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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.