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If there’s one thing northerners often take for granted, it’s the colorful autumn season. While New Yorkers are accustomed to seeing their dense forests and majestic mountains change to rich, vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, others have never seen anything like it.
That’s why hundreds of thousands flock every September and October to places like Upstate New York and New England in the United States. It’s like witnessing nature’s most stunning work of art.
One of the best places in the northeastern U.S. to view fall foliage is in Upstate NY. Not only is this region chock-full of picturesque small towns, but it’s also brimming with stunning state parks, pristine lakes, and stately mountains. The fall season in New York state is often underrated, but as a frequent visitor, I can confidently say Upstate New York is the perfect place for a unique getaway aglow with magical colors.
If you’re trying to figure out where the fall colors are in Upstate New York, you’re not the only one. I’ve compiled this list of must-see spots for fall foliage in Upstate New York from first-hand experience to take the guesswork out of it.
From the serene Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley to the majestic hills and forests of the Catskills and Adirondacks, there’s no shortage of scenic outdoor adventures with world-class autumn foliage views.
When is the Best Time to See Fall Colors in NY?
First, to see brilliant fall colors in Upstate New York, you must hit the foliage season at peak time. It can be challenging to predict, which is why I love the I LOVE NY.com Fall Foliage report. From September to the end of the foliage season, you will get a weekly report compiled by the dozen leaf-peeping volunteers visually showing you where the colors have started to change and where they will be in the following weeks.
Generally, colors will start to change in the Adirondacks first because of their higher elevation and then slowly creep down into the Finger Lakes, Catskills, and Hudson Valley regions of New York. However, some higher elevations within those areas will also change first.
As a general rule of thumb, early to mid-October is the best time to see fall foliage in Upstate New York, and a fall foliage road trip is the perfect way to experience the excitement.
The Best Spots for Fall Foliage in Upstate New York
I’ve divided this list into four sections, The Catskills, The Hudson Valley, The Adirondacks, and The Finger Lakes. These are the four most predominant areas in Upstate New York to witness the changing leaves. For the most spectacular views, plan your trip during peak foliage. Peak fall foliage season is a popular time of year to visit, but there are more than enough lodging options around these regions if you plan a last-minute trip which is sometimes the best way to make sure you will be able to visit during peak foliage.
With that said, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Upstate New York in the fall where so many unique experiences await. Even if you miss peak foliage (sometimes it only lasts for a few days), there will still be plenty to see and do.
Let’s jump into the best places to see fall foliage in New York!
Don’t sleep on the Adirondacks, friends! This stunning six-million-acre state park is the largest in the Continental United States, and with it comes the expansive natural beauty of New York State’s highest mountain peaks, winding scenic byways perfect for a fall road trip, and lakes nestled within forests.
Home so some of the brightest red maples, it’s also one of the best regions for leaf peeping during fall in Upstate New York. If you’re wondering, How long does fall foliage last in the Adirondacks? You’ll be happy to know: the Adirondacks have one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the United States.
It starts at the beginning of September and lasts through the end of October. But the best time to visit for peak vibrant autumn colors is late September through early October.
Here are the top must-see fall foliage spots in the Adirondacks.
Fire Tower Lookout Hikes
Want spectacular fall foliage vantage points with a bit of added history and mystique? You’ll love a fire tower hike. There are 25 fire towers throughout the Adirondacks that you can hike to, many of which sit at mountain summits. Belfry Mountain and Cathedral Mountain are the easiest fire tower lookout hikes, while a half-day is likely needed to hike up Gore Mountain and the Snowy Mountain trail.
Adirondack Scenic Byways
Want to see a colorful world sail by through your windshield? The Adirondacks are traversed by scenic highways and byways that reveal the most breathtaking fall foliage vistas.
There are dozens of scenic Adirondack drives, but some of the best are Adirondack Trail, Veterans Memorial Highway Drive, High Peaks Byway, and Whiteface Memorial Parkway Drive.
Whiteface Mountain and its surroundings is not only a luxurious ski resort region but it’s also a jaw-dropping place to see peak foliage. You can get to the summit of Whiteface Mountain by driving, hiking, or taking a gondola sky ride to marvel at endless miles of brilliant colors. Peak leaf-peeping here happens in the last two weeks of September (although it can vary from year to year).
