Where to See the Most Beautiful Fall Foliage Within 5 Hours of NYC

Get out of town this weekend for some nature therapy.

road to lake placid
Road to Lake Placid, New York | Flickr/LG45
Road to Lake Placid, New York | Flickr/LG45

We’ve reached peak fall and if you haven’t already, you’re probably daydreaming about escaping the city to take in the stunning autumnal colors. Luckily, New Yorkers have plenty of nearby options for leaf peeping that are only a quick drive (or train ride) away. And to make a weekend of it, rent a car and plan to take in a few towns along the way—because after all, it’s the perfect season for impromptu apple picking, too.

Poughkeepsie, New York | Flickr/Steven Strasser

Poughkeepsie, New York

There are a lot of stunning New York towns to visit during the fall season, but only one of them has a footbridge that will take you across the Hudson River. Here, the surroundings include changing leaves and crisp air while heading across the 1.28-mile Walkway Over the Hudson to the neighboring town of Highland.
Places to eat: You’ll find Lolita’s Pizza at the entrance to the bridge, making it a great choice for a post-stroll bite and a cocktail. La Cabanita has a fantastic mezcal selection and is known for its authentic Oaxacan dishes (plus, it’s housed in a converted church). Head to Farmers and Chefs for seafood and waterside dining.
Where to stay: There’s a fair share of chain hotels in Poughkeepsie, but look to an array of bed and breakfasts for added charm like the Journey Inn, a cozy place offering up traditional style. For something a bit out of the ordinary, head to Wings Castle, a medieval-style bed and breakfast that looks more like a castle than overnight stay.
Other activities: Art lovers can spend an afternoon at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (a teaching museum on the Vassar campus) and Barrett Art Center, both of which house permanent collections and rotating exhibits. Head to Main Street and you’ll find yourself strolling through Main Mall Row, a series of storefronts that date back to the 1870s. Assuming you’re after the best foliage views, don’t miss Locust Grove Estate. There’s a museum on-site as well as a nature preserve that surrounds a stunning Italianate villa that was built in 1851.
Distance: One hour and 45 minutes by car, two hours and 10 minutes by train
How to get there: Hop on a Metro North Hudson-bound train from Grand Central Station. By car, head north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway and I-87.

Norfolk, Connecticut

Thanks to its rural location in the northwest corner of the state, this small town in Connecticut is one of the first to see foliage changes. For the best sights, pack hiking shoes and head to some of the birds-eye views in the area: Campbell Falls, Haystack Mountain, and Dennis Hill. There are trails for all hiking levels in the area and most walks are either surrounded by trees at one point or high above the branches for a unique look into the surrounding counties and state line.
Places to eat: The Berkshire Country Store is a café / grocery store with a ton of homemade options and the perfect spot to pick up picnic supplies. For a good burger, head to the Woodcreek Bar & Grill.
Where to stay: Manor House Inn or Blackberry River Inn
Other activities: Catch a live show at the Infinity Music Hall (and hit up the Bistro before and/or after), stroll the galleries at the Artisans Guild, take in the sights at Haystack Mountain State Park, or brush up on your local knowledge at the Norfolk Historical Museum.
Distance: Two hours and 20 minutes by car
How to get there: Hop in a car and head north east on I-84. The drive is pretty straightforward and especially beautiful as the leaves are changing.

Cold Spring, New York in the fall
Cold Spring, New York | Rabbitti/Shutterstock

Cold Spring, New York

This is a popular spot for New Yorkers looking to take in the fall colors, mostly due to its easy access by train. If you didn’t bring hiking shoes, the best spot to take in the riverside foliage is at the gazebo overlooking the water at the very far end of Main Street. But if you’re equipped with hiking gear and are looking for a challenge, trek up Bull Hill or the more advanced, Breakneck Ridge, for an even closer peek at the fall scenes.
Places to eat: Hudson Hil’s Cafe for brunch fare, Le Bouchon for French classics, or Cold Spring Depot if you’re looking for an extensive beer list.
Where to stay: Hudson River House Inn or Pig Hill
Other activities: If you don’t feel like driving or hopping on public transportation, Seastreak offers leaf peeping boat tours starting in NYC and New Jersey, which will take you to Cold Spring (the views along the way cannot be beat). If you find yourself with downtime in Cold Spring, check out one of the many antique stores lining Main Street.
Distance: One hour and 15 minutes by car, two hours and 30 minutes by train
How to get there: Reach this quaint town by Metro North, specifically the Hudson line from Grand Central Station. By car, it’s a relatively quick drive up Palisades Interstate Parkway.

