Day Tripping Under the Cloudy Celestial Vault and Eating Apples Too: A Review of the Oak Glen Orchard Region

“Vénus.” - Miniature extraite de la collection De Mulieribus Claris de Boccace.

I recently wrote an article on wines from Snow Line Apple Orchard in Yucaipa, California. More specifically, the area where Snow Line and other orchards can be found is called Oak Glen. The Oak Glen region is small and picturesque with lots of activities to do, shops to visit, and nature to enjoy. It’s perfect for a day trip, and no, not the kind that involves L.S.D. Most people visit the area in the autumn when there’s cool temperatures but no snow, and people can pick their own apples. As it so happens, the winter might be an even better time to visit because the crowds are gone. I recommend calling one of the orchards ahead of time if you are concerned about snow. When I called Snow Line, she told me they have snow plow service and are open even when it snows. Snow or no snow, Oak Glen is an enchanting place to vanish for a while without traveling too far, so off I went. If you plan on taking a similar adventure, make sure to get directions from your point of departure in order to factor in traffic and trajectory.

I usually drive to the Wildlands Conservancy Oak Glen Preserve first to get some hiking in. It’s further up in the hills, so if you plan to hike and visit the orchards, I recommend doing the hike first. That way your cider isn’t sitting around in the car while you wander around. There’s a large, obvious gateway marking the preserve’s entrance, but I usually enter in through the back. Admission is free. The preserve has multiple trails, a botanic garden, a pond, some wetlands, and plenty of trees. As you hike, if you are anything like me, you will enjoy learning about native plants by consulting the placards that line the trails. My favorites are the deciduous forest and stream trails. I only recommend the chaparral vistas trail if you don’t mind long stretches of nearly featureless incline with no immediate end. You’ll eventually get a great view and a sunburn. You can also find Oak Knoll Park right beside the preserve if you want to have a picnic under the sycamores. Near the front of the preserve, you will find the main orchard Los Rios Rancho. Under normal circumstances, they usually have live music, quality bluegrass and the like. It’s also the place to go if you have a group and want to go on a carriage or wagon ride. When I was there, a sign indicated that the carriage ride is fifty dollars. I haven’t taken a carriage ride, but it’s one of those experiences I want to do. Does anyone really need a reason to take a carriage ride in an apple orchard? I think not. You can also eat some tri-tip while you’re there. They barbecue it out front; the scent tempts everyone other than the vegetarian and vegan crowd.

forest and picnic area
the boardwalk
the pond

After that, I recommend heading down the road to Snowline Orchard. Aside from their wines, they have the best ciders. They have regular apple cider, raspberry apple cider, and cherry apple cider. If you are planning on doing a lot of activities in the area, bring a cooler, so your cider doesn’t sit around and rot. On that note, you should drink your cider within a few days. If you leave it sitting at the back of the fridge and then decide to make that hot toddy, you will find that the cider turns to swill. The cider is amazing, but this isn’t the highly pasteurized stuff at your supermarket. If you want to save most of your cider, I suggest drinking a quarter of the bottle and then freezing the rest. You’ll want to drink some, so you won’t have a mess when the liquid expands in the freezer. If you do end up buying wine, some people worry that the elevation can cause issues with the cork. My sister has had a cork or two of the fruit wines move ever so slightly upward out of the bottles due to the elevation though I haven’t had a problem. If you are worried, one thing you can do is keep your wines upright for a few days in order for them to adjust. Then store them on their sides as usual. If you are more interested in the fruit, at Snowline, you can normally pick apples or raspberries during their proper seasons. In the winter, people mainly visit to shop, and they do still have apples available to purchase. The apples are more expensive than from a grocery store, but they are fresher. They also have heirloom varieties, such as the siege apple Arkansas Black, which has an aromatic vanilla spice taste when cooked. The lines are shorter for their famous apple doughnuts, so there’s always that. Whatever your goal is, the orchard is a beautiful place to relax. There’s outdoor seating and fresh air. At the orchard, you can feel like you are participating in a relatively normal activity for once — priceless.

Snow Line Orchard Store Sans the Normal Crowds

Further down the road, there’s a whole area called Oak Tree Mountain full of recently remodeled shops and restaurants; the area also has family-oriented activities. This area gets incredibly crowded, so truth be told, I avoid it most of the time. If you don’t mind crowds, there’s a petting zoo, an axe throwing area, a fishing area, and some type of entertaining pirate show. Whenever I do visit the area, I always see children glowing with happiness. They love that there’s so much to do. You can also find other types of shops, selling items like homemade candy, honey, candles, and so forth. You will definitely see Apple Annies. When I went there in the past, people would line up and wait for long periods of time to get a table because the restaurant is famous for their pies. Once inside, on multiple occasions, there were long waits and the food would often come out cold or the pie would be under cooked. I hope that the restaurant is doing better now that it has been revamped. I wish them all the best, but this is one of those places I skip. There are other eateries in the Oak Tree Mountain area, but I haven’t tried them. If you find any good ones, please let me know.

Once you pass Oak Tree Mountain, one of the last places you’ll pass is Mom’s Country Orchards, a place specializing in beautiful and unique jam. The whole back of the store is filled with their homemade jams. They use fruit from their orchards and the surrounding area. Normally, they have a sample bar where they will regale you with whatever samples you like ad infinitum, but reading the labels will do just as well. I like to buy my jam here rather than the kind from the store which is often just so-so. Every winter, I make an almond cake that I top with cream cheese frosting and their apple pear chai jam. When I am trying to kill guests with kindness, I also make Smitten Kitchen’s Sunken Chocolate black forest cake with a whipped cream topping flavored with Schladerer Edelkirsch Liquor, which I layer with cherry amaretto jam. Other favorites include their peach lavender jam, their bunny jam (a strawberry peach), and the blood orange marmalade. I visit the orchard multiple times a year, so I manage to pick up jam without draining my bank account. If you’re a jam aficionado, plan to pick your top two or three, so you don’t end up a hundred dollars down.

Once you’re past Mom’s Country Orchards, you’ll be heading home, if it be a sunny day, under the golden vault of heaven aglow with a pleasaunce that only rustic ventures bring. If clouds adorn the heavens above, you’ll still be hard pressed to break the orchard’s spell, and once you arrive home, you can cozy up with some warm cider.

Updated 4/2/22

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