Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hillcrest Apple Orchards

For the last 4yrs, we have been making the day trip up to North Georgia to go apple picking. Our preferred orchard is Hillcrest Orchards near Ellijay. We were recommended to Hilcrest by some friends and return year after year. There are plenty of options for apple picking in this area, many which also have additional activities like Hillcrest but we love giving this family owned and operated orchard our continued patronage. Admission is a flat fee per person and you can choose to purchase a bag to pick your own apples as well. Honestly, this may not be the cheapest (especially if you have a large family) but continue reading and you'll understand why it's become one of our favorite fall traditions.
   
Throughout the farm, there are a bunch of tractors for you to climb aboard, pretend to drive and use at photo opportunities. The tractors are all different ages and in a variety of conditions, and we have fun exploring the tractors.
Abigail has always loved to jump, and she always has to take at least one turn on the big jumping pillow. Depending on the crowd there can be a wait but it never is too long. Depending on the staff  "policing" the jumping pillow, there can be older kids (almost my height) allowed to jump, which makes it difficult for the younger ones. During our trip this month, the crowds were very light in comparison to previous years (I think we got lucky this year because we went opening weekend). Abigail decided she was going to use the jumping pillow for a little gymnastic practice, she would run and do a cartwheel or round-off. It was so fun watching her, especially Matt since he doesn't get to see her in action during gymnastic class. Although Abigail paid attention to the other few children also jumping, and never flipped too close, we ended up getting a bit of a scolding from the staff that Abigail shouldn't be flipping. We decided it'd be hard for Abigail to completely understand so we took that opportunity to move to another activity.
   
There are two separate tracks for kids, both young and old, to pedal tricycles. It's slightly chaotic on the younger track because all the kids seem to go different speeds, but it doesn't matter. The youngest kids usually need some help as the trikes are a bit larger than what you might have at home. Parents usually hop on the track to help steer/push the younger kids, and keep them out of way of the older and faster riders. I personally recommend the parent with the most protective shoes to help out, as you might be run into or run over on this preschool track. For the older kids, there are super-sized trikes which we have never road. These larger trikes have a higher weight limit and even adults will take turns riding around the larger track. This larger track is located further away from the entrance, but is next to a corn maze and small playground so all age groups can be entertained in this vicinity simultaneously. Very close to this area is also a bungee jumpee station for children and pony rides, both for an additional fee. If I remember correctly, we have only done the bungee once and the pony ride once.
For the first couple years, we did not visit the petting zoo. I do not remember if this was intentional or not. Even though it's an extra $3 per person to visit the animals in the petting zoo, we do it now because Abigail loves all the little animals. Last year I distinctly remember how excited she was to hold a baby chick. This year, she raved about holding a kitty. You can buy feed from a gumball dispenser for a quarter and the baby goats love to eat directly from your hand. They will even follow you a bit if they think you still might have food. Abigail got to see bunnies and more chicks but my favorite this year was the three day old cow. The cow did not look at all like a "baby", but was wobbly on new legs and seemed a little unsettled until laying down, absolutely precious!

Abigail really enjoys the "big slides" down the hill. Before the 2013 season, a second slide was added to the hill allowing the children a shorter wait before getting to slide down again. This new second slide actually is a partial tunnel and Abigail would scream really loud on the way down, I think her voice must have echoed a bit on the way down. She always runs up the hill numerous times before we can persuade her to the next activity.
When you arrive, some activities will have specific times listed for the day so be sure to make a mental note or jot those down. The pig races are usually held at least twice on Saturday, and it's a must for us to watch. The orchard is fairly large and you do a lot of walking (avoid bringing strollers unless you have something all-terrain), so it's nice to get off your feet and rest in the shade before the races and if you plan properly you can enjoy an apple fritter and/or an apple slushie while you wait for the races to begin! The pig races also incorporate audience participation with the first race always having adults race in some fashion. The kids then get to participate during each of the 3 pig races. Five children are selected each race, each child gets to tell the crowd their name and where they are from, and each child is assigned a pig to cheer for during the race. The child whose pig won gets a little trophy to take home as a souvenir. Part of the fun each year is being introduced to the pigs, they all have the best names! Each year the names have celebrity resemblance to a few in current mainstream media. Two fun names from this year were Pig-cess Kate and Justin Timber-link. In 2012 a water feature was added so in the third and final race, the race course is detoured into a couple above ground "lakes" and the pigs jump and swim and made their way to the finish line. To entice these little piggies to race, the winner gets an Oreo cookie!


Throughout the day there is also live entertainment on the Hillcrest Barn Stage, which is now completely covered unlike our photo from a previous year's visit. You can take a break in the shade from all the activities to enjoy some clogging or country bands while eating some yummy food. This year the menu included hamburgers, chicken on a stick, fried cheese, french fries, fresh squeezed lemonade, deep fried Oreo cookies and much more. There is even an on site bakery cooking up fresh apple cider doughnuts, mini apple pies and apple fritters!

Hillcrest has become a favorite fall activity for us and as long as we're living in the Atlanta area, we will continue visiting and making memories! I am so excited we were able to visit before Fall officially started. There is always so much fun to partake during Fall and I look forward to the 2013 season ahead!

QUESTIONS:
-Have you ever been apple picking?
-Do you have any fall traditions you do with your family annually?

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