January 23, 2018

Picking Flathead Lake Cherries at the Hockaday Orchards south of Lakeside, Montana

Flathead Lake Cherries are pretty much considered a delicacy in the Flathead Valley, in northwest Montana.  Travelers and visitors seek out these soft, dark cherries, from orchards to roadside stands.

These cherries are generally not ripe until the middle to the end of July.  So if you want to pick cherries, or you want to purchase fresh cherries, I would recommend planning your trip to Montana after these dates (probably toward the end of July at the earliest).

My baby and I, and my friend Kristin, recently took a trip to the Hockaday Orchards, just south of Lakeside, Montana. 

Located about 5 miles south of Lakeside, you will head south of Lakeside, and just as you come down the hill right outside of town, you will see a left hand turn for Angel Point, with a small sign that says “U Pick Cherries.”  Take that left toward Flathead Lake, and then follow the signs all of the way to the orchard.

As you pull into the driveway of the orchard, it is kind of confusing.  There are a few homes to your left, and you will start to see some orchard trees.  You can park up here, and then continue to follow the road down and around to your left, where you will see the large orchard on your right toward the lake, and a small hut to your left where you will sign a waiver to pick cherries.

Flathead Cherry Trees, Hockaday Orchards, Lakeside, Montana, Copyright Montana Vacation Blog

You can come anytime between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week BUT make sure you check their opening date on their website: http://www.hockadayorchards.com/.  This year, their opening date was July 26, and I went on the first day.  They will allow people to pick until the harvest is gone. 

This orchard opened in 1910 — so you can count on them knowing how to grow delicious cherries!!

Their site asks you to bring your own boxes, which I did, but I forgot to bring them down to the trees.  They had boxes available for us, so no problem if you forget them.

There will be someone in the hut to your left when you arrive, and you will head on in to sign your waiver.  Then they will take you down to the cherry trees, where they will have ladders set up for you to get up high to pick the cherries.

The owners were so friendly and helpful.  I brought my baby down in her Kelty kids backpack.  My friend Kristin had her baby with her, and she managed to get a stroller down to the trees.  The trees are not far from the hut, but the ground is on a hillside, and is covered with rocks, so strollers are probably not recommended.  (But, like I said, they are possible, as my friend managed to bring hers.)

Alex Neill picking Flathead Lake Cherries, Hockaday Orchards, Lakeside, Montana, Copyright Montana Vacation Blog

Some rules for picking cherries:

1) You can pick them with or without the stem.

     If you pick them with the stem, they will last longer.  However, they take much longer to pick this way! 

     If you pick them without the stem, they won’t last as long, but they are very easy to pluck off the tree!

2) You don’t want to pull the cherry stem down, you want to gently pull it up.  That way, you don’t ruin next years crop.

3) Wear good shoes.  The ground is rocky, and you will be climbing up ladders.  For that matter, wear shorts, too, not skirts!  As someone who loves dresses in the summer, I had to bring shorts.

These cherries are unbelievably fresh, soft, and delicious.  They almost melt in your mouth (don’t forget to spit out the seed!).

They charge you $1.00 per pound to pick the cherries and take them home.

This is a family friendly activity, especially if you have older children who can help you pick.  My baby patiently waited in the cherry box while I picked a bucket of cherries.  The bucket hangs around your neck for easy picking.  I picked almost one bucket full, which ended up being 9 pounds.  I did try to pick most of them with the stem, to try to make them last longer.

Neill family picking Flathead Lake Cherries at Flathead Lake at the Hockaday Orchards, Lakeside, Montana, Copyright Montana Vacation Blog

When you look at the tree from the ground, it looks like there are no cherries.  But when you get up into the tree, you will see there are cherries everywhere!  If you run out of cherries where you are picking, they will come and move the ladder so you can pick more.

When you are done, you will put the cherries you picked out of your bucket and into the boxes, and they will weigh them up at the hut, and you will pay there.

Bucket of cherries

Bucket of cherries

NOTE: THEY DO NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS!! CASH ONLY (or check).  I learned the hard way!

You can also call ahead, and they will pick cherries for you — but it will cost more money.  Plus, picking them yourself is half the fun!! It is almost addicting, trying to get more and more to take home!

Can anyone help me with recipe ideas for cherries??  And I mean, easy recipe ideas.  I don’t exactly have a lot of experience in the kitchen, plus I am lacking the time to do anything too complicated.

Don’t forget to pick up some Flathead Lake Cherries while you are visiting northwest Montana.

Warm Wishes from Big Sky Country,

Alex M. Neill

Montana Vacation Blog


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