Some Unique Places to Visit in Orange County this Fall

Some Unique Places to Visit in Orange County this Fall
Hot air balloons at Above the Clouds in Middletown.

As we all bid farewell to summer and hello to autumn, Orange County continues to be a very popular destination for traditional fall outings like apple and pumpkin picking, exploring corn mazes, wine tasting, hiking and even driving through scenic small villages to view the foliage.

But for those who might be looking for something out of the ordinary, Orange County also offers some unique destinations where you can mingle with alpacas, experience the blooming colors of autumn from a treetop view, or learn yoga in a real ashram.

Marsha and Wayne Oliver have owned Rock Ridge Alpacas in Chester for almost 20 years and have welcomed visitors of all ages who are curious about these gentle creatures, who are part of the camel family and about half the size of a lama. “Alpacas are just as curious about people, and they’re fascinated by children,” said Marsha Oliver. “They’re just like us—they all have different personalities. Some of them will come up and kiss you on the head, while others will shy away. However, if they’re getting food, they’re all pretty friendly.”

Alpacas at Rock Ridge Alpacas in Chester

At one time, the farm had as many as 39 alpacas, but now they are down to just 11. The animals are sheered every spring for their velvety fiber, which is woven into sweaters, gloves, scarves, hats and footwear. “It’s soft like cashmere, and it’s great for anyone who may have problems with allergies,” explained Oliver. “It’s also lighter than wool, yet nine times as warm.”

Tours of the farm are available on weekends, but are by appointment only now, due to continued concerns about COVID. The hour-long outdoor tours guide visitors through various fields and provide all the information they’d ever need to know about alpacas. Visitors also have the opportunity to help feed the animals.

“We get a lot of local people, as well as those from New York City, who come up for the day,” added Oliver. They don’t charge for the tours but do accept donations. The Olivers also own a small gift shop on the farm. “It’s definitely something very different to do—it’s our best kept secret in the area.”

Meanwhile, if you’re someone who’s not afraid to jump into a small basket and soar high above the clouds, then you might be a likely candidate for a hot air balloon ride.

Above the Clouds in Middletown has been offering balloon rides in the area for almost 25 years. Owners Chris Healy and his wife Deana DeRosa-Healy offer a colorful selection of five balloons holding groups of up to eight people, or smaller ones for private parties of two to four. They operate seven days a week, from April through November.

A commercial pilot, Chris Healy has been flying for 36 years and owes his love of the clouds to a French aviator at Randall Airport in New Hampton. “He was just 13 when he first saw a balloon flying over his house, so he hopped on his bike and peddled after it for a few miles,” recounts DeRosa-Healy. “When he got to the airport, the balloon pilot was so impressed that he offered Chris a job on the spot, and the rest is history.”

All of Above the Clouds’ balloon flights are scheduled at sunrise since the winds tend to be the calmest then. The flight lasts an hour, during which time passengers are standing. Balloons travels five to eight miles, offering breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley. Even at heights of 1,000 feet, noted DeRose-Healy, the ride is peaceful and calm. “We’ve had a lot of people who said they have a fear of heights or are claustrophobic, but they’ve never any issues with the ride,” she said. Once the balloon lands, the group celebrates with a champagne toast.

The Healys have hosted guests from around the corner, the nation and the globe. “We see a lot of people from New York City and Long Island who drive up to four hours to get here, and we’ve met people from as far away as China, Japan, Germany, Austria and the Philippines,” she added.

Over the years, their clientele has also included celebrities, sports figures and politicians. They’ve witnessed marriages, birthdays, engagements, anniversaries and more—all while soaring through the air. Group flights are $375 per person and private flights are $1,499 per couple. “For anyone who’s looking for a new type of adventure, this is definitely something to add to your ‘bucket list’,” said DeRosa-Healy.

Amanda Dana, director of Orange County Tourism & Film, said fall is one of the busiest seasons for the area. “In general, we’ve seen both sales tax and occupancy tax increasing over the last couple of months with the LEOLAND opening, weddings, sports events and more,” she said. “And with autumn right around the corner, people will be out and about visiting our many farms, wineries and breweries.”

Dana said many hotels have been close to 100% occupancy, with most visitors coming from the tri-state area. “There’s definitely been an uptick in the sales tax as well with all of the new families moving into the county,” she added. “We are fortunate to have such a wide variety of destinations and activities here.

For aficionados of large-scale sculptures set on a 500-acre outdoor museum, the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor is a must-see attraction. Founded in 1960, the non-profit center exhibits modern and contemporary art in an idyllic countryside setting, giving visitors the opportunity to explore art in nature. The center also supports artists and some of their most ambitious works, offering changing seasonal exhibitions and programming.

Mark di Suevro: Neruda’s Gate, 2005. courtesy of the artist and Spacetime C.C., NY. Photo supplied by Storm King Arts Center

Originally envisioned as a museum devoted to Hudson River School painting, its founders—the late Ralph E. Ogden and H. Peter Stern—had become committed to modern sculpture. Their first pieces were situated directly outside the museum building as part of formal garden scheme. However, in 1967, after purchasing 13 works from the estate of sculptor David Smith, Storm King began to place sculptures directly in the landscape.

Designed by the late architect William A. Rutherford, the center’s landscape includes vistas, hills, meadows, ponds, natural woodlands, and walking paths that can accommodate both small and large-scale works of art.

“We are excited to welcome visitors back to Storm King and offer a place to connect with art in nature at a time when it is needed more than ever,” said Storm King President, John P. Stern. “One thing that makes Storm King unique is that our 500 acres offer natural physical distancing and in this first stage, we will limit the number of visitors through advance ticketing and timed-entries.”

The Storm King Art Center is open Wednesdays through Monday’s from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Museum Store and Outdoor Café will remain temporarily closed and the tram and bike rental will not be available in the first stage of opening. Advance tickets are required for all visitors. Admission varies from $20 to $25 per person, depending on the day and peak seasons.

“For 60 years, Storm King has provided a place for people to be among art in nature; we believe in its power to lift our spirits, inspire us, and support our mental and spiritual health,” added Stern.

Finally, for those seeking something a little quieter and more low-key, Orange County also has its very own ashram, the Ananda Ashram in Monroe. The yoga retreat, spiritual and education center offers daily meditation programs with Yoga studies, chanting, readings and daily Yoga and Sanskrit instruction.

Founded in 1964 by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Ananda Ashram is open Thursdays through Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Proof of vaccination is required for adults and children aged 12 or older. The daily rate is $25 and includes Yoga class, a morning Mediation Program, Sanskrit class, lunch and access to the facilities. They are also offering limited weekend overnight stays with a two-night minimum.

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