My Favorite Fall Foliage Tours in NY and PA

By Vernon Trollinger, October 22, 2014, Events & Fun, Save Money

Fall-Foliage-TourLong ago in Pennsylvania, my parents packed all us kids up in the car and took us on a fall day trip meandering up and over Blue Mountain, past Pottsville, and onwards to the anthracite hinterlands of Ashland —a landscape that had always been described to us as raw, poor, and grim. Yet, once we got there, the land revealed itself as splendidly arrayed in a leafy profusion of crimson, russet, and gold. The Dickensian pall lifted and as we drove along, we discovered several quaint tourist spots and the afternoon turned into a memorable diversion for a quartet of “tweenagers”. Finally, at the end of the day, we turned south for Lebanon and then eastward to home.

Fall foliage in New York and Pennsylvania is hitting its peak right now — mid to late October. So, if you’d like to take your family on an eye-opening nature jaunt into the hinterlands, now’s the time to do it —especially since fuel prices are dipping.

Not sure what hinterlands to hit? Well, luckily enough, I’ve come up with a few…um…hints…of routes to take that offer not only nice autumnal scenery, but also some curious things to do and see along the way.

New York

New York’s Hudson Valley has long been held as a standard route for “Leaf Peeping” by Gothamites looking to unwind. The routes are many and varied depending on where you want to start. One of the most popular leaf tours stems from the National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime Series. It’s a three day trip but it’s easy to cut it to one long one. Start in the old Dutch town of Nyak where the Hudson River, known here as the Tappan Zee, is at its widest— about 3 miles across — and is bounded by steep bluffs on either side making it seem more like a lake than a river. Head north on U.S. 9W through forest and rolling hills where the river narrows near Bear Mountain State Park. Two battlefields dating from the American Revolution are here (Stony Point, 1779, and Fort Montgomery, 1777), commemorating the courage of early American patriots. Cut west on US 6 through the park and then through Harriman State park on the way to the village of Monroe (use the exit for 105 south to pick up 17M west). Monroe’s Museum Village offers an open air recreation of a 19th century village and its natural history building features Harry, one of only three complete mastadon skeletons in the world. The entire area is also packed full of restaurants and is just a few miles away from the interstate. This makes it a good place to have dinner and then pick up I-87 south to get your family back home before it gets too dark.

If you’re in the Finger Lakes region, then you’re in for a different treat all together mainly because this is wine country! While the drive along the west side of Cayuga Lake on highway 89 from Ithaca to Seneca Falls is about an hour, there is plenty to stop and see. Taughannock Falls, a 215 feet cataract, is located in Taughannock State Park and access is easy. Further north as you go, you’ll encounter more than 10 wineries and distilleries packed along the shore of the lake, offering tasty snacks, excellent wines, and great scenic views of the lake in autumn.


As of Oct. 21, both Pennsylvania tours are at peak color!

I will confess up front that I am a lifelong train-fancier. Any fall leaf peeping tour for me automatically includes a trip on a tourist railroad, such as the famous Strasburg Railroad—which is conveniently located across the street from the Railroad Museum of PA. Of course, the half the fun in visiting the museum and riding the train through the quiet Amish countryside is the drive. While most visitors take the traffic-packed route 896 south from Lancaster, the straight-through ridge running Strasburg Road (741) from Gap just off US 30 provides more pastoral scenery with only a fraction of the traffic. Plus, with three major highways to the north and east, just meandering the winding roads through the rolling rural landscape presents lovely views of gently rounded South Mountain and plenty of chances to stop, shop and eat. Did I mention wet-bottom Shoo-fly pie?

The scenic Laurel Highlands cover Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. And this time of year, this area is among the most beautiful stretches of fall color on this latitude of the planet. A particularly lovely drive (out and back is 80 minutes) begins at the Donegal exit of the PA Turnpike (I-76) on to route 31 east. Drive east to Jones Mills and turn right onto 381/711. You’ll be heading south for the Bear Run Nature Reserve and Ohiopyle State Park. Along the way heading southward, the Laurel Ridge will be on your right (left on the map). There are seven state parks and a state forest along this ridge. When you enter Bear Run Nature Reserve, you’ll climb up and over a mountain. As you descend, keep an eye out for Bear Run and signs for the famous house, Falling Water, designed by architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Keep going southwards to the little borrough of Ohiopyle to see the Falls of the Youghiogheny River (pronounced “Yaw-keh gay-knee”). Pushing further south, you arrive in Farmington. Nearby to the northwest is Fort Necessity National Battlefield Park where George Washington received his only military defeat and helped fire a global war that would last 7 years.

Pack up the family! Get your motor running and head out on the highway. Fall foliage trips may sound stodgy to some kids of a certain age but they can become a fun adventure for the whole family and reveal so much more about our world. Go leaf peeping!

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A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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