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Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, we don't have much of a fall. And by that, I mean that the trees stubbornly hold onto their leaves well into November, only to give a great sigh around Thanksgiving and discard crumbling, brown bits on the ground around Thanksgiving without any of the colorful pomp and circumstance found elsewhere in the country.

We don't have real pumpkin patches, but rather ones where the pumpkins are shipped in and sold rapidly before they start to mold in the 80 degree weather.


We're in shorts and t-shirts long past the official start of fall. If we wear boots and sweaters in October, it's because the meteorologist called for plummeting temperatures in the mid-70s. (Go ahead, laugh. We're kind of ridiculous that way.)

So, with all of that working against me, what's a gal to do to get a little fall in her life without sweating buckets?

For many residents of North and South Carolina, the answer to that is head to Flat Rock, North Carolina, for a day out at Sky Top Orchard. Visiting there has become a bit of an annual tradition for my family, coinciding with our visits to nearby Saluda. And it's not just us: I've seen so many of my friends who live here in the Carolinas share their visits each year to the apple orchard, too!

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

If you find yourself in the mountains of Western North Carolina between August and December, do yourself a favor and open up a few hours to spend here. It's classic fall fun for the entire family that's not too expensive (unless you really hit those apple cider doughnuts hard...which I totally wouldn't judge you for doing!).

Although Sky Top first opened its doors in the early '70s, it operated exclusively as a commercial grove for years. It wasn't until the original owners' son was in college that Sky Top began to transition towards a you-pick fall destination; now, that son, David, and his wife, oversee all of the fun that happens each year here.

When you arrive, you'll have to make a tough decision: head out into the orchard to pick your own apples or grab a few half-pecks of the pre-picked apples that are laid out under the main shed. There's something about eating a big bag of apples that you picked with your own hands, but to get those prized apples, you've got to walk quite a ways up and down several hills.

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Despite my obvious pregnancy waddle, we went for the you-pick option this year and slooooowly made our way to the Granny Smith rows, which were, naturally, one of the furthest available apple types.

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
My mom and Britton leaving me and my ridiculously slow pregnant self.
Before you head out into the picking orchard, grab a basket--and a cart if you're planning on bringing back lots of apples!--and head over to the friendly employees just to the left of the sampling table. They can help you figure out what type of apple that you want to pick, and they'll hand out maps of the orchard so you'll know where to go.

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
Look! My dad found the rare Britton apple in the orchard!
Another must-do at Sky Top is the food. You'll definitely want to come hungry, as the apple cider doughnuts are ridiculously delicious. (I apologize in advance for how much I talk about the doughnuts in this post. I'm obsessed.) They are deep fried as all good doughnuts are and then quickly dunked in a cinnamon and sugar coating. Imagine if your favorite apple fritter married a churro, and that's what these things are. YUM.

I also love getting a cup of frozen apple cider, available under the shed. There's also hot apple cider if it's a particularly chilly day. And, if you want to bring home the apple-y goodness, you can find gallons of cold cider in the refrigerator cases in the shed.

Next, head over to the hayride for a quick trip around the 100-acre property. This was a particularly hot ticket item for my three-year-old this year, though you'll see visitors of all ages on it. Tickets are sold under the shed at the long cash register counter, and the 15-ish minute hayride departs and returns to the open barn at the back of the main shed.

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

The animals on property are another big draw for the little patrons. You can get up close and personal with peacocks, goats, chickens, and more. If you've got kids who'd rather play than pet animals, you can head over to the play yard, where there are close to a dozen treehouses, slides, swings, and playhouses.

Tips for Visiting:

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.comApple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
(left: Britton in 2016, me back in 2010)
  • Go early! During peak season (mid-September to late October), Sky Top is PACKED. This year, we went the third Saturday in September, and, when we arrived at 9:45, the place was already crawling with people. Know that most people will either head straight to the doughnut window or out in to the orchard, so hop on the hayride or let your kids play in the massive playground when you first get there. 


  • Don't eat the apples when you're picking them. It's hard, I know. Really hard. You're holding a fresh, crisp apple in your hand, and it would be so easy to chow down on it for a quick snack. But, since the apple price is calculated by weight, eating or throwing out apples in the orchard is basically like stealing since they aren't included in the final weight. 


  • Go for the full dozen apple cider doughnuts. In all of my visits to Sky Top, I've never said, "Wow, I wish I'd gotten less of these babies." They are crazy good, and the line is usually daunting, so splurge and get the entire dozen. You won't be sorry.


  • Bring cash. There's an ATM onsite, but it's always easier to arrive prepared. The orchard does not accept any kind of plastic as payment, so it's either cash or check. Without some green in your pocket, you'll just be sadly staring at the people on the hayride, everyone buying apples, and the other patrons stuffing doughnuts in their mouths. The hayride is a few dollars, and the doughnuts are $10 for a dozen, so you could bring around $40 and do everything that's available here. 

  • Check the website for what's available. Not all varieties mature at the same rate, so you'll find different apple varieties at different times of the fall. I was sad to find that my absolute favorite apples, the Pink Ladies, weren't ready during our most recent trip, but there were plenty of Granny Smiths, Jonagolds, and Honeycrisps for the taking.
I can't wait to take our new baby next year--hopefully, I will be much, much more comfortable then than I was this year and will be able to walk around the property with a bit more ease. I'm sure our daughter will be showing him all of her favorite parts, although I bet she'll probably keep the doughnuts and cider all to herself. :)

What fall traditions do you have? Do you have a favorite apple orchard or pumpkin patch that you visit?

Apple of My Eye: Tips for Visiting Sky Top Orchard, Flat Rock, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com


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