Labor Day weekend has arrived and that means that just a few miles up the road a special place officially has up for a bustling season filled with tasty treats and family fun, all surrounded by long tradition. We’re talking about none other than harvest season in nearby Apple Hill a community of approximately 50 ranches that draws more than a million visitors to the region each year.After struggling through challenging times, the last three years with the restrictions of the pandemic and then the devastating wildfires, including the Caldor Fire which limited travel and affected crops, this year is on its way to be one of big bounties for Apple Hill.  Area farms are reporting quality abundant crops following a perfect combination of winter, spring and summer weather. Friday afternoon, many were starting their holiday weekend off with a visit to several of the farms as they wanted to beat the crowds.While the area draws its share of locals from September to December, Apple Hill draws travelers from far reaches of California and even the Pacific Northwest. It’s this large attraction that benefits the surrounding communities in El Dorado County, and even boosts the tourism into places like Folsom and El Dorado Hills this time of year.The Highway 50 corridor is the common route to Apple Hill. With its large draw from the Central Valley as well as the Bay Area, Folsom provides an ideal stopping place, either on their way up the hill or on their way down to enjoy Folsom’s many dining options, shopping venues and lodging.The Apple Hill area is known for its rural ambiance and tasty products that extend well beyond that of just apples. This consists of numerous ranches, which are the largest concentration of apple growers in California, featuring 16 different varieties of apples and various other fruits.It’s not all just fruit when you visit, it’s bake shops packed with tasty homemade pies, caramel apples, dumplings and more. The area is home to nearly two dozen wineries as well. Altogether the members of the Growers Association are responsible for more than 50 different special events during the season.Many of the ranches in the Apple Hill area are operated by multiple generations of families who were amidst some of the pioneers of the area. It seems like every ranch you visit has a family name attached to it, whether it is Visman, Dephino, Abel or others.Traveling up Carson Road, Abel’s Acres is one of the first roadside ranches many stumble upon. The ranch has been in operation since 1976 and continues to operate thanks to four generations of Abels doing their part throughout the year and during the busy season as the area becomes populated with day trippers. Throughout the years, Evelyn Abel has baked her share of delicious apple pies, well into the thousands; from the traditional style to the famed Dutch apple and even a pie that’s a mix of apple and pumpkin all in one. It’s just one of the many sweet delights you’ll find at the ranch and most of the others. From apple donuts to caramel apples, fritters, turnovers, dumplings, homemade fudge and more, if sweet fruity desserts are your desire, this place is your dream destination this time of year.While the edible attractions are by far the main draw to apple hill, so is the scenery as well as the many activities for families and youngsters at the different places. From the maze at Abel’s Acres to the fishing pond at High Hill Ranch, the train at El Dorado Orchards and the classic water wheels in the stream at Larson’s Apple Orchards and so much more, there is plenty to bring wide eyes and big smiles to the youngsters as they enjoy some good old fashioned country style fun.In addition to the great eats and the ingredients to make your own special treats, the Apple Hill Farms have many great products beyond the apple alone. The association has its very own cookbook that can be purchased at various locations.Many of the farms host craft vendors and special events for the whole family to enjoy. From Johnny Appleseed Day celebrations to fishing, pony rides, hay rides and amazing mazes, no youngster or young at heart will find themselves board in this form of nature’s playground.So how does one plan a trip to the Apple Hill Farms?To each their own as everyone has their own desires and styles. One of the most traditional ways to tour the area is through the official Apple Hill map that details all of the member farms in the area you can find by clicking here.If you are on the go, the official Apple Hill Growers App can be downloaded to your mobile device and the official website is a key resource to all of the special events that take place throughout the seasons ahead at www.applehill.com.

Some history of how Apple Hill came about

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Courtesy of AppleHill.com

The Apple Hill Growers have grown from an original 16 ranchers to over 50 today, including Christmas tree growers, wineries, vineyards and even a bed and breakfast inn. So how this this special spot on the map just up the highway come about.  Thanks to the Apple Hill Growers Association, here’s a little bit of Apple Hill History.

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The year was 1951 and Floyd Bolster decided to retire in a community called Camino. He bought a ranch that had 10 acres of producing apple trees and dreamed of working his land and reaping the rewards of the life of a farmer.

Six years later, Floyd Bolster died, and his son Gene left his job in Southern California to come to the ranch and complete his father’s dream.

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In 1964, Gene Bolster, local grower; Dick Bethell, El Dorado County’s pomology specialist and farm advisor; Ed Delfino, El Dorado County’s agricultural commissioner: and Bob Tuck, a retired army officer, all united to form the Apple Hill Growers. It has been over 50 years and Apple Hill continues to attract people from all over the world.

“There were about 16 ranchers back then,” said Bolster. “We usually gathered at Bob Tuck’s house at the end of the day and talked about how hard farming was,” recalled Bolster in a history writing by the Apple Hill Growers Association “We had an awful pear blight about 36 years ago and we had to do something to survive. Our major crop was pears.”

To this day, a few of the old pear orchards are still around. “An orchard can produce for 50 years if it is taken care of,” said Bolster. The pear blight took production from 52,000 tons in 1958 to 8,435 in 1965. A few of the ranchers had some apples planted, but pears had been the primary crop. It was time for a change.

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Bolster and Delfino set out to discover a way to help the ranchers keep their farms and make the rich soil of Camino productive again. In 1962 Bolster and Delfino visited Oak Glen in Southern California.

“They had a successful marketing program, so we got a copy of their bylaws and improved on them,” Delfino said.

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Armed with this information, they returned to Camino, gathered the local ranchers together and formed the grower’s association called Apple Hill.

“We faced competition from Washington State apples,” Bethell had said, “but the growers in Camino had to do something.”

Bolster stated that the apples on the hill may not have that long shape, like the Washington apple. “They have longer days than we do. We have an ideal growing season, with a long chilling season. In other words, the trees stay dormant longer. So, while a Washington apple may look great, our apples have better flavor.”

The name “Apple Hill” was created by Bob Tuck. “It was amazing how much we accomplished in such a short time,” Bolster said. “We started in mid-June of 1964 and had everything ready for the first press picnic in August.”

During the press picnic, each Apple Hill family hosted individual members of the press for a meal at their home and many of them became close friends. The growers also produced 50,000 paper litter bags that they passed out at the State Fair that year, offering two pounds of free apples to visitors who brought the litter bag to Apple Hill with them.

Bolster still has a few of those bags and if you compare the map that decorated the front of the original Apple Hill literature to the map of ranchers that exists today, you can see that the original association has blossomed into a very successful ranch marketing endeavor.

Read more of the back story and facts of Apple Hill at www.applehill.com.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan