Nothing says fall in New England like a family excursion to the apple orchards. With many orchards to choose from, families can head a short distance from Boston for their choice of places to pick their own apples starting in late August through mid-October. We’ve assembled a list of some of our favorite places to pick apples in greater Boston, but with more than 50 farms in the area offering apple picking, there are many more to choose from. In addition to apple picking, many of the orchards offer petting farms, country stores, hay rides, corn mazes, and other kid-friendly activities, so leave plenty of time to take advantage of all these farms have to offer. You can even plan your child's fall farm birthday party at some of the farms.
Take it from us and contact the farms and orchards before heading out to confirm hours and amenities: Many are small, family-run operations, and crop yields and staff schedules fluctuate from week to week. Also, it's a good idea to leave pets at home when heading to any orchard, or you may be asked to leave apple-free.
Belkin Lookout Farm has lots of apples, and also a play area, rides, and animals to visit. Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Tourism
1. Belkin Lookout Farm—South Natick
Belkin Family Lookout Farm is one of the oldest continuously working farms in the country, but it's about as modern and organized a U-pick operation as you can find. Trains escort you to pick your own peaches, apples and pumpkins in the fall. Families can also enjoy a children’s play area, picnic tables, hay pyramid, and rides, and grown-ups might care to sample some of Lookout's hard cider in the taproom on the grounds. Note: You must pay a per-person admission fee to enter the farm, apple-picking is an additional cost. 508-651-1539
2. Boston Hill Farm—North Andover
Boston Hill Farm offers pick-your-own apples on fall weekends from September 16 through October. There are apples to pick—including McIntosh, Ginger Gold, and Paula Red this year—but also cider doughnuts, live music, ice cream, and a petting farm complete with chickens, geese, bunnies, goats, sheep, and calves. 978-681-8556
3. Brooksby Farm—Peabody
Pick your own apples just after their big peach season is over (early September), and don't forget to stop by the bakery that offers cider donuts, hot mulled cider, cold cider, and coffee. There are barnyard animals to visit here, too. 978-531-7456
Cider Hill serves up delicious cider donuts.
4. Cider Hill Farm—Amesbury
Though it's a bit up there (a solid hour north of Boston), many locals feel that Cider Hill is worth the (lovely) fall drive, if only to indulge in their award-winning doughnuts. Gingergold, Paula Red, Red Free and Zistar are all ripe for Labor Day weekend picking, with more varieties to come throughout the month of September. There's also a food truck serving great food and ice cream mixed with ripe fruit, as well as a giant sandbox, a bee observatory, and Farmer Glenn's "trike yard" for the kiddos. 978-388-5525
5. Carlson Orchards—Harvard
Carlson Orchards boasts more than 14 varieties of apples to pick, from McIntosh and Cortland to Braeburn, Fuji and Granny Smith. Consult the growing season calendar to see when your favorites are expected to be ripe. And don't leave without a steaming-hot helping of their to-die-for apple crisp with whipped cream. 800-286-3916
6. Carver Hill Orchard—Stow
Carver has a nice selection of pick-your-own apples, plus a farm store that's stocked with crafts, decorations, fresh cider and cider donuts, chicken pies, fudge, peanut brittle, and cookies. Early Macs come in during late August, with the rest of the varieties rolling in over the course of September. This is a wonderful, no frills, genuine New England apple-picking experience. 978-897-6117
There are hayrides along with U-pick fun at Connors Farm.
