by Nancy Coleman
We were invited to join friends at Carter Mountain Orchard, so yesterday we headed toward Charlottesville. Unbeknownst to us, it was not only Carter Mountain's Apple Festival, but it was also a home game for UVA. I-64 was a bit on the crowded side.
So we bailed onto the back roads which took us past the entrance to Monticello. Billy asked the kids if they knew what Monticello was, and Ben, my 8 year old, piped up and said, "It's the guy from CHiPS!" Oh dear. Um, no. It is actually the home of Thomas Jefferson.
We not only were able to drive by the entrance to Monticello, but we also avoided the significant delays that those entering via Route 20 to Route 53 experienced. There was a steady line of traffic driving up the mountain that continued the entire four hours that we were there. We finally found parking, located a restroom, grabbed a map and bags for the apples, and then headed into the orchard.
It didn't take long to obtain 60 lb of apples. Some of the varieties appeared to be totally picked out, but if we trekked further down the row, they were abundant. There were seven varieties available to pick when we went, but the available varieties are dependent upon when you visit. For availability, you can check their website at http://www.cartermountainorchard.com.
We had packed our lunch, so after we checked out and put the apples in our van, we grabbed our food and headed behind the barn where there are picnic tables. It was a gorgeous day. We ate our sandwiches, then while a band was performing a sound check, Billy, my husband, graciously stood in a very long line for apple cider donuts. Did I mention that there were hundreds of people there? It was an insanely long line. He finally returned with a dozen. They may be ridiculously expensive, but they are amazing.
My oldest son said, "These are better than Krispy Kreme!" They were so fresh that their heat actually melted the plastic case they were put in. My son has food allergies, but the orchard graciously posts the donut ingredient list on the window where you purchase them.
During the festival, they also have wine tastings. My 21 year old daughter really enjoys their Chardonnay. I did not brave the crowd to even attempt the wine shop. I plan to return later this fall with a friend and her children on a weekday so we can enjoy the experience and not just perform constant crowd control.
Overall, the orchard is very family friendly. They do have a hay ride on weekends. The restrooms are typically clean. They did bring in portable facilities to accommodate the crowd of the festival, and even those were clean. I never saw a baby changing station, but it is an outdoor venue. There is a wine shop, bakery, and gift shop. They sell apple cider donuts (highly recommended), apple cider, and during the weekends of the festival, they did have a grill that sold hamburgers and fries for lunch. It is a great family friendly experience, but the apples are essentially the same cost as those at the grocery store, so beware how many bags you choose to fill. Fresh apples are amazing in comparison to store bought apples, even locally grown apples, but this particular orchard is a little expensive. If I were going with small children, I would avoid the festival and visit on a different day or weekend. Visit the website for hours and apple availability.