New York Hudson Valley Autumn and Halloween Activities

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The entire reason I went to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York in October was specifically for the plethora of beautiful autumn foliage and the sheer amount of fun autumn and Halloween activities available. I was only in the Hudson Valley for four days, so there was simply no way I could do everything I wanted, and I had to make some hard choices. I ended up choosing stuff that was within reasonable driving distance of Poughkeepsie (where I was staying), so I didn’t see much in the northern Hudson Valley.

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I knew I wanted to visit at least one farm, some wineries, and some haunted houses, so I ended up researching a lot of what the Hudson Valley had to offer online. I balanced quality bang for my buck with reasonable driving time, since I wanted to fit in as many activities as possible, and long driving distances limited the number of activities I could do. When I am in a place for a limited time with many, many things I want to do, I sort of end up going into combat travel mode, where I am scripting out my itineraries nearly to the hour to fit it all in in a short amount of time.

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After careful consideration, I decided my big fall farm visit would be to Barton Orchards. They seemed to be a very large farm, with a wide variety of my favorite activities, like apple picking, pumpkin picking, a large corn maze, a small onsite haunted house, and a plethora of tasty fall treats like apple cider, pumpkin doughnuts and the like. Since I wanted to maximize my entire day, I arrived at Barton Orchards within 20 minutes after it opened in the morning. As it was, there were still plenty of people already there. Luckily, Barton Orchards is very big so it didn’t feel exceptionally crowded.

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Since I don’t live in New York, I didn’t load up on all the farm offerings to take with me, like pumpkins. And since I was traveling alone, I didn’t do much apple picking, since I wouldn’t be able to eat all the apples before I left the state. But this was the first time I wandered in an apple orchard in a long time, and it was this weekend that really opened me up to all the different types of apples out there. I knew there were a wide variety of apples out there, but I never gave it much thought. I knew of Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples (neither of which I really like) and Granny Smith apples (which I do). But this weekend I really came to appreciate all the different types of red apples, their different tastes, and their different uses (e.g. snacking vs. baking). I personally fell in love with Gala apples in particular and now seek them out in the grocery store whenever I buy them.

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The Barton Orchards corn maze was also huge, and since it was fairly early in the morning, it wasn’t crowded. I personally love mazes of all kinds, but outside of corn mazes in the fall, they aren’t that easy to find. So I enjoy them as much as possible when I do get to play in them. But one of the things that can cut into my enjoyment of corn mazes are when they are overrun with screaming children, or people who clue me in where I need to go. I like to go into my own headspace when I am wandering in a maze and just enjoy the experience of trying to find my way out, maybe even pretend I am in a horror movie being stalked by a psycho killer (this particular visualization is easier at night).

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After the corn maze, I visited the haunted house. It was small and geared more toward children (who are definitely easy to scare), but it was free and I figured why not. I was done with Barton Orchards around lunch and headed out. It was then I became very grateful that I went early. The Barton Orchards parking lot is huge as it is, but it was completely full when I was leaving. And not only that, there were a line of cars that went at least a couple miles down the road waiting patiently for a parking space to open up. If you like autumn farm activities, I HIGHLY recommend Barton Orchards, but definitely go early. Go soon after it opens, or you might find you wasting the day away in the car waiting for an available parking space.

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Since I started the morning off with farm fun, I wanted to visit some wineries for some adult fun for the afternoon. This one was a hard choice, because there are SO MANY wineries in the Hudson Valley that I just didn’t have time for more than a couple visits. I had to really decide which wineries were convenient to my itineraries and which wineries made the wine I like. I am not a fan of really dry white or red wines. I prefer semi-dry to sweet, so I chose a couple wineries that looked like they had the variety of selections I was looking for.

