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October 3, 2016

Fall Colors: Easy, Nearby and Gorgeous

by Amanda MacMillan

Fall in the northeast is a truly special time: The cool, crisp air and the brilliant colors of the changing leaves make October a great month to get outdoors and experience nature. It’s also the perfect time to squeeze in that last long hike, swim, bike ride or canoe outing before hunkering down for colder weather and shorter days.

To celebrate the season, we’ve rounded up some of the best places in the area for leaf-peeping and outdoor activities. Put these daytrips on your calendar for the next month or so; after all, fitness is more fun when you’ve got spectacular scenery to keep you company!

Bear Mountain State Park, Rockland County

For great views of the Hudson Valley in all its red-and-yellow autumn glory, head to Bear Mountain, just an hour outside of New York City. The park’s hiking trails are open year-round, and its observation tower is accessible through late November, weather permitting. You can rent a boat on weekends through the end of October; the outdoor ice-skating rink opens in late October, as well. The park is open daily, 8 a.m. to sunset; admission is $10 per car.

Forest and Highland Parks, Queens

Set out on foot or hire a horse for the day to explore the trails through Forest Park’s 156 acres of trees and hilly terrain; it’s the borough’s largest continuous oak forest, with an underlayer of dogwood, sassafras and corktree. Or visit nearby Highland Park for a Fall Foliage Photography workshop on October 9 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. NYC Parks are open daily and free of charge.

New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx

Kids will love the scarecrows and pumpkins exhibited around the country’s largest botanical garden this time of year, and you’ll be blown away by the kaleidoscope of rich, autumn colors. Be sure to walk through the Maple Collection, the Azalea Garden, and the 50-acre Thain Family Forest, all of which are especially beautiful this time of year. The NYBG is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Sunday (open Columbus Day); ticket prices vary.

Planting Fields Arboretum, Nassau County

This state historic park boasts five miles of walking trails through its nearly 200 acres of rolling hills and colorful forests. After getting your heart rate up with a brisk stroll, visit the Sensory Garden -- a treat for all five senses. The grounds are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and after Labor Day admission is free during the week. (It’s $8 per car on weekends until November 18).

Sands Point Preserve Nature Conservancy, Nassau County

Hike, jog, or walk your dog on the trails through the Conservancy’s colorful 216 acres, enjoy an outdoor yoga or meditation class, or check out the Village Day Fall Festival (complete with hayrides and a Green Grocer market, featuring local produce) on October 16. The Preserve is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission is $10 per car.

Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden, Connecticut

Two hours outside of Manhattan and 20 minutes from New Haven, this state park has an extensive trail system for hiking of all levels -- including a mile-and-a-half scenic trek up Mount Carmel, leading to a stone observation tower that offers 360-degree views of New York and Connecticut. The panorama is always breathtaking, but especially so at this time of year. The park is open daily 8 a.m. to sunset; it’s free on weekdays, or $9 for residents and $15 for non-residents on weekends. (The tower is open weekends only in the fall.)

Staten Island Greenbelt, Staten Island

Parts of Staten Island’s Greenbelt have been dubbed New York City’s “most remote,” and there’s a good chance you’ll be alone among the trees in certain sections of Staten Island’s 2,800-acre collection of parks, trails, and open spaces. If you prefer exploring with others, join a group hike or trail run, or sign your kids up for fall children’s programs that introduce them to the forest. Hours and rates vary, but many events are free.