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Fall's Must See Trees: Autumn Leaves in NYC

September 28, 2012 By Byron Beck

New York is famed for tall buildings and expansive skylines, but come autumn there's one more reason to tilt your head up toward the heavens: the canopy of blush-bursting trees that dot the skies of this delightful city with an explosion of color. Come every October, in Manhattan's best parks and nearby boroughs, nature takes over to form a kaleidoscope of light rivaling the best of Broadway and all the windows of Fifth Avenue's finest boutiques combined. Here are just a few sweet (and free!) spots to take a stroll under these leafy skyscrapers and enjoy a cascading view of lush red, brown and golden hues.

Central Park

Central Park is one of the top things to do in NYC on a regular day, but during autumn it's truly can't-miss. The best time to witness fall's leafy fashion show at one of the world's most well known parks is the two-week stretch between the end of October and the start of November. Central Park is home to over 21,000 trees—from American Elms to Norway Maples—and an optimum view to take them all in is on the Eastside from 106th to 110th Street. Nearby, ruby-hued Pin Oaks can be found at Strawberry Fields, a living memorial to the world-famous singer, songwriter and peace activist, John Lennon. And one of the best places to finish up your Central Park stroll is the open meadow near Belvedere Castle (midpark at 79th Street; call the Urban Ranger Station at (212) 772-3751 to find out about any special guided walking tours). To enhance your experience, exit or enter off of Fifth Avenue, near the Plaza Hotel, and you'll be able to enjoy the extra bonus of shopping the ever-changing window displays from this city's most fashionable boutiques.

Bryant Park

Bryant Park is the perfect place for those who like to mix their tree viewing with a little people watching. A vibrant urban oasis, Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues, is dotted with the London Plane trees (the same ones you'll see in Paris at the Jardin des Tuileries) that provide much of the ground cover near the chess tables and give this park its European flair. Thousands of flowers and shrubs compliment their much taller cousins, but come fall its the trees that roll out a carpet of color, giving this park's much missed Fashion Week (it's moved on to Lincoln Center) a sappy snap.

Riverside Park

Say hello to the statue of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt near the entrance of this long and narrow waterfront green space, which stretches over four miles along the Hudson River from 59th to 158th Streets and is only one eight of a mile wide. In addition to Mrs. Roosevelt the park is packed with all sorts of monuments, memorials and trees, specifically mature elms that pop with color each fall. Birding enthusiasts take special delight in the Riverside Park Bird Sanctuary, a forested area between 116th and 124th Streets that features several thousand avian-friendly trees perfect for perching. In addition to the leaves in Riverside Park, this is a great spot to take a peek at the New Jersey Palisades, a breathtaking line of steep cliffs located just across the Hudson.

Van Cortlandt Park

At least three times the size of Central Park, Van Cortlandt Park is a bit of a trek; it's located in the far northwest reaches of the Bronx. But the long walk is worth it for the beautiful topography and wildlife that features real-live forests, a bubbling brook, New York City's largest freshwater lake and the country's first golf course. Even better is the adjacent Woodlawn Cemetery, with it's gorgeous trees and serpentine paths. It's easily one of the nicest parks in the country, with monuments and mausoleums designed by famous architects and landscape architects, and it's the final resting place of many famous folk. Shaded by Pin Oak, Red Oak, and Norway Maple, Memorial Grove (near West 246 Street between Broadway and Van Cortlandt Mansion) was created to honor Bronx men who served in World War II and Korea. Insider tip: end your trip with a visit to Arthur Avenue for some of the city's best Italian fare.

Circle Line Cruise

For those who would prefer to watch fall colors from the comfort of a warm seat, a cruise just might be the ticket. Circle Line Cruises offers a Bear Mountain Cruise on select dates in September and October. On this day trip, you'll encounter Red Maple, Yellow Birch, Flowering Dogwood, and many other varieties of vegetation as you make your way up up the scenic Hudson River to historic Bear Mountain. You'll have a few hours to enjoy Bear Mountain before boarding for the return trip.

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