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I chose to visit Baldwin Vineyards and White Cliff Vineyards. I went to Baldwin first and I was there shortly after it opened to beat the crowds (which was pretty much my theme for this weekend). They were having a chocolate and wine festival that day (which is why I picked that day to go). They have a really great tasting program where you can sample around six wines of different dryness/sweetness. I am not a wine connoisseur, but I know what I like, and Baldwin Vineyards had a lot of wine I liked. I agonized over which bottles to buy, but in the end, I ended up buying six bottles and having them shipped home, so I didn’t have to wrangle them into my checked luggage home. I LOVED their Embers wine , which is a semi sweet red wine. I also bought some very tasty dessert wines in different fruit flavors. I would have stayed longer, but I wanted to fit in at least one other vineyard, so I went to White Cliff vineyards, which was also convenient to my day’s itinerary.   White Cliff was pretty good and I bought a couple bottles there to take home with me. While the wine is good, it didn’t have AS many varieties of wines that I liked, plus I was there mid day, so it was rather crowded to get a tasting.

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So I had plenty of daytime autumn activities, but no trip to the Hudson Valley during October is complete without partaking in some nighttime Halloween activities. One of them was a no brainer: Headless Horseman. Hell, it was that haunted house that first sparked my interest in going to the Hudson Valley in the first place, so that was an absolute must do. After much researching, hemming and hawing, I decided my other haunted house would be Pure Terror Scream Park.

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I went to Pure Terror Scream Park in Monroe, NY on a Saturday night, and I got there shortly after it opened to beat the crowds. Usually when there are less crowds around, it is easier to go through the haunted houses alone. I always go to Halloween activities alone (it may  not be my first choice to go alone, but since I don’t really have any companions, I choose to enjoy everything I like in solitude), and I HATE having to go through with a group of strangers, because almost invariably, my experience will be lessened. I like to get into the spirit of things and allow myself to be scared, but I find that many other groups are composed of teenagers who want to laugh at the stuff or at least talk way too freaking much and ruin my mood. So I will do almost anything to avoid the crowds, and going early is a great way to do that. I also purchased on of the VIP passes that allow you to skip the lines, which moved me along quicker. Since it was early, there weren’t THAT many people, so I was able to navigate the houses alone. Pure Terror Scream park certainly lived up to its name for me, and I definitely got my screaming bang for my buck. It wasn’t just one haunted house, but a collection of five different ones with five different themes.

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Then Sunday night, I visited the Queen of Upstate New York Haunted Houses: Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park. I had been imagining this place for four years. I had first read about this place in 2010, but I was not able to visit it, because I was living out of the country, until fall 2014. There was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity. To guarantee your space and avoid waiting in line, it is best to purchase your ticket online in advance. To avoid the crowds (as best as I could since this is very popular), I went on the first hayride on a Sunday night. As it was, there were still hundreds of people. I doubt there is any possible time to visit Headless Horseman without crowds, but avoid Saturdays if possible, because they are supposed to be even crazier.

The first thing you do at Headless Horseman is go on a haunted hayride. Your ticket has a hayride time, with new times every 15 minutes. The hayrides are in the dark and are fairly long, with a new theme each year. Last year the theme was witches and the storyline, and each stop, built upon that theme. There are definitely plenty of scares to be had on the hayride, though there seemed to more scares on the left side of hayride. After the hayride is when you go through all the different haunted houses. This is the one time when you are simply not going to be able to go through by yourself. There are just too many people to get through in a night to allow it, so I found myself going through with a large group. Aside from the talking and mood breaking, another downside to going in a group-particularly a large group- is that is way too easy to miss some of the scares. If you are at the front or rear of a large group, most of the scares will happen out of your immediate periphery. Sure you will hear the screams of people ahead of or behind you, but you don’t get the scares as much or see what is happening. But that one downside aside, Headless Horseman is an extremely well done haunted house. You absolutely get the most bang for your buck, and the production values are impeccable. After you finish the haunted houses, you can hang out in the haunted village, watch some shows, do some shopping, eat some Halloween treats. It is absolutely worth your time, and if you like haunted houses, you simply can’t come to the Hudson Valley in October and NOT go.

I fell in love with Hudson Valley over this short weekend. Even though there are so many other places in the states that have beautiful autumn, I am strongly tempted to go back to upstate New York for 2015. It’s that beautiful, and even though I saw and did a lot, I didn’t see everything. This is a great place to see a ton of beautiful nature and do so many fun Halloween activities in a short period of time. Don’t miss it!

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