16 cider mills that will quickly grow on you

Melody Baetens, Adam Graham, Michael Hodges, Greg Tasker and Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

So many cider mills, so little time.

September and October are high time for trips to cider mills in Michigan. It's the season when cider and doughnuts are perfectly acceptable as breakfast, lunch and dinner — or all three.

But cider mills are about more than cider and doughnuts; they're about the full experience: the sights, the sounds and the smells that we equate with autumn in Michigan, a seasonal rite unfamiliar to most outside the Great Lakes State.

Cider mills abound in Southeastern Michigan, and each has its own character and flavor.

Here is our guide to some of our favorites (and seasonal hours):

Parmenter's Northville Cider Mill, 714 Baseline Road, Northville. (248) 349-3181.

Go for: The spice doughnuts, complex cider and diversions for kids

No need for fancy doughnut flavors at Parmenter's, founded in 1873 by a Civil War veteran, where we found spice doughnuts that are rounder and pouffier than most. Parmenter's also features a "chow mill" that sells Dearborn Sausage Co. hot dogs and kielbasa, if you need to tamp down the kids' (or your) sugar rush a bit. One of the 10-year-olds we had in tow declared it "more fun for kids than Franklin" because of the extra added attractions, which include playscapes, craft booths on the weekend, a hay wagon to sit on and a creek where kids can feed crumbs to an avid flock of ducks.

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily

Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill, 17985 Armada Center, Armada, (586) 784-5343.

Go for: The total package

Blake Farms began as a farm house and since expanded to become a destination apple orchard and cider mill with a booming hard cider business that keeps the family busy year-round.

Labor Day weekend, the Armada farm debuted massive renovations to its cider mill and farm house. The clean and spacious general store and cafe offers sweets, produce and concessions, as well as made-in-Michigan dry goods like salsa, jams and more. Last year, Blake's opened the Hard Cider House and Winery, a bar and restaurant located in the middle of all the fall fun. It's set to be featured on an upcoming episode of Esquire network's "Best Bars in America."

There's also more than a dozen acres of land for kids to run around, with plenty of structures for jumping and climbing on. Its award-winning haunted attractions include a three-story haunted barn, a 3-D maze, haunted hayride and zombie paintball.

"We're really trying to solidify ourselves as a real, true hidden gem of Michigan," says third-generation owner Andrew Blake. His grandparents Gerald and Elizabeth Blake opened the business in 1946. "I think we have more to offer here than anyone really realizes, and we've been able to do that because of our clientele that is extremely, extremely loyal."

8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; u-pick ends at 5 p.m.

Franklin Cider Mill, 7450 Franklin, Bloomfield Hills. (248) 626-8261.

Go for: The cider slush and warm doughnuts

Franklin Cider Mill is a Goliath among cider mills, a classic that is as old as the state of Michigan. Long lines are typical in the heart of the season as crowds gather in the market area outside the mill. The tree-lined property is an excellent place to watch the leaves turn color, as brisk yellows and reds color the property. But the true draw is the warm doughnuts, lifted up via dumbwaiter from the floor below for maximum warmth and freshness. Wash them down with a delicious cider slush; just make sure you don't drink from the bottom. Move the straw around and slurp from the top, or else you'll end up sucking ice. And take your time, lest you end up with a serious case of cider brain freeze.

7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m-6:30 p.m. weekends.

Wiard's Orchards and Country Fair / Cider Mill, 5565 Merritt, Ypsilanti. (734) 390-9211.

Go for: The frozen pies you bake at home and the astonishing range of activities

At 177 years, Wiard's is one of the oldest cider mills in Michigan. This vast enterprise in a countrified part of Ypsilanti offers so many things to do — from six "haunted attractions" to a Fort Wiard miniature golf course — that they've got a guest services booth right as you walk in. And how many other cider mills have concierge services? The cider rocks, naturally, but there's also shelf after refrigerated shelf of frozen pies you can take home and fool your guests into thinking you made yourself. The crowd at Wiard's was refreshingly diverse one recent Sunday, with personal styles ranging from chadors to dreadlocks.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (except Monday).

Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion, Rochester. (248) 656-3400.

Go for: A stop along the Paint Creek Trail

If you're running, walking or riding along the picturesque Paint Creek Trail, the nearly 9-mile trail that stretches from Rochester to Lake Orion, the Paint Creek Cider Mill is a natural stop along the way. It's a full-service restaurant that doesn't stop at just cider and doughnuts — they have pizzas, salads, sandwiches and wraps as well, along with ice cream and hot dogs. On its extensive menu, it also offers an apple smoothie, better in concept than execution, but we applaud the innovation and the attempt to mix things up from the run of the mill — pun intended — offerings.

9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

Yates Cider Mill, 1990 E. Avon, Rochster Hills. (248) 651-8300.

Go for: The crowds

The secret is out about Yates Cider Mill. Even on weekdays, expect to stand in a sizable line at this Rochester Hills favorite that dates back to the 1860s. But it's every bit worth the wait: Yates' doughy doughnuts and tart cider are up to snuff, and there's plenty to do on the expansive grounds, which have hills, benches, a river walk, a petting zoo and more. Just don't come if you're in a hurry.

7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends.

Westview Orchards and Adventure Farm, 65075 Van Dyke, Washington Township. (586) 752-3123.

Go for: Baked goods

There's plenty to do at Washington Township's Westview Orchard. Visit the farm market, bakery, sweet shop and cider mill, where you can witness fresh apple cider being pressed on the weekends. Get in a slew of family-friendly autumn activities including a 6-acre corn maze, pony rides, petting farm, playground, wagon rides, u-pick apples and pumpkins and an obstacle course. Don't leave without stopping into the bakery for a maple bacon doughnut or a fruit flip, one of Westview's signature creations.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Diehl's Orchard and Cider Mill, 1479 Ranch, Holly. (248) 634-8981.

