If you find yourself driving along the backroads of our small mountain town this time of year, chances are you’ll notice many an apple tree. Some scraggly, some tall, with branches reaching perilously across a bend in the road in the strangest spot – the tightest curve. These trees are testament to times when farm communities all but made up Watauga county. Times when people depended on the sweet promise of an apple to get them through the winter season. These days there aren’t many apple farms in the area, but there is one that’s well worth a stop: the historic Orchard at Altapass. Apple season runs from mid-September to mid-November. So lace up your boots, wrap up in your coziest fleece jacket, and head to the mountains for a special fall getaway.
Right off the Blue Ridge Parkway
The historic Orchard at Altapass is located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 328.3. If you’re planning on staying in one of our downtown houses for the weekend, plan on spending about an hour traveling to get to the orchard. If you’re staying in our farmhouse in Tennessee, plan for an hour and fifteen minute drive. The drive itself is absolutely beautiful. If you don’t mind a more relaxed pace, we highly recommend taking the Blue Ridge Parkway the whole way there. There are plenty of places to stop, stretch your legs, and explore along the way. We’ve had a long, hotter-than-average summer, so fall color has yet to peak. If you head up in the next week or so, chances are you’ll see some great fall color.
A brief history of the Orchard at Altapass
Throughout time, geography has played a key role for the orchard and surrounding land. When the Clinchfield railroad was developed in the early 1900s, the land’s orchard potential was recognized. The land faces southeast, so there is little to no threat of frost. With deep valleys below the orchard land, cold air sinks and warm air rises. This makes the land ideal for apple trees with their delicate spring blossoms. At its peak, the land supposedly produced over 125,000 bushels of apples a year. Many families supported themselves by working on the farm. I have ties to the area, and believe it or not, my grandfather’s first job was picking apples at the orchard. The orchard has a colorful history, and I encourage you to read about even more of it here: https://altapassorchard.org/about-the-orchard.
Heirloom apples are varieties grown before the 1920s. At the Orchard at Altapass, you can find over 40 different varieties of heirloom apples, some ripening in early June and some in late October. Although u-pick season has officially ended for the orchard this year, there are still plenty of local apples for sale on site. This year was a great year for apples, and York apples are just now coming into season. Supposedly this is an excellent storage variety, and was first developed in the 1800s. Not only can you find unique heirloom apple varieties at the orchard, but you can also find a great selection of other items in the orchard gift shop. You’ll find books about the area, apple butter, jams and jellies, and maybe even lively old time music and dancing (if you time it right).
A trip to the historic Orchard at Altapass is the perfect way to celebrate the changing of the seasons. They even allow pets! Bring the whole family, book a stay with us, and make a weekend out of it. We know you’ll have a wonderful time exploring the apple orchard.
Author: Megan Biddix