7. Connors Farm—Danvers
Not only apples, but a popular corn maze, too! And that's not all this farm has to offer: For younger kids, there's a play area, jumping pillows, hayrides and more. For teens, there's Zombie Paintball and a Haunted Farm. 978-777-1245
8. Davis Farmland—Sterling
While this farm is a solid hour drive from Boston, we are confident it will not disappoint. Plan to spend the day, because along with a U-pick apples and pumpkins, this farm also boasts a splash pad, bounce pillow, multiple playgrounds, a tiny play town, an animal feeding area, and more. There’s even a special section where little farmers get to hold baby goats. Note: while the farm attractions are open daily, the U-pick area is only open on weekends. 978-422-6666
9. Doe Orchards—Harvard
Doe packs a wide variety of apples into 25 acres. Picking begins Labor Day weekend and runs daily through late October. 978-772-4139
10. Dowse Orchards—Sherborn
About 8 minutes from Lookout Farm (above), Dowse offers a smaller, simpler alternative to the Lookout "experience." Up to 20 varieties of PYO apples become available during the weekends starting September 9 this season. Their loaded farmstand, with stone fruits, corn, cider, and more, is open daily. 508-563-2639
11. Honeypot Hill Orchard—Stow
Honeypot's orchards yield about 12 varieties of apples, with different crops in the spotlight as they ripen throughout the season. The orchard offers other activities like hayrides, barnyard animals, and a hedge maze that’s great for kids ages four through 11. If you're looking for a simpler and less crowded apple picking experience, head down the street to Carver Hill (see above). 978-562-5666
12. Nashoba Valley Winery—Bolton
Not just for wine tasting, Nashoba Valley Winery has nearly 5,000 apple trees ripe for the picking, starting a bit later in September. Check the winery's website for picking conditions, updated frequently. When apple picking is available, the hours are 11am to 4pm. 978-779-5521
Parlee Farms dwarf apple trees yield big, juicy apples.
13. Parlee Farms—Tyngsboro
Parlee Farms' area apple orchard is comprised of dwarf apple trees which, although small in stature, produce large, delicious apples starting in September. Varieties include MacIntosh, Gala, Honeycrisp, Early Fuji, Macoun, Cortland, Royal Empire, Decoster Jonagold, Cameo, and Golden Delicious. On weekends and fall holidays, a hay ride is included as part of your purchase of an apple bag. At Parlee's farm stand, you can watch apple cider donuts being made. Annie’s Animal Barns, a Hay Play Area and Farmer Mark’s Tractor Training Course are great ways to finish a fun fall day at the farm. 978-649-3854
14. Russell Orchards—Ipswich
Picking opens Labor Day weekend this year at Russell; might we suggest a day trip of beach and apple picking during the early-fall weeks? PYO apples (note: cash only) are available daily. Hay rides are offered on weekends, and you can watch cider pressing on Saturdays. Kids enjoy the farm animals in the barnyard, too. 978-356-5366
Photo by Sarah Jordan Photography/courtesy of Smolak Farm
15. Smolak Farm—North Andover
After their berries and summer stone fruits are picked over, Smolak Farm offers plenty of varieties of apples for plucking later in September, across several demarcated orchards. Don't miss the private (secret) orchard nestled behind their Old Standard orchard. During fall weekends, enjoy the Children's Festival Area: Hop on a hay wagon ride and linger longer for time at the playground and petting farm, which costs extra but kids love. 978-682-6332
Stowe Farm's petting zoo is an extra draw.
16. Stowe Farm—Millbury
In addition to several apple varieties and pumpkins for picking, Stowe Farm offers a petting zoo, pony rides, mechanical bull rides, gemstone mining, and rock wall climbing. Round out your visit by feeding the animals, crunching on a caramel apple, or getting a pulled pork sandwich. Upick, Kids Corral, and the Country Store are open on weekends starting in September 8. 508-865-9860
17. Westward Orchards—Harvard
Apples are available for picking starting Labor Day through early October. Enjoy live bluegrass jam sessions every Sunday. Starting September 22nd, you can also hop on a wagon ride to the farm's pumpkin patch to pick up your Halloween Jack-o-Lantern-to-be. 978-456-8363
Looking for more pick-your-own farms? The Mass Department of Agricultural Resources has an interactive map where you can select your location and generate a list of locations. Give it a try and let us know if you discover a great spot!
Published September 2013; updated September 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017
Top photo via Bigstock. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the orchards