During peak fall foliage months, you can experience New York state’s autumn splendor on winding mountain drives through the Adirondacks and Catskills or on tours of the Hudson, Delaware, and Genesee River Valleys. These Empire State driving routes and tours will add color to your autumn getaways.
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Letchworth State Park
This natural attraction awaits at the end of a 50-mile drive southwest from 190S outside of Rochester to Castile on NY39 West, where the scenery shifts from bucolic to dramatic inside Letchworth State Park. The Genesee River snakes through a deep gorge dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the East." Drivers will find frequent pull-offs overlooking the 600-foot walls of 250-million-year-old sedimentary rock. Don't miss Inspiration Point, where you can view two of the major waterfalls within the park.
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Shawangunk Wine Trail
Fall is the perfect season for discovering the vineyards along the Shawangunk Wine Trail that begins 60 miles north of New York City in Ulster County. Take the New York State Thruway, US 87, north. When you reach Routes 44/55 and turn east, you'll be in for an ear-popping, uphill drive to the entrance for Minnewaska State Park Preserve. This 12,000-acre tract adjoining Mohonk Preserve is known for its rugged terrain, which challenges those skilled at technical rock climbing and rigorous hiking. The less adventurous can bike or walk along carriage roads or take a dip in cool Lake Minnewaska. In Pine Bush, turn left off Route 52 onto Maple Avenue, and then left on Hardenburg Road, to Baldwin Vineyards. With its 1786 stone house and neat rows of grapes, Baldwin is the most photogenic of the region’s wineries.
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Two hours north of Manhattan, one of the most enjoyable byways in the Catskills region is two-lane Route 28 West, which begins at the Kingston traffic circle off the New York State Thruway at Exit 19. In eight miles you’ll reach the Route 375 turnoff for Woodstock, the colorful town that gave the famed music festival its name. Pause for a meal before returning to 28. At the junction of 28A, 10 minutes away, turn in to see the majestic Ashokan Reservoir surrounded by mountains. Like to hike? At the Catskill Interpretive Center in Mount Tremper, free brochures and maps can further your exploration.
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An ideal drive to view fall foliage, US 9 is the longest north–south U.S. highway in New York. On this two-hour jaunt from Hyde Park to Saratoga Springs, start early—Hyde Park is home to many historic homes including 211-acre Vanderbilt estate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s family home, and the modest Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. For lunch, head up to Hudson, which boasts an abundance of restaurants and antiques stores. Afterwards, take a short detour onto Route 23 west to Olana. The exotically decorated house was home to Frederic Edwin Church, a major Hudson River School painter.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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The six-million-acre Adirondack Park is the largest protected area in the continental United States and home to New York’s tallest peaks. Before you continue driving north on Route 9, pause in Saratoga Springs to take in the waters. Your destination is the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, about two and a half hours away. Accompanied by pros in front and behind, you can ride the half-mile bobsled run on the same track where winter athletes competed in 1980.
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Upper Delaware River Scenic Byway
Bordering Pennsylvania, Route 97 parallels the sinuous Delaware River. From the south, enter the scenic byway in Sparrow Bush. Pause to pick up a picnic lunch at the River Market in Barryville. Thanks to its proximity to the water, there are opportunities there and in Narrowsburg to go rafting, canoeing, and kayaking along the gorgeous Delaware River.
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Great Lakes Seaway Trail Scenic Byway
If it's designated a National Scenic Byway, it has to be good! New York State's 518-mile Great Lakes Seaway Trail traces the shores of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River, and Lake Erie. Alexandria Bay at the northernmost part is a perfect starting point for exploring a prime segment of the Seaway Trail that extends west to New York's border with Pennsylvania and Ohio. Take US 81 to Sackets Harbor and transfer to Route 3 for optimal leaf peeping until you reach Mexico (that’s Mexico, New York). Then, turn onto Route 104 to continue this scenic journey.
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Don’t be surprised to find yourselves following a tractor or horse and buggy in this part of western New York. Head west from Cattaraugus on Route 353 and follow signs to Cherry Creek. Along the Amish Trail, you’ll pass farmsteads where life moves at a quieter pace, and so will you. Follow hand-painted signs to shop for quilts, furniture, and baked goods, and don’t miss dining at one of the bountiful buffets.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Finger Lakes Wine Trail
Add a wine tasting to your day of autumn explorations by planning a driving route in the Finger Lakes. Longest of the eleven lakes, Cayuga stretches for 38 miles north to south. For an important bit of history, start in Seneca Falls and pay homage to those who operated stops on the Underground Railroad and paved the way for women’s rights. Then travel south along Route 89, which leads to 16 dog-friendly wineries. Ithaca, home to Cornell University and renowned for its many waterfalls and gorges, lies at the southern tip of the lake.
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If you're leaf peeping on two wheels or four, autumn is the best time of year to follow this scenic Hudson Valley route in Dutchess County. Start at Route 9 in Rhinebeck, home to the historic Beekman Arms. hotel and restaurant Transfer to 9G to visit Bard College in Annandale on Hudson, where the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts designed by Frank Gehry has become a landmark. The little town of Tivoli is 10 minutes away and home to Osaka, the best sushi restaurant this side of the Hudson. Route 78 to Route 199 leads to Milan, a rural town with some of the most beautiful roads and views anywhere. Route 308 circles back to Rhinebeck.