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An apple a day: Nearby Apple Hill officially opens

By: Bill Sullivan, Associate Publisher
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Labor Day has officially come and gone, but just a few miles up the road from Folsom, a season of activity is just beginning that is a crop of sweet fun for all ages. It’s known as Apple Hill, a small community of 50 ranches that draws more than a million visitors up the Highway 50 corridor to the region annually this time of year.

While the area draws its share of locals from September to December, Apple Hill draws travelers the far reaches of California and even the Pacific Northwest. It’s this large attraction that benefits the surrounding communities in El Dorado County, and certainly boosts the tourism into Folsom this time of year.

While Labor Day traditionally marks the official opening of Apple Hill each season, normally the largest harvest from the region comes in mid-October. However, this year’s summer weather contributed to a large hearty crop a bit earlier. While most ranches opened this past weekend, High Hill Ranch has been opened for two weeks now, with plenty of fresh picks of their early varieties.

"The Honey crisps, Gravenstine and the McIntosh apples are harvested in August,” explained Jerry Visman, owner of High Hill Ranch, which was bustling with activity over the holiday weekend. “This helps stretch out the season and gives everyone an early start."

The Visman family has been part of the Apple Hill region since it began in the 1960s. Their ranch is often the first one that visitors arrive at as it is “No. 1” on the Apple Hill map. The fish pond, pie house and the donut shop are just a few of the many different attributes for visitors to enjoy.

“You won’t find apples much fresher than this. When you buy them here, they were picked just a few hours earlier,” Visman said. “It’s a great time of the year to come up here. We have a lot more than just apples; we have a variety of produce along with wines, apple beer, cider and more. People drive for almost two hours just to get our fritters and donuts. This stuff is that good.”

The Highway 50 corridor is the common route to Apple Hill. With its large draw from the Central Valley as well as the Bay Area, Folsom provides an ideal stopping place, either on their way up the hill or on their way down to enjoy Folsom’s many dining options, shopping venues and lodging.

“We are very fortunate in Folsom to have our neighboring communities offering amenities that are so different and complimentary to what we have here,” said Mary Ann McAlea, senior vice president of the Greater Folsom Partnership. “Apple Hill has become an annual tradition for many people from the Greater Bay Area and we are proud for the opportunity to showcase our region. We encourage visitors to enjoy the wonderful experiences available at the orchards and wineries of El Dorado County. And, of course, a visit to Folsom will make it a perfect day.”

The Apple Hill area is known for its rural ambiance and tasty products that extend well beyond that of just apples. This consists of numerous ranches that are the largest concentration of apple growers in California featuring 16 different varieties of apples and various other fruits.

It’s not all just fruit when you visit, as Visman explained, its bake shops packed with tasty homemade pies, caramel apples, dumplings and more. The area is home to nearly two dozen wineries as well. Altogether, the members of the Growers Association are responsible for more than 50 different special events during the season.

Just down the street from High Hill Ranch, Abel’s Acres was another one that was home to many Labor Day travelers this past weekend. Abel’s Acres is another ranch along the Apple Hill trail that continues to be operated by several generations of the Abel family. Leading them all is their patriarch, Evelyn Abel who started selling apples at the roadside in 1976.

“It seems like yesterday when we first started really,” Abel said. “I look forward to it every year. It’s great to see all of the families come out and get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. The kids love it no matter where they travel from. It’s good wholesome fun, and we need that these days.”

Four generations of family continue the tradition of running the Abel ranch right alongside the patriarch at the place where many travel from afar just for a taste her famous homemade fudge and handmade buttermilk apple pie.

So how does one plan a trip to the Apple Hill Farms? To each their own as everyone has their own desires and styles. One of the most traditional ways to tour the area is through the official Apple Hill map that details all of the member farms in the area.

The map is available at applehill.com. The Grower Association also has a new app that is available on their website. The other option, just get on Highway 50 and once you get near Placerville, start following the signs.