The cooler temperatures and lower humidity of the southern Blue Ridge are great for summer vacationers – and for apples. Henderson County is about as far south as you’ll find commercial orchards in seaboard states. North Carolina ranks seventh nationally in apple production, and 65 percent of the harvest is from the 20-some orchards in Henderson County.
We’re talking Red Delicious, Rome Beauty, Granny Smith, Stayman, Fuji and Gala as well as newer and heritage varieties. This time of year, you’ll see signs and stands along Interstate 26 exits as well as U.S. and state highways. Besides fresh-picked fruit, you’re apt to find apple butter, apple cider, jams, jellies, baked goods and more.
And over Labor Day weekend, you’ll find about 250,000 apple lovers in downtown Hendersonville.
Sept. 4-7 is when the N.C. Apple Festival is staged there, and it’s that town’s largest event. Along seven-block Main Street, you’ll find vendors selling apples, apple slushies, fried apple pies, fritters, doughnuts, caramel apples and other products.
That’s at the street fair, which is 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday and from 10 a.m. until the conclusion of the Labor Day Monday afternoon King Apple Parade. (The procession, which ends at 5 p.m. or so, is the festival’s big event; up to 60,000 spectators line Main Street.) The more than 200 vendors at the street fair include those selling arts and crafts.
There is continuous live, free entertainment, with the big stage at the Historic Henderson County Courthouse, in the middle of the festival. Acts range from area dance troupes to a comedian/magician to country, beach, oldies and rock bands. Main-stage headliners include the Buddy K Big Band (Friday), Emily Minor and Carolina Soul Band (Saturday), and Too Much Sylvia and Jim Quick and Coastline (Sunday).
Other fest-related events in Hendersonville include a gem and mineral show, a quilt and craft show, a car show, an open house at the Western North Carolina Air Museum, an antique aircraft flyby to kickoff the Monday parade, an 8K and a mile run and a Tour d’Apple bike ride. Some events are free; others require nominal admission.
Activities for children are centered at the visitors center parking lot and across the street in the Wells Fargo parking lot. Tickets for rides are available online.
Tips on logistics? Parking can be an issue, but downtown banks are closed Saturday through Monday and many let local nonprofits run their car lots; parking is often a $5 donation. While Main Street is closed to vehicles, there’s public parking on other thoroughfares. There’s a large lot at Fourth and Church; another is on King Street, between Third and Fourth avenues.
The Main Street festival covers nine blocks – and if that stretch is too long to hoof, free-of-charge wheelchairs are available for two-hour use, on a first-come basis, at the visitors center.
Downtown stores are open, but given the vintage of many buildings – Main Street itself is a National Historic District – restrooms tend to be in the back. Lines can be long at the visitor center’s facilities, but during the festival air-conditioned trailers with running water are situated every several blocks.
If you get crowd-shy, remember that this is prime apple season, and various area orchards are staging their own events. At Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard (www.steppapples.com), for instance, pumpkins can be sent airborne on a punkin’-chuckin’ catapult.
To the core!
Hendersonville is two hours west of Charlotte. Take Interstate 85 South to U.S. 74 Bypass (at Kings Mountain); take U.S. 74 Bypass West to I-26 (at Columbus); take I-26 northwest briefly to exit 49B (U.S. 64 West), just outside Hendersonville. Fest details (including map and schedules): www.ncapplefestival.org. Area info: www.visithendersonvillenc.org.