Fall Getaway to Wisconsin's Cranberry Harvest
A tangible excitement ripples through the gathering at the edge of a flooded cranberry marsh. The ruby-red fruits wait teasingly below the surface of the water, barely visible, until a harvester churns past and separates the berries from their vines. Thanks to tiny air pockets inside, the orbs bob to the surface, swirling together to create a floating carpet under the October sky.
Vivid harvest scenes like this star at Wetherby Cranberry Company's open house, held 9 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday in October each year. The Warrens, Wisconsin, company thrives in this region awash in cranberry farms. Here, 100 miles northwest of Madison, farms grow more than half of the nation's cranberry supply.
Wetherby family members drive wagonfuls of visitors to different parts of the property while explaining how they grow the berries in dry fields until autumn, flood the fields to create a large marsh for the harvest, use a vacuum to remove the loose berries from the water and process the berries in a warehouse.
But it's not all talk; visitors can get their feet wet, too. When berries overwhelm the surface of the marsh, tour guides pull out hip-high waders and help folks gently step into the water and stand among the berries for one-of-a-kind family photos and a fresh story to share over the turkey and cranberry relish come Thanksgiving. (608) 378-4813; freshcranberries.com
A family getaway
After the morning cranberry harvest, pick up cranberry wine in the Wetherby Cranberry Company store. If you're in town the last full weekend in September, you can browse among hundreds of arts, crafts and cranberry-foods vendors at the Warrens Cranberry Festival (cranfest.com). The nearby Cranberry Discovery Center (discovercranberries.com) explores the history of Wisconsin cranberries (Native Americans first cultivated them) and the modern industry.
Just a few miles outside Warrens, the southern reaches of the Black River State Forest (dnr.wi.gov) contain wetlands and hiking trails. For restless little ones, the Three Bears Resort features a bear-theme indoor water park (open only on weekends when school is in session), and a range of lodging options, including villas. Lodging includes water park admission (threebearslodgewarrens.com).