10 Perfect towns for Fall Foliage in the Finger Lakes

If you have yet to experience fall foliage in the Finger Lakes region of New York, this post might inspire you to change that. I’ve been visiting New York annually for years, and there’s just something magnetic about this gorgeous area of the state. After living in Manhattan for a year, it blew me away to discover that so much natural beauty and charming, breathtaking splendor is tucked away just a few hours north of NYC.

The Finger Lakes region consists of over 9,000 square miles of pristine lakes, gorges and waterfalls, rolling vineyards and flower fields, cute small towns, indigenous history, and so much more. The towns come alive in the summertime as families, and outdoor adventurers flock to the area for lake and mountain recreation. Summer is undoubtedly the peak season for the Finger Lakes. 

But if you asked me, fall in the Finger Lakes is even better! Why? As the air becomes crisp and summer crowds disperse, the lush landscape gets painted in brilliant autumn shades of red, yellow, orange, and gold. And there’s no better way to experience the changing seasons in this region than by exploring the charming small towns on a Finger Lakes road trip

Each town has its own unique flavor, personality, and fall activities to enjoy. After visiting many Finger Lakes towns, I’ve compiled this inspiring list of the 10 best Finger Lakes towns for fall foliage. Read on to discover which ones you’d personally love to visit! 

A Skaneateles home with green grass, foliage trees and an American Flag

Skaneateles

The cozy Finger Lakes town of Skaneateles is known for its idyllic location on the pristinely clean and clear Skaneateles Lake. Besides being incredibly scenic, Skaneateles is home to an adorable downtown with indie shops, historic inns, and delicious eateries. If you visit, you absolutely can’t miss Skaneateles Bakery and Doug’s Fish Fry

Autumn is a peaceful time to visit this charming lakefront town. There are many ways to experience the beautiful fall foliage here. Earlier in the season, before it gets too chilly, rent a boat, kayak, or canoe and hit the water to see the lake aglow with colors. For carefree boating, take a guided Mid-Lakes Navigation boat tour. They usually run tours through October.

Other great foliage viewing spots include the grassy Thayer Park, which features lovely lakefront views. Or cruise slow down W Lake Road to see adorable homes along foliage-lined streets. You can even turn into the Skaneateles Country Club road for a foliage-lined drive and some great fall colors in the distance.

Ithaca

Ithaca is one of the biggest towns on this list and one of the most cosmopolitan. This Finger Lakes town boasts incredible regional wines, impressive educational institutions, and magnificent gorges with waterfalls to explore. Catch the Ithaca Farmers Market for wine tasting, stroll through the Cornell Botanic Gardens for beautiful autumn colors, and swing by Ithaca Commons for dinner.

For the most stunning Finger Lakes fall foliage views, head to some of New York’s best state parks; Ithaca is full of them! Buttermilk Falls State Park is one of my favorites to explore. It’s traversed by tons of wooded trails that will take you across stunning vistas and through lush gorges. Hike Bear Trail a pleasant 3-mile round trip through colorful woodlands. This trail features a magical stone bridge and gorgeous viewpoints flanked with foliage in the fall.  

Buttermilk Falls isn’t the only great spot to view fall foliage in the Finger Lakes. Check out Cascade Falls, Ithaca Falls, or the 8-mile Black Diamond Trail, which you can walk or bike. Get your camera ready; some breathtaking views are coming your way.

Yellow Victorian home with yellow leaves on the green grass.

Aurora

Aurora is truly a hidden gem in New York. This small Finger Lakes town is home to an impressive roster of stately buildings on the National Roster of Historic Places. In addition, gorgeous farmhouses, a world-renowned design studio (MacKenzie Childs), and historic inns like the Aurora Inn make this town a feast for the eyes and a culturally fascinating place to stay.

Looking for the best spots in Aurora for fall foliage? You’re in luck. The town is perched right on Cayuga Lake, which looks divine, surrounded by colorful trees. Wander down the Inns of Aurora Nature Trail for the best views. This 3.2-mile loop trail features the Overlook Platform, with sweeping views, shaded forests, and ravines. You can also take a drive down Main Street (Hwy 90) to see beautiful architecture and foliage-lined streets. 

Another idyllic place to admire fall foliage while enjoying the beauty of wildlife is the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, just 20 minutes from town. Its plethora of loop trails brings you through vibrant forests. It’s also an excellent place for birdwatching, with five active bald eagle nests. 

Historic home surrounded in foliage with pumpkins on the stairs.

Seneca Falls

The quaint Finger Lakes town of Seneca Falls is a unique place to explore during autumn. Said to have inspired the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, this historic hamlet is known for the Seneca Falls Convention and its role in the Women’s Rights movement. Whether you visit the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum, stroll along the canal, or visit one of the nearby vineyards, there’s plenty to experience here. You can even stop at Sander’s Market for fresh baked goods and local treats. In addition, there is usually a vintage truck parked outside, perfect for a fall photo shoot.

Looking for gorgeous fall foliage in Seneca Falls? Take a stroll down the beautifully landscaped path that follows the town’s canal, and admire the colorful tree-lined waterfront parks. You can take a refreshing stroll along the Ludovico Sculpture Trail for a similar effect. 

Want something a little more blood-pumping? Head for Seneca Meadows Wetland Preserve for a colorful hike through the wetlands. Nearby vineyards overlooking Cayuga Lake also glow with rich golds in autumn, such as Chateau LaFayette Reneau and Lakewood Vineyards.

