For many fall foliage enthusiasts, leaf peeping is primarily a movable feast. That is to say, you hop in your car, proceed to a particularly colorful destination, and then drive through it, stopping wherever you want — or can legally — to more thoroughly enjoy the view.
For others, the fall colors present a spectacular backdrop for another outdoor activity, one that significantly enhances their overall enjoyment, and especially that of their less aesthetically-motivated children. For them, leaf peeping is both seeing and doing.
Listed below are a handful of such symbiotic seasonal experiences, all less than 120 miles away — and hence doable in a day — in each of metro New York’s three best fall foliage destinations: the Catskills, the Lower Hudson River Valley, and the Poconos. You’ll still have to drive there, but once you arrive, park the car and immerse yourself multidimensionally in Mother Nature’s annual cavalcade of color.
With nearly 100 peaks over 3,000 feet, the Catskills are true mountains, so just driving through them is destined to reward you with a constantly changing collage of yellows, oranges, and reds springing out of deep woods, along untamed watercourses, and over dramatic forested peaks. An uphill hike is the most obvious way of seeing both the forest and the trees, but you can also:
Let ‘er rip at 50 mph at Zip line New York (518-263-4388, ziplinenewyork.com) at Hunter Mountain, home of the longest (4.6 miles total) and highest (600 feet) zip line course in North America. Thrill seekers have a choice of two, adrenaline-charged, roughly three-hour tours, the Mid-Mountain Tour (6 zips and 4 suspension bridges) for $89 per person and the Skyrider Tour (5 dual racing lines) for $119 per person, $129 on weekends. Both available Thurs. — Sun, through Oct. 31.
Rise above the situation on the Hunter Mountain or Windham Mountain Skyride (scenic chairlift). Hunter Mountain’s (518-263-4223, huntermtn.com) is open weekends (and Columbus Day) through Oct. 20, and costs $14 for adults, $10 for ages 7-12. From the top, it’s a 2-mile hike to New York’s highest fire tower. Windham Mountain’s (800-754-9463; windhammountain.com) costs $14 for adults, $10 for ages 7-17, and runs through Oct. 14.
Choo choo through the woods on the Delaware & Ulster Railroad (800-225-4132; durr.org) in Arkdale. The two-hour, narrated journey goes 12 miles up (shorter trips on October weekends) the East Fork of the Delaware River and costs $18 for adults, and $12 for ages 3-12 through Oct. 27. Also available many weekdays through Nov. 6 is a $48 per person onboard lunch excursion on the domed “Rip Van Winkle Flyer.”
INFO Catskill Association for Tourism Services, visitthecatskills.com.
The Hudson River Valley
Encounters of a more “civilized” nature await leaf peepers in the equally scenic — albeit less dramatically so — Lower Hudson River Valley, where the focus is primarily on the intersection of mankind and nature. While many will want to just drive, admire, refresh, and repeat, you can also:
Reflect favorably on the Mighty Hudson on a cruise through the rugged and richly hued Hudson Highlands. Leaving out of Peekskill and sailing north is “The Evening Star” (914-589-7773; trinitycruises.com; $28 adults, $18 ages 3-16), while “The Pride of the Hudson” (845-220-2120; prideofthehudson.com; $24 for adults, $18 for ages 4-11) heads south from Newburgh, both through Nov. 3. All tours (check website for dates and times) are narrated and last between 1 ½ and 2 hours.
Frolic al fresco at Storm King Art Center (845-534-3115; stormking.org), a 500-acre, large-scale sculptured landscape in Cornwall that is even more thought-provoking against an autumnal backdrop. Admission: $18 adults, $8 ages 5-18.
Look way down at Walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park (845-454-9649, walkway.org). Abandoned in 1974, the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge reopened to pedestrians in 2009 as the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge. But the mile and a quarter length doesn’t fascinate nearly as much as the 212-foot height. Free admission, but parking costs $5.
Drink in the scenery at any (or several) of the three dozen local wineries. Note, however, that many are just tasting rooms offering minimal ambient scenery. Serving up some of the most aesthetic viewing experiences are Benmarl in Marlboro, Millbrook in Millbrook, Warwick Valley in Warwick, and Whitecliff in Gardiner.
Admire the furnishings (and grounds) at a historic manor house. Among the most autumnally appealing are Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Irvington, John D. Rockefeller’s Kykuit, in Tarrytown, Springwood (FDR’s home) in Hyde Park, and Olana, Hudson River School artist Frederick Church’s hilltop studio/home, in Hudson.
Get scared silly at Horseman’s Hollow at Philipsburg Manor (16 evenings through Nov. 3, $25 Saturdays, $20 all other nights) or nationally ranked Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in New Ulster (prices: $39-59 depending on the night (online $8 or $9 cheaper)). Sept. 21- Nov. 2.
INFO Hudson Valley Tourism Inc., 800-232-4782; travelhudsonvalley.com.
It is precisely because their slopes aren’t as steep and their valleys aren’t as narrow that the Poconos of northeastern Pennsylvania offer fall visitors significantly more recreational opportunities than the Catskills. Among the most popular activities are golf, fishing, boating, hiking, biking and horseback riding, many of which can be done at resorts that cater to families. But you can also:
Ride the rails on either the hour and a half Pocono Foliage Express (570-253-2697; thestourbridgeline.net; $20 adults, $10 ages 3-12, through Oct. 30) out of Honesdale or the hourlong Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railroad (570-325-8485, lgsw.com; $12 adults, $9 ages 3-12) out of charming Jim Thorpe.
Go with the littoral flow through the turbulent Lehigh Valley Gorge by whitewater raft or through the considerably more tranquil Delaware (River) Water Gap by canoe, kayak, or raft. Several outfitters, including Pocono Whitewater (800-944-8492, poconowhitewater.com) and Whitewater Challengers (800-443-RAFT, whitewaterchallengers.com) offer both family and dam release float trips through October for roughly $50 and $70 respectively. Self-guided trips down the Delaware vary from 2-6 hours and from 4-14 miles with prices ranging from $35 to $50 per person. (For a list of authorized outfitters, most of which are open through mid October, visit nps.gov/dewa.)
Get all shook up (and/or wet) at Camelback Mountain Adventure Park (570-629-1663; camlebackmountainadventures.com) in Tannersville with its assortment of outdoor rides, including zip lines, mountain coaster, mountain slide, Segways, mountain bikes, and its new indoor Aquatopia waterpark.
INFO Poconos Mountains Visitors Bureau, 570-421-5791; poconomountains.com.
Timing is (just about) Everything
Historically speaking, leaves in the Catskills begin turning in late September, with peak colors generally occurring in mid- to late October, depending upon elevation and overall meteorological conditions, both recent and over the course of the growing season. The Poconos and Hudson River Valley are typically a week or two behind. The best all-around source of impartial information about the progress of the colors comes from the Foliage Network’s (foliagenetwork.com) team of on-the-ground spotters whose updated reports are posted every Wednesday and Saturday. Tourism board websites — both statewide and local — also monitor the progression of color. Just make sure they are actual reports, not predictions based on historical averages.