It may seem like it’s pumpkin spice season already, but just put a hold on that for a minute. Let’s enjoy apple season first.
There’s a wide variety of farm fresh apples ready for the picking just over an hour away from Gainesville.
Orchards and markets dot the hills in the Ellijay area of North Georgia, and each one has something special to offer.
Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge offers 52 varieties of apples along with a hard cider tasting room — more on that next month.
At least a couple of orchards offer pig racing. And as if that wasn’t enough, Hillcrest Orchards even offers swimming pigs who race through troughs of water.
But back to the apples.
Varieties ripen at different times of the year, and orchard staff can tell you which kinds are sweet, which are tart, which are crunchiest and whatever else your taste buds crave.
Call ahead if you’re hoping to snag a certain variety.
Visitors packed Mercier Orchards over the Labor Day weekend.
Wagon rides depart regularly toward the apple trees, bearing varieties such as red delicious, candy crisp and jonagold.
Rows of apples are clearly marked, and visitors can twist and gently pull off their selections to fill bags provided by the orchard.
Another wagon brings visitors back to the shop, where they can grab lunch at the cafe, fried apple pie from the bakery or buy products such as apple butter.
Prices vary at the orchards, with different rates for admission, apples and additional activities.
An expansive market includes a cafe, bakery and hard cider and wine tasting. Cidery tours begin in October. The orchard grows 52 apple varieties total.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends through September
Where: 8660 Blue Ridge Drive, Blue Ridge
More info: 706-632-3411
A market and cafe includes fruit slushies in flavors such as apple, peach and muscadine. The orchard grows about 50 apple varieties total.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends
Where: 5505 Ga. 52 E, Ellijay
More info: 706-273-3821
BJ Reece Orchards
Weekends are busy at this orchard, with many activities involving animals. Four times during the day, groups of pigs race around a track. Families can see long-horned cattle and other animals on a wagon ride. Children can also milk cows and ride ponies or a cow train. Other activities include apple cannons, a giant jumping pillow, ziplines, a farm slide and a scavenger hunt through the corn maze. A petting farm is available daily. The farm grows 19 apple varieties total.
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with last tickets sold at 5 p.m.
Where: 9131 Ga. 52 E, Ellijay
More info: 706-276-3048
A petting farm is one of the activities available at Hillcrest Orchards in Ellijay.
The Apple Pickin’ Jubilee starts Sept. 9 at this farm, featuring activities including wagon rides, a petting farm, moonshine museum, cow train, apple tree maze, cow milking, duck racing and live entertainment. The orchard also puts on pig races, including one race involving pigs swimming through troughs of water. The farm grows 24 apple varieties.
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends through end of October
Where: 9696 Ga. 52 E, Ellijay
More info: 706-273-3838
Jaemor Farms opens its annual corn maze Saturday, Sept. 9.
The theme this year is “Jaemor Express,” a maze that stretches nearly 6 acres and is “designed in the shape of a train,” according to a news release from Jaemor.
If that sounds like too much for the little kids, the farm will also have a smaller one in the shape of a pumpkin.
Jaemor Farms corn maze
When: Weekends Sept. 9-Oct. 8, daily Oct. 9-26, weekends Oct. 27-Nov. 5; hours vary
Where: 5340 Cornelia Highway, Alto
How much: $9 ages 3-12, $10 ages 13 and older; additional fees for other activities
The last tickets are sold an hour before close.
Other activities at Jaemor Farms include hayrides, a pumpkin train, a petting zoo, farm slides, skeeball, duck races and an apple cannon.