Fall foliage near Long Island: 3 great destinations

When it comes to access to spectacular fall foliage, New Yorkers are not as blessed as New Englanders. But that hardly makes them deprived -- not when they are within relatively easy striking distance of classic autumnal splendor. Less than 150 miles away, in fact, are three extensive -- and extensively forested -- mountainous areas: the Poconos, the Catskills and the Berkshires, each offering veteran and novice leaf-peepers plenty of opportunities

That proximity means you can wait until the colors are near peak and the weather near perfect. Here's a guide on where to go and what to do when you get there.

THE POCONOS

While the Poconos of northeast Pennsylvania are the lowest-lying of the three areas, they still offer plenty of fall scenery, most of it readily accessible from I-80. Where the Poconos score highest, however, is in recreational opportunities, with an abundance of activities such as golf, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking and white-water rafting that just isn't possible on steeper slopes and in narrower valleys. And that's not to mention seasonal fairs, festivals and ongoing entertainment options.

Upwardly mobile

Towering 1,000 feet over the dramatic Delaware Water Gap on the Pennsylvania side is Mount Minsi. The 2-mile (each way) trail, part of the Appalachian Trail, begins in the Lake Lenape parking lot.

Walk in the woods

There are 8.5 miles of easy to moderate hiking trails in Big Pocono State Park (570-894-8336, dcnr.state.pa.us), located atop 2,133-foot Camelback Mountain in Tannersville (free).

Ride the rails

Hourlong rides on the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway (570-325-8485, lgsry.com) cost $12 for adults, $9 for ages 3-12.

Get adventurous

The wilder and wetter way through the Lehigh Valley Gorge is by raft. Several outfitters, including Pocono Whitewater (800-944-8392, poconowhitewater.com) and Whitewater Challengers (800-443-7238, whitewaterchallengers.com) offer trips into October.

Charming towns

Three of the best are Jim Thorpe, with a Victorian vibe; nouveau artsy Milford and unspoiled Honesdale.

Info

Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, 800-762-6667, 800poconos.com

From the Throgs Neck Bridge to Camelback in the Poconos, about 2 hours.

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THE CATSKILLS

With nearly 100 peaks over 3,000 feet, the Catskills are true mountains. Just about everywhere you go in the sparsely populated four-county area -- especially the 287,500-acre Catskill Forest Preserve -- yields a collage of yellows, oranges and reds.

Upwardly mobile

For continuous scenic views, it's hard to beat the moderate exertion, 7-mile round-trip to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain. Trailhead on Rte. 47 south of Big Indian.

Hunter Mountain's Skyride (518-263-4223, huntermtn.com) is open weekends through Columbus Day. $11 adults, $7 ages 7-12. Hike another two miles to the fire tower.

Walk in the woods

It's an easy ΒΌ-mile from the parking lot in North-South Lake State Park in Haines Falls (nwsdy.li/ns, entrance fee $10 per car) to the site of the original Catskill Mountain House (1824) with its five-state view.

Ride the rails

Catskill Mountain Railroad's (845-688-7400, catskillmtrailroad.com) 45-minute Fall Foliage trains leave from Mount Tremper station Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Sept. 26-Oct. 26; $14 adults, $8 ages 7-12.

Get adventurous

Bike the Catskills Scenic Trail (catskillscenictrail.org), a 26-mile rails-to-trail project in the Delaware River Valley. Rentals and shuttle service available at Plattekill Bike Park in Roxbury (607-326-3500, plattekill.com).

Charming towns

Woodstock, last best holdout of the '60s counterculture generation; Tannersville, "the painted village in the sky"; and rustic, mountain-girded Phoenicia.

Info

Catskill Association for Tourism Services, 800-697-2287; visitthecatskills.com.

From the Throgs Neck Bridge to Woodstock in the Catskills, about 2 hours.

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THE BERKSHIRES

Smaller and less dramatic than their first cousins west of the Hudson, the Berkshires of western Massachusetts offer something both the Catskills and Poconos can't: authentic New England charm in the form of picturesque colonial-era towns, complete with graceful churches and expansive village greens; bucolic, centuries-old farms and orchards; and dozens of art and history museums, literary sites and grand, historic homes. They also feature more of the true stars of any premier fall fashion show: maples. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Berkshires can get quite crowded during the height of the fall foliage season and two-lane Route 7, the main north-south artery, downright congested.

Upwardly mobile

Massachusetts' highest peak, 4,391-foot Mount Greylock, affords magnificent 60-90 mile views in all directions. The 8-mile access road can be picked up off Route 7 in Lanesborough or off Route 2 in North Adams ($3 summit parking). You can also spend the night there at Bascom Lodge (413-743-1591, bascomlodge.net), built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Jiminy Peak's Berkshire Express scenic chair lift in Hancock (413-738-5500, jiminypeak.com) operates weekends though Columbus Day. $12 over 54 inches tall, $6, 38-53 inches)

Walk in the woods

Named by Pittsfield resident Herman Melville for its spectacular fall colors, October Mountain (413-243-1778, mass.gov) in Lee is the largest state forest and offers miles of hiking.

Get adventurous

Take a 20-minute scenic flight with Teamflys (413-862-9359, teamflys.com) out of Harrison-West Airport in North Adams. $30-$69 per person.

Charming towns

Williamstown, a quintessential New England college town; cultural Stockbridge; and Great Barrington, a vital center of art and commerce.

Info

Berkshires Visitors Bureau, 413-743-4500, Berkshires.org.

From the Whitestone Bridge to Stockbridge in the Berkshires, about 21/2 hours.

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If you go

Historically speaking, leaves in the Catskills and Berkshires begin turning in mid to late September with colors reaching their peak in early to mid-October, depending upon elevation. The Poconos are typically a week or two later. This summer's unusually cool and dry weather, however, means that the entire process has been accelerated by at least one week and as much as two. The best all-around source of impartial information about the progress of the season comes from the Foliage Network's (foliagenetwork.com) team of on-the-ground spotters, with updated reports posted every Wednesday and Saturday. Tourism board websites, both statewide and local, also monitor developments -- but make sure they are actual reports, not forecasts based on historical averages, or you might find yourself arriving late for the show.

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