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Leaf Peeping: A Fun Family Activity in the Fall

Leaf Peeping: A Fun Family Activity in the Fall

Where to see the leaves change color in the New York metro area.

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.

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 in NYC that a family can explore to take in the terrific colors of the season. Fort Tryon Park, located in Washington Heights, Manhattan is most known for being the home of The Met 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 3-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, and Chinese Forget-me-nots.

If the flowers aren't enough to hold the kids' interest, check out the Alpine Garden on the park's easternmost 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 from across the river.

Heading North to the Adirondacks

Autumn foliage in 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 at the Adirondack Park Visitors Center at Paul Smith's College which offers lots of family-fun activities, such as 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!

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 Trainso the family can step back in time and relive the golden age of railroading. The trip is 1½-3 hours, depending on which route you choose. 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

More Information:

Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness Train

Adirondack Loj
Part of Adirondack State Park, on Heart Lake, 8 miles south of Lake Placid
1002 Adirondack Loj Road, Lake Placid

Adirondack Park Visitors Center at Paul Smith's College
Main entrance on Route 30, 1 mile north of Paul Smith's College

Catskill Association for Tourism Services

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

High Falls Gorge
4761 NYS Route 86, Wilmington

Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway

Finger Lakes

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Author: Jillian Ryan is a freelance writer who lives in Astoria. See More

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