Living in South Florida virtually my whole life, fall has always been an extension of summer with palm trees swaying in the hot and humid 90-degree heat. For most of the country though, fall is the season for all things pumpkin spice. The time where leaf peepers flood the highways and flock to mountain towns in search of the famed fruit loop colored trees while cozy campfires warm the brisk autumn air.
The Northeast U.S. is known to have some of the most spectacular scenery and authentic fall experiences of anywhere in the world with New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine leading the pack. Mesmerizing pictures of winding roads peeking out from amber-colored leaves, communities gathering to celebrate the start of a new season and pristine lakes reflecting calm nature make it easy to understand why.
Despite being on my bucket list for years, it wasn’t until recently I was able to see in person what so many northerners rave about every October. Through a series of fortunate events, I explored the Adirondacks in upstate New York during a four-day fall foliage road trip and came away with a new appreciation for all things fall.
The Adirondacks may not get as much attention as other areas in favored leaf-peeping states but with over six million acres of natural beauty, the largest state park in the continental U.S. can easily compete.
The Adirondacks is world-renowned for leaf-peeping and known to have one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the U.S. Your best chance at seeing peak colors is at the end of September to early October when trees transform into corolla crayons as millions of leaves begin to illuminate into spectacular hues of green, yellow, orange and red.
The Adirondack Mountains cover about 5,000 sq. miles and encompass loads of backcountry views, wilderness trails, ski mountains, scenic byways, and tree line valleys. Here you are able to drive, ride, hike, or fly to experience the amazing fall views and make all those leaf-peeping dreams come true!
Sign up at iloveny.com for their weekly New York State Fall Foliage report (starting in mid-Septemeber). Get the insider scoop on when and where the leaves will be at peak.
The Hiking Challenges
The Adirondack hiking community does a wonderful job of encouraging all wilderness lovers to get out there and test their limits.
There are multiple hiking challenges great for all skill levels, from most advanced to family-friendly. Many challenges earn you a unique namesake patch and bragging rights. Some, such as the Adirondack 46, will take years to complete and comes with a membership to an exclusive community of wilderness warriors. Explore all of the active Adirondack Challenges at Adirondack.net
If you are not up for a lengthy challenge, there are plenty of opportunities to test your stamina on a day hike. Attempt to climb the region’s highest peak, Mount Marcy (moderate, 14.8 miles). Or brace your knees for a steep climb down Donaldson and Seward Mountain Trail (hard, 13.6 miles), the Beckhorn Trail (hard, 13.2 miles), or Haystack Mountain Trail (hard, 15.9 miles).
If you are like me and hike for the views, not the thrill, try one of these easy-moderate hikes that don’t take all day, Baker Mountain in Saranac Lake, Mt. Jo (great for kids), or Cascade Mountain (the most challenging of the bunch) near Lake Placid. All three have some steep areas but come with rewarding scenic views.
Indian Head and Rainbow Falls is an 11-mile loop trail near Keene, NY. It is rated as moderate by Alltrails.com and from summit photos I’ve seen, it looks like the hike is worth every bit of the effort.
The Wilderness Areas
There are almost 20 designated wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park with over 2,000 miles of wilderness trails. None of them allow motorized vehicles making the wilderness the perfect place to escape from your normal routine and all things that ding and beep.
Enjoy exploring the High Peaks Wilderness, the largest area in the Adirondack Forest Preserve encompassing 275,460 acres of mountainous land, towering forests, NY’s highest peaks, cliff-side waterfalls, glistening streams, and all-around adventure.
Blue Ridge, Jay Mountain, and Five Ponds Wilderness Areas aren’t as expansive but equally impressive showcasing all mother nature has to offer through camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, or just relaxing on a homely front porch overlooking a tranquil lake.
Don’t forget to hike responsibly. Stay on marked trails to protect delicate fauna. Bring a day pack with water, snacks, rain jacket, and base layers for cooler temps at summits.
Serene and Lively Lakes
There are more than 200 lakes in the Adirondack Park, all with their own charm. Many larger lakes such as Lake George and Cranberry Lake are hot spots for boating, fishing, rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. Smaller lakes such as Mirror Lake forbids motorized boats to keep disturbance to a minimum and it’s tranquil atmosphere to a maximum (just the way I like it)!
The region also hosts a number of kayak and canoe races from early summer into fall with the highlight being the Adirondack Canoe Classic “The 90-Miler” held in September. It is a 3-day race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake attracting hundreds of competitors from around the world.
Want to give it your best shot? Read this note from the Adirondack Watershed Alliance before signing up.
With friendly locals, family-owned businesses, and cozy B&Bs, the charm of these quaint mountain towns will make you feel like the star of your own Hallmark movie.
Some of the most loved towns are Lake Placid, Lake George, and Old Forge. They all have gorgeous scenic views, a lively downtown scene, and fun activities suited for all ages and curiosities.
Devour tapas and handcrafted drinks overlooking Mirror lake at Top of the Park in Lake Placid, or soak in the fresh mountain air with a tee time at Top of the World Golf Resort in Lake George. Enjoy lake cruises, fishing for trout, boutique shopping, or absorb some culture at Old Forge’s Arts Center The View.
No matter how you spend your days, don’t be surprised if these festive, picturesque towns convince you to keep coming back year after year!
Winter Olympic Park Sites
The US has hosted the Winter Olympic Games four times (more than any other country) and twice in Lake Placid, the heart of the Adirondacks.
