Nothing says fall like the obligatory trip to an apple orchard. Apple picking in Southern California is a bit of a spectacle. Thousands of Californians descend on a handful of orchards, swaddled in their best fall-wear, cozy sweaters, boots, and chucky knits, with no one seeming to care that it is over 90 degrees out. They sweat away as they snap their festive family photos and pick their yearly apples.
Despite my cheeky attitude towards Southern Californians, I also enjoy a trip to our local orchards. However, I trade in the sweater for a tank top and sunscreen. Our local apple picking spot is the beautiful hollow of Oak Glen. Oak Glen was recently in danger of being consumed by the El Dorado fire, but thanks to the tireless work of firefighters it was largely saved from the flames. As we drove up the hill the mountains surrounding Oak Glen were black, a sad reminder of how climate change and years of suppressing natural fires can take out thousands of acres in the blink of an eye.
Despite the charred background the orchards were beautiful. There are many options for apple picking and pie eating on the Oak Glen Loop. We visited Riley’s Farm at Los Rios Ranchos. As I was doing research for this blog I learned that the Riley’s ranch and associated stores burned to the ground on Friday October 2, a little more than a week after our visit. The property had escape damage from the El Dorado fire only to be destroyed a few weeks later. The cause of the fire is unknown at this time but the historic ranch was sadly leveled. The orchards were not damaged in the fire and the family plans on keeping them open for apple picking. I am heartbroken at the loss the Riley family is going through, and I am thankful we were able to see these historic building before they were gone. It is yet another reminder to never take anything for granted. There is a GoFundMe set up to help the family rebuild.
The property is leased by the Riley family from the Wildlands Conservancy, who purchased the land 24 years ago to save it from development. The Wildlands Conservancy has a dual mission “To preserve the beauty and biodiversity of the earth and to provide programs so that children may know the wonder and joy of nature”. The property, known as the Oak Glen Preserve, spans an impressive 909 acres and includes apple orchards, oak woodlands, riparian areas, and chaparral covered hillsides. There are many miles of family friendly nature trails. We choose a 2-mile loop hike, just the right length for Emma to work on her hiking skills and for the whole family to work up an appetite for lunch. After finishing our loop, we popped into the farm store to get some apples and cider. Riley’s farm has a big open lawn which is perfect for a family picnic. There was plenty of room to spread out and stay a safe distance* away from other families. A pro-tip to avoid crowds, get there in the early morning. Thanks to Emma we always have a 5am alarm clock. When we arrived, there was plenty of parking and it was not crowded. I swear Southern Californians don’t really get going until at least 10am on the weekends. Although the temps may not feel like fall in Southern California, my heart is certainly in the fall spirit. Now all we must do is bake some pies with all the apples we brought home.
*For clarification, and because you have to explain everything on the internet these days, we maintained over 6 feet distance as much as we could, in the cases where we could not, we had our masks on. You will see we don’t have mask on in our photos, but we had them close at hand to put on when we passed folks on the trail and when we were in the farm store.