Where to Feast Your Eyes on Adirondacks Foliage

October 24, 2016 Updated: October 8, 2018

The Empire State is so much more than New York City. A northwest jaunt to the Adirondacks region, be it for a day or long weekend, will expose you to open fields, rolling hills, high peaks, and the beautiful fall foliage this time of year is known for. But act quick—a month from now may be too late.

Whet your appetite for unbridled autumnal beauty by starting with these easily accessible areas.

Aerial shot of Wild Walk at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y. (Courtesy of The Wild Center)
Aerial shot of Wild Walk at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y. (Courtesy of The Wild Center)

Tupper Lake Region

Wild Walk, a family-friendly attraction at Tupper Lake’s Wild Center, is an elevated trail across the treetops where you can explore a four-story twig tree house, hang out in a giant spider web, or perch in a full-sized bald eagle’s nest high above the forest.

This time of year, every Friday through Sunday until the end of October, Wild Walk’s lasting impression on you will be of the 360-degree view of unbroken canopy in all the colors fall has to offer. To up the ante, beginner to intermediate hikers can take a crack at the Tupper Lake Triad, a hiking challenge launched in 2015 consisting of three family-friendly mountains.

The summits, reached via well-maintained and well-marked trails, boast outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and lakes from their summits. After successfully hiking all three peaks, you can register to receive a patch if you like tokens of your outdoor accomplishments.

Foliage near Lake Champlain. (lakeplacid.com)
Foliage near Lake Champlain. (Courtesy of Lake Placid CVB)

Lake Champlain’s Scenic Lowlands  

Lake Champlain borders two countries and two states. It is 122 miles long and has 600 miles of jaw-dropping shoreline. The rolling fields and lower-elevation mountains offer expansive views, whether on a scenic drive or breathtaking boat ride, and this lowland foliage will last a bit longer than the views at altitude.

In addition to being a world-class place to cast your lure, Lake Champlain is the perfect complement to the many well-known Adirondack high peaks.

Also of note, because sometimes a few hours of leaves are enough, is the Adirondack Coast Wine Trail, which includes seven wineries and cideries with tastings along the lake’s coast.

Whiteface Mountain is accessible on foot, by vehicle, or via gondola. (Courtesy of Lake Placid CVB)
Whiteface Mountain is accessible on foot, by vehicle, or via gondola. (Courtesy of Lake Placid CVB)

Owl’s Head Lookout and Whiteface Mountain

This beginner hike near Lake Placid, also family-friendly, offers an excellent opportunity for hikers who want a great scenic view in under an hour without the congestion of the High Peaks.

To access the primary trailhead, leave Lake Placid on Route 73 towards Keene. Continue around 12-miles to Owl’s Head Lane on the right. Drive up this road and park at the fork. From the trailhead’s initial uphill grade, you’ll sweep right to the first open view. Continue to climb and the views keep coming. After a short low gradient, a final steep scramble over open rock rewards you with the breathtaking summit. All in, this is a 0.6-mile hike.

If you have time for a 30-minute drive to another vista, or just don’t want to scuff your shoes, nearby Whiteface Mountain has a 4,872-foot summit reachable either by car via Memorial Highway or the Gondola Sky Ride at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center that has “marriage proposal” written all over it!

How to Get There

There are three primary ways to get up to the Adirondacks, leaving you no excuses to miss the grandeur, and it never hurts to check out ADKAlert.com before you embark on some Adirondack sightseeing. The site provides updates on hiker traffic, telling you what’s really “happening” but also helping you avoid heavy crowds. If you don’t drive, renting a car once you reach the Adirondacks is advisable. There are some cabs, but the area is very spread out.

Driving.  This is your best bet because parking in the Adirondacks will never be a problem. Leave NYC in the rearview by getting on the Thruway, I-87, and travel north over a few hours of easy highway. Maybe stop in Albany for lunch. Once you enter the Adirondacks on the Northway, which is what I-87 is called north of Albany, the scenic views begin. The region is crisscrossed by 14 Adirondack Scenic Byways. Traveling along one of these scenic routes on a motorcycle can be an adventure all its own.

Train or Bus. From NYC’s Penn Station, take the Adirondack line, named “Top Ten Most Scenic Train Trips in North America.” This line goes all the way to Westport in the Adirondacks, and a shuttle is part of the ticket if you’re going to Lake Placid. You can also disembark in Albany and hop on a bus to your final upstate destination. Buses also run from Penn Station all the way to the Adirondacks, but you’ll have to deal with more stops.

Flying. This is certainly the top choice if you have a private plane at the ready. Adirondack Regional Airport provides the most convenient access to and from the foliage, but the regular daily service via Cape Air comes from Boston. So you’d have to take a New York to Boston flight first. There are two other northeastern national airports that provide options: Burlington International Airport in Vermont and the Albany International Airport, both within a few hours’ drive.

Amanda Burrill is a military veteran, classically trained chef, journalist, travel host, endurance athlete, and libations enthusiast. She’s been on international archaeology digs and magazine covers, lived and worked abroad, jumps out of planes, and dived coral reefs. Some call her the real Lara Croft but she also answers to “Popeye” and “Hurricane.” Reach her at AmandaBurrill.com

Leaves change from green to yellow to orange at Wild Walk. (Courtesy of The Wild Center]
Leaves change from green to yellow to orange at Wild Walk. (Courtesy of The Wild Center]