How to Go Leaf Peeping

By Julia O’Brien

And just like that, summer is over.

In its place comes the transformative season of autumn – or, if you’re already Americanised, fall.

Unlike in most parts of Australia, New York treats its residents to four distinct seasons. Fall in New York (and the broader north-east coast of the United States) is spectacular and warrants some exploring to see the patchwork colours of the changing leaves.

Whether you only make it as far as Central Park, or head north to New England, becoming a leaf peeper (that’s an actual term) during fall is a wonderful experience you can’t replicate back home.

But to do it right does take some planning, so here are some tips to help you make the most of one of Mother Nature’s ultimate gifts.

Step One: Know When to Go

Every year is different, depending on what the weather’s been like, so your best bet is to keep an eye on one of the many fall foliage maps, which show when certain areas are hitting peak leaf peeping time. The further north you head (such as Maine and Vermont), the earlier the leaves change, and peak time can be as soon as mid-September. The further south you go, the later the change happens, and leaves can still be turning as late as November.

This September has been unseasonably warm and so the leaf peeping season is likely to run late. But many weather factors play into how intense the colours will be and how long the vivid leaves will be around.

Step Two: Plan Ahead

Leaf peeping is a popular activity, so sadly you’re not going to be the only one trying to catch a glimpse of the tress, especially when they hit peak colours. Crowds swell on weekends, making roads crowded and accommodation both expensive and hard to come by. Our tip is to make any reservations well in advance, and if you can, plan for a mid-week excursion to avoid the crowds.

Step Three: Pick Your Destination

Purists would argue that you need to visit New England to see the best leaves – but there are also plenty of places to go that are much more conveniently located to New York City. The New York Botanical Gardens has a vast collection of Maple Trees that are worth a visit, while Fort Tyron Park is a just a subway ride away and can be combined with a trip to the Met Cloisters. The Metro North also offers a number of discounted excursion packages to the Hudson Valley during fall. Why not combine your leaf peeping with some wine tasting for the best of both worlds?

If you’re willing to rent a car, then make a beeline for Kent, Connecticut. It will take you less than two hours to travel and there are plenty of photo-worthy red barns and white steeples to stop at along the way. Head to Kent Falls State Park for a picnic lunch and then pop in to the Kent Falls Brewing Co. for a hard-earned beer.

If you’re happy to drive a bit further, Arcadia National Park in Maine is pretty perfect. With Cadillac Mountain set against beaches and lakes, your friends will be begging you to stop posting all the leaf photos on Instagram. Stay in Bar Harbour – possibly the cutest and coolest town in New England.

Some of the best and most picturesque spots are off the major highways, so don’t be afraid to take a turn off every now and then and get a little bit lost.

Step Four: Eat all the Foods

It’s easy to get distracted by the leaves, but there’s plenty of food to be had and no time to waste. Fall is apple and pumpkin season and Americans certainly make the most of it. You’re going to come across plenty of apple cider, doughnuts, pies and crumbles (or cobblers), and you’re going to want to try it all! Make sure you stop at one of the many pick-your-own produce farms or a road-side market – you won’t regret it.