How To Have Fall Fun Mid-Pandemic

Pumpkin Patch at Dubois Farms

Fishkill Farms (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

Fall in the Hudson Valley seems like a nothing-can-stop-the-show classic, with apples that ripen and leaves that change come what may. But how about those beloved fall traditions, including taking hayrack rides and downing cider doughnuts — during the pandemic, when so many festivals and popular gatherings have been cancelled, are they still on?

The good news is that fall fun is still available, but with a twist. Some orchards, for instance, now need reservations, and many hayrack rides have become drive-thrus. Here are some of the region’s best outdoor seasonal favorites, like pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and cider doughnuts — along with the lowdown on what reservations or other special COVID-19-cautious arrangements are required.

Apple Picking by Appointment

Apple Tree (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

Autumn in New York simply cannot happen without a day spent meandering around the Hudson Valley’s stunning apple orchards. The upper Hudson Valley is home to the century-old Indian Ladder Farms, which offers both u-pick apples and, for the adults, a cidery and well-spaced outdoor biergarten. In the Mid-Hudson is Fishkill Farms, normally mobbed on “fall festival” weekends. This year, it’s scrapped the face painting and live music, although a fiddler will still roam the grounds for a festive feel without a gathering crowd. Hop online and secure a reservation before visiting to ensure maximum safety precautions. Though its name is coincidental, it’s certainly pandemic-appropriate: Masker Orchards features 14 apple varieties on over 200 acres of rolling lower-Hudson Valley land. You can drive around the orchard field and welcomed to bring your own picnic, but all other food services on site will be closed. The expanse of nearly 10,000 trees is spacious enough for a safe weekend activity, with no reservation required.

Pumpkin Patches Take Precautions

Pumpkin patch at Dubois Farms (Photo: Glory G. de Leon)

If October were a country, it’d be a shame if pumpkins weren’t the emblem on the fictional flag. If you’re as obsessed with the month as I am, pumpkin patches are already on your fall festivities. Along the upper Hudson Valley, Greig Farm grows various pick-your-own crops for summer until fall. You can find sugar pumpkins for baking and field pumpkins on picturesque acres of land with apple orchards in the distance. Currently the farm does not require reservations or have limited capacity on its 100 acres. Kelder’s Farm in the mid-Hudson grows pumpkins of all shapes and sizes in their wide fields. While a reservation is preferred, walk-ins are also allowed at Kelder’s Farm. Towards the lower Hudson Valley, Barton Orchards welcomes all for their pick-your-own experience that includes an apple orchard on their 120-acre land. Make sure to purchase tickets online beforehand as well as arrive around your scheduled check-in time. 

Corn Mazes Offer Space

Fishkill Farms Corn Maze 2020 (Photo: Josh Morgenthau)

Feel free to antagonize your quarantine group with punny jokes on your socially distanced trip to the cornfields. Cornfield mazes always strike an image of landing UFOs and aliens, most likely inspired by my love for animated movies — but rest assured these mazes are fun for the whole family and do not involve extraterrestrial beings. Windy Hill Orchards in the upper Hudson Valley encourages visits to their walk-in fun corn maze, which you can attend on an apple-picking trip on this kid-focused farm. Kesicke Farm in the mid-Hudson features a petting zoo in addition to their pumpkin patches — visit some goats and then go home and bake a pumpkin pie.  The perfect fall weekend! All tickets are available for purchase on-site only. Outhouse Orchards features an elaborate — and well-spaced — corn maze, along with opportunities to pick pumpkins and apples. Reservations can be made here. And Fishkill Farms has debuted a 2020 corn maze that spells out a resonant message that can be seen from above: REJECT RACISM.

Cider Doughnuts to Order Online

Apple Cider Donuts (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

I am not ashamed to admit cider doughnuts are my favorite part about fall. Luckily, the Hudson Valley is home to cider apples and farms with on-site bakeries. Greige Farm in the upper Hudson region has a farm market and kitchen. This year they’re hosting a self-timed, run-on-your-own Cider Doughnut 5k Trail Race, in which winners from each age group will win free cider doughnuts for the rest of 2020. If you’re simply looking to pick up some pastry, consider ordering online to limit unnecessary contact. Jones Farm in the mid-Hudson is popular for aromatic cider doughnuts, and its entire bakery has curbside pickup if you’d prefer not to enter the market. Curbside is also available at the lower-Hudson’s Barton Orchard’s, another farm that features a cafe and market of locally grown and produced items. 

