russell family has nurtured 120 acres of apples, pears, berries, stone fruits, grapes, and vegetables for more than forty years. There are more than 30 varieties of apple available, including Northern Spy, Gravenstein, and Baldwin, as well as modern favorites like Honeycrisp. Shop the sprawling farm stand and grab a from-scratch cider donut and cider slushy, say hello to the farm animals, and sample some of the Russell’s award-wining ice cider.
Belltown may not grow as many unusual varieties as others on this list, but it is one of the most beautiful orchards in the state, spreading out over a landscape of gently rolling hills. Hop on a hayride to pick your share of Macouns, Jonagolds, and Cortlands, pick up a pie at the farm stand, and don’t miss the irresistible apple fritters, Belltown’s signature alternative to the usual cider donuts.
Antique apples are the focus of this family-farm operation, though you’ll also find popular newcomers like Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Gala. But why settle for the familiar when you can try Gravenstein, Seek-No-Further, and Sheepnose? There are thirty-four varieties in all, some dating as far back as the 1700s, which also happens to be when Jonathon Hurlbut founded the farm on a land grant from King George II. You’ll also find corn, zinnias, and other produce, not to mention fields of grazing sheep, but their commitment to preserving heritage apples makes it a favorite. The farm doesn’t allow customers to pick their own apples (though summer visitors can pick blueberries), but the charming farm store is a lovely place to shop.
Greg and Katy Ostheimer grow more than eighty varieties of apple on Aquidneck Island. Among the dozens of cultivars available at this pick-your-own farm (open weekends only) is Rhode Island Greening, Little Rhody’s own namesake apple, which was first discovered near Newport (not far from Rocky Brook) in the mid-1600s. Terrific in pies, it has a tart-sweet, lemony flavor and, true to its name, bright green skin.
What tops your list of the best apple orchards in New England? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2012 and has been updated.