The Olympic Center is the location of the 1980’s “Miracle on Ice,” where team USA (the underdogs) captured the gold medal in Ice Hockey beating out the Soviets and Finland to do it. Walkthrough the complex and be transported back in time through memorabilia-lined walls and museums full of iconic history.
There are five Olympic sites including The Sports Complex, Jumping Complex, and Mt. Van Hoevenberg. All sites offer unique experiences year-round to allowing visitors an exhilarating look back into Lake Placid’s Olympic legacy.
Enjoy North America’s longest mountain coaster, The Cliffside Coaster at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, or test your wall-climbing skills at the newly renovated Mountain Pass Lodge. Head to the Jumping center and take a scenic gondola ride up to the base of the ski jumping towers and a glass elevator ride to the top from there. It is a GREAT way to experience stunning 360 views of the High Peaks without having to don a pair of hiking boots.
For more information on what Olympic Park attractions are operating visit Lake Placid Olympic Sites
The Scenic Byways
My favorite way to travel! Scenic byways are located all over the US and are the most iconic and well-known routes for travelers looking to add some scenic splendor and adventure to their journey.
The Adirondack byways are unique as they not only provide spectacular picturesque views through historical towns and attractions but also intertwine connecting many local communities. They act as the main mode of transportation for residents which makes them accessible, plentiful, and easy to spot!
Some of my favorite drives are along Route 86 through Lake Placid and Wilmington and Route 73 through the Keene Valley along Cascade Lake to the Adirondack Northway (I-87).
Head down Adirondack Loj Road for a scenic journey on 9 miles of paved ground ending at Heart Lake and the High Peaks Information Center.
If you want to summit a mountain without hiking, head to Whiteface Mountain (Lake Placid) or Prospect Mountain (Lake George) and take their respected Veteran’s Memorial Highway. With the help of 4 wheels, (and a fee) you will be at the top in no time, never having left your car.
Additional Byways to consider:
- Adirondack Trail: 188 miles, Fonda-Malone
- Central Adirondack Trail: 153 miles, Glen Falls to Rome, travel by bike, car, or canoe
- Southern Adirondack Trail: 112 miles, Herkimer County to Speculator in Hamilton County
- Olympic Trail: 170 miles, Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain
The Fall Festivals
Fall festivals in the Adirondacks are the perfect way to say sayonara to summer and hello to cooler temps. Calendars are packed from September through October with a multitude of unique fall events showcasing the best of what local communities have to offer.
Try craft brews, local wine, and homemade cider at one of the many beer fests, see hot air balloons soar during the Adirondack Balloon Festival, jam with talented musicians at the Jazz festival, or discover genres you didn’t know you loved at the Otis Mountain Get Down.
Search for treasures at the World’s Largest Garage Sale and discover all things Apple at Apple Fest. Even test your moose calling skills at the Great Adirondack Moose Festival, no that one is not a joke!
Festivals are a great way to immerse yourself into local cultural and discover something new!
One of the best things about this area is it is so easily photographed! From the mountain towns to wilderness trails and calm lakes, there are opportunities around every bend for award-winning photography!
Wake up early to catch morning reflections on still lakes, summit a peak and take in an overview of the bustling world below or hunker down on a backcountry road in an attempt to capture nature at its best.
Favorite areas to photograph:
- Whiteface Mountain from the entrance to the Ski Resort off of 86
- Mountain view from road 63 that dead-ends in to 86 in Lake Placid
- Mirror Lake, Cranberry Lake, Saranac Lake
- Summit of Cascade mountain and Indian Head mountain
- Prospect Mountain Summit in Lake George
During fall you will have your pick of mountainous terrain, miles of forest sprinkled with pops of color, rolling hills with the last bit of crops, moody mornings, and shimmery sunsets all waiting to be captured and live on forever in a photograph!
It’s Easy to Get to
Despite its remote and tranquil feel, Adirondack Park is easily accessible by buses, planes, trains, and automobiles.
To make the most of your stay, drive-in or rent a car from a train station or airport. Major interstate I-87 intertwines through the region with I-81 and I-90 connecting it to major cities such as Syracuse and Albany.
According to Conde Nast traveler, the Adirondack Amtrak service is one of the top scenic train trips in North America.
Trains leave daily from New York City and make multiple stops either in or just outside the region before concluding in Montreal. Fort Edward station is great for exploring the southwest region near Lake George and Plattsburgh is ideal for the northern region, (both have rental car centers). To get to Lake Placid use the Westport station and hop on the shuttle bus.
There are many airports serving the region including the Adirondack Regional Airport (SLK) in Saranac Lake. Plattsburgh International Airport (PBG), the Burlington International Airport (BTV) in Vermont, and the Albany International Airport (ALB) are within two hours of Lake George and Lake Placid while Syracuse International Airport (SYC) is less than an hour from Old Forge.
I am sure there are many more, but for starters those are my top 10 reasons you should consider a trip to the Adirondacks next fall!
Enjoy an authentic experience filled with all the comforts of fall. With endless activities, picturesque views, and unique autumn adventures at your fingertips, a journey through the Adirondacks is sure to satisfy all!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Did a trip to the Adirondacks make it to your bucket list? Thanks for reading and helping to grow my travel community! Sign up for my monthly newsletter below and get all the best stuff straight to your inbox.