Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Orchards in Hendersonville, NC: Sky Top and Jeter Mountain

Why hello!! It's me! And wow, it's been A WHILE. Instagram has basically become my blog, but I wanted to share a little about our adventure last weekend because I've had a few people ask about the orchards around Asheville. I did as much research as I could for a year leading up to our trip and screenshot Insta stories from everyone I knew going to the mountains last year haha!
We spent last weekend at an Airbnb in Asheville, and it was beautiful! We had a fire put for s'mores and beautiful views of the mountains around us. Plus, it was into the 40s every night, so we slept (and froze) with the windows open.
So, there aren't any apple orchards in Asheville, but Henderson County (about an hour south) is the largest apple-producing county in North Carolina. We chose to visit an orchard on our way in on Thursday afternoon and a second on our way out of town on Sunday morning. Obviously visiting one on a weekday and one on a weekend, it's not comparing apples to apples (pun maybe intended?), but I think the information is still valuable!

On Thursday afternoon, we got to Sky Top around 3pm. They're open daily 9am-6pm, and it's quite a windy road up to the orchard. You walk into a rustic, dusty concrete floor, high ceiling barn where you can buy bagged apples, cider, cider slushies (Calvin's favorite), cans of hard cider you can carry around the property, pies, jams and butters, and tickets for apple picking, donuts, and all the other activities.
What struck me were all the well-labeled signs of where to line up for cash registers, donuts, and tractor rides. None of those signs were needed on Thursday, and so many people kept commenting about how few people were there, so I think got really lucky with our choice of day. 

We decided to pick apples first. We walked down the hill with our slushies to the start of the orchard where an employee directed us to the apples we wanted to pick. Just FYI you aren't allowed into the orchards unless you pay for a $25 bag to u-pick as many apples as you can fit. Phew! It was a hike! Up and down hills out to the far end of the orchard. We could pick anywhere we wanted to pick, and there were a ton of apples both on the trees and the ground. We picked a bunch of apples and headed back up the hill to meet our friends and try the other activities. 
The tractor ride is just for fun (rides in a loop without stops in the orchard), and there's also a bee (barrel) train that does a few loops. There's also a playground, gem mining, and an apple cannon. 
Before we left, we made sure to get apple cider donuts (apparently that line is wild on the weekends) and a caramel apple for the road. 

All in all, I'd call Sky Top a very fun, kid-centered, rustic orchard. 

We spent the next 3 days in Asheville making s'mores, hiking, and visiting breweries (a few favorites listed at the bottom of this post). 

On Sunday morning, we left our Airbnb and headed back to Hendersonville for Jeter Mountain Farm. They're only open Thursday and Friday 10am-3pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm, and I had heard it gets BUSY. We got there at about 10:30 and were about the 30th car there. 

My first impression was just WOW. The whole facility is brand new with high ceilings, stone exteriors, and wooden interiors. There are separate spaces for the cidery, coffee shop, market (gift shop), donut window, and there's even a permanent barbecue truck up the hill. 
After a cider slushie and some hot donuts, we got in line to pay for apples and a hayride. Jeter was $29 for apple picking, which included a basket to keep and a ride out to the orchard. (To compare the two, Sky Top picking was $25, and the tractor ride around the property was $3 per person, so Jeter was slightly less expensive and you didn't have to hike out to the fields.) 

The line to pay and for the tractor only took a few minutes each, and the ride out to the orchard was beautiful, through grapevines, blackberries, and many other crops. 
When we got off the tractor, we were greeted by another employee who told us where to pick and what kinds of apples were available. While the orchards were much more manicured, the area to pick was much smaller than Sky Top. There were ropes blocking you off from many of the rows, and while there were a few rows for each type of apple, only a few trees still had apples, so people were all congregating around them. (Yes, I did my best in my photos to make it look like we were the only ones there haha.)
After a full basket of apples, we took a tractor ride back and shopped around the market before getting a flight of cider to enjoy while Calvin played in the playground space. 
We really enjoyed both orchards and would definitely go back to both. But now, the superlatives in case you want to plan your own trip:
  • Better apple picking: Tie (walk out on your own to a wide open, go-wherever-you-want experience at Sky Top versus tractor ride to a very controlled and people-filled but well manicured orchard at Jeter)
  • Better apples: Tie (I swear this is the last tie haha)
  • Better cider (and slushies): Sky Top
  • Better hard cider: Jeter (get a flight!)
  • Better cider donuts: Sky Top
  • Better market: Sky Top (apple butter and caramel apples - yum!)
  • Better selection of food: Jeter (Sky Top didn't have a meal option)
  • Better hayride: Jeter
  • Better playground: Jeter
  • Better other activities: Sky Top 
  • Better photo ops: Jeter
And if you're looking for other Asheville things to do, we really enjoyed: walk around Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary (stroller-friendly), all the animals at WNC Nature Center, beers at Burial Beer Co and Whistle Hop (it's train-themed), and frozen custard sandwiches at Whit's.

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