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ONWARD | Pandemic-Distanced Fall Fun in New York State

ONWARD | Pandemic-Distanced Fall Fun in New York State

Miniature pumpkins in Sharon Springs

Nippier days and nights have arrived, but there are still so many ways to celebrate fall in the Empire State, even during a pandemic. While square dancing, town-wide potluck dinners, and high school football games are off the communal table for now, there’s plenty to celebrate and do. You just need to do a little extra advance planning to find out when locations are open and whether reservations are required. 

Grab a fleece and your pumpkin spice latte because we’ve got a range of activities on our to-do list all over New York for people of all ages and energy levels that can easily incorporate COVID-19 best safety practices. For all of these activities, please remember to pack a face mask, hand sanitizer, and remember to maintain at least six feet of distance. 

APPLE PICKING

The apple is the official fruit of our great state, and, with 600+ producers growing 40+ varieties, the apple of your eye is ripe for the picking. Our favorite spots to harvest some of those delicious orbs and snag a variety of other yummy apple-adjacent accoutrements — such as donuts, ciders, and pies — are all open this fall. Before you hit the road, plan on contacting each place you want to visit ahead of time, as reservation requirements differ. 

Rulfs Orchard in Peru grows Northern Spy, Cortland, and Empire and has a massive farm stand heaving with excellent baked pies. 

Boehm Farm in the Catskills has been family run since 1903, and has some of the best donuts in the state. Plus, PYO apples are $1 a pound. 

Woodside Orchards on Long Island features apple picking, and for those who are more interested in fermented fruits, a fantastic hard cider room with classic plus whimsical iterations, including raspberry and cinnamon. 

Photo: Woodside Orchards

Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook is open for apple picking of Honeycrisp, Fulford & Gale Gala, Macintosh and early Fuji Friday through Sunday, plus they have a gorgeous new taproom serving their own hard cider as well as a selection of adult beverages by other New York State producers.

PUMPKIN PATCHES

Visiting pumpkin patches is a famously family-friendly activity, but it’s also great for anyone who wants to up their porch game. Seasonal gourds are natural modern sculptures that can dress up mantles, serve as centerpieces, and, of course, rev up Halloween décor.

As with the apple orchards, call ahead either to reserve or to make sure you don’t need to reserve a space .

Elwood Pumpkin Farm in Huntington provides wagons for people who are serious about pumpkin and gourd collection, plus there’s a corn maze and socially distant hay rides available. 

Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard in North Salem is an autumn wonderland with pumpkins, hayrides, and live music. 

Photo: Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard

Becker Farms & Vincarra Vineyards in Gasport has a little bit of everything for everyone on their 340-acre farm, from apple picking, to a pumpkin patch, to a brewpub with cider and wine from their vineyard on the Niagara Wine Trail. Come for the pumpkins; stay for the wine. 

HIKES

There is so much natural beauty in the mountains and parks of New York, and fall is one of the best times to explore them because the temperature is perfect for working up a sweat as Mother Nature puts on her most colorful and impressive show.

The Appalachian Trail can be traced from Maine to Georgia, with about 90 miles meandering through New York. Our favorite portion is in Bear Mountain State Park, which rises from the bank of the Hudson River, and features river fishing access, trails for hiking and biking, picnic groves, and a lake. 

For those with mixed groups of people, some who would prefer to stay on level ground and others who want to scale new heights, the 6,000 acre Mohonk Preserve beckons. There are 70 miles of carriage road trails, plus Gunks cliffs to scale, but there are also trailheads to horseback ride on or stroll through. 

A bit off the beaten path, but well worth the journey is the Grindstone Island Preserves in the Thousand Islands, with wetlands, grasslands, forest, and a sandy beach to explore. 

Or venture into The Adirondacks to hike one (or more) of its peaks. Maybe launch your own scratch off game using a Peak Quest Scratch off Card. You can also get in the Adirondack adventure mood by cozying up with a handmade 46er Topo Quilt by Greentree Fiber Arts while listening here to the New York Makers podcast featuring Jennifer Moore, one of Peak Quest’s creators, discussing how the Adirondacks inspired these game cards. 

Photo: Peak Quest

For a less traditional hike, drive all the way out to Montauk on the tip of Long Island and walk along its unspoiled sandy beaches with the waves breaking and water glimmering in the autumn sun. 

GREAT AUTUMN TOWNS

This season doesn’t feel quite right without a few weekends spent puttering around cute Upstate towns. Thanks to low infection rates and strict mask-wearing mandates in many of them, it can be safe to wander the streets of these iconic New York towns using masks and following other protective protocols, with plenty of leaves to peep en route. 

Woodstock rose to fame as that place where the concert happened, even though it was forced to relocate to Bethel Woods, and it has stayed hip with its mix of low-key luxury and creative-filled community. Don’t miss Woodstock’s Tinker Street brimming with adorable boutiques selling locally made art, crafts, clothing, and wellness products. There are also plenty of hiking trails, paddling opportunities, cycling adventures, and waterfalls to check out while you are there. 

