Going leaf peeping is one of my favorite fall activities -- and last year's pandemic just made going on long drives sound even better!
We were in upstate New York -- in the Catskills -- at just about peak autumn foliage color, and, because of the pandemic, a number of our intended hiking destinations (lovely waterfalls) were closed because of their popularity. We had a beautiful sunny day and with a number of historic sites ALSO closed because of Covid-19, we almost didn't have a choice!
Plus, we were intrigued by its very name: Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway. The Shawangunk Ridge, also known as the Shawangunk Mountains or "The Gunks," is a ridge of bedrock in Ulster County, Sullivan County and Orange County in the state of New York, extending from the northernmost point of New Jersey to the Catskill Mountains.
About an hour and half north of New York City, this is a popular, 88-mile drive, which takes you through the Mohonk Preserve, through the Shawangunk Mountains, and through some really pretty farmland. The byway encircles the northern Shawangunk Mountains and travels through the beautiful Rondout and Wallkill valleys.
If you want to say it like a local, then pronounce it "SHON-gum." I think pronouncing it like it's spelled is much more entertaining.
During the drive you pass by Angry Orchard, and in a normal year, you could just plan to stop there. In a pandemic, you have to call ahead and make timed reservations. Since we waited until the last minute to decide to go on the drive, there weren't any reservations left for that day, a disappointment that didn't stop us from stopping by a store and picking up some Angry Orchard to enjoy later, at our vacation rental.
You'll pass by three different scenic overlooks, all offering different views over the mountains and Rondout and Wallkill valleys.
Don't forget to stop at one of the several farmers markets to pick up a half peck of freshly picked apples, or some cider. You're likely to find Empire, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Rome, Idared, Crispin, Paula Red, Gala, Jonagold, Jonamac, Fuji, and Macoun, among others.
Part of the scenic drive takes you through the Mohonk Preserve, where there's good hiking. We stopped at the visitor's center to get some more information and to have a picnic lunch.
During the drive, I mused about the origin of "Shawangunk," guessing it had its origins in a Native American language. In fact, it derives from the Dutch Scha-wan-gunk, which is a transcription of the Munsee Lenape "in the smoky air," possibly referring to the burning of a Munsee fort by the Dutch at the eastern base of the ridge in 1663. So, the name might be referencing a massacre during the time of the European invasion of North America.
Along the drive, you'll pass a few historic sites, such as the Rosendale Trestle, part of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and the Widow Jane Mine.
Website: for more detail about the routes, check out https://www.mtnscenicbyway.org/explore-the-byway/