Published: October 13, 2022
By: Adam Burns
New York has almost everything one could ask for; big cities, world class attractions, endless outdoor activities, and breathtaking scenery. The state is home to the Catskill Mountains and Adirondack Mountains in the east with the Allegheny plateau situated to the west.
As a result, the fall foliage is quite spectacular and draws thousands of visitors annually each September and October. One way to experience these views is by rail with the Adirondack Railroad, Arcade & Attica Railroad, Catskill Mountain Railroad, Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad, and Medina Railroad Museum all hosting such trips.
A brief overview of each railroad, and the autumn rides they host, is highlighted below. If your organization hosts a fall foliage trip in New York and it is not presented here please reach out!
(Utica/Thendara): The Adirondack Railroad is one of New York's most popular tourist railroads, operating through the heart of the Adirondack Mountains.
Much of the corridor was originally built as the Mohawk & Malone Railway during the 1890's and later joined the much larger New York Central System. In its entirety the line was once an important route linking New York with Montreal, Quebec (known as the Adirondack Division).
It split from the "Water Level Route" main line at Utica and proceeded northward into Canada, running 232.3 miles. At Lake Clear Junction, a little over halfway to Montreal, a short branch reached the resort of Lake Placid; today, the Adirondack Scenic owns the Utica-Lake Placid corridor, 141.3 miles.
However, the line is currently only opened as far as Big Moose, 63.0 miles. The remainder is either awaiting funds for restoration or is expected to be converted into a rail/trail.
Despite the loss of the northern end of the line the railroad remains one of the longest excursions available. During September and October they host several Fall Foliage Trains to allow passengers the chance to see the region's splendid fall colors through the Adirondacks as you wind your way over creeks, near lakes, and pass small towns.
(Arcade): The A&A is based in Arcade and operates trackage originally built by the Buffalo, Attica & Arcade in 1917 to provide local freight service between its namesake towns (connections were made with the Erie Railroad at Attica and Pennsylvania Railroad at Arcade).
Unfortunately, severe flooding along Tonawanda Creek in 1947 ended service above North Java. Today, the remainder survives as a popular tourist attraction; for many years the A&A was notable for its use an authentic steam engine, Boyne City 2-8-0 #18 originally built by American Locomotive's Cooke Works in 1920.
However, a cracked boiler has sidelined the locomotive indefinitely. During October they host Fall Foliage Train specials that last for roughly 2 hours as the train rolls through the Wyoming County countryside.
Your trip departs from Arcade and offers bucolic views the entire way winding its way along Monkey Run and past local farms; a wonderful experience that is very much worth the price of a ticket.
(Kingston): Situated only an hour from New York City this railroad is located within another beautiful region of New York, the Catskill Mountains.
Many moons ago, when rail travel was the only reliable and efficient means of transportation, folks rode trains not only reach some far away destination another but also escaping life's daily grind.
Many spent their summer vacations at resorts near their home; for New Englanders this meant places like the White Mountains, Catskill Mountains, Adirondack Mountains, and Green Mountains.
The current Catskill Mountain Railroad was built as various smaller systems during the 1870's which later became part of the Ulster & Delaware, a future New York Central component. The line's only branch to Hunter and Kaaterskill was even built as a 3-foot narrow-gauge railroad.
Under the NYC the corridor was known as the Catskill Mountain Branch; running 104 miles from Kingston to Oneonta (where an interchange was made with the Delaware & Hudson), dubbed as "The Only All-Rail Route to the Catskill Mountains."
Its proximity to the Big Apple made the Catskills a popular vacation destination; however, once the resorts lost their luster the railroad continued to provide freight service through the 1970's under the Penn Central.
When this railroad went bankrupt in 1970 the Catskill Mountain Branch was sold to local municipalities with the Catskill Mountain Railroad launching in 1982.
Today, it maintains 5 miles for public excursions between Kingston and Stony Hollow, New York. Each autumn they run popular Fall Foliage Specials. The railroad also offers Pumpkin Patch Trains a few times that month.
(Cooperstown): The C&CV operates through the Susquehanna River Valley; its history is diverse, dating back to 1865 as a means of connecting Cooperstown with the national rail network. Its 16-mile line was never acquired by a larger carrier and the little short line remained independent throughout its corporate existence.
Today, it is best known for hosting public excursions. Each autumn the railroad features its 2-hour Fall Foliage Trains during September and October. Excursions depart from the Milford Depot. Please note tickets for this trip must be purchased in advance.
While food and drink is not included with the ticket price these are available on-board. Your trip follows the Susquehanna River the entire way, skirting farms, crossing the river, and offering fantastic views of the vibrant fall colors. The railroad also offers Pumpkin Patch Trains during one weekend each October.
(Medina): The Medina Railroad Museum's mission is to preserve the area's rail history, notably that of the New York Central which operated through town.
The museum is housed in the NYC's former freight depot and also operates a 34-mile round trip excursion along the Erie Canal Heritage Corridor. During October they run Fall Foliage trips allowing the public to enjoy the region's beautiful fall colors.
These trips last 2 hours and also include lunch in reusable totes bearing the museum's name. A nice little keepsake for any occasion! Trips depart from the New York Central depot in Medina and follow the world-famous Erie Canal much of the way.
The journey is largely flat with some rolling hills; farmland is scattered throughout your ride as you pass small towns and local communities.