Haunted Houses Go Drive-Thru

The Headless Horseman (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

At some point the fall season shifts from an image of fuzzy sweaters and soft candlelight glow to an eerie, creepy Halloween world. Double M Haunted House in the upper Hudson region will open its “Dead End Road Drive-Thru Experience.” You can enjoy cider doughnuts and other snacks in the comfort of your car. The Headless Horseman in the mid-Hudson has replaced their usual hayrides for a drive-thru experience that promises a terrifying thrill. Blood Manor, a haunted house just outside of NYC, will allow small groups to enter haunted rooms one at a time. Before entering the attraction, all guests must have their masks on and temperatures checked. Spooky season persists!  

Sleepy Hollow

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze (Photo: Jo-Anne Asuncion)

Due to the pandemic, most of the usually crowded Sleepy Hollow events have been canceled, but the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze lives to see another year. The site will operate with socially distanced rules in place and a reduced capacity of 67 percent. To ensure masks are in place at all times, there will not be food or drinks welcomed or served. No walk-ins are allowed, so make sure you have your tickets purchased online beforehand. See this list here for more information on the remaining events that plan to continue this year. 

10 Top Fall-Foliage Hot Spots in the Hudson Valley

Ashokan Rail Trail

The annual changing-leaf display along the Hudson River always boosts flagging spirits — and who couldn’t use a little pick-me-up right now? Scenic Hudson’s 45 parks offer great chances to admire these natural fireworks close to home, but here are our top 10 recommendations, culled from the Outdoor Adventures section of our website, to take you a little farther afield.

All offer fall’s bright palette plus a cool additional element — from spotting wildlife on a secluded lake to taking a thrilling ride. Scope out this slideshow, and let it inspire this season’s explorations.

COVID-19 Drove Exercise Outdoors. Will It Last?

After months of lockdown limbo, gyms and fitness centers in New York State are beginning to reopen. The pandemic drove millions to shift exercise outside, to parks and beyond, in the meantime. It seems like everybody’s getting out there — including celebs like DJ Khaled, who says when he’s biking a trail, he’s “just vibin’.” Experts say those healthy new habits have been beneficial — not only for health, but for public access, community ties, and climate change. Will they last?

For many, a good chunk of quarantine has been spent breaking out their old pair of running shoes or revisiting old grade-school gym class exercises — often in open air. On the streets and stretches of green within the Hudson Valley, people like Ryan Naccarato have adapting by using their outdoor surroundings for a workout.

Since July, the Kingston native has been holding 2-3 boot camps per week, sessions in which participants run, jump, squat, skip and climb their way around the various pavements and parks of the historic city. A lifelong athlete and now school athletic director, Naccarato started out like his students: counting the days till he could get back into the weight room. At first, he was blind to the opportunities around him. 

“I was just outside — riding my bike, walking, running the streets of downtown — and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there are so many elements you can use to get a workout,’” he says. A few weeks of planning online and off eventually had him and the team at Hudson Valley Ambition relay racing and racking up reps at spots such as Hasbrouck Park downtown and Kingston Point Beach by the Hudson River. Regardless of your goals, the public spots around you can act as training grounds for your own pursuits.

The kinds of activities that encompass physical fitness have expanded greatly since the bygone era of Muscle Beach in the 1940s and ’50s, when disciplined enthusiasts would publicly perform feats of strength and acrobatics glamorized by their outdoor setting: beachside, under the golden California sun.

The public obsession with physical fitness really hit a boom with the ’60s discovery of aerobics or cardio, which emphasized the need to get the lungs pushing and blood pumping. Its subsequent exercise crazes, both largely outdoors (jogging) and in (dance aerobics), peaked in the ’80s, according to Natalia Petrzela, an associate professor of American history at The New School who is writing a book about American fitness culture.

Outdoor yoga practice with BeBhakti Yoga Center at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon, N.Y. (Photo courtesy Lauren Magarelli)

The advent of the wellness industry in the late 2000s led to an explosion in at-home fitness options — but often with exorbitant price-tags that limited widespread access. Like gyms, they often took electricity and temperature control as well. That power often wasn’t cleanly produced, leading exercise to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Enter parks, whose free facilities offer a platform for thousands looking for safe, open spaces during a lockdown. They’ve helped level things out. “You have this resurgence of the most accessible forms of fitness: people going walking, running, playing outside, using city tennis courts, et cetera,” Petrzela says. “That is something that I hope that we can clearly build on as a culture and a community.” 

Parks improve public health just as much as they do community ties. A robust body of research says that even a brief time spent outdoors can lead to tremendous gains in a person’s physical and mental health. It can also keep people in greater touch with natural rhythms, from the circadian sleep-wake cycle spurred by daylight and darkness to the changing seasons and weather patterns.

