Adirondacks in Autumn: A guide to enjoying the mountains

A man and a dog stand in the foreground, facing a large, blue lake. On the dar side is a thick line of trees, all changing colors for autumn.

With lakes, museums and camping, the Adirondacks offer much more than spectacular fall foliage

A shot of a spot in the Adirondacks in autumn when the leaves change color. (Michael Davis/Syracuse New Times)

Like the winter, autumn in the mountains shows up early. And like summer in the mountains, it disappears just as quickly.

Usually about two weeks ahead of Central New York, the shorter days of the Adirondack autumn are welcomed by a portion of the mountains’ 10 million annual visitors, who appreciate the brilliant foliage of the boreal forest, smaller crowds, fewer bugs and moderating temperatures. For sure, some of the tourist attractions in the 6-million-acre wilderness have closed for the season, but autumn is nonetheless a season of special enticements in the Adirondacks.


Camping and Sightseeing

Camping in the wilderness is one of the Adirondacks’ most popular options, and the New York State Parks excel in providing the car-camping experience. Although many of the 42 sites within the park’s Blue Line boundary shutter on Labor Day, several easily accessible sites remain open into October, including Eighth Lake, Lake Durant, Indian Lake, and Lake Eaton Campgrounds.

The Old Forge area, just a two-hour drive from Syracuse, offers recreational options throughout the year. Get a hawk’s-eye view of the mountains and fall foliage by riding the $6 chair lift at McCauley Mountain, open Fridays through Sundays through Columbus Day. Or take the one-mile hike up nearby Bald Mountain, on Rondaxe Road off Route 28 north of Old Forge, for another eye-popping panorama. The trailhead to Blue Moutain can be found along Route 30, leading to a strenuous 2-mile climb with a life-altering view of the surrounding mountains, including the high peaks to the northeast.

In nearby Raquette Lake, the Great Camp Sagamore is the 27-building complex built during the Gilded Age by William West Durant. The camp offers many autumnal options for visitors, with seasonal programs and accommodations. If you want to see what roughing it was all about for the well-to-do during the 1890s, check them out.

The Raquette Lake Navigation Company operates the W.W. Durant double-decker tour boat through Oct. 19 with a schedule of dining and sightseeing excursions.


Arts and History

The institutions that define the character of the Adirondacks don’t wind down on Labor Day, either. View, the recent name for the former Arts Center of Old Forge, schedules exhibitions, workshops, and performances throughout the year. The annual National Exhibition of American Watercolors ends Sept. 30, while the 2018 Quilts Unlimited show runs from Oct. 5 through Nov. 10.

Further up the road on Route 30 in Blue Mountain Lake is the Adirondack Experience, also known as the Adirondack Museum. The venue has received plaudits for its exhibitions, such as the immersive, 19,000-square-foot interactive Life in the Adirondacks, as well as its permanent collections of art and watercraft. Visitors can enjoy this venerated 121-acre campus through Oct. 14.

Further up Route 30 in Tupper Lake is the Wild Center, the natural history museum, zoo and educational complex. This unique rustic-modern facility abuts the Raquette River and offers many special events and activities, including canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, plus workshops and performances. The “Wild Walk,” an elevated walkway above the tree tops, provides a unique visual perspective. At one end of this aerie you will find an eagle’s nest, a perch from which to ogle the multi-chromatic display below. The facility remains open throughout the year except for the month of April. Both the Wild Center and the Adirondack Experience are understandably regarded as the finest institutions of their kind in the country.


Hitting the Water

There’s still time to launch canoes or kayaks in the Adirondacks’ 2,500 miles of navigable waterways. Old Forge Pond sits at the base of the Fulton Chain of Lakes and provides a starting point for a good paddle toward Fourth Lake and Inlet and beyond. Additional public boat launch sites are available throughout the Adirondacks, and a full list can be found through the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Autumn also provides quieter waters, since many of the area’s motorized craft have already called it a season. For a tranquil river paddle, Mountainman Outdoor Supply on Route 28 in Old Forge offers rentals of canoes or kayaks (or bring your own) for transportation up the Moose River and a scenic paddle/float back. The cost ranges from $28 to $46, depending on equipment and length of the trip.


Fall Foodies

At the end of any of this, refreshment is its own reward, and Route 28 features several establishments. Slickers in Old Forge is a friendly local tavern boasting a cozy ambience, a notable pub menu, craft beer and occasional live music. Tony Harper’s Pizza and Clam Shack offers a rooftop bar, pizza and clams. For tasty Italian fare, Billy’s (behind Walt’s Diner) is intimate, casual and reasonably priced. And for great sandwiches and a good cuppa joe for breakfast or lunch, check out Ozzie’s Coffee Bar.


The allure of autumn in the mountains is worth waiting for, but doesn’t last long. A long winter follows. Enjoy it while you can.

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