Yesterday some friends and I had a fantastic fall trip to Wilklow Orchards near Highland. It was raining as we drove from Vassar to the orchard, but when we got there it stopped and became a brisk, cloudy, and beautiful fall day. It was only a 30 minute drive from Vassar, and just 10 minutes from New Paltz. You definitely need a car to get there, but it’s not too much of a trek, and it’s so worthwhile! We went there with the goal of picking apples, but found that there was so much more to do and see, and in fact, you could spend all day there!
When we got to the turn off for Wilklow, we were greeted by a man directing cars where to park, something I wasn’t expecting, but that was necessary because of all the people trying to get in. The first thing you see of Wilklow is a low dark red barn-type structure that serves as the farm store. This quaint building, with an interesting mix of kitschy and authentic fall decorations, is set against the picturesque backdrop of the orchard spread out over the hill with larger, forested hills rising up behind the farm. It’s a very stunning and quintessential view that made us all take out our phones immediately and start taking pictures.
We got in line (yes, there was a small line!) to pay for our picking bags and a map of the orchard. I heard at least four different languages as we waited, and saw people who looked like locals who do this every year, people from the city or Long Island on a weekend getaway, and one group of tourists from Japan. Mostly there were family groups with younger children, but people of all ages were there because Wilklow seems to have something for everyone. We tromped along the main path, muddy from today’s rain, amidst the happy chatter of other visitors. We had planned to head for the Fuji apples, but couldn’t restrain ourselves and went down the one of the first rows trees. One of the best things about picking apples is taste testing–so we each picked a russet-red apple and bit in. The apples were really good, just like you’d expect a freshly-picked apple to taste, and very crisp. We wandered up the path and into different rows, trying bites of each kind as we passed and slowly filling our bag.
A gorgeous, almost panoramic view greeted us as we climbed up the steep hill at the back of the orchard. People around us were taking pictures with their apples and the farm laid out beneath them. I imagined the hillside behind us in a few weeks, which was mostly leafy and green, and could see how breathtaking the blaze of fall colors would soon be. Wilklow definitely has the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley at the center of its appeal. But, as we headed back down to the barn to pay for our apples, I also noticed a “Kids Fun Barn” with inflatable bouncy houses and hay bales to play on, and I could smell the amazing aroma of fresh-made apple cider donuts. There was also a store selling other fresh produce, farm-baked goods, and apple cider, a hot dog stand, the apple cider donut stand, a covered area full of silly Halloween decorations that kids seemed to love, a covered picnic area, and goats and chickens. Wilklow seemed to have it all!
As we drove away with bellies full of apples and fingers sticky from donuts, I reflected on how Wilklow Orchards attracted such a large amount and variety of people. It’s primary product is apples. But I think what really draws people and makes them stay is the experience it offers–through apple-picking, family-friendly activities, the homemade and down-to-earth feel of its farm store, and an overall distillation of the “quintessential Hudson Valley.” All of these experiences help people feel connected to nature and to each other, while simultaneously helping the family farm make profit. I did some research on Wilklow when I got home (after I’d put the apple crumble I’d just made in the oven) and found out that it goes to some farmer’s markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and also has its fruit in some CSA shares. It’s also on the Hudson Valley Apple Trail. It seems to me that Wilklow Orchards fits in to many aspects of the Hudson Valley amenity economy, and provides great apples and a fun experience for anyone who visits.