The Ultimate Upstate New York Leaf Peeping Guide

The Ultimate Upstate New York Leaf Peeping Guide - An Upstate of Mind

So you’d like to head upstate to check out the foliage, but you have no idea where you’re supposed to go, or when. What are the actual roads I’m supposed to drive down? Am I visiting a town, or just driving aimlessly through the woods? And where do I eat? Like eat-eat. Not just a bag of cider doughnuts and some random deli sandwich. Tell me how I’m supposed to have the FULL-ON leaf peeping experience in Upstate New York!

So here it is – all of which is coming from first hand experience. This list isn’t just about colorful leaves, it’s about the State of New York bringing its A-Game. These are the fall foliage spots that are in it to win it. And by the way, if your town belongs on this list, be sure to email me – include a link to pics, restaurants, the whole nine, and I’ll make sure it gets onto next year’s list.

SEPTEMBER 15 – OCTOBER 20

Cambridge, NY – Photo by Alan Mead

Cambridge, NY – Photo by Alan Mead

Hoosic Falls & Cambridge NY
No one has even heard of these towns, and that’s working in your favor, because when you drive through them, and the valley in which they sit, you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a goldmine. Nothing sets off a luminous backdrop of crimson and gold like a disheveled, brick-hewn factory town (Hoosic Falls), or a charmingly preserved Main Street with a coffee shop and a collection of interesting antique stores (Cambridge). Hit these two on your way to Vermont (yes, I know, sacrilege!). Jump across the border to take advantage of the foodie favorites in Manchester VT, including Gringo Jack’s for thoughtfully-prepared Mexican, and Ye Olde Tavern for culinary American dining in a Revolutionary War-era tavern.

Cambridge, NY ~ Ackley Hall Block ~ 1880s

Cambridge, NY ~ Ackley Hall Block ~ 1880s

The Adirondacks and Surrounding Foothills
Right, but like where exactly? If you’re looking at your Google Map, this mountain range looks like a state in and of itself. Here is what you want to do. Plan your day around food – and one restaurant in particular. Bottisti’s (2 Van Derveer St Amsterdam, NY 12010‎ / (518) 842-7780). The best red sauce Italian joint you’re going to find north of the Thruway (if that’s even a distinction). I have literally gone out of my way on many a random trip just to get a meatball sub from this place. Spaghetti & Meatballs? Lasagna? Stuffed Shells? All are a dream come true. Everything is well prepared, but really it’s all about the sauce. When I die, I’m hoping to run into old man Botistti just chilling on a cloud with a pot of meatballs going. All that said, I have no idea when this place is open. It’s a crap shoot. You need to call ahead and see what their deal is, then plan your day accordingly. Bottisti’s is in Amsterdam, which is the epitome of a “work-in-progress” with a slow trickle of hipsters and techies trying to figure out what to do with all the amazing (for the most part abandoned) factory buildings. It’s also set at the entrance of the Adirondack region, which is spectacular.

The Adirondacks – Photo by George Ryon
The Adirondacks – Photo by George Ryon

When you get off the Thruway at Exit 27, you’re going to head north on Route 30. Just stay on that. If you’re feeling adventurous check out some of the beautiful old mountain towns like Gloversville and Johnstown. If you stay on Route 30, you’re basically heading straight into the heart of the Adirondack mountains. Think: beautiful, dense tree lines, babbling streams, random leather working shops and hawks swooping down from overhead. The foliage in the Adirondacks is like entering a fortress of color.

SEPTEMBER 25 – OCTOBER 25

947 East Avenue, Rochester NY - Photo by Yamilka Rosa
947 East Avenue, Rochester NY – Photo by Yamilka Rosa

Rochester and the surrounding ‘burbs of Penfield, Brockport, Perinton, and Pittsford

Coming to Rochester in the fall will make you fall in love with it. Everyone gives Rochester a hard time for being cold, but in reality, it’s like the temperate zone between Buffalo and Syracuse, which basically double as Antarctica come December. That’s not to say that Buffalo and Syracuse don’t have their own beautiful bursts of color in the fall, but Rochester can’t help but take the cake. From September through October, Rochester is the epitome of the word “brisk” – crisp, beautiful mornings that make you want pair your favorite hoodie with a denim jacket and head off in search of a good book. The air seems to have a consistent undernote of apples and chimney smoke, and you can’t help but feel just a bit more romantic than usual.

Mt. Hope Cemetery / Photo by Patrick L. Castania

Mt. Hope Cemetery – Rochester, NY – Photo by Patrick L. Castania

And then there are the leaves themselves. Rochester brings out the fall colors like a flamboyant set designer went through it, selecting only the most majestic trees for the most charming streets.

Here are some thoroughfares that you’re definitely going to want to hit: East Avenue, Park Avenue, and University Avenue. Stop in the charming cafes, antique shops, art galleries and reclaimed factory buildings and wonder to yourself: How have I not heard about Rochester? I could go on and on listing the great food in this part of town, but for starters, try out TRATA (at the Armory), The Revelry, Good Luck, and for an excellent hot dog – Dogtown on Monroe Avenue.

But if you really want to get into the thick of it foliage-wise, you need to head out to the cute suburban towns surrounding the city. On the west side, hit Brockport for the full-on college town experience. Take a quiet stroll along the Erie Canal tow path, pick up that good book at Liftbridge Books and enjoy a bite at the Brockport Diner.

