Fall brings the start of the new school year and activities, and all the hustle, bustle and stress that goes with it. Who has time to stop and smell the flowers, or to look at the trees? There’s barely enough time to breathe. Well, we recommend that you do just that. Look at the trees that is; we hope you’re already breathing. Take advantage of nature’s stress reliever and check out the fall foliage at its peak. Here are three great day trips and one overnight trip that are perfect for viewing this natural phenomenon of the changing seasons.
Drive Through Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway
Take a drive about 1 ½ to 2 hours outside of New York City to the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway, (pronounced SHON-gum, believe it or not) to take in 88 miles of gorgeous scenery. The Byway passes through the Shawangunk Mountains and the Rondout and Walkill Valleys. Don’t feel like being cooped up in a car with your kids for that long, trust us we understand, the Byway can be broken up into four shorter and more manageable chunks. You’re able to go four different times and enjoy four different views.
What to Do Nearby: The Byway passes through nine towns and two villages, so you can stop along the way to walk through one, browse the shops and grab a bit to eat. Go canoeing on the Walkill River, or for you daredevils out there, try skydiving at the Ranch in Gardiner. Want to make it an overnight trip instead of a day trip? Stay at the nearby Mohonk Mountain House which has great hiking trails for you to see even more trees, if you haven’t had your fill already.
Hike Around Bear Mountain State Park
Bear Mountain State Park is only a hop, skip and a jump away from New York City – about an hour of driving time. If you don’t have a car or a Zipcar membership don’t despair, you can hop on a CoachUSA bus to take a one-day trip to the park. Be advised that the bus does take a bit longer than a car to get there.
To take in the foliage, you can drive through the park, or you can hike one of the trails. If you choose to drive, there are several stops and lookouts along the way. At the summit, kids will enjoy climbing up to the Perkins Memorial Drive Overlook and seeing the skyline of Manhattan as well as the views of three other states: New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
If you decide to hike, we would recommend hiking a newly revitalized section of the Appalachian trail that is comprised of 800 granite stone steps followed by more than a mile of walkway supported by stone crib walls. The steps will make it easier for kids to hike the trail. While this hike won’t take you to the summit, you will get to take in a lot of scenery along the way.
More to Do in the Park: On weekends in September and October, the park has its annual Oktoberfest celebration. Enjoy traditional German entertainment, food and beer. The festival is free, but parking is $8.00. Take the kids to visit the zoo in the park; it’s a suggested donation of $1.00. For only $5.00 per person, rent a boat and take a spin around the lake or for only $1.00, the kids can take a ride on the carousel.
Take Public Transit to the New York Botanical Garden
Want to experience fall foliage, but don’t want to take a long car ride with the kids asking, “are we there yet,” all the way; visit the New York Botanical Garden where you can stroll through the Thain Family Forest, 50 acres of native forest that turns gorgeous red, orange and gold in the fall. Kids will love seeing the variety of trees, including oak, tulip, elm and sassafras, as well as seeing the river that runs through the forest and the small waterfall
The first two weekends of November, attend Fall Forest weekends held in, you guessed it, the forest. Take a canoe ride on the Bronx River and view the trees from the water. Go ahead and let the kids paddle, while you relax; it will help build up their arm muscles. No seriously, they will probably fight over who gets to tip over, we mean paddle, the canoe. Attend a tree climbing demonstration, where your kids will not only marvel at the climbing abilities of an arborist, but also they’ll learn skills that will come in handy later if they decide to run away and join the circus.
Take the B, D, or 4 train to Bedford Park Blvd Station, then hop on the Bx 26 bus or walk 20 minutes to get there. Tickets to enter the Botanical Garden are $20.00 for adults and $8.00 for kids ages 2 to 12. The purchase price includes entrance into all exhibits and gardens in the park.
What to Do Nearby: Visit the Bronx Zoo and take a ride on the Bug Carousel, visit the gorillas in their rainforest habitat and enjoy Boo at the Zoo festivities. Or if the Zoo is too much to pack in, stop in at Arthur Avenue Retail Market for lunch and get some Italian delicacies to go.
Make a Weekend of it at Adirondack Park
Adirondack Park is the largest park in the continental United States with more than 6,000,000 acres of land. That’s the equivalent of 6,000,000 football fields, 7,117 Central Parks or 395 Manhattans all smooshed together. With so much land, it shouldn’t be surprising that Adirondack Park has a long fall foliage season. The leaves start turning in early September and last until mid-to-late October, though prime viewing season is early September until early October.
You’re probably wondering how you’re going to see everything in such a massive park; we don’t recommend you try as your kids would probably graduate college, get married and have their own kids before you made it through the whole thing. Instead we recommend picking one of the fourteen scenic byways in the park or one of the outlined scenic drives, and following that route. Try the route that takes you from Speculator to Indian Lake, a 24-mile journey where you’ll see maple, beech and birch trees that are exploding with color, as well as the colors glistening off of the lake. Be forewarned, your cell phone will only work for taking pictures once you enter the park.
Where to Stay
Since it will take you at least four hours to drive to Adirondack Park, spending the night is a must. The Six Flags Great Escape Lodge is about an hour from both the start and finish of the Speculator-Indian Lake drive. The lodge has an indoor water park, which the kids will enjoy after a day of driving. There’s also a kids club offering a variety of activities all day, such as dance parties and bedtime stories with characters including Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo. For dinner, burgers at Johnny Rockets, located in the hotel, is a sure win.
Other Activities: Take a cruise with the Lake George Steamboat Company on Lake George and take in the fall foliage from a different view. Cruises vary in length from 1 hour to 5 hours. Prices start at $13.25 per adult and $6.75 per kid.
If you have always wanted to look down your nose at people, take a hot air balloon ride and see Lake George and the Adirondacks from the sky. Adirondacks Balloon Flights and Sunkiss Ballooning are two companies that offer rides. Or, take a gondola ride to the top of Gore Mountain to see the Southern Adirondacks from a sky-high view.
You could also, spend a day riding the rides and taking in the entertainment at Six Flags Great Escape.
Photo of Bear Mountain courtesy of Yelp user Catherine C; Photo of Adirondack Park courtesy of Adirondack Regional Tourism Council.
– Mikaela Walker