It’s the time of year when mountainsides light up with red, gold and ochre, the cooling air carries a tang of wistfulness and the October light seems all the more precious as the days dwindle.
It’s time, in other words, for a road trip.
It’s something thousands of people insist on in the fall — even if gas prices are high, the economy is limping and there was no big family vacation in the budget this year.
“It seemed to have been a trend through the summer, people looking for those shorter trips,” said Eric Stigberg, a spokesman for the AAA Northway auto club in Schenectady. For people living in the Capital Region, day trip opportunities are nearly endless. East, west, south or north, it’s all good.
The northern and central Adirondacks are near or at their peaks for color change, as are the higher-elevation parts of Vermont. But there are still a couple of weeks to go on leaf-peeping season, as the foliage change rolls steadily southward.
If the change seems slow to you this year, you’re right. “It’s been a sluggish season. Some years it’s a little early, some years it’s a little late, but it always happens,” said Eric Scheffel, coordinator of Empire State Development’s weekly foliage report.
Tourism in New York state is a $50 billion industry, Scheffel said, and 23 percent of that spending occurs in October and November.
Among Scheffel’s personal favorite day trips are the ride to the Indian Ladder Trail and John Boyd Thacher State Park on the Helderberg Escarpment just south of Albany and the view from Vroman’s Nose, overlooking the Schoharie Valley in Middleburgh. “The view is fantastic,” Scheffel said.
Schoharie County, despite the damage done by Hurricane Irene, is open for tourism — and its hillsides remain a spectacular setting.
“They’re trying to get back on their feet, as far as tourism goes,” Scheffel said.
Some major state highways are still closed in the Catskills, where more than a foot of rain washed out roads and bridges. State officials are advising people to plan ahead if they’re heading there.
“The Catskills are tough right now. We have road closures [on Routes 42 and 23], and we can’t say the condition of the local and county road systems. But that said, the Catskills are going to be absolutely beautiful,” said Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
So with those caveats, here are some admittedly arbitrary ideas for fall day trips:
In the Catskills, Route 23A is open up past Kaaterskill Falls to Hunter Mountain and is a spectacular drive at any time of year. But an eight-mile section of Route 42 between Jewett and Shandaken is closed through February, and part of Route 23 between Hunter and Prattsville will be closed at least through the end of October.
Cooperstown is a great day destination, and Route 20 offers a scenic and slower-paced alternative to the state Thruway. The village itself sits on lovely Otsego Lake and is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers’ Museum — all worthy destinations. For a place with a year-round population of less than 2,000, Cooperstown offers plenty of lunch and dinner options, from sandwiches to elegant dining.
In Saratoga County, drivers could head east out Route 29 from Saratoga Springs, stop at the Farmer’s Daughters’ Drive-In for a burger, clam roll or ice cream and then head down Route 4 to the Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater.
The national park, where the Battles of Saratoga were fought 234 years ago, has an entrance fee, but its nine-mile internal road system offers stunning views across the Hudson River into agricultural Washington County. It’s a great bike loop, too.
From Schuylerville, cross the Route 29 bridge into Greenwich. Washington County is a great place to take random turns. Go ahead and get lost. You’ll find hillside pastures covered with leafy trees. Sooner or later, you’ll see a sign that will direct you back to somewhere you know.
Try the Greenwich Village Cafe and Bakery for lunch, and as long as you’re in Greenwich, the Ice Cream Man sells you-know-what.
The I Love New York website recommends the Grandma Moses country tour. That means driving along Route 22 in Rensselaer and Washington counties from the Schaghticoke area to Whitehall. Cambridge is a great stopping point, and the Cambridge Hotel still serves apple pie a la mode (it was invented there, if you didn’t know).
Take a loop around Great Sacandaga Lake in Fulton and Saratoga counties. See the progress on the new Batchellerville Bridge at Edinburg, where the giant concrete piers for the 3,000-foot-long replacement bridge are almost finished. They look close enough to the old bridge to reach out and touch. (We don’t advise it, though.)
Drive Route 30 from Northville to Speculator — try the Speculator Inn for lunch — then head west to Piseco Lake and Route 10. Come back south to Gloversville and Johnstown that way. On Route 10, you won’t see more than a handful of other cars, no matter how many people also read this article.
Head from Lake Luzerne to Lake George on Route 9N, then continue on 9N, along the lake, up to Ticonderoga. Drive up Mount Defiance for a stunning view of Lake Champlain. Then take Route 74 back to the Northway. Or continue north to Port Henry: the new Champlain Bridge is there to see, though it’s not yet open for driving into Vermont.
Which brings us to Vermont, the fall foliage tourism magnet of the Northeast. This is Vermont’s busiest time of year, according to tourism officials.
Parts of the Green Mountain State got hammered by the remnants of Hurricane Irene. But people who stick to southern Vermont and the west side of the Green Mountains — to destinations like Manchester, Arlington and Bennington — shouldn’t see any problems.
Vermont tourism officials recommend driving Route 7A from Manchester to Bennington or Routes 153 and 315 near Rupert. Once you’re done foliage-cruising, Manchester and Bennington offer food options from quality dining to beer and sliders. They are oases of advanced civilization, with bookstores, jewelry shops and places that sell clothing more colorful than any of the leaves.
Of course, there are also fall foliage options that don’t require a big drive.
In Schenectady County, there’s a 102-acre county forest preserve on Lake Road in Duanesburg and the 632-acre Plotter Kill Preserve in Rotterdam. The Plotterkill, off Mariaville Road, is barely five miles from the corner of State Street and Broadway and has hidden waterfalls.
And any of the routes listed above can be broken down into bicycle trip-length segments — and you’ll enjoy the fresh air and exercise, too.
Of course, these are just suggestions. There are no hard and fast rules for the best places to see fall foliage, and peak foliage is a moving target.
Stigberg, at AAA, said the club’s trip recommendations change weekly, as the color peak shifts south.
“This is the peak season for leaf-peeping, and this is when people come in and want to know where to go, with no particular plan,” he said.
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Categories: Schenectady County