Visiting the “Fruit Loop” in the scenic Hood River area is my all-time favorite fall tradition. My husband and I went long before we had kids, and just adapted our route after our daughter and son came along. Here are my favorite stops with kids in tow. But be sure to check out the full map here.

From Interstate 84, take exit 64 to Highway 35. We typically head to our farthest out destination first and then turn around to hit the rest of our stops on the way home.

First stop: Kiyokawa Family Orchards in Parkdale

Started by a husband-and-wife team who met in a Japanese internment camp, Kiyokawa Family Orchards is now a third-generation family farm. Kiyokawa has an extremely large selection of truly excellent apples and pears. Pre-COVID, my family would easily spend an hour roaming the bins and sampling the delicious fruit. While you can’t taste the varieties this year, the extremely detailed labels can help you select just the right pick — whether you need fruit for baking, sauce, storage or just eating fresh. And the labels are accurate! We tasted the Crimson Crisp apples described as “explosive” and found it to be the perfect word for the puckery apple. You can also hit the orchards to pick fruit yourself. Kiyokawa has very clear COVID-19 procedures that limit the need for interaction with their staff and help keep everyone safe. (And, yes, the play fort is open for kids to run through.) Pro tip: Some of my favorite varieties include Butter pears, and Honeycrisp and Sweetie apples.

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Second stop: Draper Girls Country Farm in Mount Hood

After Kiyokawa, get back on Highway 35 and head back the way you came. Draper Girls Country Farm remains on our must-stop list for two reasons: goats and apple cider. You can purchase small bags of pellets to feed to ravenous goats. Depending on when you visit, Draper Girls has a stunning field of dahlias with Mount Hood in the distance. It’s a perfect photo op if, unlike me, you can get your kids to actually smile for a family photo. Pro tip: Bring a cooler for the apple cider!


Third stop: Packer Orchards & Bakery in Hood River

As you continue to head north of Highway 35, swing by Packer Orchards & Bakery, or what my kids call “the cookie place.” And that is what this stop is all about. Packer Orchards uses its pears in all its baked goods. The bakery has more than a dozen types of cookies from chocolate-dipped macaroons to peanut butter chocolate chip. (You may already know Packer cookies from their stand at the PSU Farmers Market.) You’ll also find pies, cinnamon rolls, empanadas, preserves, salsa and honey. The spot also has a number of distanced picnic tables with a gorgeous view of Mount Adams. In non-pandemic years, we’d head into Hood River proper for lunch, but this year we packed a picnic spread that we enjoyed at Packer Orchards. Pro tip: The lemon-white chocolate cookies take the cake!


Fourth stop: Packer Orchards Farm Place in Hood River

We just added this stop this year. Now that my kids are 8 and 5 (and are obsessed with Greek mythology including the story of the Minotaur and the labyrinth), we decided to hit the corn maze at Packer Orchards Farm Place. As we were paying admission, the cashier warned us that it gets very hot in the corn maze and we should bring water bottles. We listened to her and she was right! The maze had a “farm scene investigation” theme that made it fun for the kids. If you found all six stations in the maze, you’d catch the culprit who kidnapped the fictional Farmer Joe. We had discovered four stations and were pretty hot and sweaty when we found ourselves by the entrance, so we called it quits. It still got a resounding thumbs up from the kids. Something to keep in mind: I noticed many people in the maze not wearing masks. 

After the corn maze, we headed home. Full from apples, pears, cookies and lunch, and tired from tramping around in corn, the kids succumbed to a rare and beautiful double car nap. Our trip to the Fruit Loop was one of the best days we have had during the pandemic.

Denise Castañon
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