Where to See the Most Beautiful Fall Foliage Within 5.5 Hours of NYC
Get ready for some serious leaf peeping on these weekend getaways.
Escaping the city to do some leaf peeping is a great getaway for a quick afternoon, a full weekend, or a week-long reprieve against the backdrop of autumnal colors. New Yorkers have plenty of destinations to choose from, and in a world where road trips are among the safest vacations to take during a pandemic, a fall foliage-focused excursion might just be the escape you’re in need of after (a quite eventful) summer.
On that note, there are a few safety measures for COVID-19 you’ll want to take into account for leaf peeping. Make sure to keep social distance whenever interacting with those not in your travel group (a minimum of six feet has been recommended by the CDC). Keep in mind that each city has its own regulations around dining in restaurants -- some, like NYC, only offer outdoor dining, and others have moved back into indoor dining. No matter what your comfort level may be in terms of dining, make sure to wear a mask whenever you’re in public and interacting with others. And if you’re renting a car, inquire about what cleaning measures have been taken for safety and bring along your own cleaning kit for a thorough wipe-down before hitting the road.
Now that we’ve got the safety guidelines out there, on to the fun stuff. Ahead, you’ll find 10 recommendations for the best cities, parks, and activities for spotting the fall palette of seasonal leaves. Most can be found in New York, but there are a few out-of-state recommendations for those looking to go the extra mile(s). There’s something for everyone, even if you’re looking for a non-traditional way to get your fall foliage fix.
Cold Spring, New York
This is a popular spot for New Yorkers looking to take in the fall colors, much in part to how easy it is to access. If you didn’t bring your 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’ve brought your hiking shoes 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.
Peak foliage: End of October through early November
Places to eat: Hudson Hil’s Cafe for brunch fare, Le Bouchon for French classics, or Cold Spring Depot to enjoy 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.
How far is it: 1 hour and 15 minutes by car, 2 hours and 30 minutes by train
How to get there: You can 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
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.
Peak foliage: Second half of October
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 ride 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.
How far is it: 1 hour and 50 minutes by car
How to get there: Hop in a car and drive north on I-87
North Fork, Long Island
The nice thing about the North Fork is that it’s close enough to warrant a day trip -- no need to book a room. 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-time atmosphere. Plus, visiting in the off-season after the summer beach goers have all left for home allows you to catch the hotspot while it’s a bit more laidback. The best gift you could give yourself is a day spent driving around this picturesque region, stopping wherever you please to take in the transitioning mainland-beach-bay views.
Peak foliage: Second half of October
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 -- 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 -- perfect for frequent leaf peeping breaks
How far is it: 1 hour and 20 minutes by car
How to get there: When it comes to drives out of New York, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Once you’re out of the city, you’ll follow the Long Island Expressway east until you hit your destination.
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 you would in the larger hubs.
Peak foliage: Late September to mid October
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.
How far is it: 3 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 you 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
Walden is located in the heart of the Hudson Valley, but isn’t Hudson, New York, so you will manage to avoid some of the similarly-interested crowds of New Yorkers. If you’re a fan of hard cider, this is the spot for you -- Walden is also where you’ll find Angry Orchard. This year is the fifth anniversary of the cider’s home in Walden. Mark the occasion by checking out the newly renovated Cider House and pair that with enjoying their varieties amongst the surrounding fields and changing leaves.
Peak foliage: Second and third week in October
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.
How far is it: 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
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 -- great for beginners or casual leaf peepers.
Peak foliage: Second and third weeks in October
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: If you’re looking 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.
How far is it: 3 hours and 30 minutes by car
How to get there: Located in the Southern Adirondacks, Saratoga is best reached by car. You’ll follow the Hudson River north along I-87, which promises some beautiful views.
If you’re into spooky stuff, Salem is a great spot to combine both creepy 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. With COVID-19 precautions top of mind for everyone, this is something you’ll want to consider when planning your trip. Book your Airbnb or hotel early and call ahead to ask about increased cleaning protocol.
Peak foliage: First half of October
Places to eat: The Howling Wolf Taqueria for speciality 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. Things will look different this year due to COVID-19, but you can expect ghost tours, a psychic fair, witches’ market, live storytelling, and special museum exhibits
How far is it: 4 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
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
Peak foliage: First week of October
Places to eat: Smoke Signals is a must-visit, if you’re a fan of Southern barbecue. 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. There are boat tours you can book, as long as you wear a mask and practice social distancing. You can also rent mountain bikes and take on Craig Wood Trails.
How far is it: 5 hours by car
How to get there: You’ll want to hop in the car for this drive, which takes you straight 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 New York, 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 fancy dinner on the Grand Bellevue meal train.
Peak foliage: First and second weeks of October
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
How far is it: 2 hours and 15 minutes by car
How to get there: The best way to get here is by car, where you’ll travel north on I-87 for a majority of the drive
Stowe is a 200-year-old village in the mountains known for its stunning views. That in mind, being here during the peak fall season is like placing yourself in a snow globe depicting the perfect autumn scene. Stowe is a popular ski destination, but its ample hiking trails and water access makes it the perfect spot to soak in the last of the warm temperatures. Make sure and plan a drive down the Green Mountain Byway, a route through open meadows and farm land surrounded by mountains.
Peak foliage: Last week of September through mid-October
Places to eat: If you’re looking for seasonal ingredients, head to Plate or Solstice. For a great view and outdoor dining, try Topnotch Resort’s Flannel restaurant or the Cliff House Restaurant. And don’t miss breakfast from The Butler’s Pantry.
Other activities: If you’re looking for a dose of adventure, book some time on the Smugglers’ Notch zip line. The Stowe Tourism Website also has a great compilation of scenic drives to take during the fall season (check it out here). There are plenty of breweries in this region, as well -- Idletyme Brewing Company, Alchemist Beer, and von Trapp Brewery & Bierhall, to name a few. Just make sure to call ahead to ask about their operating hours for COVID-19
How far is it: 5 and a half hours by car
How to get there: Driving is the easiest way to get to Stowe -- you’ll find yourself gliding down I-95 for a majority of the trip
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