Fall foliage: Where to see the leaves change color
A quick trip outside of New York City offers a world of fall foliage delights. Here are five worthwhile leaf-peeping jaunts.
Wed Sep 5 2012
Photograph: Linda Engler
Autumn in New York is a spectacular sight. The parks show off their gorgeous fall foliage, the fashion world preens and poses during Fashion Week (consult our fall fashion guide for sartorial survival tips), and our cultural hubs are humming with festivals and events. Although there's plenty of activity within the city limits (in fact, here's 101 things to do in fall), it's worth taking a day- or weekend-trip outside New York and immersing yourself in the sights, smells and colors of fall.
1.5 Hours away: Sunken Meadow State Park
Though Long Island is better known as a summertime beach destination, there are plenty of reasons to head east after Labor Day. Sunken Meadow State Park (Rte 25A at Sunken Meadow Pkwy, Kings Park, NY; 631-269-4333, nysparks.com) is just 50 miles outside of the city, and offers dazzling views of Long Island Sound and even a slice of Connecticut in the distance. The park’s diverse topography allows you to view the seasonal changes in a variety of settings, from beachfront to bluff top. And because the cold weather hits Long Island later than upstate New York, procrastinating sightseers can plan their trips well into October. The fall harvest season is also a great time to make your way to Long Island Wine Country (liwines.com) to visit the tasting rooms of more than three dozen local wineries.
1.5–2 Hours away: Walkway Over the Hudson
Think of Walkway Over the Hudson (87 Haviland Rd at Rte 9W, Highland, NY; 845-454-9649, walkway.org) as Poughkeepsie’s answer to the High Line. The former railroad overpass is more than a mile long, making it the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge. And smack dab in the middle—perched 212 feet above the Hudson River and surrounded by the Catskills—is where you’ll find a spectacular, 360-degree view of fall in all its colorful glory along the banks of the river. If hoofing it isn’t your style, board the Rip Van Winkle for the two-hour narrated Fall Foliage cruise (1 E Strand St at Broadway, Kingston, NY; 845-340-4700, hudsonrivercruises.com. $12; Oct 8–28). Your guide will also point out some of the area’s stately mansions, photo-worthy lighthouses and other historic sites.
2 Hours away: Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway
There’s no denying that the autumnal colors of Central Park have a lot of charm. But 90 miles north of midtown, the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway (mtnscenicbyway.org), an 88-mile loop between Kerhonkson and New Paltz, NY, offers drive-by gawkers some of the state’s most picturesque views, with rustic farmlands and mountain vistas you won’t find in Manhattan. The prime leaf-spotting happens as you ascend into the Shawangunk Mountains, which rise more than 2,000 feet above sea level. Keep your camera handy during the 10.4-mile stretch of mountain road—complete with hairpin turns and switchbacks—that begins in Kerhonkson, where Route 44/55 meets Route 209. Along the way you’ll pass two back-to-back overlooks, each with imposing views of the Rondout Valley and the Catskill Mountains. If you feel the need to stretch your legs, pay a visit to the Minnewaska State Park Preserve (5281 Route 44-55, Kerhonkson, NY; 845-255-0752, nysparks.com), where you can walk, cycle, hike to a waterfall or rock climb.
4.5 Hours away: Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s Fall Foliage Train
No car? No problem. Pack a weekend bag and take a bucolic four-and-a-half hour ride from Penn Station to Utica, NY, aboard Amtrak’s Empire Service (amtrak.com; $118–$175). Spend the night at the century-old Hotel Utica (102 Lafayette St between Washington and Seneca Sts, Utica, NY; 877-906-1912, hotelutica.com; nightly rates from $119), then head back to the station in the morning for another train ride, this time on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s Fall Foliage Train (adirondackrr.com; $35.50–$37.50). You’ll go over the Hudson River and through the Adirondack foothills on this five-hour trek, which can be booked with (Thu, Sat 9:15am; Sept 13–Oct 25) or without (Fri, Sun 11:30am; Sept 16–Oct 28) a four-hour layover at Thendara Station; if you choose to stop there, you can explore the Adirondack Park (visitadirondacks.com), the country’s largest National Historic Landmark.
5 Hours away: Fall into the Finger Lakes at the Black Sheep Inn
For another weekend-long excursion, head to Hammondsport, NY, in the Finger Lakes. Book a room at the octagonal Black Sheep Inn (8329 Pleasant Valley Rd between Beers Hill and Germania Rds, Hammondsport, NY; 877-274-6286, stayblacksheepinn.com; nightly rates from $199) and let the B&B’s proprietors do all the heavy lifting for you. The inn’s Fall into the Finger Lakes package (rates start at $599 for double occupancy), available during September and October, includes a two-night stay, a picnic lunch with recommendations of the best spots for foliage-spotting and a harvest dinner when you return, followed by Mexican hot chocolate and s’mores around the backyard campfire. It’s also a well-situated base for those looking to take part in the Keuka Lake Wine Trail’s Harvest Tour of Food and Wine (keukawinetrail.com; $14–$25; Sept 15, 16) or the Corning’s Gaffer District Jazz and Harvest Festival (gafferdistrict.com; free–$15; Sept 21, 22).