Fall is the most fleeting season in the Northeast. As soon as temperatures cool down, providing much needed relief from the summer, there’s but a month or two before we’re layering up to fight the winter chill.
Nothing epitomizes this reality more than the leaves, which every year turn bright, radiant colors, and in the blink of an eye, pile up, crunchy and dead at our feet. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, the leaves change pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around, you could miss them.
Leaf peeping, while certainly a seasonal pastime, could almost be considered a fall sport. To be good at it, you’ve got to plan your strategy, and execute it swiftly. Knowing where to go, and when, is key.
According to data provided by the site, average peak foliage is expected to hit the Catskills the first and second week of October; in the Hudson River Valley, the third and fourth weeks of October; and in New York City proper, it might not be until the second half of November before we’re treated to full-on colors.
Here’s a guide for where to go to catch the leaves before they fall —and once you’re there, where to eat, drink and stay— all within a few hours of the city. Hurry; winter will be here before you know it.
Day trip: Hudson River Valley
For the best vantage points two hours or closer from the city, we asked the founders of travel site Escape Brooklyn, married couple Erin Lindsey and Denny Brownell, who are pros at helping New Yorkers get out of town.
Look-out point: They recommend Mount Beacon, whose trailhead is located a short walk or cab ride from the Metro North station in the town of Beacon. It’s two and a half, fairly steep miles to the first overlook, where you’ll wander among the ruins of an old casino while taking in incredible views of the Hudson River, Beacon and neighboring towns. If you’re ambitious, keep going a couple more miles to get to an old fire tower, whose stairs you can climb for an even higher vantage point.
Where to eat and drink: After the hike, you’ll have worked up an appetite. Luckily, Beacon is a quaint, but lively town, with a handful of cafes. You can’t wrong with Poppy’s, right on Main St., which has delicious burgers made with grass-fed beef, and hand-cut fries, or Dogwood, which pairs craft beers with pub fare. End your day relaxing with a cocktail on the patio of the boutique Roundhouse Hotel, which looks out onto Beacon Falls.
If you’re looking to make an overnight or weekend trip of it, head an extra hour or so North to the Catskill region, where there’s no shortage of high peaks with breathtaking views—and charming small towns at their summit.
Look-out point: Brownell and Lindsey, who are busy restoring an old inn in the area themselves, name Overlook Mountain as a favorite hike in the Catskill region. Located just outside of Woodstock, it’s a two and a half mile, fairly strenuous ascent to the top, worth it for the ruins of an old hotel and a fire tower with 360 degree views.
If you'd like to be around water (before it freezes over), Eric Scheffel, a spokesperson for I Love New York, suggests hiking Kaaterskill Falls, about twenty miles north in Hunter, New York. As the tallest two-tier waterfall in New York state, the falls themselves are stunning, not to mention the surrounding views of the mountains.
Where to stay: The Emerson Resort and Spa provides comfy digs bridging the gap between rustic and luxury (think: fireplaces and whirlpool tubs), conveniently located just a five minute drive from the trendy “hickster” town of Phoenicia, twenty minutes from Woodstock, and 30 minutes out from the aforementioned hikes. From now through October 18, they’re offering a “leaf peeping” special: a complimentary third night’s stay if you book two, along with a free day of bike rentals.
Where to eat and drink: Just down the road, Phoenicia Diner is the go-to for seriously delicious comfort food served up in a retro setting, a favorite for both locals and tourists alike. For fine dining, head to Cucina, a contemporary Italian eatery in an old yellow farmhouse in Woodstock. End the day with a drink back at the resort, looking out at the Esopus Creek as you feel your worries fall away.
New York City
If you aren’t able to get out of town this season, you can still enjoy fall colors right in the city. In mid-November, when the leaves are expected to reach their peak, make your way to Central Park where you’ll be surrounded by those rich autumn hues in the maples, oak and elm trees. Hit the observation deck at Belvedere Castle at 79th St. for a panoramic view of the park.
From the top of the Empire State Building and the One World Observatory—which is atop the tallest building in the Western hemisphere—you can take in a bird’s eye view of foliage in treetops from Manhattan to the Hudson Valley.