“The beautiful thing about parks is that you don’t have to be physically active in that space to enjoy the benefits of that space,” says Sadiya Muqueeth, Director of Community Health at the Trust for Public Land. The trust promotes the proliferation of green spaces for the 100 million people nationwide who don’t live within a 10-minute walk from a park. 

Hikers (Photo: Greg Rosnke / Unsplash)

Parks also serve as natural cooling centers in cities by buffering the heat held by asphalt and concrete and dropping the surrounding area’s temperature by several degrees, Muqueeth says. Summer 2020 has already been one of the hottest on record, and with climate change underway, we’ll all need some relief from the heat waves of the future. 

For now, new outdoor-workout enthusiasts like Naccarato recommend starting small and working your way up no matter what activity you choose. If you can’t run a mile, jog, and if you can’t jog, try a brisk walk. Don’t limit yourself to just moving at a designated time. Stretching throughout the day can help you maintain the mobility that sometimes gets overlooked in a machine-centered gym routine.

And of course, don’t take the scenery or structures around you for granted. Whether it’s a state park or a playground, an open-air environment could be the boost you need to keep at it. 

Invite a Goat to Your Next Online Meeting

As Kathy Stevens sits in the shade contemplating the Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s next move, she loses her train of thought at the sight of a few goats approaching. She beams at each of their bleats. The four young recent rescues — Levi, Chester, Molly and Arlo — rush at her, licking her face and nibbling at her clothes like housebound dogs excited to have their owners back home. 

(Photo: Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

“You always want people to have this,” says Stevens, the founder of the Saugerties-based sanctuary. For the last two decades, she and her team have been rescuing and rehabilitating neglected and abused horses and farm animals and sharing all the love and care they have to offer to visitors.

But in the spring and summer of 2020, things came to a standstill. Farm tours have been halted along with their usual lineup of fundraisers, galas, and other public events. The cost of caring for the 300+ animals and maintaining the 20-acre facility has stayed steady — with some cost hikes due to scarcity — despite the drastic loss in revenue this spring. This has become the new norm for animal sanctuaries around the country and world as they try to make do without their usual fundraising activities, according to Valerie Taylor, the executive director of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. 

(Photo: Woodstock Animal Sanctuary)

What would usually be a busy spring and summer season filled with tours, vegan cooking workshops, and even stays at CAS’s on-premises B&B is now spent monitoring the latest public health updates and moving whatever offline activities they hosted online. CAS and the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls were part of several sanctuaries that collaborated with the Sweet Farm Sanctuary in California on Goat2Meeting — a service that lets people schedule surprise appearances from animals during their Zoom calls and other video chat meetings.

After a brief but successful period with the program, both CAS and Woodstock have continued offering virtual live-streamed tours separately. It’s not the same as getting up close and personal with a cow, chicken, pig or a goat — but in the face of the never-ending news cycle, the animals’ faces lift human spirits. 

(Photo: Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

“Right now we’re all just in our phones, on our computers, just reading all this toxic upsetting content all the time — and then all of a sudden you’re scrolling and you see this rescued pig enjoying a mud bath in the sunshine,” says Lizz DeFeo, the marketing and communications director at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. “It’s impactful in this very new kind of way, I think.”

Luckily, the continued push to digital has allowed CAS to garner an international audience hosting everything from Zoom happy hours to camps and corporate seminars. Over in Hyde Park, Andrea Parent-Tibbetts and her husband Michael Tibbetts have also had a modest amount of success holding virtual tours of Clover Brooke Farm for viewers as far away as Serbia. They chose to open their 20-acre property back up not long after Dutchess County entered Phase 1 of reopening, albeit with reduced group sizes, masks, hand-sanitizing stations, and other safety measures.

(Photo: Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

Parent-Tibbetts mentions that if there’s any silver lining to this strange new world, it’s that explaining to people the importance of making space for large animals like alpacas or llamas has gotten easier using the language of social distancing. Creating artificial barriers like fencing and coops between animals in order to prevent the spread of diseases is a crucial part of maintaining a place like Clover Brooke.

“One of the things that people need to remember about farming is we are all about biosecurity because we’re always dealing with bacteria, E. Coli, parasites,” Parent-Tibbetts explains. “Because we’re dealing with biosecurity all the time, we have a lot of these protocols in place. It’s just a matter of relayering and applying them, and explaining to humans why they’re important.” 