Tupper Lake is a great place to be in the fall. Surrounding red, yellow, and orange forests, look even more beautiful from your canoe on the water. Wander the forested boardwalk at the Wild Center, or hike one of the Tupper Lake Triad mountains. If you love a laid-back lake vibe, think about spending a weekend near Tupper Lake, where there are many other lakes and nearby mountain trails to help soak in the fall aroma.
There is something beautiful about vivid autumn leaves juxtaposing against a pristine lake. That’s where Lake Placid comes in. This area is an idyllic spot to view fall foliage with miles of hiking trails and scenic viewpoints from backdoor patios to the state’s highest points.
Stroll through downtown Lake Placid, take a walk around Mirror Lake, or head to the top of the Olympic High Jump Complex for sweeping foliage views of the lake below. Lake Placid offers nature trails for hiking, biking, and outdoor activities, perfect for soaking up a perfect fall day.
Lake Placid’s neighbor is just as worthy of a visit if you enjoy unique downtowns, scenic hiking trails, and quaint town streets. The lake offers fun all year long through fishing, boating, and kayaking. In addition, you’ll love the colorful Victorian homes sprinkled along the shoreline that almost outshines the fall foliage they are surrounded in.
Adirondack Mountain Reserve
Prefer to experience the colorful autumn leaves from within? The Adirondack Mountain Reserve is heaven for hikers, with top-notch hiking trails weaving through the vibrant forest. A few not to miss include the Indian Head / Fishhawk Cliffs, a climb up Cascade Mountain, the Mt. Jo and Heart Lake area, and the Roaring Brook Falls trails.
Old Forge is a charming hamlet that sits along the water and is one of the best basecamps for all things Adirondack. For leaf-peeping fun, ride the chair lift to McCauley Mountain, or ride on the Adirondack Railroad through the forest, or glide across one of its many lakes in a kayak. Old Forge also has a great main street with cozy cafes and unique shops full of the area’s best handmade souvenirs.
The Keene Valley in the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks has all the beautiful fall colors of the Lake Placid area without the swarms of autumn crowds. You can trek up to the Hurricane Mountain fire tower, summit Mount Jo, or take a magical drive along the High Peaks Scenic Byway.
If you don’t mind a moderate to hard hike, the 13-mile loop trail to Indian Head and Rainbow falls is my favorite hike in the region for the best views overlooking the valley and Ausable River below (in fall or not). You will need hiking and parking reservations through hikeAMR.org, and a full day-but it’s truly worth it!
In the southern Adirondack region, discover Lake George, a genuinely stunning community in the fall (known as a fantastic winter destination). Its downtown attracts many tourists butt has quieter streets, smaller residential lakes, and plenty of scenic fall foliage drives like Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway. The second to the third week of October is your best chance to see peak foliage in this area of the Adirondacks.
Saratoga Spa State Park
Another area surrounded by Adirondack Mountain bliss is the town of Saratoga Springs. The town is famously known as a thoroughbred racehorse center with one of the oldest race tracks in the country, but a visit to the state park is a perfect place to enjoy the crisp autumn air and some unique experiences.
Saratoga Springs is dubbed “the Queen of Spas” because of its mineral-rich natural springs that were once believed to hold significant healing properties. The park offers hiking, swimming, golfing, and an educational center.
Ausable Chasm is an adventure center within a scenic gorge in the northeast Adirondack park, complete with water rafting, tubing, rock climbing, hiking, and rappelling.
There is a fee to enter the facility, but you can walk along some of the boardwalks for views of the gorge, multiple waterfalls, and the stunning foliage surrounding them (for free).
Finger Lakes, NY
The Finger Lakes region is a visually stunning upstate New York getaway. It encompasses over 9,000 square miles of pristine lakes, green gorges with rushing waterfalls, charming farm towns, and a rich indigenous history.
So many high-altitude vistas make the lakes surrounded by red, gold, and orange leaves look like a painting. There are plenty of state parks, waterfall trails, and cozy villages in this area of Upstate New York. Peak leaf peeping at the Finger Lakes occurs in the first couple weeks of October.
Here are the top must-see fall foliage spots in the Finger Lakes.
Green Lakes State Park
Green Lakes State Park is an unmissable foliage spot in Upstate New York during fall. The unique aquamarine tones of Round and Green Lakes are breathtaking when paired with the burnt reds and yellows of autumn. Take advantage of the park’s ten different hiking trails for the ultimate leaf-peeping experience.
