Finding a Fantastic Fall on the Water

On the Hudson River, autumn colors inspire pure, authentic joy.

Bear Mountain Bridge
Bear Mountain Bridge taken from the Popolopen Bridge.Nancy Kennedy

For land travelers, the Hudson ­River can be a ­foreboding barrier, a waterway whose bridges are packed with impatient taxi drivers and exhausted commuters, their bloodshot eyes glowing nearly as red as the traffic-jam taillights. They sit in cars heading to New York or New Jersey, casting wistful stares at the boats below. Rubbernecking quickly turns to longing. Please, they think, just a few moments of peace on the water.

This is especially true in autumn, when changing leaves envelop the Hudson in a warm cascade of color. The yachtsmen on the water don’t acknowledge the mess of civilization above. They cruise blissfully beneath the George Washington Bridge, then the Tappan Zee and, farther north, the Bear Mountain. Some stretches of shoreline they pass — especially as Manhattan fades in the distance — are still as bucolic as they were when explorer Henry Hudson sailed Halve Maen (Dutch for “half-moon”) here in the 1600s.

Towns that sprang up during Colonial times continue to thrive. Families often pack riverside parks. And some people swear that, around Halloween, they see author Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman on the Sleepy Hollow riverfront.

Rivermarket Bar & Kitchen

Best of the Hudson Valley

The Rivermarket Bar & Kitchen in Tarrytown, New York, works with artisan farmers who raise and grow their products naturally, sustainably and humanely. Brunch, lunch and dinner are served, along with wine, beer and cider. In the restaurant’s market, boaters can shop to provision the galley.Nancy Kennedy

The fall is arguably the ­prettiest time of year to cruise here, with summer’s humidity gone and nature’s paintbrush dabbing the tip of every tree branch. The scenery can be downright majestic, so much so that it still excites artists the same way it did in the early 1800s, when Thomas Cole rode a steamship up the Hudson to paint autumn landscapes. The Hudson River School of painters followed, with their works inspiring Europeans to move to this breathtaking new land.

So, bring extra binoculars on the boat. And a camera with a panoramic setting. Soon, the leaves will fall and winter will roar, but right now, there’s peace to be found on the water.

What To Do

Philipsburg Manor: This property is more than 300 years old. Today, it is run like a living-history museum, offering a glimpse at what life was like during the 1700s. You can thresh some wheat, or turn flax into linen.

Cultural Haven: Nyack, New York, has waterfront restaurants and a reputation for being artsy, quirky and cool. Art galleries abound, and the street fair attracts about 300 vendors.

Halloween Harbor: October is a great time to visit Tarrytown. The village and its neighbor, Sleepy Hollow, embrace all things "Headless Horseman." Sunnyside is author Washington Irving's home. It's open for tours.