(Photo: Clover Brooke Farm)

Taking in new animals has gotten harder. Most of these sanctuaries are already spread thin taking care of the newborns and recent rescues they added this past spring. And aside from cutting into fundraising, lockdowns and quarantines have prevented many of them from accessing their usual volunteer pools.

A 10-person crew at Woodstock is all that’s left to take care of the 350 animals, so making sure everyone stays healthy is paramount, DeFeo says. The same goes for CAS, Stevens says. In the meantime, taking a virtual tour is a welcome alternative until in-person visits start back up again.

Here are links to support Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and Clover Brooke Farm with a virtual tour or animal booking for that next virtual meeting.

(Photo: Woodstock Animal Sanctuary)

10 Scenic Hudson Parks You Can Get to By Train

Madam Brett Park

Who says you need a car to explore Scenic Hudson parks? A ride on Metro-North’s Hudson Line and a short walk will deliver you to these 10 outstanding places where you can admire the Hudson River, connect with nature, go fishing, rent a kayak, or just sit and enjoy a little peace and quiet.


Esplanade Park

A 2-minute walk from the station brings you to this 1,000-foot walkway paralleling the river’s edge that offers magnificent views of the New York City skyline and across the river to the Palisades.

Esplanade Park
Esplanade Park

Van der Donck Park at Larkin Plaza

Relax and enjoy nature in this park right outside the station’s front door. Its centerpiece is the Saw Mill River, a Hudson River tributary that flowed beneath a parking lot here for 80 years until being “daylighted.”   

Van der Donck Park at Larkin Plaza (Photo: SH Staff)

Habirshaw Park

Take a 5-minute stroll to arrive at the only place in downtown Yonkers where you can dip a toe in the river. It’s also a prime sunbathing spot.

Habirshaw Park
Habirshaw Park


Scenic Hudson Park at Irvington

A minute from the station, the park features a riverfront walking path offering views spanning from the Manhattan skyline to the Tappan Zee. There’s a basketball court for LeBron James wannabes.

Scenic Hudson Park at Irvington
Scenic Hudson Park at Irvington


Scenic Hudson RiverWalk Park

Stroll westward for 2 minutes and you’ll arrive at this riverfront oasis (formerly site of an asphalt plant) featuring an esplanade as well as lawns perfect for siestas.

Scenic Hudson Riverwalk Park at Tarrytown (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)


Scenic Hudson Park at Peekskill Landing

Hop off the train and walk right into this park, whose walking path offers an up-close look at Peekskill Bay—and maybe a bald eagle. For more exercise, stroll 2 miles south along the city’s RiverWalk.

Scenic Hudson Park at Peekskill Landing
Scenic Hudson Park at Peekskill Landing

Cold Spring

Foundry Dock Park, Cold Spring

Right across the station’s parking lot, this park is small but offers BIG views of the dramatic Hudson Highlands. Those craving more action can bring a kayak and paddle through nearby Constitution Marsh.

West Point Foundry Preserve, Cold Spring

Take a 10-minute walk along scenic Foundry Cove to visit this woodsy “outdoor museum” containing remains of a 19th-century ironworks whose cannons helped win the Civil War.

West Point Foundry Preserve (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)


Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park

For optimal enjoyment of this riverside mecca 2 minutes from the station, bring a blanket, picnic or fishing pole. For more action, bring a bike (our Madam Brett Park is 1 mile away on the flat Klara Sauer Trail) or a kayak, and paddle into Newburgh Bay.

Madam Brett Park
Madam Brett Park


Walkway Over the Hudson

Take the elevator 5 minutes away to enjoy magnificent views from the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge. For more fun, take the Walkway Loop Trail or hike at idyllic Franny Reese State Park.

Walkway Loop Trail (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

Tour Historic Hudson River Towns by App

Untermyer Gardens

Launched in June 2020, an app allows users — whether driving in their car or reclining in a backyard hammock — to take a self-guided audio tour of parks, historic sites and other attractions in riverfront communities in Rockland and Westchester counties.

Emeline Park (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

Created for Historic Hudson River Towns, a consortium of municipalities along the river, the app spans attractions from Yonkers to Peekskill on the Hudson’s eastern shore and Nyack to Haverstraw on the west. Interestingly, it crosses both the oldest (Bear Mountain) and newest (Gov. Mario M.  Cuomo) bridges in the Hudson Valley.

Fort Montgomery (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

Along with fact-filled narration, the app features myriad photographs illustrating the historic, scenic or ecological importance of each location.

