There it is — that chill in the air, the crunch underfoot, the bright pops of color in the trees can all mean one thing: The season of autumn is upon us here in the Hudson Valley. While there are countless activities to do and events to attend that celebrate the harvest, one of the region’s greatest pleasures is admiring the spectrum of changing leaves on a long and winding road. So, fill the tank, grab a hot cider, queue up some driving music, and enjoy nature’s best show on these four fall drives.

Shawangunk Scenic Byway

This 88-mile stretch of road loops the northern Shawangunk Mountains, then travels through the Rondout and Wallkill valleys — but choose any chunk of this route for a scenic drive and you’re bound to enjoy views of bucolic farmland, mountains and valleys dotted in autumn hues, and, if you stay on the road just late enough, resplendent sunsets.

Recommended Route: 44/55 through Ulster County

Length: 16.4 miles. Begin at the intersection of Route 208 and Routes 44/55 in Gardiner.

Along the way: Antiques shops, bistros, farm stands, orchards, and wineries offer plenty of options for an extended trip. As you make your way up towards the mountain, take it slow around the hairpin turn, and if there’s room for parking, take pause at the scenic overlook as you go uphill, or the two as you head back down the other side, which overlook the Rondout Valley and Catskills.

Hawk’s Nest

Want to feel as though you’re in a car commercial? This route has actually been featured in a few of them. It features a curvy path flanked between mountainside and a stone wall that serves as a guardrail, and is part of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. The road can be dangerous — avoid zipping around the bends, and please keep an eye out for motorcycles — but be sure to take in the panoramic views of the landscape surrounding the Delaware River.

Location: Route 97 in Port Jervis

Length: About 14 miles (although the route is much longer and extends all the way to Pennsylvania)

Along the way:
There are several stop-off points ideal for hawk watching.

Google Maps
Google Maps

River Road

Drive too fast down 9W in Esopus and you’ll bypass this tucked-away side road that runs parallel to the Hudson River. It’s a short stretch of asphalt, but with plenty of open river views, including one that looks out onto the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, it’s worth the ride.

Location: Off 9W in Esopus

Length: Four miles

Along the way: Coming from New Paltz, you’ll see the El Paso Winery across the street from the entrance to River Road, a small winery that hosts tastings and events on occasion. On River Road, stop for a picnic at Lighthouse Park, and if the tide is low, enjoy a walk along the water’s edge.

Frost Valley Road

This route extends to the farthest point of the Hudson Valley just as it becomes the Catskills, but if you can get up there early in the season, you’re in for a visual treat: winding hills, bald eagles, trickling brooks, wild turkeys, and other natural splendor make this drive a captivating one.

Location: Route 47, between Big Indian and the town of Claryville

Length: About 20 miles

Along the way: There are several trailheads for some of the Catskills most popular peaks, if you have the proper gear for a day hike. If you brought the kids, take advantage of Frost Valley YMCA’s day rates for outdoor fun. Or, in Claryville grab a bite to eat at the Blue Hill Lodge and Café.

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