Brilliant fall colors are dependent on various climate factors during the summer. Late August and early September give good indicators when foliage will reach peak colors and how vibrant the leaves will be. I'm no meteorologist nor scientist but when I returned to New York mid-August, I sensed that the unusual cool weather we were having might lead to less than fantastic colors. Hot wet summers, a gradual cooling September and later frosts might yield great color. A rainy and cold September might knock the leaves off sooner without them giving their full potential of color. This year the colors seem nice, but not as vibrant as other years.
In this tech age, the best time to guess whether it's peak season or not is to log onto weather.com and look at the fall foliage map. Areas that are near or at peak are the places to visit. This means that your plans should be flexible, because it can seem that you have to be ready to get in the car with a week's notice. What's the big deal? Those of us who live in the Northeast and Northwest can make flexible plans. Those who are flying in for the season have pot luck. Many people plan fall vacations around foliage season.
So what can you do if the colors are less than stellar? Enjoy the areas where the leaves are. This is where farms, orchards and wineries come in. Farms thrive in many regions of the USA but somehow, the seasonal activities of the farms of New England, New York and Pennsylvania seem special. In New York State, one can visit the east end of Long Island and upstate. Bear in mind that we downstate folks consider any place over the Tappan Zee Bridge as upstate, to the amusement of those who live in Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties.
Agri-tourism is an increasingly big business. I watched a Long Island Business Report episode focusing on agriculture on Long Island. Farms that focus solely on small roadside stands or selling their products to stores were not doing as well as those that took a chance on specialty products for food or decorating trends, focusing on the hotel and boutique industry, and, as a link to the tourism industry, opening their farms for the "u-pick-your-own" seasons. The latter has grown into full scale productions complete with hay rides, mazes, pumpkin patches, face painting, booths, homemade jam, cider and baked goods, hot corn and baked potatoes.
Lewin Farms in Calverton, Long Island is a huge operation. With over 1100 acres, it seems to dominate the LI scene but there are other farms. From May to October, you can pick berries, peaches, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and of course, apples. Because of the variety of produce, they have several locations, with the apple orchard in a different location than the farmstand. For the apples, they charge by the pound (whatever you can carry). You can bring your own bags and they sell the old fashioned wooden baskets.
Nearby is Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, a fun filled vineyard (check the website for live music) complete with horse rides. Their Harvest 2014 season looks like it will last until January 2015! Combine Lewin and Baiting Hollow (with the nearby Tanger Outlets in Riverhead) and you have a day trip guaranteed to please all ages in the family.
Lewin can be a bit overwhelming (and crowded). Other farms in the area (and they will let you know by the homemade signs along the way) are listed on longisland.com. When I visit one, I will write a review.
Instead of east, with NYC as a center point, one can head north. Tourists are surprised to learn that New York is a top agricultural producer, one of the top five states in the country. Dairy, apples, peaches, potatoes and, of course, wine, are top products. Just one hour out of NYC will have you thinking you are in the midwest somewhere (until you see the Catskill Mountains looming ahead of you on I-87). Masker Orchards, in Warwick, NY, just barely over 100 years old, seems to have perfected the quintessential day in the "country" without having to drive too far from New Jersey, Long Island or NYC.
They actually encourage you to picnic within the orchard and parking is a generous affair. There are "lots" but some areas of the orchard are wide enough for cars to park within the rows of the trees themselves. They charge a flat rate of 26.95 per bag picked (they provide the bags). On the bag itself is a map of the orchards (it helps to know your species of apples). There are apple picking poles around for the high branches but these were few and I never got ahold of one.
|Maskers Orchard: Family Fun Area (Editorial Use Only)|
In the Family Fun Area was a full scale "festival:" country store, pony rides, haunted house, apple maze, face painting, pizza, apple pies, pumpkins, ATM machine (they do take credit cards, no Amex), and, hallelujah, rest rooms. You could spend all day (and a lot of money) there. I saw many whole pizza pies being ordered. We had an apple blossom (sort of like a dumpling) that was pretty good and took home a dozen apple cider donuts as well as our bag of apples. The bag hold a lot!! One bag was sufficient for our family of three for at least a month. They 14 varieties and post the ripening schedule on their website. I missed the Golden Delicious and Granny Smiths, but you can believe I'll be checking next year. By the way, be prepared to have your car checked for bootleg apples. They mean what they say about paying on your way out. No honor system here.
|Maskers Orchard's Country Store (Editorial Use Only)|
Further up Route 17 or I-87, depending on how fast you want to get there, are two in New Paltz that I have visited. The benefit of these farms is the proximity to several vineyards, Minnewaska State Park and the charming town of New Paltz itself, with its funky college vibe and historical French Huguenot houses. In between Warwick and New Paltz is Woodbury Commons, another shopping outlet (Premium). Apple Hill Farm, Dressel Farms and Wilklow Orchards are all good. They don't seem as carnival-like as Maskers but they all have some sort of family fun.
In every region, be prepared for traffic galore. Between the outlets, vineyards, farms and every day life on the week-ends (school football games, etc), my suggestion is to be at the farm by 10AM. When you are ready to leave around 12 noon, you will see the crowd heading in and you'll be glad you got there early.
All Photos Copyright Marcia Crayton, 2014. All Rights Reserved.