Buttermilk Falls State Park
Buttermilk Falls State Park in Ithaca is bursting with magical natural beauty that comes to life in autumn. Wander along the hiking trails in the upper park to get grand gorge and waterfall views, or head for the lower park’s meadow trail for rich amber and gold.
For a one-of-a-kind photo op, head for Taughannock Falls State Park. Its roaring waterfall on a cliff cascades into a lush basin. There are multiple ways to view this waterfall, one from the Visitor’s Center overlook and another via the short gorge trail hike to the base of the falls. This waterfall is beautifully framed in fall by reds, oranges, and yellows, making for the perfect fall image.
Finger Lakes National Forest & Towns
This 16,000-acre forest is saturated with scenic hikes, gorges, waterfalls, overlooks, and charming small towns. It is the only National Forest in New York State and is filled with picture-perfect scenery, making for an excellent road trip experience. Spend some time hiking or biking the 30 miles of forested paths, embark on the Gorge Trail, or head into Ithaca or Canandaigua for idyllic lakefront strolls and a bite to eat.
This beautiful resort mountain is an excellent spot for an extended getaway. You’ll be able to take an enjoyable 15 min Fall Sky Ride to the summit of bristol mountain to take in the rainbow-colored hills and valley below. An adventure center nearby offers climbing and ziplining through the season’s best views. You’ll also be next door to Canandaigua Lake, enhancing the backdrop’s natural beauty.
Scenic Finger Lakes Routes
One of the best ways to witness the best views of the Finger Lakes is with a scenic drive. All five major Finger Lakes, including Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Skaneateles Lake, offer scenic drives along their respected lake shore. Some unforgettable routes that take you along the lakes and through rolling farmlands and colorful forests include Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway, Route 14S following Seneca Lake, Route 54A along Keuka Lake, and the County Road 12 Scenic Overlook.
The quaint village of Naples and neighboring Carolabarb Park sits on County Route 12 within the Finger Lakes region. This park has incredible fall foliage overlooks in a serene atmosphere. Head to the parking area and witness sweeping views of Canandaigua Lake and the rolling orange and yellow hills of Great Hill Nature Preserve. If you are in the mood for a homemade pie, head to Monica’s Pies, less than 5 mins away.
Letchworth State Park
Known as the Grand Canyon of the east, this state park’s gorge trail winds along the Genesee River, showing off three spectacular waterfalls with drops of over 100 feet. Letchworth is easily enjoyed at any time of the year, but it truly transforms into a leaf-peeping paradise when the foliage starts to pop in late September.
Watkins Glen State Park
Another gorge trail sure to put a smile on your face is the 3-mile trek along Glen Creek to Rainbow Falls in Watkins Glen State Park. The gorge trail is a highlight on any trip to Watkins Glen, the town at the base of Seneca Lake. Other fun things to do in the area include apple picking, wine tasting, or heading to a local farm where pumpkin patches await.
The Catskill Mountains, NY
The scenic Catskill Mountains are a lush, valleyed region that you won’t want to miss during the fall in Upstate New York. This 700,000-acre mountain belt and forest preserve are super easy to get to, sandwiched between Albany and NYC.
Its stunning gorges, forested hiking trails, rushing rivers, and rock climbing spots are the perfect setting to witness multicolored forests.
Here are the top must-see fall foliage spots in the Catskills.
Upper Delaware Scenic Byway
There’s nothing quite like a scenic mountain-lined road in autumn. So take a cruise along the 70-mile Upper Delaware Scenic Byway on NY Route 97. This winding road follows the picturesque Upper Delaware Recreational River, set ablaze every fall with vibrant colors.
Catskill Mountain Railroad
For a unique experience, perfect for the whole family, climb aboard the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Get spectacular views along the former Ulster & Delaware Railroad corridor on their scenic railroad. Some journeys have you leave with your pumpkin plucked straight from the local farm’s pumpkin patches.
Vernooy Kill Falls
The gorgeous Catskills waterfall of Vernooy Kill Falls can be seen in the town of Kerhonkson. The hike to view this waterfall – illuminated by fall colors – is a 3.6-mile round trip. See if you can find the old mill ruins along the way.
Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway
A scenic drive is one of my favorite ways to bathe in the beauty of the best fall foliage. Like Upper Delaware, the 52-mile-long Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway winds through the most beautiful sections of the rolling Catskill Mountains, aglow with colorful foliage. You’ll also appreciate passing through quaint Catskills towns serving up the charm.
