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Late summer road trips for apple season

by Staff

It’s officially apple season. The red, green and yellow fruit adorn trees throughout Washington starting in August and into November, their floral, ripe scent in the breeze. For many Washingtonians, this means a road trip to celebrate, to either u-pick or pick up a crate.

A quick history lesson: Apples weren’t a local crop initially but were brought here in the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, boxes of fruit were shipped by trainloads to destinations east. Today, more than half of the apples in the U.S. come from Washington state, boosted by plentiful rainfall and sun, cold nights in various microclimates and healthy soil.

Those seeking new cooking and eating apple varieties can taste-test in a vacation rental, hotel or back home. For more applecore, here are ideas for road trips.

Wenatchee-Lake Chelan road trip

Wenatchee has been known as the “Apple Capital of the World” since 1902 and is home to the state’s Apple Commission, which promotes the fruit worldwide. Today, the riverside town is a fine, affordable home base to explore Washington apple varieties and histories.

A great place to start is at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, where a basement-level permanent exhibit on the Washington Apple Industry features a working 1920s apple sorter, a wall of vibrant apple-box labels, how apples go from seed to export and the town’s festival history. The museum’s other excellent historical exhibits offer lots of hands-on fun for kids and adults, and if you can, ask for a demonstration of the 1919 pipe organ’s sound effects. 

Then, visit Pybus Public Market on a Saturday for the Wenatchee Farmer’s Market, filled with booths selling locally and organically grown produce as pro musicians play on the outdoor stage. If it’s too warm, step inside the airy interior of the public market for a cool-down and almost 20 restaurants, shops, tasting rooms and produce purveyors.

Pybus sits next to the convenient Hilton Garden Inn and overlooks the 10-mile paved riverside Apple Capital Loop Trail, where locals gather to run, walk, cycle and meander past sculpture art, decommissioned train cars and train station, and a low-water-use xeriscape exhibit garden. For dinner, look for restaurants featuring applewood-fired meals (like old-world Italian fare Visconti’s) or apple-infused dishes (like Wild Huckleberry‘s breakfast hash with Granny Smith apple). And, of course, apple pie and cider are never too challenging to find.

From Wenatchee, hit the road for a beautiful drive to Lake Chelan along the Columbia, cliffs looming overhead. Around eight farm stands, orchards and stores are listed on the Wenatchee tourism site — and an excellent place to find u-pick or fresh-picked apple destinations. Check the farm or stand’s Facebook page for daily or weekly details on which apple varieties are on the branches now. But you’ll likely see many stands rather serendipitously as you drive around.

Lake Chelan is well-known as a Washington summer destination, but also a place to pick up vintage apple labels sold in the free-admission Chelan Museum, where you can learn about the town’s relationship to agriculture, the Manson Apple Blossom Royalty, and the parts of an apple box. The Chelan shop Culinary Apple offers plenty of apple-centric merch, including apple-themed food products, gift boxes and platters—for the chef, apple cookbooks, apple corers, slicers, peelers and spiralizers, pie-making tools and cookie cutters and more general gourmet food and culinary items.

Lake Chelan has nearly 10,000 acres devoted to growing everything from Fuji to Red Delicious on small family farms and large corporate orchards. At nearby Rootwood Cider, book a tour of a cidery’s orchard or one of the (very few) spots on an apple-picking and cider-tasting tour. Chelan Valley Farms also allows u-pick apples starting in early September. Or visit Sunshine Market’s U-Press hand-crank cider press for DIY cider in September and October — boxes of apples are ready for use.  

Road trips south of Seattle: Apple festivals galore

South of Seattle, several festivals celebrate bounty grown on the cooler side of the Cascades. The Onalaska Apple Harvest Festival is among the largest focused on the apple alone and based in a small town just off I-5, not far from Chehalis and Centralia. From October 6-8, 2023, the festival’s dozens of activities include a parade, apple pie eating contest, live music and coronation of a royal court from Apple Harvest Queen to Lil’ Apple Dumpling.

Other festivals include Tacoma’s September 23 Cider Swig, an impressive lineup of 130 plus Northwest ciders, and mid-October’s tree-to-glass Olympic Peninsula Apple & Cider Festival.

On September 2, adults can head north to scenic Camano Island for Camano Ciderfest. The festival will showcase six local cider companies, with timed tickets at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. A $35 ticket offers six tasting tokens. Food trucks and delicious foods from Camano Commons Marketplace, Tapped Camano and The Baked Café will also be on-site.

Families might consider taking Washington State Ferry for a day trip to Whidbey Island’s fall celebration of apples. On September 30, the Whidbey Island Cider Festival‘s $40 tickets (in advance) for 10 tastings of cider, beer and mead and a logo glass. Held in Coupeville at the Pacific Rim Institute, activities will feature live sea-chanty music, five food trucks and children’s activities such as face painting and a mini-train ride.

The Institute also provides a guided tour of one of the Pacific Northwest’s last existing native prairies and a view of a cider press in action. While there, you can also learn about tree care — if you hope to plant an apple seed for next year’s harvest.

Whether you’re looking to make an environmentally conscious choice with a hybrid or to save cash with our new car lease deals, Western Washington Toyota Dealers can help you find a new car that keeps up with your lifestyle.

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