Erie Canal, Autumn – Brockport NY – Photo by Matt Deturck, courtesy of City Newspaper
Erie Canal, Brockport, NY – Photo by Matt Detruck, courtesy of City Newspaper

On the east side, head out to Penfield, Pittsford and Perinton. These towns have some of the most beautiful historic homes nestled within a classic Northeastern landscape, complete with wooded ravines, babbling creeks, shaded gullies, and an array of beautiful parks. If your out that way, and you’re looking for the best cheeseburger in Rochester, put Tom Wahl’s in your GPS, and then get to it! Or if an amazing bakery and sandwich shop is more your speed, hit up Village Bakery & Cafe in Pittsford. Another bakery favorite is Pittsford Farms Dairy – be sure to get a loaf of their amazing banana bread before it sells out!

Skaneateles, NY – Photo by John Williams
Skaneateles, NY – Photo by John Williams

Route 20 Between Skaneateles and Sharon Springs
Yes, that’s a long stretch, but you can basically hit any part of it and partake in the autumnal splendor. Route 20 is the old interstate, back when all you had was a two lane country road to get you from Albany to Buffalo. Because of that constant stream of traffic during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the towns along this stretch flourished, and it shows in the architecture, the local parks, the charming Main Streets. Must sees include Skaneateles, Geneva and Cazanovia. And as for long stretches of beautiful bucolic countryside, you can’t beat Route 20. Its meandering hills might take a toll on your gas tank, but at the top of every rise is yet another glorious expanse that makes you feel like you’re driving through a Winslow Homer painting.

Letchworth State Park - Photo by Sparrow Hall
Letchworth State Park – Photo by Sparrow Hall

Letchworth State Park
Called “The Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park is located in one of the most beautiful and least traversed parts of New York State just south of Rochester and north of Alfred University. For a pretty drive, jump on Route 36 South through Mumford, Caledonia and Mt. Morris, and be sure to check out the great little antique shops along the way like Red Cottage Wares, Primitive Country Gifts, McKay’s Antiques and Letchworth Barn Antiques. Grab a burger at Charred and you’ll be ready to hit the trails. Enter the park through the north end in Mt. Morris and wind your way through 17 miles of scenic terrain. There are tons of lookouts and picnic areas along the way, and even the random farmer’s market and craft fair (generally on the weekends).

OCTOBER 1 – NOVEMBER 1

The Catskills – Photo by Lindsay Silverman

The Catskills – Photo by Lindsay Silverman

The Catskills, Rosendale, High Falls, and Stone Ridge
The Catskills are probably the most convenient of all of New York State’s mountain ranges. For a few reasons: 1) They’re central. You can get to them relatively easily from any part of the state. 2) They’re big. They’re not one of these mountain ranges where you finally get there and you’re met with the equivalent of a sledding hill. Skiing, mountain climbing, fly fishing – the Catskills are getting it done. And they’re never more beautiful than in the fall. Because the mountains are all kind of smushed together, you get this overlapping effect of color and texture. Golds, fiery reds, deep evergreens. Giant walls of color.

As for towns you’ll want to hit – head to Rosendale, an artsy enclave nestled along Roundout Creek, just north of New Paltz. While you’re there, grab a quick bite at The Big Cheese, an amazing little cheese shop with a deli case filled with an assortment of freshly made salads and prepared foods for both vegetarians and the carnivorous inclined. And be sure to hit up The Alternative Baker across the street for some excellent pastries. From Rosendale, continue making your way through the mountains to the charming hamlets of High Falls and Stone Ridge with their beautiful old homes and cute little shops and antique stores. Favorites include Ron Sharky’s Barn in High Falls, and Lost & Found and Stone Ridge Antiques in Stone Ridge. Stone Ridge is also home to one of our favorite lunch spots – The Roost.

Rondout Creek in the Peekamoose Gorge – Photo by David Ramage
Rondout Creek in the Peekamoose Gorge – Photo by David Ramage

The Wallkill River & Shawangunk Valley
This route is a hidden gem, and the most scenic drive from the lower Catskills to the area around New Paltz. Jump on River Road out of Wallkill, heading north into Gardiner. Grab lunch at The Village Market & Eatery, then head north on Albany Post Road which becomes Butterville Road. Take a right on Mountain Rest Road/Rt. 6 and take that east into New Paltz, or head north on Route 7 to Rosendale. Great little towns either way.

OCTOBER 7 – NOVEMBER 7

Walkway Over the Hudson & Dutchess County
To experience one of the most epic views of the changing season, visit the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. A 19th Century train trestle bridge converted into the longest pedestrian walkway in the world, the sleek expanse boasts some of the most spectacular panoramic views of the Hudson River Valley. While you’re in Poughkeepsie, enjoy a delicious brunch or dinner at Gusto or Brasserie 292, craft beers and farm-to-table pub fare at The Mill House Brewing Company, great Mexican at El Azteca, or a Buzzfeed-worthy burger at Schatzi’s Pub.

Poughkeepsie, NY – Photo by springhudson
Poughkeepsie, NY – Photo by springhudson

From Poughkeepsie, drive north on Route 9 and stop at The Vanderbilt Estate in Hyde Park (free, open dawn til dusk 7 days a week), and stroll through the beautiful Italian Gardens, and along the beautifully manicured grounds. Continue heading north and pop into Rhinebeck Antiques Emporium, a favorite in that neck of the woods – a beautifully curated (yet affordable) collection of antiques and vintage by a handful of local dealers. Then spend the rest of the day puttering around Market Street in Rhinebeck and driving along the winding country roads of Rhinecliff with their mysterious gate houses and tumbling fieldstone fences.

Rhinecliff, NY – Photo by Sparrow Hall
Rhinecliff, NY – Photo by Sparrow Hall

For places to stay while you’re Upstate, see our post Top 5 Places To Stay in Upstate New York (That I’ve Discovered So Far). Enjoy your your time in New York State and share your pictures and adventures on our Facebook page. Can’t wait to see what you discover!

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