Apple picking season is here! Here's how to rock it

/ Source: TODAY

Looking for something fun to do with the kids this Labor Day weekend? How about hitting a nearby apple orchard for the first plucks of the season?

Although much of the country is experiencing an "Indian Summer" hotter than ideal apple picking temperature, most orchards, especially those on the East Coast, are still harvesting per usual, with their doors opening this Saturday, September 5th.

New Englanders in particular will likely have a bounty of apples to choose from this year, with the U.S. Apple Association forecasting that the six-state harvest will be 14 percent higher than last year.

But to be safe, especially when looking into smaller farms, call ahead to make sure they're open and ready for apple picking. Different places have different prime times, depending on what kind of apples they grow, and the weather.

Apple picking is an ideal activity for families with children of all ages, or even just couples looking for a weekend getaway in nature. Open orchards pride themselves as tourist destinations, and often you’ll find that there’s tons of other stuff to do on or near the farms.

For instance, the Hyland Orchards and Rapscallion Brewery in Sturbridge, Massachusetts offers free wagon rides for all, and craft beer tastings for the adults. Down at Jackson’s Orchard in Bowling Green, Kentucky this weekend, it's full-on "Apple Fest." And over among the 9.2 million apple trees in Michigan is Blake Farms, with train and hay rides, an animal farm, haunted barn rides, mazes and 12 hard ciders on tap.

These kid-friendly features besides apple plucking are a plus in case little ones get a bit bored.

“If you have toddlers definitely choose a farm that offers hayrides [which] ideally are free,” said Dina Cheney, a recipe author who often uses apples in her concoctions. “Petting zoos, corn mazes, and cider donuts are also nice perks."

Once again though, make sure to call ahead to verify prices, hours, and rules. Some orchards give you a bag to fill with apples while other promote a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) philosophy, charging you for a sack.

Once there, you'll want to use these tips for how to pick the perfect apple. And when you get home with your bushels of crispy, sweet, check out some of our recipes for using them as dinner and desert.

Or just enjoy them the old-fashioned way -- crunch!