Exploring the Farms and Orchards of Northwest Michigan this Fall
While growing up downstate in metro Detroit, a visit to a farm or orchard in the fall was an annual tradition involving a long car ride into the rural areas that ring the city. We climbed trees, picked fruit (often eating as much as we picked) and topped it off with cinnamon donuts fresh out of the fryer. We returned home with bags brimming with apples – tart and tangy, sweet and juicy. As is probably true for most of us, these fall farm adventures were some of the fondest memories of my youth.
Now that we live in Traverse City, a trip to a farm or orchard is no longer a “one and done” annual event. It’s more of a routine element of our weekly grocery shopping process. We’re fortunate to live within a few miles of farms and orchards filled with plants, bushes and trees heavily laden with fruits and vegetables. From u-pick farms to roadside stands, there’s no shortage of fresh, delicious produce available throughout the growing season. We enjoy planning meals based on what’s fresh at the moment, and the bounty of the autumn harvest is our favorite.
But while the food is great, these agricultural destinations – especially in the fall – offer up something even better. And that’s FUN. There are few better ways (yes, sorry, I’m already losing faith in our 1-2 Lions) to spend a Sunday in autumn than exploring the many farms and orchards in northern Michigan.
As with most things in life, however, the best part of a fall trip to a farm or orchard is not the stuff – the fruit, the cider, the donuts – you bring home, but rather the experiences you have and the memories you make while there. For our kids it’s an opportunity to play and explore, but also to witness and appreciate the hard work and creativity of the agri-artisans at work in our region.
Much like the young boy or girl who walks wide-eyed into the professional sports stadium for the first time and instantly wants nothing more than to wear the jersey himself or herself some day, our girls spent countless hours tending to their four foot by eight foot “farm” in our backyard this summer with visions of selling their wares at the farmer’s market. Spending time at a farm is a first-hand education for our kids about the love, stewardship, and dedication required to grow a crop.
The season has changed. Temperatures are dropping. It’s time to pull out the boots and the wool and head to the farm or orchard. Here are some of our favorites.
Gallagher’s Farm Market and Bakery
Gallagher’s Farm Market and Bakery has been family owned and operated by the Lammers family for 45 years. The farm offers fresh produce by season from June through October. Gallagher’s also offers several fall events, including a corn maze which is newly designed each year. It’s also a great place to pick pumpkins.
Gallagher’s is close to our house and so we spend quite a bit of time there. Our kids particularly enjoy checking out the farm animals, including goats, chickens, roosters, and pigs. Gallagher’s welcomes field trips and family outings, and encourages families and children to explore the farm.
7237 M-72 W
Traverse City, MI 49684
Jacob’s Farm is located right across the street from Gallagher’s and is another frequent farm destination of ours. It has been owned and operated by the Witkop family since 1892 – a Centennial Farm! This “self-serve” farm is open June through October and is a great place to pick and explore. Families can enjoy apple picking, horse-drawn wagon rides, a pumpkin patch, cider and donuts, and the farmer’s market.
The main attraction each fall is Jacob’s corn maze. This year’s theme is Mt. Everest, and the 10-acre corn maze will have you believing you are lost in its snowy peaks. Also, for those daring enough, they offer flashlight nights – you can view the maze at night by just the light of a flashlight, after 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. For those with young kids like us, there is also a kids’ corn maze that takes around a half an hour to complete.
We recently spent a great day at Jacob’s picking apples (Honeycrisp and Gala), peaches, nectarines and raspberries, and finished off our day with some warm cinnamon donuts.
7100 East Traverse Hwy (M-72 W)
Traverse City, MI 49684
(231) 632-MAZE (6293)
Hoxsie’s Farm Market
Hoxsie’s Farm Market is a you-pick pumpkin and apple farm. Wagon rides (on weekends) will transport you to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard, where you can choose from a large variety of pumpkins and apples. Hoxsie’s also offers a 4-acre corn maze which has a scavenger hunt and prize at the end.
We’ve been to Hoxsie’s a number of times, and while the kids love it, I always jump at the opportunity to man the apple canon. For a few bucks you get a container of apples to load into into the cannon, and launch them one by one, aiming at giant targets situated 200 feet away. It’s a blast!
6578 M-72 E
Williamsburg, MI 49690
(231) 267-9087 or (231) 267- 5264
Pond Hill Farm
Pond Hill Farm is nestled in the countryside and has beautiful views of Lake Michigan from its location north of Harbor Springs. This farm opens its barn year-round to and offers visitors the opportunity to feed the goats, pigs, sheep, chickens, and geese. Visitors can also take a hike through the woods and the open fields, or visit the farm store – which is well-stocked with delicious goodies. For a quiet evening out, Pond Hill also offers gourmet, farm-to-table meals.
We most recently visited Pond Hill on our drive back to Traverse City from a June camping trip in the U.P. It was our first visit since Pond Hill’s new beer tasting room opened, which serves a variety of specially crafted beers. And, of course, we took a few turns on the squash rocket – a massive slingshot that allows you to launch fruits and vegetables into the fields for the animals.
5699 S. Lakeshore Dr.
Harbor Springs, MI 49740
Rennie Orchards has been family owned and operated since 1938. It was originally founded as a potato farm, but now offers a variety of fruit picking, including apricots, pears, and 19 different kinds of apples. Don’t miss out on a scenic hay wagon ride around the orchard. Rennie also features a hay bale maze that is geared for smaller kids, as opposed to the larger corn maze. You can also take a ride out to the log cabin and teepee to explore a bit of history.
11221 Munro Road
(231) 264-8387 or (231) 313-7847
Take a drive up to Central Lake to enjoy the colorful views of Torch Lake and spend the afternoon apple picking at family owned and operated King Orchards. You can choose from 12 different varieties of apples including heritage apples, which are old varieties that have remained popular over time. You-pick is also available for raspberries and plums. Don’t forget to leave with a gallon of their unpasteurized apple cider, which is homemade from a rack and cloth cider press!
4620 Michigan Hwy 88
Central Lake, MI 49622
Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch
Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch is open every day during the month of October. Heather stopped at Pahl’s for the first time this past weekend while driving the kids home from a trip to Grand Rapids. As you can probably tell from the photos, everyone had a great time!
Pahl’s offers pumpkins of all sizes that you and your little ones can pick on your own. The farm features a fun barrel train ride for kids that loops around the farm. Kids can also enjoy pony rides, wagon rides, a corn maze and the farm animals. One of the highlights of this farm is the goat walk, which is the largest goat walk in northern Michigan.
11168 N. M37
Buckley, MI 49620