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If you go:

Visit applehill.com for information about members of the Apple Hill Growers Association, to download the Official Apple Hill Grower app or to print out a map. For details, call (530) 644-7692.

Getting There

From the North Bay, head to I-80 East and follow to U.S. 50 East near Sacramento. From U.S. 50, take Exit 48, 49 or 54 just east of Placerville. Many farms are along Carson Road and its arteries, including North Canyon Road, Larsen Drive and Cable Road.

When to Go

Most farms are open from Labor Day weekend until Christmas Eve. Some remain open throughout the year. Weekends in October are the busiest days, Mondays and Wednesdays are often less crowded. Free admission and parking.


The Placerville area has overnight accommodations ranging from quaint bed and breakfast inns to the 105-room Best Western Plus Placerville Inn, 6850 Greenleaf Drive, (530) 622-9100, bestwestern.com/placervilleinn. The historic Cary House Hotel is downtown in the Old Hangtown district, 300 Main St., (530) 622-4271, caryhouse.com.


Many of the farms offer quick bites and apple treats and have picnic tables available for visitors. The historic Smith Flat House, 2021 Smith Flat Road, Placerville, serves lunch and dinner on weekends, check weekday hours at smithflathouse.com, (530) 621-1003. The family-friendly Original Mel’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily in a 1950s-style diner complete with jukeboxes, 232 Main St., Placerville, (530) 626-8072, originalmelsdiner.com.

Historic destinations

Learn about Mother Lode history at the following locations:

El Dorado County Historical Museum, 104 Placerville Drive, Placerville, (530) 621-5865, museum.edcgov.us.

Fountain-Tallman Museum, 524 Main St., Placerville, (530) 626-0773, eldoradocountyhistoricalsociety.org.

Gold Bug Park & Mine and Hattie Museum, 2635 Gold Bug Lane, Placerville, (530) 642-5207, goldbugpark.org.

Tourism Information

The El Dorado County Visitors Authority provides detailed information about the opportunities available to visitors, 542 Main St., Placerville, (530) 621-5885, visit-eldorado.com. Also contact the Placerville Downtown Association, (530) 672-3436, placerville-downtown.org.

Placerville, the historic Mother Lode town between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, takes the “apple-a-day” adage to new levels. With 50 family farms comprising an area commonly known as Apple Hill, the community offers an autumn getaway that pleases all the senses, particularly the taste buds.

Founded in 1964, the trademarked Apple Hill Growers Association provides a free map and guide listing the orchards and fruit farms that dot the area just off Highway 50 in the Sierra foothills, about an hour east of central Sacramento.

Scenic country roads twist and turn, with various farm stands and ranches welcoming guests eager for the fresh air and fall colors provided by the apple orchards, pumpkin patches and vineyards that weave throughout the picturesque area. Several Christmas tree farms are located in the area as well, offering mistletoe, wreaths, garlands, silver tips and firs, with you-cut options available.

But mostly, visitors to this El Dorado County region come hungry for tasty apple treats, from apple doughnuts and pies to bushels and buckets of fresh-picked apples for eating and baking. There’s apple butter and apple ice cream, caramel apples and apple cake, apples pressed into cider and beer, apples baked into dumplings, fritters, turnovers, cookies and strudel.

“Anything you can think of with apples, you can buy here,” said Michele Birmingham Repetto of Fetters Hot Springs, who visits several local farms each fall, a 20-year tradition she shares with family and friends.

“You can smell the apples, especially with all the pies they bake.”

The feel of fall

Repetto made the 2½-hour drive from Sonoma Valley on a recent Saturday, stopping first at High Hill Ranch, a working farm and the largest destination within the Apple Hill Growers Association.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said. “You’ve got the trees turning colors, the nice crisp air. It just feels like fall.”

Officials estimate that last year a million people visited the farms of Placerville and the neighboring village of Camino, where rolling hillsides are rich with a cornucopia of farm stands, family-friendly attractions and acres and acres of open landscape.

It has become such a popular getaway that law enforcement officers have been called in to direct weekend traffic, an effort to handle the crowds that create bottlenecks during the peak of the season in late October.

