Wisconsin’s cranberry season is ripe with fall colors and activities
Wisconsin is the largest grower of cranberries in the world, and it’s harvest season. Right now, about 270 cranberry farms in Wisconsin are flooding their fields to harvest the state’s fruit.
It’s a beautiful sight to see, which makes it the perfect time to visit one of Wisconsin’s cranberry farms and check out all the fall colors our state has to offer.
Experience the cranberry harvest
Rooted in Red at Dempze Cranberry Farm is an agrotourism destination in Wisconsin Rapids where people can experience the cranberry harvest for themselves, says fifth-generation cranberry farmer Rochelle Hoffman.
Throughout October, people can hop on a wagon ride at Rooted in Red and drive by the farm’s flooded cranberry fields. Riders will learn about Central Wisconsin’s cranberry history, the 120-year-old Dempze Cranberry Farm and how the tart berries are harvested.
For an even more immersive experience, Hoffman says people can wade through the farm’s bright red cranberry marshes on Oct. 14 and 15 and feel for themselves how the fruits are harvested.
“Being able to experience the beautiful red, floating cranberries at harvest time is a really, really special experience for folks who want to experience Wisconsin's fruit,” she says.
How cranberries are harvested
Cranberries grow all summer-long in sandy soil, transforming from a green little berry to a ripe red cranberry, according to Hoffman. Once the berries are ready to be picked, the cranberry fields are flooded with water and tractors drive through the fields, gently knocking cranberries off their stems.
“Cranberries have four air-pocket chambers, which make them float,” Hoffman says. “So that's when you see that iconic red floating cranberry picture is during that harvest time.”
Hoffman says cranberries are then corralled by floating barriers called booms and pumped into a berry cleaner where the cranberries are washed. From there, the fruit can either get stored, shipped, canned or made into juice or craisins.
“We put so much love and energy into our cranberries,” Hoffman says. “When we get to harvest, we're able to really appreciate the fruits of our labor. It’s a highly generational and family involved business — it's something that I've been able to do with my parents and my grandparents.”
For a scenic view of Wisconsin’s cranberry fields, people can drive the Cranberry Highway — a 50-mile stretch of road that winds from Wisconsin Rapids to Warrens — according to Anne Sayers, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
Sayers says an array of cranberry marshes line the edge of the Highway 54 route during the harvest season, making it the best time of year to make the drive.
“Ripe cranberries float at the top of these flooded marshes,” Sayers says. “Then the trees provide all the bursts of crimson and orange and gold, you kind of drive through this painter's palette of rich colors along the Cranberry Highway.”
Rest stops and other attractions
For those on a cranberry excursion, Sayers says there are several places people can visit, grab a bite or stay overnight near Central Wisconsin's cranberry farms.
To get a taste of Wisconsin’s cranberry harvest, Sayers recommends people visit Rubi Reds in Wisconsin Rapids, a specialty food market that sells unique cranberry-flavored products like mustard, honey and syrup.
Le Chateau The Manor Bed and Breakfast is a great option for couples planning a fall getaway, Sayers says. The Chateau has five grand guest rooms and common areas such as a library and parlor for guests to relax.
“This is a wonderfully preserved Queen Anne-style house that’s more than 130 years old,” she says. “When you arrive, you'll be greeted by the owners and invited to enjoy a premade treat in the butler's pantry.”
For larger traveling groups, Sayers recommends people visit Lodges of the Lakes in Nekoosa.
“There are two-, three- and four-bedroom condominiums for rent,” she says. “They're fully furnished lodges that have a luxury feel to them, and you'll love how the vaulted ceilings and large windows draw in a lot of natural light.”
Sayers says that travelers looking to dine with a view can visit Anchor Bay Bar and Grill in Wisconsin Rapids. Anchor Bay offers various dishes including seafood, burgers, pizzas and scratch soups to “warm up on a chilly fall day,” she says.
The Branding Iron Supper Club is another option Sayers says locals and tourists should check out, as its steak and seafood dishes have been served for over 50 years.