If there is one time of the year that I wish would last much longer, it’s the period from mid-September through mid-October. The lack of bugs, the cool days and cooler nights, the brilliant sunshine and the crisp moonlit forests — these are all the things that form the roots of life’s deepest pleasures.
And, yes, I also mean to include the exquisite displays of joyous colors put on by our deciduous trees!
I resist any and all efforts to keep me out of the woods during the onset of fall; while some people plan their big vacations for July or August, I schedule mine for early October. This is the best hiking and camping weather, and often the last spout of good paddling weather for the year. The slight chill decorating the edge of an afternoon breeze across an Adirondack pond stimulates my senses, and nighttime never arrives without my campfire already blazing.
But it is always too ephemeral — gone before we are ready, sometimes washed away prematurely by a heavy storm that blows away the last of the leaves, the entire brief season not to be seen again for nearly another year.
Here are some of my favorite early fall photos taken over the years, which always put me in the mood even when I see them in, say, the doldrums of March. I hope you find as much pleasure in them as I do.
I took this photo years ago before I even got on the trail. This is Farr Road in the Black River Wild Forest, which is one of my favorite drives in the Adirondacks. It leads through an area that is not well known by many people but offers many wilderness-style adventure opportunities.
Thirteenth Lake, on one of the most beautiful days ever. This shot was taken just minutes into a hike to Peaked Mountain in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, and one version was chosen as the cover for my guidebook, 50 Hikes in the Adirondack Mountains.
One of the joys of exploring fall in the Adirondack backcountry is spending it with my dogs, of which there have been three over the years. Currently my canine companion is a pit bull named Bella, seen here befriending an anonymous hiker who happened to share a lean-to with us one night in the West Canada Lake Wilderness.
Most people will remember 2020 as a rough year, but it certainly offered some fine fall weather. One of my goals that year was to re-familiarize myself with the remote hinterlands of the William C. Whitney Wilderness, including one memorable night spent on Little Salmon Lake.
Speaking of Little Salmon Lake! This was from the same trip, as a thick mantle of clouds began to part right at sunset.
Many people flock to the High Peaks Wilderness during foliage season, and from time to time so have I. However, in terms of enjoying the sheer beauty of a fleeting season of color, I often find the big mountains disappointing. The seasonal conditions on these steep slopes are so variable from valley to summit, and the peaks themselves are mostly shrouded with evergreens — and therefore the color in which I want to revel is often many miles away by the time I reach the top. That was the case here on Santanoni, which otherwise has one of the finest wilderness views of the High Peaks.
Compare the above picture to this summit vista from John Pond Ridge in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. Rather than being something one literally looks down upon, the foliage surrounds the hiker. It really is a more immersive experience.
Years ago, some unknown party endeavored to mark an entire trail system between Round Lake and the Bog River in the Round Lake Wilderness. The project involved making a prodigious amount of hand-painted signs and markers, including dozens upon dozens of food-service-sized can lids. DEC had less humor about this effort than the person who suggested a name for this particular logging bridge, although most of the trail network is now maintained as official hiking and skiing trails.
In the lower elevations, the leaves may be a little slower to turn. This makes it possible to prolong “peak” leaf season by following it down from the mountains into the valleys; once the slopes start to grow sparse, I sometimes head for the Sacandaga watershed. This campsite in the Silver Lake Wilderness is a favorite.
As beautiful as the mountains are in fall, so are the lakes! But sometimes you have to be patient and wait for just the right quality of sunshine — which, more often than not, is late afternoon or early evening. I’ve never seen this particular spot in the Blue Ridge Wilderness look finer.
Or this lake! This is one of my favorite shots from all that I’ve ever taken, from tens of thousands of photos stored on my hard drive. It was taken in 2016 during the early days of AWA, when our one and only priority was protecting the Boreas Ponds Tract as wilderness. Some friends and I spent Columbus Day weekend camping at Boreas and exploring the surrounding forest. Looking for the easiest way to White Lily Pond at the foot of Allen Mountain — and not yet discovering the established footpath — we bushwhacked up the outlet stream, and I grew excited when I realized the exquisite composition that was unfolding before my eyes. I snapped many shots over the course of a minute or two, but this is the one that continues to make me happy. My dog at the time was Lexie, who was 15 years old but still going relatively strong.
Lexie was my trail companion for 14 years, and active her entire lifetime before she finally succumbed to her age at 16. She was a spunky girl but well behaved in the canoe. We enjoyed many fall outings on the Oswegatchie River in the Five Ponds Wilderness.
Speaking of fall on the Oswegatchie!
One of the beauties of fall is that it is totally immersive. This was the old Boquet River Lean-to, before it was moved and while the surrounding area was still part of the Dix Mountain Wilderness — now an extension of the High Peaks Wilderness.
As fall starts to wind down, the colors become more sparse. They turn neither on nor off like a light switch, but the transition is swift nonetheless. Miss a chance to get out, and you miss the experience. This was Wyman Mountain’s last gasp of glory one October in the foothills of the Dixes.
And then before you know it there is not much left other than tamaracks as highlights. This shot from Bear Paw Ridge in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest was actually taken after several days of rain had put an early end to the 2012 color season.