Oak Glen: Where Apples ‘Grow A Mile High’

by Pam Price

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Sonny and Vito Visit Dog-Friendly Oak Glen, California

I’m driving along Oak Glen Road, headed to the legendary apple ranches of Oak Glen, California—a dog-friendly destination that I discovered quite by accident! The narrow, gently curving path leads to what many apple fans refer to as “apple paradise,” wending its way through the San Bernardino Mountains as if it were a paintbrush ribbon on steroids. As it ascends toward the apple community of Oak Glen, reaching an elevation of 4,734 feet, you see the sign for Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho.

You are in a slice of apple heaven between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Little San Bernardino Mountains of San Bernardino County. The breathtaking roadside scenery beckons you at every curve on this classic country road. When you see the “Big Apple” sign on your left on Glen Oak Road, the first official sign of apple nirvana, you have arrived. The Big Apple is followed by more signs for apple tree neighbors—none neon, by the way—for classic favorites, such as Riley’s Apple Farm, The Homestead at Wilshire Ranch, and Riley’s Stone Soup Farm. You will spot these iconic ranches on the right as you reach the entrance to Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho on your left. A far cry from endless fast food and stop signs, Riley’s roadside orchards, country store, and famous bakery are well known for their fresh and hard apple cider, a BBQ café, and bigger-than-life homemade apple pies. This is a bite of paradise, where the memory of rural California apple growing persists under protection, educational outreach and, in one case, a dog-friendly attitude. This is in large part thanks to The Wildlands Conservancy and this small community of fewer than 600 residents, who enjoy cooler temperatures in a mile-high mountain and bountiful apple environment.

Our destination on this sunny day with Sonny and Vito, the Maltese travel duo, was Old West Days at Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho. The historic ranch hosts this free annual celebration that brings history to life, taking visitors back to the Wild West. This year, Old West Days was held August 3–5. Visitors were invited to hear authentic tales told by historians, ranging from chuck wagon cooking to wool spinning. We were captivated by an original chuck wagon housed under a tent, complete with a makeshift kitchen, where we heard fascinating facts about Dutch oven cooking. Chuck wagon expert Bill Schonhorst stood by, spinning tales of early California as Sonny and Vito looked curiously at an authentic Wild West coffee pot, probably thinking there were dog treats hidden inside! From this vantage point, we were adjacent to The Wildlands Conservancy’s 2,189-acre Oak Glen Preserve, which is also home to The Wildlands Conservancy’s Oak Glen Preserve. The preserve houses the Southern California Montane Botanic Garden and Children’s Outdoor Discovery Center and hiking trails that are pet friendly. The Wildlands Conservancy’s Garden is an ideal walk for travelin’ dogs and, as long as your nature-loving dog is kept on a leash and stays focused on 4.7 miles of well-marked trails, this is friendly territory. People and their pets are cautioned to “keep their tail on the trail,” as my companion said. This pet-friendly attitude is reflected by The Wildlands Conservancy, as Oak Glen is open to the public completely free of charge.

Visitors can park free adjacent to the trail entrance (for details, visit wildlandsconservancy.org). I was impressed to learn that in 2012, The Wildlands Conservancy literally rescued Los Rios Rancho when a proposed residential subdivision threatened this apple-growing gem. That proposal was followed by another by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to “condemn and shave off scenic peaks for 200-foot-tall, 500-kV transmission towers. Oak Glen organized visitors to send over 50,000 letters, postcards, and emails in protest to save Los Rios Rancho. The Wildlands Conservancy celebrated its five millionth visitor to Los Rios Rancho in 2012 during their commitment to “prevent exploitation of private lands within the San Bernardino National Forest,” which has ultimately resulted in the preservation of this enchanting, pet-friendly 4.7-mile trail.

While pets are not allowed in the orchards during the apple-picking season, festivals are held year-round, offering plenty of options. At the Rancho Los Rios restaurant and bakery, where fresh apple pies are baked daily along with fresh apple cider and dumplings, you can pick up The Valley Messenger, a local monthly newspaper. Writer Marlene Humphreys publishes a regular column called “Friends and Neighbors,” in which she describes the magic of Oak Glen, telling visitors to “look up and see magnificent mountains, breath in the fresh, crisp air, smell the trees and feel the cool breeze on your cheeks. You will be refreshed!”

And be sure to include your dog in the journey!

Pam Price says Sonny and Vito, also known as The Rosato Brothers, are planning their next trip to Oak Glen during the September through November apple season, which could be longer or shorter, depending on the climate during the growing season. If you can’t make it to Oak Glen during apple season, consider the pumpkin-picking season in November and December.

Pam Price is the co-author of of Fun with the Family in Southern California and The 100 Best Spas of The World.She has been the travel editor of The Malibu Timesfor thirty years and says she never misses an opportunity to take her two Malteses along on her travels.

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