The best day trips this fall, from cemetery tours to historic mansions to corn mazes

September 19, 2017

These pretty-much-perfect months are a great time to escape the city, and with so many fun, scenic, and informative offerings nearby, you can go for the day and not have to worry about spending money on lodging. To help plan your autumn itinerary, 6sqft has put together a list of the best day trips outside of New York. From touring the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown to a lantern-lit cemetery tour in Sleepy Hollow, we’ve got you history buffs covered. And for those looking for some more traditional fall fun, there’s fall foliage at Bear Mountain’s Oktoberfest, apple and pumpkin picking in New Jersey, and artistically carved jack o’ lanterns on Long Island.

Kykuit, Rockefeller Estate, Tarrytown, Historic Hudson Valley
Kykuit via 6sqft

Hudson Valley Historic Sites ↑

Centered around the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow area, just a 40- to 60-minute drive from NYC (depending on traffic), or an even shorter train ride, in Westchester, are seven historic sites managed by Historic Hudson Valley. The most popular is Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate that boasts a gorgeous mansion, art galleries full of Picassos and Calders, magical gardens, and unparalleled views of the Palisades. Several guided tours are available, depending on whether you’re interested in a general overview of Rockefeller life, architecture, or landscape design. A nice follow-up visit is the nearby Union Church. Commissioned by the Rockefellers, it features stained-glass windows by Matisse and Chagall.

Other historic estates to tour in the area include Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, “an enchanted adventure in a romantic landscape designed by Irving himself;” Phillipsburg Manor, a 1750 milling and trading complex that was home to 23 enslaved people of African descent; Van Cortlandt Manor, a house museum that explores life of a patriot family following the American Revolution; and Montgomery Place, an amazingly intact, 200-year-old, 380-acre estate full of orchards, gardens, and a grand classical mansion. Many of the sites are decorated in fall decor or offer fun seasonal activities, and the elevated Hudson Valley location is a great opportunity to enjoy the foliage.

sleepy hollow cemetery tour, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Halloween events, Washington Irving
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery lantern tour via Visit Sleep Hollow

Halloween Fun in Sleepy Hollow ↑

After visiting Washington Irving’s former residence, you can plan your next day trip around the village that inspired one of his most famous stories. In 1790, he set “Sleepy Hollow” in the countryside of the Dutch settlement of Tarrytown (the northern part of the town wasn’t officially named Sleepy Hollow until 1997), as it had been known for its ghosts and haunting atmosphere. Today, the town takes full advantage of their claim to fame and haunted happenings. Its most famous site is probably the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a 90-acre area holding the graves of Irving himself, as well as other big names such as Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, Samuel Gompers, Elizabeth Arden, Leona Helmsley, Brooke Astor, and William Rockefeller. Throughout October, the cemetery offers special spooky evening tours, including the Classic Lantern Tour that introduces first-time guests to the interred, the architecture, and the 115-year-old underground receiving vault; Murder & Mayhem, where you’ll meet “victims and perpetrators;” and The Good, The Bad, and the Unusual, which you’ll meet colorful local residents and world-famous inhabitants.

The Haunted Hayride is another great Halloween happening in Sleepy Hollow. The ride begins driving through the quaint downtown streets, but soon you’ll find yourself “heading down the Albany Post Road past the Old Dutch Church, following exactly Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman.” And for literature buffs and fear lovers, Phillipsburg Manor (mentioned in the day trip above) offers Horseman’s Hollow, where the historic site is transformed into a representation of the classic story, “a terrifying landscape ruled by the undead, the evil, and the insane.” Finally, there’s Irving’s Legend, a dramatic performance of the tale that takes place at the Old Dutch Church, the circa-1685 church and churchyard that appear in the story.

Bear MountainBear Mountain’s fall foliage via Wiki Commons

Bear Mountain Hiking and Oktoberfest ↑

A bit further north along the Hudson River (a 45-minute drive from the city) is Bear Mountain State Park. The 5,067-acre park affords some of the best vantage points to scope out fall foliage, and it’s the perfect place for outdoorsy types, as there are amazing hiking and biking trails and boat rentals. There’s also a zoo, which began in 1926 as a bear den, but today is home to local injured or rehabilitating animals such as bears, otters, and bald eagles, and trailside museums, including the History Museum, Geology Museum, and Natural History Museum, which contains the original exhibits from the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

After all of that outdoor activity, chill out with a beer at Bear Mountain’s famous Oktoberfest, running weekends from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. until October 30th. In addition to brews, you’ll find German food, a full live entertainment roster, and craft vendors.

