If there’s one autumnal activity that is effectively immune to the deterrence of COVID-19, it’s leaf peeping, especially when done from the inherently safe distance of your own car or your own two feet. Making it even more appealing to Long Island fall foliage fanatics is the fact that they can peep to their hearts’ and eyes’ content at two world-class, in-state destinations, the Adirondacks and the Catskills, neither of which involves modifying their current precautionary practices or self-quarantining upon return. And as an added incentive, the near complete dearth of commercial bus tours this year means that they will have all those mesmerizingly magnificent back roads largely to themselves.
So if you’re still looking to insert a little — make that, "a lot" — of vibrant color into your fall schedule, monitor the weekly foliage reports on ILOVENY.com until conditions and opportunity overlap and then hit the road north. For planning purposes, last year colors peaked in the Adirondacks over Columbus Day weekend. Those in the Catskills peaked 10 days later.
All commercial enterprises open to the public are obliged to follow both CDC and Phrase 4 New York State COVID-19 protocols. How those protocols are achieved, however, depends on the physical layout of the site and the functional dynamics of the activity. For a complete description, including reduced hours of operation and possible required advance registration, be sure to visit the specific website.
With more than 6 million acres, it’s difficult not to find an abundance of autumnal splendor in the Adirondacks, where towering peaks and more than 3,000 lakes combine to create the rugged, primitive canvas upon which Mother Nature paints her annual masterpiece. Moreover, the Adirondacks’ geographical extensiveness and topographical variety generally enable you to take in all that autumn has to offer in the same trip.
BY CAR: Since timing is indeed everything, the best advice is always to just "follow the colors." That said, some of the most reliably rewarding drives, all of them under 50 miles, include: Route 73 starting at Exit 30 of the Northway (I-87), technically now the High Peaks Scenic Byway, and continuing northward through Keene Valley and Keene into Lake Placid; Route 28 starting at Exit 23 of the Northway and heading northwestward through North Creek and into the town of Blue Mountain Lake; Route 86 starting in Lake Placid and heading northeast past Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington and into Jay; and Route 30 starting alongside Great Sacandaga Lake in Mayfield and heading north to Speculator and then on to Indian Lake.
ON FOOT: While merely walking through the woods is generally rewarding enough, you’ll find even more to enjoy from the top of a mountain. Some of the less strenuous fall foliage favorites include Sleeping Beauty near Lake George, Crane Mountain near Johnsburg, Baker Mountain near Saranac Lake, and Castle Rock near Blue Mountain Lake. For something decidedly more up close and personal, take the suspended, fenced catwalk through High Falls Gorge in Wilmington ($13 ages 13 and up, $10 ages 4-12, highfallsgorge.com) or Ausable Chasm in Keeseville ($17.95 ages 13 and up, $9.95 ages 5-12, ausablechasm.com.)
OTHER VIEWING OPPORTUNITIES: Save yourself both time and energy by hitching a ride on the Cloudsplitter Gondola to the top of 4,867-foot Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington ($24 ages 13-64, $18 ages 7-12 and over 65, Friday — Sunday through Columbus Day; whiteface.com) or the gondola or chairlift to the top of 3,563-foot Gore Mountain in North Creek ($22 ages 13-64, $12 ages 7-12 and over 65, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 11; goremountain.com.) You can also drive up Whiteface on the Veterans’ Memorial Highway ($15 car and driver, $15 one additional passenger, $25 two to five additional passengers, through Oct. 12, whiteface.com).
Nothing quite brings the fall colors into more aesthetic relief than seeing them from the middle of mountain-girded Lake George. Choose from among lunch, dinner, sunset, or sightseeing cruises onboard the Mohican, Minnie Ha Ha, or Lac du Saint Sacrement (1-3 hours in duration, $17.50-$58 adults, $ 8.25-$22 ages 3-11, weekends only through Oct. 26, lakegeorgesteamship.com)
STAYING SAFE: In keeping with its rustic appeal, an abundance of inherently safe-distancing cabin and cottage complexes can be found throughout the Adirondacks, even in the premier destinations of Lake George and Lake Placid.
Much closer to Long Island and technically "doable" in a single (very long) day, the Catskills are arguably every bit as rewarding a fall foliage destination as the Adirondacks, albeit in a less visually dramatic way. Just about anywhere you go in the 287,500-acre Catskill Forest Preserve is destined to yield a constantly changing collage of yellows, oranges, and reds springing out of deep woods, along untamed watercourses, and over undulating forested peaks.
BY CAR: Maximize your fall foliage experience by taking one of two self-guided scenic routes, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, 52 miles of Route 28 from Shokan to Andes in the south, or the 41-mile Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway (several routes) in the North. Both include a dozen or so designated vistas, villages, and other points of interest.
ON FOOT: For continuous colorful prospects, it’s hard to beat the moderate exertion, 7-mile round trip to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain (trailhead on Route 47 south of Big Indian.) More of a long walk is the service road up Overlook Mountain near Woodstock, which ends with absolutely amazing views out over the Hudson River Valley. An even easier option with the same reward is the ¼-mile walk from the parking lot in North-South Lake Campground in Haines Falls (dec.ny.gov, entrance fee $10 per car) to the site of the original Catskill Mountain House.
OTHER VIEWING OPPORTUNITIES: Elevated forest views can also be obtained via Windham Mountain’s Skyride ($14 ages 18 and up, $10 ages 7-17, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 11, including Columbus Day, windhammountain.com) or Belleayre Mountain’s Catskill Thunder Gondola ($20 ages 20-64, $10 ages 7-19 and over 65, belleayre.com.) And you can see both the forest and the trees on the Catskill Mountain Railroad’s Fall Foliage Adventure and Pumpkin Express Trains, which leave from Kingston station. (Fall Foliage Adventure, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through Oct. 11 and Columbus Day ($15 ages 13 and up, $9 ages 2-12), Pumpkin Express, Oct. 17,18, 24, and 25; $19 ages 13 and up, $13 ages 2-12; catskillmountainrailway)
On the way home, sample what’s on tap an any of the 10 area cideries or check out this year’s drive-through haunted hayride at Headless Horseman in Ulster Park ($39.95 or $47.95 plus service charge and tax depending on date, also includes the walk-through corn maze and haunted houses; headlesshorseman.com.)
STAYING SAFE: Though nowhere near as plentiful as in the Adirondacks, there are still ample smaller motels or cabin complexes throughout the Catskills, especially near the towns of Woodstock, Phoenicia, and Big Indian.