Mower's Flea Market in Woodstock

Cooperstown appeals to baseball, farming, culture, and beer enthusiasts. It is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the fantastic Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard (apple picking, plus a brewpub with great food, wine, and cider awaits), the Fenimore Art Museum, and the Farmers Museum (with a park-like setting featuring a 19th century village and working farmstand). A boat ride on sparkling Otsego Lake, located in the heart of this charming village, also offers a stunning respite.

Otsego Lake

Lake Placid may be a farther drive than most, but the trip is a tour in and of itself which ends in this an idyllic Upstate New York town set on the Lake itself, with the Adirondack Mountains in the background. Sports enthusiasts will enjoy the Olympic Museum and Ski Jumping Complex (the Winter Games were held there in 1932 and 1980), while others will love browsing the seriously weird but wonderful antiques shops, chocolate stores, art galleries, outlets, and fantastic mom-and-pop restaurants and pubs along its Main Street. 

FANTASTIC FARMERS MARKETS

There are dozens of farmers markets in New York safely operating with social distancing rules put in place, but there are a few stand-outs where visitors can truly taste the best of the farms and fields in the region. 

The Union Square Greenmarket (open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) is the O.G. urban farmers market, with 140+ stands featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables, plus incredible examples of artisanal culinary wizardry, like charcuterie from Hudson Valley Duck, wine from Borghese Vineyards in Long Island, fantastically funky sheep cheese from Valley Shepherd. 

Troy’s Waterfront Farmers Market, held Saturdays, features dozens of local producers and artisans, including tree-to-bottle craft spirits and vinegar from Harvest Spirits, raw and creamed honey from Good Day Honey, and some of the best peanut and nut butters we’ve ever sampled from Saratoga Peanut Butter. 

Photo: Troy's Waterfront Farmers Market

Ithaca’s Farmers Market, open Saturdays and Sundays, is consistently rated one of if not the best in the state for its vast array of fresh produce, dairy and meats, plus crafts and products like AE Wooden Toys, Art by Mary Shelley, and Caywood Stone Jewelry. 

WINERIES, BREWERIES, CIDERIES, AND DISTILLERIES

New York, specifically the Hudson Valley, is one of the oldest alcohol-producing regions in the U.S. with settlers brewing, distilling, and making wine as far back as the Colonial era. 

Today, some of the best places in the world to clink glasses safely are here in New York.

At Angry Orchard in Walden, visitors can tour the 60-acre orchard + washing, pressing and aging facilities to learn how apples are grown and cider made and get a sense of why table apples are so different from the ones used to make hard cider. Then one simply must taste the wares at the vast wood-floored tasting room. 

The Newburgh Brewing Company offers a range of beers, from wildly hoppy IPAs to seasonal sours, with fantastic farm-to-table snacks and a vast tasting room that can still safely fit a socially distant crowd. 

Tuthilltown Spirits Distillers in Gardiner is New York’s first whiskey distillery since Prohibition, and it is grain-to-glass to boot. Tours are offered year-round. 

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery, also in Gardiner, is one of the most critically acclaimed wineries in the region. Cab Franc + vineyard peeping = classic Hudson Valley pairing. 

Catskill Provisions, one of our favorite New York makers, has just opened a distillery tasting room in Callicoon. They offer a full menu that includes locally made food, as well as indoor and outdoor seating separated by oak barrels to give each party plenty of space.

Photo: Catskill Provisions

Then again, if your spirits need further quenching, head on up and over to the wineries of the stunning Finger Lakes Region. You may never want to leave. 

LEAF PEEPING

We love checking out the changing leaf colors in Central Park, but to get a sense of Mother Nature’s true majesty, a trip Upstate should be on your calendar. Although the occasional tree has already begun to show beginning signs of autumn in the Hudson Valley, according to Country Radio Station Big Frog 104 in Central New York, the 2020 leaf-changing season will run from about September 28 through October 28, depending on elevation and will “hit peak season October 5th in upstate New York, while Western New York and the Capital Region won't peak until October 12th.”

Central Park

Whether you choose to peep the vivid leaves from a scenic road or on a trail, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Our favorite hikes include Castle Rock in the Adirondack Park, which offers a 2.7 mile climb with views of vivid foliage and Blue Mountain Lake. Pack a picnic and plan a day. 

For dramatic majesty, check out Letchworth State Park, dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East, and if you’re feeling it, go rafting down the Genesee River while you’re there. 

Some of the best drives include the Palisades Parkway, with Bear Mountain State Park as the destination (bring snacks and eat at the lake). Or, bring a designated driver, and hit up the Shawangunk Wine Trail, which begins 60 miles north of New York City, with plenty of sips along the way, and the 12,000 acre Minnewaska State Park Preserve, which joins up with the Mohonk Preserve.