By Jillian Ryan

Leaf Peeping: A Fun Family Activity in the Fall

  |  Parks & Recreation  

Make it a tradition: Pick a new locale each fall, or visit the same one year after year to photograph your kids amidst the glorious colors of autumn at every age.

Two young boys laying down in a pile of autumn leaves

As the weather continues to get cooler, the colors on the trees begin to get brighter and more playful. The entire state of New York boasts a wide selection of broad-leafed trees in the autumn, and there is a terrific pattern of brilliant red, orange, and yellow shades splattered across the landscape. Whether you want a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway, there are a plethora of options throughout the city and the outskirts for leaf peeping.


In the City—Really?

If you don't have a car, just want to stay close to home, or need a change of pace if you live in the suburbs, there are plenty of places NYC that a family can explore to take in the terrific colors of the season. Fort Tryon Park, located in Washington Heights, is most known for being the home of the Cloisters Museum. However, during the fall, the 67-acre park, with some of the highest points of elevation in all of Manhattan, offers families spectacular foliage views. The most notable feature of the landscape is the three-acre Heather Garden that provides panoramic views of the Hudson River. In addition to the vibrant autumn leaves, the garden also offers blooming trees, shrubs, vines, bulbs, and showy fruits, including Bodinier Beautyberry Japanese Anemone, Blue Sage, Chinese Forget-me-nots, and more.

If the flowers aren't enough to hold the kids' interest, check out the Alpine Garden on the park's most eastern point. Neglected over the years, the park's stone staircases and grotto were overgrown with layers of wild shrubs, but in the last five years they have been restored. Kids will enjoy climbing the rough terrain that consists of a series of intriguing pathways and staircases that wander up and down the 150-foot rock-façade. The view from this garden is the Palisades in New Jersey, which also provide a great leaf-peeping experience form across the river.

Another great way to view the vivid landscape is with Fall Foliage Cruises from New York Water Taxi. Departing from Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport and sailing up the Hudson River about 80 miles to West Point, the cruise is a great opportunity for kids to experience the beauty of the vibrant fall colors by Bear Mountain Bridge. Aboard the water taxi, families can relax on either the sun deck or a fully enclosed deck while they enjoy live narration and sip on hot cider. There are three tours scheduled for the 2011 season: Sundays, October 23; October 30; and November 6. All tours depart at 12:30pm from the Seaport and stop for a pick-up at Pier 84 on West 44th Street. Tickets are $45 per person.


Heading North to the Adirondacks

The Adirondack Mountains, just 200 miles from the city, is one of the best regions in New York State for leaf peeping, and there are plenty of ways to experience the beauty. Start your trip off at the Adirondack Park Visitors Center at Paul Smiths which offers lots of family-fun activities, like guided walks through the autumn trees on a safe, easy, and stroller-friendly trail. For some more intense hiking, check out Adirondack Loj, the closest access point to the High Peaks Wilderness. Whether you are a beginner or an expert you can explore the terrain with supervised nature treks for learners, families, and younger kids as well as educational programs. Another family-friendly hiking experience is at High Falls Gorge, which offers inspiring views of the Ausable River. When you hike along paths and catwalks along the gorge, you can feel the spray from three waterfalls that cascade 700 feet over ancient granite cliffs. The view is pretty spectacular too!

Autumn foliage in the Adirondacks

If the kids decide they want to rest their feet, you can explore the entire region without walking or hiking. Take a ride on the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness Train so the family can step back in time and relive the golden age of railroading. The trip is 45 minutes long and is 20 miles round trip from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. Passengers can board at either station and can get off and spend some time with nature at either locale. In Wilmington, take the kids on an eight-passenger gondola ride up to Whiteface Mountain. Traveling up the mountain you will have incredible views of all that the region has to offer in the spectacularly hued fall season. Picnic tables await at the top for families who want to stop and have lunch at the summit. Note, however, that the gondola only runs through mid-October, so check before you plan your visit. 

Lastly, what is leaf peeping without a road trip? One of the best highways to travel is the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway. Climb up the fifth highest mountain in the area and take in the lustrous panoramic views of the foliage on the High Peaks.

There are of course lots of other colorful options: Families love to explore the Finger Lakes, Catskills, and the forks of Long Island. For more information on other leaf-peeping destinations in the state visit

Jillian Ryan is a freelance writer who lives in Astoria. She still fondly remembers her parents packing up her family for annual leaf-peeping road trips.



Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness Train
Departs from either the Lake Placid Station (also home to the Lake Placid Historical Museum) and the Saranac Lake Union Depot


Adirondack Loj
Part of Adirondack State Park, on Heart Lake, 8 miles south of Lake Placid


Adirondack Park Visitors Center at Paul Smiths
Main entrance on Route 30, one mile north of Paul Smith's College


Catskill Association for Tourism Services


Fall Foliage Cruises from New York Water Taxi


Finger Lakes:


Fort Tryon Park
Just off Margaret Corbin Circle near 190th Street, Washington Heights


High Falls Gorge
Route 86, Wilmington


Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway:


Sign up for our newsletter to make sure you never miss the latest from NYMetroParents.

Comments for This Article