Go for: The remote location

Diehl's is out there, located off a dirt road in Holly that feels more up north than Metro Detroit. The doughnuts are hot and their edges crispy — get them fresh out of the oven if you can, rather than the pre-packaged doughnuts sold by the dozen in plastic bags. Across the street from the mill, there's an open lot with lots of room to wander and for the kids to play on wooden play sets, swings and hay bales. Or gather up your goods and enjoy them in the car on the calm, relaxing drive home through the woods.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Middleton Farms Cider Mill, 46462 Dequindre, Utica. (586) 731-6699.

Go for: The friendly cat

Located around the corner and up the road from Yates, Middleton Farms Cider Mill feels a world away from that metropolis of activity. We checked in on a recent weekday and it was calm and quiet, the kind of place where you're not surprised to see a cat crawling on the counter and on the floor. (That's Lucky, who was left there a few years ago and is now something of Middleton's mascot.) Middleton is a friendly, unpretentious spot where you can feed the ducks and geese, grab a cider and some doughnuts and hit the road. Easy, simple and sweet.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Miller's Big Red Farms, 4900 32 Mile, Washington. (586) 752-7888.

Go for: The petting zoo

Munch on a doughnut and cider on Miller's recently updated patio or farm courtyard, or head out into the field and pick your own bushel of apples. What sets Miller's apart from other fall attractions is its petting zoo, with hungry and friendly chickens, rabbits, pigs, goats, llamas, sheep and more. There's also a corn maze and hayrides.

10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri.-Sun.

Rochester Cider Mill, 5125 N. Rochester, Rochester. (248) 651-4224.

Go for: The late season cider

Rochester Cider Mill, located along Rochester Road, has bountiful cider and doughnuts (go early for the maple and blueberry doughnuts, they go quick, or call up and order them ahead of time), along with lots of indoor/outdoor seating and places for kids to play. But its late season ciders — including a cranberry blend, a blueberry blend and a special holiday blend — extend the mill's season well into November.

7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Goodison Cider Mill, 4295 Orion, Rochester. (248) 652-8450.

Go for: The vanilla-frosted blueberry doughnut

Less than a half mile from Paint Creek Cider Mill, Goodison is a low-key alternative for cider mill purists. They've got all the classics, from cider pressed on site to plain and cinnamon sugar doughnuts to apples by the bag and a large play area for the kiddies. But if you get a chance, grab a vanilla-frosted blueberry doughnut, dunk it in a cup of hot cider and thank us later.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

Ashton Orchard and Cider Mill, 3925 Seymour Lake, Ortonville. (248) 627-6671.

Go for: The quaint feel

Ortonville's Ashton Orchard and Cider Mill has an old-fashioned general store feel to it, and it sells an assortment of doughnuts, cider, pies, jams and mustards. There are a few picnic tables out front and a wooden train set for kids to crawl around on while adults scarf down goodies. It's not fancy, but it gets the job done.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Plymouth Orchards and Cider Mill, 10685 Warren, Plymouth. (734) 455-2290.

Go for: The cider, pies and orchard tours

Last year, Plymouth Orchards and Cider Mill won the "Stanley Cup" of the state's flourishing cider industry, taking first place in the annual Michigan Apple Cider Contest. And that was after placing second the year before. That's no small feat for an orchard and cider mill that's been in business only since 1977. The former dairy-farm-turned-orchard has also won accolades for its doughnuts (try the cinnamon sugar). The 100-acre farm draws people from all over and is a hit with the kids (there are farm animals to see up close, wagon rides, a pumpkin patch and school group tours of the orchard). And here's a holiday tip: The homemade apple, cherry, pumpkin and pecan pies are a tradition for many area families. You can pick one or more up through Thanksgiving at the Plymouth Orchards Market on West Ann Arbor Road.

9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

Dexter Cider Mill, 3685 Central St., Dexter. (734) 426-8531.

Go for: Doughnuts, all things apple

Just west of Ann Arbor, the Dexter Cider Mill bills itself as the "oldest continuously operating" cider mill in Michigan, with a history that stretches back to 1866. The mill hugs the Huron River, and there's an outdoor spot to sit and enjoy cider and doughnuts. The owners blend three to five varieties of local apples in every pressing, and cider here is made the same way it was 120 years ago with an oak rack press. The mill's bakery offers doughnuts, caramel apples, apple nut bread and on the weekends, the staple of treats expands to include homemade apple pies, apple strudel, apple tunrovers and hand-rolled gingersnaps. And if you find yourself hankering for a doughnut and cider as Labor Day creeps near, the Dexter Cider Mill always seems to be one of the first open for the season.

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; open to 6 p.m. Saturdays in October.

Erwin Orchards, 61475 Silver Lake Road, South Lyon. (248) 437-0150.

Go for: Pumpkin glazed doughnuts, apple picking, cider, kids' activities

You'll find a little bit of everything at this third-generation orchard, farm and cider mill at Pontiac Trail and Silver Lake Road. The apple and seasonal fruit and vegetable picking attract many, as do the kids' activities, which include climbing on bales of hay, a corn maze and a pumpkin patch. But it's the pumpkin-cake doughnuts with a pumpkin glaze that have won this cider mill a loyal following for years. The apple spice doughnuts are tasty, too. The Erwin family planted the first apple tree in 1920 and today there are more than 200 acres of fruit growing on the farm. Erwin's, by the way, won the coveted first place in the annual Michigan Apple Cider Contest from 1999-2002.

6 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.