Mohonk Preserve, New York in the fall
Mohonk Preserve, New York | Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

Mohonk Preserve, New York

Hiking, hiking, and more hiking—all with great views of the changing leaves, of course. Check out The Shawangunk Sensory Trail or explore the abandoned homes of blueberry pickers long gone on the Trapps Mountain hamlet. If you’re looking for longer hikes and more fall leaves, head to the Undercliff and Overcliff Carriage Roads or the 7.5-mile route between High Peters Kill and Coxing Camp. You can read about all of the trails in Mohonk Preserve here.
Places to eat: High Falls Cafe for “casual country comfort.”
Where to stay: Hasbrouck House or Mohonk Mountain House
Other activities: Beyond hiking, bike and horseback on many of the trails in the preserve. If you’re a climber, don’t miss Gunks Cliffs, which offer five miles of cliff face and more than 1,000 routes.
Distance: One hour and 50 minutes by car
How to get there: Hop in a car and drive north on I-87.

North Fork, Long Island

What’s unique about experiencing fall in this 30-mile region that spans Suffolk County is the background of the Long Island Sound. Many locations on this list offer lakeside views, but the numerous bays located in the North Fork offer an entirely different fall atmosphere. Plus, visiting in the off-season after the summer beach goers have come and gone, makes for a more laid-back experience. It’s also stacked with dozens of wineries who are harvesting grapes now, so it’s an ideal moment to book a visit.
Places to eat: North Fork Roasting Co. for coffee and snacks, Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market for seafood, or Cliff’s Elbow Room for local favorites.
Where to stay: Soundview Greenport because it’s located right on the beach (what more can we say?).
Other activities: If you’re driving, don’t miss a joy ride along Peconic Bay Boulevard, a 12.5-mile stretch that’s lined with parks and great views, and perfect for frequent leaf peeping breaks.
Distance: One hour and 20 minutes by car
How to get there: When it comes to drives out of NYC, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Once you’re out of the city, follow the Long Island Expressway east until hitting your destination.

North Adams, Massachusetts in the fall
North Adams, Massachusetts | haveseen/Shutterstock

North Adams, Massachusetts

Located on the Northwest corner of The Berkshires, North Adams offers up the perfect mix of small-town charm with outdoor excitement. This city is the smallest in Massachusetts and you won’t run into the same crowds during peak foliage season that are common in larger hubs.
Places to eat: You won’t go wrong with A-OK Barbecue, Bounti-Fare Restaurant has an extensive yet affordable menu, and choose from Bright Ideas Brewing’s many pints
Where to stay: TOURISTS is a 48-room boutique hotel located in the heart of North Adams. This is a great spot for newcomers to stay, since the hotel has an adventure coordinator offering private hikes along the Appalachian Trail, fly-fishing expeditions, and waterfall meditation sessions to guests.
Other activities: With the Berkshires in your backyard, don’t miss out on biking the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail or exploring Clarksburg State Park. For a view with the state’s best span of fall foliage, head to Mount Greylock, which allows you to gaze up to 90 miles in every direction.
Distance: Three hours and 30 minutes by car
How to get there: While it is possible to make your way to North Adams by public transportation, it will take 14 hours with multiple bus transfers. The best way is by car, which also offers a beautiful ride up the Taconic State Parkway during the fall season.

Walden, New York

In addition to its picturesque setting in the Hudson Valley, for fans of hard cider, Walden is also where you’ll find Angry Orchard. Check out their Cider House and pair a pint amongst the surrounding fields and changing leaves.
Places to eat: Zona Rosa for Mexican fare, Ward’s Bridge Inn for dishes from a classic inn, and Felicia’s Little Diner for any diner cravings.
Where to stay: Audrey’s Farmhouse
Other activities: When you’re done with your cider (drink responsibly, please!), head to Sam’s Point Preserve for a spanning view of the surrounding forests. There’s an ice cave and waterfall in the area waiting to be explored.
Distance: 1 hour and 30 minutes by car
How to get there: This town is a quick drive out of New York up I-87.

