We first visited Royal Oak Farm last year and it quickly became a family favorite and our go-to destination for apple picking goodness. This family-owned and operated orchard is the real deal. Beautiful scenery, hayrides out to sprawling fields of fruit, friendly people and a fun atmosphere for the kids. I always leave feeling fulfilled and at ease rather than the exhaustion I often feel after family outings.
Two dozen different varieties of apples are set among countless acres of trees for you to sample, pick and bring home beginning at the end of August and lasting through mid-October. I particularly appreciated their apple map which indicated where each variety can be found on their land, the flavor profile and best uses. Be sure to check their crop report for details on what is available. And my concerns about pesticides in apples were eased by their commitment to using sustainable and safe practices which enable them to use minimal spraying to control pests, click here for details about their integrated pest management system.
Once you’re done picking your apples, head on over to their entertainment area where your children can play on several wooden climbing toy structures including a tractor, fire engine, full-size dollhouses, a train and more. Admission to their play area is free but you will have to buy tokens for their special motorized attractions such as the train ride, carousel, orchard tour, and petting zoo. I usually shy away from these attractions because the money seems to add up quickly but I find that the kids are more than happy with the free play area at Royal Oak and just a few rides are enough for them.
Before you are done for the day, be sure to visit their gift shop, bakery and produce barn to buy some farm fresh goodies. You can also eat at their country restaurant but I will warn that, on weekends, there will likely be a line to get in so go during off-hours or bring a bag lunch as a backup plan if you don’t want to get stuck with hungry kids and a long wait in front of you. There is no admission to the orchard until Labor Day weekend, then it will cost $3/vehicle on Saturdays and holidays through the end of October. I will admit that I generally dislike lines and crowds but, despite my previous mentions, I never found Royal Oak to be overcrowded or frustrating. I think the sheer size and wide-spread layout really helps here. Even if it seems like it may be busy when you’re in the parking lot, I’ve often found myself alone amongst their rows of apple trees.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that Royal Oak farm is long a drive to Harvard, Illinois but don’t let that stop you because this place is definitely worth the trip! If you are not able to make the trip out to see them, you can also find Royal Oak Farm at the Grayslake Farmers Market where they bring apples, cider and plenty of fresh baked goods for your enjoyment.
Editor’s note: updated in 2018 with new pictures and removing reference to pick your own berries which they no longer offer.