Untermyer Gardens (Photo: Chris St. Lawrence)

The 50 stops on the tour include 7 Scenic Hudson parks or riverfronts where we played major roles in transforming contaminated industrial sites into magnificent places to connect with the Hudson’s beauty and wildlife. These include Esplanade Park in Yonkers, Scenic Hudson Park at Irvington, Scenic Hudson Park at Peekskill Landing and Emeline Park in Haverstraw. Scenic Hudson staff members provide the narration at each of these stops.

Peekskill Landing (Photo: Robert Rodriguez, Jr.)

Historic Hudson River Towns also has released two guided audio tours — one for bikers, the other for walkers — crossing the river on the Cuomo Bridge’s 3.6-mile pedestrian path, which opened to the public on June 14. It offers interesting facts about the current and previous bridges, the history of the two communities it connects (Nyack and Tarrytown), and a glimpse at the life and legacy of Mario Cuomo. Future plans include walking tours of Irvington, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Nyack. 

Van der Donck Park at Larkin Plaza (Photo: SH Staff)

Funding for the mobile audio tour program was provided by a grant to Historic Hudson River Towns from the New NY Bridge Project’s Community Benefits Program, administered by the New York State Thruway Authority.

Haverstraw-Ossining Ferry (Photo: Tyler Blodgett)

Bird Scavenger Hunt

It’s never too early to start your kids on the road to what could become a rewarding and lifelong hobby — birdwatching.

Keeping a lookout for these colorful and aerobatic creatures is a fun and interactive activity that can strengthen children’s connection with nature:

  • It combines the thrill of the chase with an explorer’s joy of discovery,
  • It adds extra incentive to going outdoors and stepping away from the screen,
  • It can be done anywhere — in the backyard, at the playground, on a hiking trail, while driving, standing in a field…,
  • It helps to develop patience, mindfulness and good listening skills,
  • And it costs absolutely nothing.

To encourage the next generation of birdwatching fanatics (yes, as many Scenic Hudson employees can attest, it can become an obsession), our environmental educators have devised a Bird Scavenger Hunt.


It will hone your children’s powers of observation as they seek to track down birds sporting various colors, birds engaged in different activities, even a bird feather. Consider turning it into a contest by rewarding those who successfully complete the hunt with a pair of binoculars or some other treat.

Where could it lead? There are more than 1,600 species of birds in the U.S. Who’s to say your child won’t be inspired to see them all, like former Bard College student and environmental educator, art teacher, and bird guide Christina Baal, who is on a mission to draw all 10,000-plus species of birds in the world.

Rockin’ Art

Tyler Borchert- Teardrop

Tyler Borchert’s Teardrop has been getting lots of press and social media attention. That’s not surprising — it’s a fascinating, even thought-provoking piece. But those interested in seeing it for themselves should visit ASAP because it could be gone in a flash.

Tyler Borchert- Teardrop
Tyler Borchert’s Teardrop

That’s part of the allure of Borchert’s work, which sits in Kingston’s Rotary Park, sometimes on the shore, sometimes in the Hudson River. It will remain on display as long as the elements — tides, ice floes, flooding — decide not to wreck it.

Constructed of bluestone that Borchert gathered along the park’s shoreline, Teardrop features two columns, each rising more than 10 feet, which lean precariously against one another, touching only at their apex. The tear-shaped aperture between the columns provides a window for observing the river. At some point, the Kingston-based artist fully expects the work to “fall back down.” In the meantime, he’s photographing and recording its lifespan for posterity — follow him @stonestyling on Instagram.

Borchert says he built Teardrop in December 2019 as an attraction for “people who love nature and want to get out even when it’s cold.” Those who prefer to stay indoors this time of year can still explore his artistry by visiting Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck. It has two of Borchert’s works, also built of found materials, on permanent view.

Nature Prescription

For the last year, doctors on Scotland’s Shetland Islands have been given the OK to treat patients with nature. The idea for these “green prescriptions” — whether going for a walk, beachcombing or birdwatching — takes its cue from the many studies showing that spending time outdoors provides a boost in treating chronic and debilitating illnesses. Patients afflicted with mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress and other conditions are prime candidates. A local magazine provides regular suggestions for how they can “take” their dose.

While this doesn’t replace traditional medication, health practitioners on the islands say it sure does help. “I personally have experienced the benefit of being out in nature — both the physical well-being it brings but also the mental improvement,” says Dr. Ruth Booth, a general practitioner in the Shetlands. “Encouraging people to slow down, be part of the environment, enjoy the beauty and be mindful of what they are seeing has huge benefit.”

A study of a similar program in England bears this out: It showed that six months after receiving the nature prescriptions, 63 percent of patients were more active and 46 percent had lost weight.

So don’t be surprised if sometime soon your doctor recommends a walk in the woods.