Saratoga Springs, New York battlefield in the fall
Saratoga Springs, New York | Sean Donohue Photo/Shutterstock

Saratoga Springs, New York

The best part about visiting Saratoga Springs during the fall is that there are beautiful changing leaves to be seen within the city limits and a short hike into the surrounding woods. Congress Park is located right in the heart of the city and serves up a great picnic spot. Head out to the trails in Skidmore's North Woods, a 150-area park with trails that range ¼ mile to 1-mile long and are great for beginners or casual leaf peepers.
Places to eat: Hamlet and Ghost (an old gambling den-turned-restaurant!), 15 Church for seafood and steak, or Hatties (a local fried chicken institution)
Where to stay: For something super hip, check out The Downtowner, a modern take on a motor lodge hotel that’s a nostalgic thrill.
Other activities: The best views Saratoga County has to offer can be found in Saratoga Spa State Park. Bring or rent a bike and bust away from fellow nature enthusiasts for some quality (read: quiet) time.
Distance: Three hours and 30 minutes by car
How to get there: Located in the Southern Adirondacks, Saratoga is best reached by car. Follow the Hudson River north along I-87, which promises some beautiful views.

Salem, Massachusetts in the fall
Salem, Massachusetts | Terry Kelly/Shutterstock

Salem, Massachusetts

Salem is a great spot to visit for both spooky fall vibes and beautiful foliage. In October, the city goes into full Halloween mode, with haunted tours and themed boat rides. But expect major crowds. On a good year, Salem welcomes hordes of visitors from all over the country so be sure to book any accommodations in advance.
Places to eat: The Howling Wolf Taqueria for specialty tacos, Adriatic Restaurant and Bar for brick-oven pizza, and the Gulu Gulu Café for coffee and snacks.
Where to stay: The Merchant or Hotel Salem
Other activities: Every October, the city of Salem hosts the month-long Haunted Happenings celebration. Expect ghost tours, a psychic fair, witches’ market, live storytelling, and special museum exhibits.
Distance: Four hours by car
How to get there: Driving is the most efficient way to get to Salem, following I-95 north of Boston.

Lake Placid, New York waterfront with chairs during the fall
Lake Placid, New York | Albert Pego/Shutterstock

Lake Placid, New York

This region is a bit of a trek from NYC, but perfect if you want to feel transported far from your own bed and neighborhood soundtrack. The Alpine village vibe is strong in this city—head to Main Street and check out the local shops.
Places to eat: For fans of Southern barbecue, Smoke Signals is a must-visit. Liquids & Solids is also a local favorite for farm-to-table dishes and inventive cocktails.
Where to stay: Lake Placid Inn boutique hotel
Other activities: One of the best ways to see the fall colors around Lake Placid is by boat. Boat tours are available as long as you wear a mask and practice social distancing. Or, opt for renting mountain bikes and take on Craig Wood Trails.
Distance: Five hours by car
How to get there: Hop in a car and drive north on I-87.

Phoenicia, New York

Chances are you’ve heard of this city many times, or have been there yourself. But there’s one special activity here that you can’t find anywhere else in the Catskills—or NYC, for that matter: Rail Explorers is a company that will rent you a rail bike for a beautiful ride on the old Ulster and Delaware Railroad that runs along the Esopus Creek. And yes, there are a ton of trees along the way. This will be a leaf-peeping adventure you’re sure to remember—you can even pair the ride with a fancy dinner on the Grand Bellevue meal train.
Places to eat: Phoenicia Diner for breakfast, Brio’s for pizza, or Woodstock Brewing for brews and bar food (and tacos!).
Where to stay: The Graham & Co. Hotel or Scribner’s Catskills Lodge
Other activities: Take advantage of the surrounding trails for hiking, running, or biking: Giant Ledge, Kaaterskill Falls, and Overlook Mountain are all great outdoor spaces to explore
Distance: Two hours and 15 minutes by car
How to get there: Hop in a car and travel north on I-87 for a majority of the drive.

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Erika Owen is a Thrillist contributor.