Hunter Mountain has excellent fall foliage hikes in its own right, but there are two special features you’ll want to take advantage of. Try the zipline canopy tour to enjoy a fast ride through the colorful trees. Or, for something more slow and steady for pictures, ride the Scenic Skyride to the mountain summit.
The Five States Lookout
This breathtaking observation deck in the northern Catskills of New York is perfectly situated for 360-degree views of the colorful natural scenery. If the weather’s right, you might see NH’s White Mountains, VT’s Green Mountains, the Catskill Mountains, and MA’s Berkshires.
Hudson Valley, NY
The Hudson Valley region in Upstate New York, just north of New York City, is one of the most popular places in the northeast for leaf peeping. And for a good reason!
With a plethora of leafy state parks, the mighty tree-lined Hudson River, and unique farm towns with charisma, the Valley is a memorable getaway. If you want to enjoy leaf-peeping in Upstate New York during the fall, target the middle of October for the best views.
Here are the top must-see fall foliage spots in Hudson Valley.
Minnewaska State Park
Minnewaska State Park is brimming with incredible fall foliage spots. Take a hike to Awosting Falls, or enjoy views from the forested trails around the lake. This park is truly eye candy from all angles and worth every single one of the ten dollars it costs to park.
Mohonk Mountain House & Preserve
Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz is a spectacular resort nestled within the serene Mohonk Preserve. This luxurious property is a fantastic place to visit for Hudson Valley fall foliage views, with thousands of acres of forests and private trails. Wander within the colorful forest, then head for the apple orchards.
Bear Mountain State Park
Are you looking for some family fun? Then, bear Mountain State Park is the place for you. It has plenty of space to run and play, with many activities suited for all ages and interests.
Have a picnic lunch, go fishing or boating in Hessian Lake, enjoy nature trails for hiking and biking, and of course, admire the lovely foliage views of the valley. They even have a merry-go-round, zoo, and ice skating rink open to visitors starting in late October. You could easily spend an entire fall day here to make the $10 vehicle fee worthwhile.
Poets’ Walk Hike
The Poets’ Walk is a scenic park and 2.5-mile hike in the heart of the Hudson Valley, and it’s one of the most popular places to view some incredible fall foliage. This relatively flat trek takes you through rolling hills and meadows painted with reds, golds, and oranges. Don’t miss the mythical tree-branch gazebo.
Croton Gorge Park
Looking for that one-of-a-kind viewpoint for the perfect leaf-peeping photo? Craton Gorge Park has views you won’t forget. The bridge, surrounded by colorful trees, looks spectacular from the base of the Croton Dam. Or head up to the bridge for a different perspective, accessed by a pedestrian foot bath.
Hannacroix Creek Preserve Waterfall Hike
Conveniently located just south of Albany, the Hannacroix Creek Preserve is chock-full of accessible autumn hikes that are great for families. The beauty of Hannacroix Creek autumn hikes lies within its scenic vistas and featured waterfall. All hiking trails are well-marked, with minimal elevation.
Wallkill Rail Trail
For a gentle, winding, intimate fall foliage experience, you won’t want to miss the Wallkill Rail Trail in New Paltz. This 23-mile path follows along the beautiful Wallkill River and takes you across scenic bridges over river ridges. So jog it, bike it, or walk it – it’s up to you!
Love a small town with chilling history? Washington Irving’s headless horseman comes alive with a visit to the town that inspired the story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This small town was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 and is extra special in October when the foliage begins to burst with color.
Leaf peep in the cemetery where the former Sleepy Hollow resident (and author), Washington Irving, is buried or along the historic carriage roads in Rockefeller Park Preserve. Also, enjoy a tour of historical sites, including the 110-year-old Rockefeller estate, Kyuit, or Philipsburg Manor, a 1700’s milling and trading center.
Boscobel House & Gardens
The breathtaking, historic Boscobel estate consists of a Georgian mansion, acres of orchards and wooded trails, and beautifully curated gardens. This is what fall in New York is all about – enjoying a serene place to connect and immerse with the natural world as it lights up with magnificent colors.
I hope this post helps you have the best fall experience in New York, and if you are going by road trip-even better! I have a few road trip guides for New York in the fall to the Adirondacks or the Finger Lakes Region to help you plan your trip. No matter where you explore first I promise you will be blown away by the natural beauty of Upstate New York, especially at peak time in the fall.