Great Destinations for Fall Bumper Crops
Fall harvest drives offer delightful surprises in the Northwest. Taste your way through the day and load the car with ripe fruit to bring home, or bring the kids on a weekend trip that promises bushels of fun.
Fall is a time to slow down, look around and enjoy. Once kids return to school, roads become meditative ribbons of beauty as you take in changing colors and embark on mini-adventures. Crisp mornings and the hazy autumn sun add to the joys of discovering farm-fresh apples, pears, pumpkins, pies — even pizzas — at roadside stands and country markets.
The Northwest yields a bounty of sights and flavors. The Green Bluff Growers’ Association near Spokane offers dozens of family farms to visit. The Hood River Fruit Loop features farm stands backed by majestic Mount Hood. And the Marion Farm Loop near Salem, Oregon, boasts wineries as well as winsome produce stands.
Add in a bumper crop of harvest festivals and standout destination farms, and it’s clear that fall in the Northwest is ideal for foodies and families who love road trips.
Where Apples Are Bountiful
In the foothills of Mount Spokane, the Green Bluff Growers’ Association is an easy 30-minute drive north of Spokane on Highway 2. From Highway 2, head east onto East Day Mount Spokane Road. Soon you will be surrounded by more than three dozen farms and farm stands. Green Bluff’s Apple Festival from mid-September through October is a community-wide affair with live music, kids’ activities, craft booths, crop mazes and more beyond each farm gate.
Walters’ Fruit Ranch is among Green Bluff’s best-loved farms, in part for its adorable, miniature Icelandic sheep.
“My wife picked up a few sheep at the fair, and now we have 11, including five babies this year,” Jason Morrell says while tending his spread, which he calls the home of the ‘bend-over peach.’ “When you take a bite, you have to bend over, because it’s so juicy.”
U-pick peaches are still available through mid-September, with apples — Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Empire and 20 other varieties — following close behind. Walters’ housemade take-and-bake pies (peach-huckleberry, apricot and caramel-apple, to name a few) are a great way to extend the experience.
Siemers Farm makes tangy-sweet apple cider and offers local honey and jams in addition to farm-grown produce. They are also home to Castle Pizza and up the ante on festival weekends with inflatable playhouses, arts and craft vendors and live music. Other places to fuel your Apple Festival fun are at the Green Bluff Grange all-you-can-eat Sunday pancake breakfasts.
A Fruitful Excursion
The 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop — through fields, farmlands and forests — is a slice of Americana, with quaint country stores and more than two dozen Oregon farms to explore. To experience the Loop, head south out of Hood River on Highway 35, then return by taking Highway 281 north. In fall, this route is ablaze with golden cottonwoods, maples and alders. Plan for a half-day to experience the loop, with surprises around every bend.
One pleasant surprise is Packer Orchards and Bakery. They are famous for their apple-cinnamon and pumpkin-cinnamon rolls. This fourth-generation family farm has been around for over 100 years.
“No preservatives, no artificial flavors. We still hand-make everything,” says Tammi Packer, who with Larry Packer and their three children grow tons of Anjou pears. “And everything we make includes something we grow.”
The Packers use pear concentrate to reduce the sugar in the baked goods they offer in the Farm Place, where you can find sunshine in a jar: jams made onsite from the farm’s fruit, including unusual combinations such as spiced vanilla pear and apricot-jalapeño.
Deeper into the Hood River Valley, Mt. View Orchards lives up to its name. Beyond rows of pastel-colored dahlias stretching into the distance, Mount Hood rises like a giant, froth-topped wave. This stop near Parkdale is as much an Instagram hit as it is a fruit hit, with 120 varieties of apples, 15 types of pears, and u-pick opportunities for peaches, plums, pluots and more during September. October brings sweet corn, quince, squash — and on Saturdays — free hayrides.
In addition to produce, Mt. View Orchards now sells products from their brewery and winery, including beer, wine, hard seltzer and hard cider. Reservations are required for the onsite Grateful Vineyards tasting room and can be made online.
Farther south in Oregon, the Marion Farm Loop offers a scenic drive through pastoral farmland in the Salem area, with more than 20 gardens, farms, farm markets and wineries. This 120-mile loop from St. Paul in the north to Jefferson in the south offers exceptional views of lush farmland enfolded by the mountains of the Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Range to the east.
Minto Island Growers organic vegetable farm just south of Salem is one of the only farms in the nation growing tea plants. Co-owners Chris Jenkins and Elizabeth Miller sell green, black and oolong tea at their farm stand in the midst of their vegetable fields. Their food cart utilizes farm-fresh produce in milkshakes, wood-fired pizzas, salads and sandwiches. The farm stand and food cart are open through the end of September. Private tours of the tea garden can be reserved online for groups of 10 or more to walk among the sturdy, glossy-leafed tea plants.
North of Salem, yet more flavors are in store at E.Z. Orchards Farm Market, a family-owned farm that grows pears, apples, hazelnuts and peaches used for their highly sought-after peach shortcake (available from mid-July to early September). Beginning in mid-September fresh apple-cider and pumpkin and apple-cider flavored doughnuts become available. The fourth-generation farm’s annual Harvest Fest typically runs weekends from late September through October, celebrating the season with a corn maze, pumpkin patch, petting zoo, live music, and hayrides. The E.Z. Orchards Farm Market is open year-round.
Mother Nature operates on her own timetable, so when planning your farm-country drive, call ahead to make sure the fruits and veggies you’re looking forward to will be available.
But no matter where you choose to aim your car, a fall road trip is a spectacular — and delicious — journey of the senses.
More Fall Activities
Fall is harvest festival time throughout the Northwest. Here are our top picks for the whole family:
- An additional Green Bluff’s event north of Spokane is the Harvest Festival at Beck’s Harvest House on dates in September and October, which offers a giant corn maze, fresh-picked pumpkins, pumpkin doughnuts and live music.
- In northwest Washington, between Lynden and Bellingham, Bellewood Farms has over 30 acres of apple orchards, a farm store, bakery, café and distillery. Their Harvest Festival in September and October features apple bin train tours, a corn maze and apple-cider doughnuts.
- On the Hood Canal, half an hour’s drive north from Olympia, Washington, enjoy Hunter Farms’ Pumpkin Patch during October.
- Half an hour south of Portland, Bauman’s Harvest Festival at Bauman’s Farm & Garden features fresh produce, cider and baked goods along with a petting zoo, corn maze and kids’ play area starting in late September and in October.
–Written by Leslie Forsberg, last updated September 2022
–This story originally appeared in AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.