Fall in Chicagoland is magical. The air is extra crisp, the leaves on the trees turn incredible shades of yellow, orange and red, and it is apple-picking season! Each year, we drive out into the country to visit an apple farm. Typically, we go to a farm near Woodstock, IL because it is closer to the city and with a young toddler, less driving time was important. This year, they did not have many varieties of apples left by mid-October when we had time to go, so we looked elsewhere, and we are glad we did! Royal Oak Farm Orchard is located in Hebron, IL, which is north of Woodstock very close to the Wisconsin border. There is no fast way to get there from the northwest suburbs- any route involves taking increasingly narrow roads through Illinois farm country, but it is a lovely drive through fields, trees, and gentle rolling hills. It took us a little over an hour to reach the farm from Schaumburg, IL.
This farm and orchard had a wide variety of apples available for picking, although some varieties were right at the end of their picking season so they were less crunchy than we prefer. On their website at http://www.royaloakfarmorchard.com/, their apple picking guide gives a rundown of which apples are available throughout the season. They also have handy picking guides at the farm with a map of the orchard, characteristics of each apple, and what part of the season they are available. This definitely helped us figure out where to go in the orchard.
We appreciated the system that Royal Oak Farm used for apple picking and the extras- carousel, train rides, orchard tours, etc. Apple picking could either be purchased on its own with 1/2 peck bags for adults and 1/4 peck bags for kids, or can be purchased with tokens. Tokens were $50/20 tokens, or could be purchased for $3/each. Apple picking was 4 tokens/adult, with kids 5 and under free. Orchard tours were 2 tokens, the apple maze was 2 tokens, and carousel and train rides were 1 token. We found that we were able to do everything we wanted, and get an extra 1/2 peck of apples with our 20 tokens. Other places just charge a flat fee for apple picking and unlimited barnyard fun, but it ends up costing much more. Also at Royal Oak, several areas were free- a playground for the kids with different vehicles, a petting zoo, and playhouses. Landon spent more time in the playground than on the other rides that cost tokens!
We decided to go apple picking first. After paying for our tokens and receiving our apple picking bags, we climbed on a hay wagon pulled by a tractor. Landon thought that was pretty neat! There were different orchards on the hay wagon’s route, some had been more picked over than others. There was also the option to walk out to the orchards, because it was not very far from the main barn, but that’s less fun for the tractor-loving boy!
Landon helped Austin reach even higher in the trees, and after a few dropped apples did really well with a two-hand technique. This orchard’s apple picking includes sampling each variety, so Landon was a pro at that part of the process. We decided to go with Empire and Suncrisp varieties. Empires will be great for sauce, and the Suncrisps are very crisp and a little tart, just how I like them.
With wagons running every few minutes, it was not long after we made our way to the well-marked wagon pick-up point that we were on our way back to the main barn. From there, we decided to pick out a pumpkin. Along with a U-pick pumpkin patch, they had a wide variety of pre-picked pumpkins available in the barn store, but where’s the fun in that? Landon spent quite awhile in the pumpkin patch- picking up pumpkins, throwing them, rolling them around, searching out the perfect one. His first pick was much too big for him (and for pregnant mom to carry all the way back to the barn), so I persuaded him to look for a smaller pumpkin that was more his size. He ended up with a good sized pumpkin that he could lift, and we carved into a “scary one-eyed minion” this week.
Adjacent to the pumpkin patch was the one-of-a-kind apple maze. Instead of a typical corn maze, this maze was shaped like an apple and made out of apple trees that had been groomed into narrow trellises. Although this attraction cost 2 tokens each, we got to experience the maze and pick two apples to eat along the way! I guess this apple maze is only one of a few in the country. If we figured out the password/solved the treasure hunt, we would receive a coupon for a free apple cider doughnut. Austin was much more excited about the maze once that feature was revealed! Early on, we came to one of several activity areas. This one had neat homemade musical instruments and a picture-taking spot. Landon was intrigued. Austin decided to go ahead and try to scout out our next move in the maze. Landon played in the music activity area for a long time before deciding to run back out of the maze. We learned a valuable lesson- stick together as a family in mazes or it’s just not as fun. Turns out Austin got a little turned around and had a hard time finding us, and Landon could not be cajoled forward further into the maze, which is a pity because I guess there was a tractor in the middle of it! After a long time in which I thought perhaps Austin had been swallowed up by the maze, and Landon ran for the exit several more times, we were reunited as a family. Austin even figured out the password in his wanderings, so there was a happy ending with apple cider doughnuts at the bakery and restaurant building.
Next, we checked out the train ride and carousel. The train was actually legit, and Austin was able to ride in the train with him. Each ride was one token, so we were planning on taking Landon several times on each to use up our tokens, but Landon was more interested in the vehicle playground and petting zoo, which were both free. At the vehicle playground, Landon had me play a game with him where he drove me to the hospital. I was surprised that he was so intuitive to know to drive me to the hospital, and that he knew that mom would be going soon to have baby brother. Well, when I asked him why he was taking me to the hospital, he said it was because I had a sore tooth that needed to get fixed. Turns out, he was referring to a library book we checked out this week!
We opted to not take the orchard tour this time, mostly because it was getting late, cold and windy. In all, we spent over four hours at the farm orchard and really enjoyed our time there. We loved that it was less commercialized and gave more options for activities rather than a more expensive unlimited activity pass. Although it was a bit further than our normal apple picking place, we felt it was worth the extra drive!