Great Autumn Hikes
Colorful leaves, cool, crisp air, the grand spectacle of migrating flocks, the way the sun's rays bathe everything in a golden glow...autumn is a thrilling time to hike any of New York State's great public preserves. Here are nine suggestions from among the hundreds to choose from.
Enjoy hiking the trails through this preserve's dense shrub thickets of pitch pine and scrub oak. These unique barrens, occurring only in three places on Long Island and six places in the state, are considered a globally rare wildlife habitat. Other habitats found here include stands of big-tooth aspen and grasslands.
Trails: Marked foot and bike trails thread through the preserve. Old Commack and Flyer roads allow motorized access for people with disabilities.
Length: Trail lengths vary.
Surface: Natural surfaces and pavement
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: This preserve has rich populations of many animal species, including several types of warblers, red-tailed hawks, eastern cottontail, red fox and hognose snakes. Several species of rare invertebrates are present too, including the coastal barrens buckmoth.
Directions: Parking area off Commack Road (40.776735°N, 73.310192°W) Google Maps
More Information: Oak Brush Plains State Preserve at Edgewood; A free 3-year Managed Land Access Permit is required to use this property. Visit DEC's nForm page if you need information on how to obtain a NY.gov account, which is required for these permits. Open year-round, sunrise to sunset.
Staten Island, Richmond County
Named for the ponds that now fill old clay mining pits, this former industrial area has been reclaimed by nature. Hikers will enjoy exploring its wetlands, sand barrens, streams and woodlands as crisp autumn air works its colorful magic on preserve vegetation.
Trails: Two roads and 18 marked trails take you through the preserve's scenic habitats to prime wildlife viewing spots.
Length: Varying lengths, more than six miles total
Surface: Natural surfaces and pavement
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: Most of Clay Pit Ponds has been designated a Bird Conservation Area, with 180 species seen here. You'll also see deer, box turtles and dwarf hawthorn, a rare and protected flowering shrub.
Directions: Park Entrance (40.5393979°N, 74.2343421°W) Google Maps
More Information: Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve; Park Office: 718-967-1976; Interpretive Center: 718-605-3970.
Nearby Attractions: Other Staten Island Greenbelt preserves
Town of Shandaken, Ulster County
Some of the most spectacular views in the Catskills are the payoff for this short but rocky and sometimes steep hike. At 3,200 feet, Giant Ledge offers multiple vistas of Hunter, Plateau, Twin, Indian Head and Overlook peaks to the north and east; Wittenberg, Terrace, Cornell and Slide peaks to the south; and Spruce, Hemlock and Balsam peaks to the east. A mid-week hike provides the ultimate solitude in this very popular area.
Trails: From the parking lot, follow the Woodland Valley-Denning Trail (opposite side of the road, yellow markers) 0.75 mile to the Giant Ledge Trail (blue markers), and turn north (left); then go 0.6 mile up to Giant Ledge.
Length: 2.7 miles round trip
Wildlife: Bear, deer, turkey, grouse, fisher and coyote
Directions: Oliverea Road North Parking Area (42.026565°N, 74.403866°W) Google Maps
Nearby Attractions: Many other trails traverse DEC's Slide Mountain Wilderness, which encompasses more than 47,500 acres and is the largest and most popular wilderness area in the Catskills. Extensive foot trails provide access to the remote interior, often scaling lofty peaks with spectacular views. No motorized equipment or vehicles are allowed.
Petersburg, Rensselaer County
The Taconic Crest Trail runs 37 miles along the New York, Vermont and Massachusetts border, with an elevation of almost 3,000 feet at Berlin Mountain. A popular section of the trail begins in Petersburg, New York and leads to the popular "snowhole," a cave-like crevice where snow is often found into the early summer. The trail passes through the Taconic Ridge State Forest (nearly 4,000 acres) and an additional 7,000 acres of easement land.
Trails: The Taconic Crest Trail is marked by white and blue trail markers. The surface is natural and gravelly. After reaching the "White Rocks" sign, continue for approximately 10 more minutes to a side trail on the right. This will lead to the "snowhole."
Length: 6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate, although the start of the walk from the parking area is fairly steep but very short. The rest of the trail gradually ascends 425 feet.
Wildlife and Natural Attractions:Northern hardwoods-sugar maple, birch, red maple and beech trees display beautiful fall colors.
Directions: Parking lot on Rte. 2 (42.742876°N, 73.282566°W) Google Maps
More information: The land is managed by DEC and the State of Massachusetts. The Taconic Hiking Club helps perform maintenance on the trail.
Waverly, Franklin County
Providing a spectacular overlook of unbroken northern forest lands and numerous distant Adirondack peaks, including an historic fire tower, Azure Mountain is an excellent spot for viewing fall foliage in the northern Adirondacks.