Pumpkin Patch, corn mazeVia Rachel Samanyi/Flickr

Food Trucks, Wine, and Pumpkin Picking in Central Jersey ↑

People unfamilar with the state assume that New Jersey is either the oil refineries they see on the Turnpike or a version of the “Jersey Shore.” But in fact, a large part of the Garden State is quite rural, especially western Monmouth County, less than two hours away from the city. There are some great spots for apple and pumpkin picking, including Eastmont Orchards, Battleview Orchards, which offers a country store and hayride, and Bullock Farms, which has a four-and-a-half-acre corn maze, an Instagram-worthy sunflower field, and a special kid-friendly activity area.

Once you’re stocked up on apples and homemade pies, head over to Laurita Winery, a sustainable winery (the structures are 150 years old and it relies on solar power) with 40 acres of vineyards for Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Lemberger, Chambourcin, Norton and Zweigelt grapes; 200 acres of woodlands, meadows and pasture; and a rustic inn, complete with spa and equestrian center, if you want to extend your day trip. Of course, there’s the standard wine tastings and vineyard tours, but what really makes Laurita special is its fun events. The weekend of October 14th and 15th is the Harvest Festival, where you’ll find nearly 20 craft vendors, art demonstrations, and live music. The weekends of October October 21st and 22nd and November 11th and 12th are the Fall Food Truck Festivals. Reserve a fire pit and enjoy over two dozen food trucks, a cigar tent, live music, and kids’ activities. And if you stay until it gets dark, you can sip your vino while enjoying a fireworks display.
The Lambertville Canal via Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Antiquing and Ghost Tours in Lambertville and New Hope ↑

Lambertville, New Jersey and New Hope, Pennsylvania sit directly across the Delaware River from each other. Connected by a charming two-lane bridge, the quaint towns have gorgeous views of the river and both have distinct atmospheres that combine for the perfect autumn day. Lambertville is considered the antique capital of NJ, and there’s just something about fall that puts us in the antiquing mood. Here you’ll find everything from shops devoted to mid-century modern furniture to traditional this-and-that catchalls. The town also has a huge collection of Victorian residences and Federal-era townhouses; if you go on Sunday, October 15th you can attend the annual house tour, but otherwise, it’s still pleasant to meander down the streets and ogle the architecture. On your drive in, be sure to stop at the Golden Nugget Antique & Flea Market, a 40-year-old indoor/outdoor market that specializes in antiques, collectibles, art and more. New Hope also has its share of vintage stores, but this town is better known for its funky, laid-back “hippy” vibe, with lots of art galleries, specialty shops like one that exclusively sells jerky, and vibrant music scene. It’s also home to the renowned Bucks County Playhouse where you can catch a production before heading out.

Both Lambertville and New Hope are in full Halloween mode, offering close to two dozen spooky and fall-themed events. We’re partial to the lantern-led Ghost Tours of New Hope, where guests see the “phantom Hitchhiker” and the historic inn where Aaron Burr appears from time to time. In Lambertville, you can walk along Union Street, dubbed “Halloweenville,” and check out the spooky and intricately decked out houses.

Rise of the Jack O' Lanterns
Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns via Cagsawa/Flickr

Jack O’ Lanterns and Art on Long Island ↑

Whether you’re driving or taking the LIRR, Nassau County is just a stone’s throw away from the city. Old Westbury Gardens is a Charles II-style mansion that was built in 1906 for John S. Phipps and his wife Margaret. Today, it welcomes guests to tour its 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes, as well as the interiors that are full of fine English antiques and decorative arts. In October, Westbury comes especially alive thanks to Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns, a display of 5,000 hand-carved illuminated pumpkins “created by professional artists and sculptors arranged in creative ways along a 1/3-mile scenic walking trail all set to an original music score.” This includes giant animals made from dozens of pumpkins, classic cars constructed out of gourds, and hand-painted pumpkins depicting celebrities.

To round out this artistic day, be sure to pay a visit to the nearby Nassau County Art Museum, also housed in an historic mansion, this one being the former Frick Estate. Inside this Georgian-style structure you’ll find the main 19th and 20th century art collections from Europe and America, but there’s also a great sculpture garden and nature trails. Currently on view is “The Moderns,” a special exhibit of Chagall, Degas, Léger, Miró, Picasso and more.

Know of any other great places to check out this fall? Let us know in the comments!



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