It's officially fall, which means you need a pumpkin to carve and a fridge full of apples to bake into a pie — stat! Luckily, Chicago is surrounded by a wealth of amazing family-owned farms that are bona fide wonderlands for apple picking, gourd buying, cider drinking and more. From the pumpkin patch featuring one of Illinois' largest corn mazes to the apple orchard geared toward adults (hello, date spot), here's where you should be heading this season. And, surprise — some of them are right here within city limits! Forget summer lovin'! Autumn's where it's at.
Photo: Courtesy of Kroll's Fall Harvest Farm.
All Seasons Orchard
Hop on a wagon at this Woodstock orchard to get to thousands of apple trees ripe for the picking with nearly a dozen varieties at different times of the year. (This weekend, pick Liberty, Golden Delicious, and Jonagold, plus Asian pears!) You can also get your gourd on at All Seasons' pumpkin patch. Adventurers will be psyched to dive into a corn maze with more than three miles of pathways — we say grab a partner and challenge him or her to a creative fall date.
All Seasons Orchard, 14510 Route 176, (Woodstock); 815-338-5637.
Honey Hill Orchard
This family-owned orchard was started as a hobby in 1965. Today, the grounds have more than 2,500 trees! Right now, pick Cortland, Jonagold, Empire, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious apples, plus juicy raspberries and all sizes of pumpkins. The Orchard Bakery offers piping-hot donuts, and the Country Store, housed in an early 1900s barn, sells everything, from honey harvested from Honey Hill's 20 beehives to sweet cider made from several apple varieties. Happy sipping!
Honey Hill Orchard, 11783 Waterman Rd, (Waterman); 815-264-3337.
Royal Oak Farm Orchard
More than 15,000 apple trees, apple cider slushees, and an apple-tree maze? Sign us up for a trip to Royal Oak, a beautiful 120-acre property in northern Illinois. After you've filled your bag, move on to the pick-your-own raspberry bushes or mosey over to the pumpkin patch to grab the perfect gourd. We were tempted by the saplings for sale at Royal Oak's nursery (a backyard apple tree sounds pretty nice!), but in the end, stuck to the apple-cider doughnuts and called it a day.
Royal Oak Farm Orchard, 15908 Hebron Road, (Harvard); 815-648-4141. Closed Sundays.
Photo: Courtesy of Kroll's Fall Harvest Farm.Kroll's Fall Harvest Farm
Loyal visitors praise this pumpkin patch for reasonable prices — you can get a whopper pumpkin for less than $10 — and its friendly family-owned vibe. Before browsing the selection of pumpkins, gourds, and mini pumpkins, go on a hay ride, feed the farm's goats (bring quarters for the food), grab a glazed pumpkin doughnut or find your way through the enormous corn maze, cut into a different pattern each year.
Kroll's Fall Harvest Farm, 13236 West Town Line Road, (Waukegan); 847-662-5733.
Surprise: You don't have to leave city limits to go pumpkin picking (and we're not talking about grabbing one from the outdoor shelves at Jewel). Pumpkins Chicago is a bona fide city pumpkin patch right on Clark Street, just a few blocks from Wrigley Field. You'll find monster pumpkins, mini pumpkins, pie pumpkins, white pumpkins, and pumpkin carving kits — plus free parking, which is a true Halloween miracle. Carving parties (they provide setup and all necessary materials) are $10 a person.
Pumpkins Chicago, 3456 North Clark Street (at Newport Avenue); 773-388-2500.
Stade's Farm & Market
Two words: pumpkin cannon. Watch this YouTube video of Stade's mega cannon launching a gourd across a field and tell us you don't want to see it for yourself. Of course, that's just one part of the farm's legendary Shades of Autumn fall festival, an annual tradition since 1995. Other highlights: hayrides, a petting zoo, a corn maze, tractor-tire swings, a giant slide, a giant sandbox, a kiddie zip-line, and a field with pumpkins as far as the eye can see. Pick your favorite and head to the market and bakery to pick up a freshly fried doughnut or some savory home cooking.
Stade's Farm & Market, 3709 West Miller Road, (McHenry); 815-675-6396.
Green City Market
Summer may be over, but this twice-a-week Lincoln Park farmers' market continues its outdoor season until October 26 (after that, hit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for the weekly winter indoor market). Find plenty of pumpkins among the farm-fresh selection of fruits, veggies, meats, poultry, and flowers, brought straight to Green City from dozens of Chicago-area farms.
Green City Market, 1790 North Clark Street (at Menomonee Street); 773-880-1266.