Trails: A 1-mile trail leads to the fire tower and a scenic overlook.
Length: The hike to the fire tower and overlook is approximately 2 miles (round trip) and is suitable for both experienced and new hikers.
Difficulty: Moderate, with a few strenuous spots along the way
Wildlife and Natural Attractions:Views of unbroken forest and distant Adirondack peaks are complimented by the historic fire tower and large glacial erratic at the top of the mountain.
Directions: Parking lot at trailhead on Blue Mountain Road (44.5378022°N, 74.4874563°W) Google Maps
More information: Friends of Azure Mountain
Town of Clifton, St. Lawrence County
If the bracing fall weather and promise of rich vistas don't inspire you to try a challenging climb, nothing will. Rocky outcrops near the top of Bear Mountain offer a spectacular view of Cranberry Lake, Joe Indian Island and the Five Ponds Wilderness. This is one of the most popular hikes in the Cranberry Lake area.
Trails: The trailhead is inside DEC's Cranberry Lake Campground, and the loop begins at a paved parking lot adjacent to campsite #27.
Length: The Bear Mountain Loop Trail is 2.4 miles round trip.
Wildlife and Natural Attractions: Wide variety of mammals and birds, including white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse
Directions: Trailhead at Cranberry Lake State Campground (44.2054851°N, 74.9012573°W) Google Maps.
Birding, nature study, hiking, wildlife observation and hunting/trapping are popular activities at Pharsalia WMA. Wildlife includes white-tailed deer, turkey, numerous small mammals and song birds. Both cold and warm water fish are present in streams and ponds. The Civilian Conservation Corps was responsible for most of the work involved in planting thousands of trees and shrubs, as well as constructing several small ponds and two large marsh ponds-Jackson and Bear Wallow-on this former farmland.
Trails: About 7 of the 18.2 miles of marked trails are part of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) and pass by the "Waterfalls of Pharsalia"-a series of small waterfalls and cascades leading to a pond. Two miles of the 3.5-mile Elmer Jackson Loop are also part of the FLT and pass two ponds.
Surface: Wet meadows, grasslands and forest floor
Length: 18.2 miles
Difficulty: Generally flat or gently sloping
Directions: Finger Lakes Trail (42.6201713°N, 75.7317856°W) Google Maps
Nearby Attractions: Arts and apple festivals in September, and many museums, including the four-floor Bates Round Barn, the Northeast Classic Car Museum and the Bullthistle Model Railroad Society
Towns of Orange, Tyrone and Reading, Schuyler County
Among Sugar Hill's attractions is the Six Nations Trail System, some of which is located on Goundry Hill State Forest. There is also a 15-mile section of the Finger Lakes/North Country National Scenic Trail. Stairs to the top landing of the Sugar Hill Fire Tower are open for climbing. On clear days, the 15-mile view is spectacular!
Trails: The main trailhead for the Six Nations Trail System is the Sugar Hill Fire Tower and Recreation Area, near the forest's north end. Parking, water, flush toilets, a picnic area and pavilion, horse stalls, kiosks, an accessible horse-mounting ramp, radio towers, and a field for camping are located here.
Surface: Please contact DEC's Bath Sub-office at 607-776-2165 for trail conditions.
Length: Loops and spurs covering 35 miles
Difficulty: Hilly terrain with some steep sections. Start at the Lower Evergreen parking lot for easier access to less steep sections of trail near the south end of the forest.
Getting There: Sugar Hill Rec Area Parking Lot (42.3894902°N, 77.0056378°W) Google Maps
Nearby Attractions: Watkins Glen Speedway; Watkins Glen State Park; Corning Museum of Glass
Towns of Mansfield, Little Valley, Ellicottville and Great Valley, Cattaraugus County
Portions of the Finger Lakes Trail and the North Country Scenic Trail run through Rock City and McCarty Hill state forests, which encompass more than 6,000 acres. Look for the huge boulder outcroppings called "Little Rock City," the Civilian Conservation Corp's Camp Seneca, and a historic stone bridge. A "rock city" is a formation of large rocks with narrow pathways between them; to some people, they resemble city streets. Camping sites are available; primitive camping is permitted everywhere, provided sites are a minimum of 150 feet from roadways, trails and water bodies.
Trails: The Little Rock City Natural Trail is a loop that intersects the North Country Scenic Trail and can be followed to Little Rock City Forest Road. The Camp Seneca Loop Trail starts near the pond at Camp Seneca and also intersects the North Country Scenic Trail.
Surface: Natural terrain in wooded areas; dirt and gravel on forest roads
Length: More than 7 miles of forest roads are open to hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.
Difficulty: Moderately steep, with elevations ranging from 1,600 to 2,300 feet
Getting There: McCarty Hill State Forest (42.2501683°N, 78.702421°W) Google Maps.