Note: Updated October 2019
As much as we love New York City, and as ideal as it is for many things, it is not the best place to enjoy fall foliage and get that taste of the outdoors that even the most seasoned city dwellers need from time to time. Here are two easy trips north where you can take full advantage of this gorgeous autumn. Both are much easier done by car, but if you want an autumn hike you can do completely car-free, check out this adventure in Peekskill, with foliage and beer.
Mohonk Mountain Hike
You’ve probably heard of the famous Mohonk Mountain House–an upscale lodge tucked away in the cathedral-like woods of New Paltz, N.Y. It’s a popular retreat for many New Yorkers, if you can afford it (rooms run about $700 per night). But if you’re anything like me, aka broke, there’s a way to enjoy the perks of Mohonk without coughing up all that cash. The surrounding area, Mohonk Preserve, provides some of the most pristine and diverse hiking trails within reach of the city. And you don’t have to be a guest of the resort to enjoy them.
Here’s what you need to know:
There are more than 150 trail miles in Mohonk Preserve and adjoining Minnewaska State Park, which means there are a variety of hikes to choose from, at varying degrees of difficulty. Getting to the trails should take you just under two hours from Manhattan. I recommend driving (hello Zipcar!), though you can take the Metro North to the Poughkeepsie station and then a 30-minute cab ride to the trailhead. It’ll cost you between $34-$45 roundtrip, per person, plus cab fare, not including the day use fee of $15.
As for the hike itself, start at West Trapps Trailhead parking area. There you can get a map and familiarize yourself with your route–there are trails for beginners and advanced hikers. You can hike for an hour or eight, really it’s what you make it. But definitely pick up a map.
One longer route that I would highly recommend starts by hiking along Undercliff Road to Laurel Ledge Road. Once you get to Laurel Ledge, keep an eye out for Giant’s Work Shop on your right. This is when it starts to get really fun. Expect to do some novice rock climbing here–it’s a scramble up a rocking incline, not super easy, but I’ve seen young kids make it without too much trouble–up to the top of Eagle Cliff. From here you take the Eagle Cliff Path toward the Mohonk Mountain House. You’ll be walking on an elevated trail around the perimeter of Mohonk Lake. There are a number of wooden gazebos along the trail, which jut out from the cliffs, providing a serene spot to stop for lunch.
Continue on Eagle Cliff Path until you get to the Mountain House. This is a good place to refill your water bottles and take a relaxing stroll through the resort’s gardens. Once you finish at the gardens, keep walking toward the lake, now on the other side of the Mountain House. You’ll start to see signs for Labyrinth Trail. This is the most popular attraction near the resort. You’ll hike upwards, over boulders and through tight spaces, enjoying incredible views of the Catskills along your ascent. Once you get to the top, you’ll be at the Tower. This is another good place to relax and take in the views. From there, begin your descent down Sky Top Path. It will dump you out at Lake Shore Road, which will provide a relaxing walk back to the parking area.
The hike should take you five to six hours in total. Bring a few liters of water with you and pack a lunch. Take frequent breaks to hydrate and enjoy the breathtaking views. Once you finish the hike, replenish all those carbs and calories you lost by hitting up Huguenot Creamery (another reason to drive) in New Paltz. Or if you’re in the mood for doughnuts, check out the Water Street Market, which hosts a number of food stands (including the ridiculously good Dohnut.) and antique shops. If you require something more substantial, take your pick from a variety of independently owned restaurants along Main St. And Karma Road is a good vegetarian spot for a hearty meal or a smoothie.
Zipline Hunter Mountain
Hunter Mountain, near Phoenicia and Woodstock is a great daylong or weekend getaway year round. Ski in the winter, mountain bike in the summer and zipline in the fall. Think about it, what better way to peep the peak foliage, than soaring high above the treelined valley below? Hunter Mountain’s SkyRider Tour is the second largest zipline in North America. Strap in a zip across 3,200 feet of cable, at a height of 600 feet (that’s taller than the Williamsburg Bank building!). You’ll hit speeds up to 50 mph during your three-hour tour. It costs $119-$129 depending on what day you go.
There’s also the less extreme, Mid-Mountain Tour. This option is suitable for families with small children and people who have problem with heights. You’ll cover more than 600 feet of cable as you zip through the trees, rather than above them. The Mid-Mountain Tour is also less expensive, at $89 per person. After your day of ziplining, head into Saugerties for dinner (Dutch Ale House is a sure bet) or stroll through Woodstock’s historic downtown.
There are a lot of bus options directly to Hunter once ski season starts, including trips originating in Brooklyn. Right now, NY Trailways Bus will take you to the Hunter Country Store and Kitchen for $35 each way, and from there you can call Hunter Mountain Taxi, 518-734-9100. It’s about a 3.5 hour bus ride, or about 2.5 hours by car. And if you really want to make a weekend of it, stay at the nearby Spruceton Inn after you zip down the mountain.