Neighborhood side walk through trees with yellow and green leaves

Geneva

Welcome to Geneva, one of the best Finger Lakes towns and also one of the most picturesque! Fall in the Finger Lakes is magical, but even more so here in Geneva. With a beautiful blend of charm, history, and culture, there’s a surprising amount to see and do for such a small town. A few can’t-miss spots include the “I Love NY” welcome center sign (hello, Instagram!), the romantic Belhurst Castle, and Seneca Lake. 

If you’re looking for the best fall foliage in the Finger Lakes region, you’ll find it in Geneva. Explore the scenic, tree-lined campuses of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Or take a beautiful walk along South Main Street, where the picturesque Geneva Row Houses are framed by colorful foliage. 

If you’re looking to immerse in nature for the best foliage views, go for a lovely hike, walk through Seneca Lake State Park, or have a scenic picnic in the Kashong Conservation Area.

Overview shot of Watkins Glen town covered in orange, red and yellow foliage

Watkins Glen

Get ready because an autumn visit to the town of Watkins Glen comes with a real treat. This is the home of Watkins Glen Gorge, one of the most gorgeous gorges in the country. Aside from its sheer natural beauty, the town also boasts an adorable waterfront pier neighborhood with cute eateries and scenic views of Seneca Lake. 

Your fall foliage pictures will be on point with a visit to Watkins Glen State Park. Meander up the stone steps through the Gorge, lined on all sides with bright yellows, reds, and oranges. Or stop off at one of the park’s many autumnal waterfall grottos for the shot of a lifetime. Keep in mind: Watkins Glen State Park closes for the season after the first week of November.

Drone shot of a Corning neighborhood with yellow and green trees.

Corning

Corning may be small, but it is mighty! There are so many cultural activities to enjoy here, made all the more enjoyable by the changing of the leaves in autumn. With over 100 boutique shops, artisan studios, galleries, and museums, the Gaffer District could be explored for days. But, of course, you can’t leave Corning without a visit to the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass.

The best fall foliage in the Finger Lakes is within reach here in Corning. Definitely spend some time in downtown’s Centerway Square, with its charming stone bell tower framed by vibrant yellow trees. And for a hidden gem of fall foliage magic, hike into the woodlands of Houghton Land Preserve to summit Spencer Hill. It offers stunning views of the colorful rolling hills and town below. 

Hammondsport

Hammondsport, a tiny hamlet in the Finger Lakes, is an unassumingly dynamic town. It offers the perfect blend of outdoor adventures and cultural leisure. Situated on Keuka Lake, this hamlet with an adorable town square is referred to as “Vine City” for its delicious local wines. 

It also has a surprisingly good food scene, so enjoy a meal at Timberstone Grill and top off with ice cream at Crooked Lake Ice Cream Company (spoiler alert: they sell more than just ice cream).

Due to Keuka Lake’s unique Y-shape, you’ll notice the town’s incredible fall foliage viewpoints from all angles. See beautiful colors painting the rolling hills from local favorite Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery or at the open deck cafe of Bully Hill Vineyards. Stroll Depot Park along the lake and admire the incredible foliage scenery, or drive one of three scenic byways along the west side of the lake (54A, Route 76, and Greyton H. Taylor. Memorial Drive).

And as a bonus, if you’re in Hammondsport in September, be sure to catch the annual Wings & Wheels event to witness cool seaplane fly-ins, vintage cars, and delicious local grub.

Naples 

Naples shares the same name as the Italian and Florida cities, but that’s where the similarities start and end. This quaint Finger Lakes town is known as the Grape Capitol of the World and hosts an annual Grape Harvest Festival at the end of September. 

With delicious farm-to-table eateries, scenic natural parks, flowing waterfalls, and charming historical sites, you’ll fall in love with Naples in autumn. Be sure to stop into Roots Cafe or Monica’s Pies for a good meal and a sweet treat.

Now, onto the best fall foliage spots. Naples is nestled along a creek, right near the pristine Canandaigua Lake, which is replete with excellent foliage viewpoints. Climb to the lake’s park overlook for a great panorama. Or head to Grimes Glen, where the town’s best-kept nature is tucked away. Thick woodlands reveal cascading waterfalls over bluffs aglow with autumn shades.

Letchworth State Park canyon with a railway bridge and waterfall.

Mt. Morris

Mt. Morris offers some of the best fall foliage in the Finger Lakes, without a doubt. It’s both a charming, historic town with unique shops and a gateway to some of New York’s most spectacular natural scenery. 

During your fall visit, you’d be remiss not to spend a little time on Main Street, lined with unique local eateries and antique shops. Be sure to check out the Shawn Dunwoody mural depicting the town’s interesting link to U.S. history.

As one of the best Finger Lakes towns for fall foliage, Mt. Morris has direct access to Letchworth State Park, a breathtaking park full of epic gorges, waterfalls, and leaf-peeping hikes known as the Grand Canyon of the East. Take the 7-mile point to point Gorge Trail hike along the rim of the park’s canyon to discover the Upper Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls grottos, lit up with brilliant autumn colors, and get sweeping views from the 600-foot cliffs. Need even more of the best fall foliage? Hit the Genessee Valley Greenway Trail for miles of unspoiled nature. 

***

There are plenty more towns to discover in the Finger Lakes but these 10 are the most noteworthy and my personal favorites for the best Fall Foliage in the Finger Lakes. If you are exploring more of upstate New York during fall, here are some helpful tips on how to spend fall in the Finger Lakes. If you are into hiking, these easy to moderate upstate New York hiking trails are phenomenal during peak foliage.

If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to leave them in the comments. I love hearing from my readers and will love to know how you enjoyed exploring these charming towns during fall in Finger Lakes.

Hi, I'm Sam

After a lay off from the corporate fashion world I decided to SEE the world. Sharing all my bucket list experiences to help spark your wanderlust and inspire your next adventure!

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