Even the shuttles that once were offered to ease traffic contributed to the backlog of people anxious to reach attractions that include petting farms, craft vendors, hay rides, a scale-model train ride, pony rides, fishing ponds, face painting, nature trails and those gastronomical delights celebrating the all-American apple.

Jody Franklin, executive director of tourism with the El Dorado County Visitors Authority, said people enjoy the wholesome family activities, natural beauty and colorful history of the region.

“People are always amazed by the topography and how lush it is,” she said. “You cannot tell from Highway 50 what we have here. There’s a whole other world out there.”

Franklin says visitors can especially benefit from a weekend stay in Placerville, where there’s plenty to see and do.

Aka Hangtown

While the Apple Hill region is a must, Franklin also suggests visiting the diverse shops and antique stores of Main Street, stopping by the Fountain-Tallman Museum housed in a National Register of Historic Places building or the El Dorado County Historical Museum by the fairgrounds, and making a trip to Gold Bug Mine and Park to see the mines that helped make the Mother Lode famous.

Placerville is named for the placer gold deposits found in the nearby hills and riverbeds in the late 1840s; its Hangtown nickname reportedly comes from the hasty justice of three men accused of robbery and murder.

“The Gold Rush history is the backbone of everything we have here,” Franklin said. “Even the wine came from the Gold Rush. We have third-, fourth- and even fifth-generation folks here.”

She recommends stopping by Larsen Apple Barn and its Larsen Pioneer Museum, with six generations of family history on display. The farm also has what it claims is the oldest apple tree in El Dorado County.

Placerville’s Main Street in the historic Old Hangtown district is rich with 19th century architecture, many of the businesses paying tribute to the legacy of the Gold Rush era.

A jewelry store and a hardware store — Randolph Jewelers and Placerville Hardware — are the oldest west of the Mississippi. Cary House Hotel, founded in 1857, lays claim to patrons that include President Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain and Elvis Presley, as well as ghostly guests.

Placerville News Co. near Stage Coach Alley has been informing townsfolk and visitors since 1856 with newspapers, books and periodicals.

Newer stores like Redneck Bling and Man Cave Placerville are right at home with their century-old neighboring businesses, each offering tourists a chance to browse and get acquainted with commerce unrelated to apples.

But for those like Repetto, apples are the ultimate attraction.

Sold by the bag, box or bushel full, Arkansas Black, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are among dozens of varieties, especially delicious thanks to the mountain air and ideal growing conditions, ranchers say.

Pick your own

At Denver Dan’s Apple Patch on Camino’s Bumble Bee Lane, visitors can pick their own apples from among 35 varieties. Other spots like Pine O’Mine, Sun Mountain Farm and Harris Tree Farm also offer seasonal you-pick berries and pumpkins.

Many farms along the winding country roads offer bake shops and spots to grab a quick lunch, from burgers to barbecued chicken. Picnic tables are found nearly everywhere.

Mason Visman, a member of the multi-generation High Hill Ranch family, says there is a “diversity of delicious options” around every bend. His family farm includes the popular Pie House where apple pie and other varieties are sold by the slice or whole (baked or unbaked), ready to take home.

Steps away, the Fudge Factory offers a walk-up window for treats like fresh-sliced apples drenched with warm, gooey caramel .

Many ranches host crafts fairs that sell everything from handmade clothing, jewelry and accessories to holiday decorations, yard art, sculptures, stained glass and woodwork.

“I sit out here on a Wednesday and sell to people from all across the United States,” said Mike Bennett of South Lake Tahoe, who runs Tahoe Fire Glass with his wife, Molly, one of about 90 crafts vendors at High Hill Ranch.

“You talk about a harvest fair. It’s a working farm here. It’s the real deal,” he said, evergreens and apple orchards in the nearby landscape.

Naomi Beier of Placerville is among the crafters who sell folk art items, hers particularly fitting for the Apple Hill region. Beier makes apple dolls from dried Golden Delicious apples, sculpting the fruit into kindly-faced characters she dresses in old-fashioned granny and grandpa attire, complete with wire-rimmed eyeglasses.

Taking home an apple doll is a lasting keepsake. It will be around a whole lot longer than an apple pie, a dozen apple cider doughnuts or a bushel of Braeburns.

Dianne Reber Hart is a Sonoma-based freelance writer.

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