When and Where to Catch the Best Fall Foliage in New York

Categories: Northeast, Travel Tips

Leaf peeping season is upon us, and there’s no better place to partake in it than in New York State! In fact, New York State is one of the best places in the entire country to see fall foliage.

Where to find the best fall foliage in New York State

Fall in New York State starts in September and ends in November. During these months, you can expect a mix of warm and cool days, a bit of rain, and world-renowned foliage as the deciduous trees turn shades of vibrant yellow, deep purple, and fiery orange. It’s easy to see why Upstate New York turns into a bustling tourist destination every fall.

The best places to witness the display are in deciduous forests around lakes and ponds, on scenic drives, and on low mountain summits. And the good news is that New York State has no shortage of any of those!

The best places to see fall foliage in NY are:

  • The Adirondacks
  • The Catskills
  • The Finger Lakes
  • Buffalo
  • Albany

In this post, I’m diving in to the specifics for each destination, including best things to do, when to go, and tips to catch the leaves at their peak colors.

Want to see it all on a New York fall road trip? Contact me for customized itinerary planning, starting at $25/day!

POSTS YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL

Before we get started, here are some posts you might find helpful for planning your fall foliage trip!

How to Plan Your Road Trip Using Google Maps

How To find Hidden Gems and Secret Hiking Trails

Best Hikes in Upstate New York (coming soon)

And don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of my travel expanse planner! Use it to easily and automatically calculate how much money you’ll spend on gas, lodging, food (and more) on your next trip

 

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO SEE FALL FOLIAGE?

The most asked question about fall in New York is (by far): When is the best time to see the fall foliage?  

And the answer is that, well, it depends.

Fall in New York State starts in late September and lasts until early November. But the best time to see peak fall foliage heavily depends on the weather and time of year. And it changes depending on what region of New York you’re visiting.

In general, leaves in northern New York State peak around the last week in September, while colors in the southern part of NY usually last well into October.

Here’s a general time frame of peak seasons for reference:

  • Adirondacks: Late September
  • Catskills: Early October
  • Albany and Saratoga: Mid-October
  • Finger Lakes and Ithaca: Mid-October
  • Western New York (Buffalo & Niagara Falls): Mid-Late October
  • NYC and Long Island: Late October

Use I Love NYs Fall Foliage Tracker to stay as up to date as possible on peak season in each area. The tracker is updated weekly for all of New York State.

The Adirondack Mountains are one of the best places to see fall foliage in New York

WHERE TO FIND THE BEST FALL FOLIAGE IN NEW YORK

THE ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS

The Adirondack Mountains are one of the most incredible places to witness fall foliage in Upstate New York. In fact, fall foliage in the Adirondacks is some of the best in the entire country.

Comprised of six million acres, this vast wilderness is filled with deciduous trees that blanket the area in fiery shades of yellows and reds every September.

Witness the display from atop a low summit, such as Indian Head, or rent a kayak and explore the lakes and rivers that pepper the Adirondack landscape.

Not super outdoorsy? No worries! You can always relax and enjoy the views from behind the windshield on a scenic drive down the Central Adirondack Trail.

Thinking of planning a fall weekend getaway? Check out my top picks for the Best Cabins to Rent on Airbnb in the Adirondacks!

Dominant deciduous trees: Sugar maple, red maple, American beech, yellow birch

Foliage colors: Red, orange, yellow, bronze, burgundy

Best time to go: Peak season in the Adirondacks generally falls around the third week in September. However, given the size of the Adirondack Park, some areas will change sooner than others. The Lake Placid area changes first, followed by the area around Lake George and then Old Forge.

Read next: Short Hikes With The Incredible Views in the Adirondacks

Indian Head during the fall in the Adirondacks, Upstate New York
Indian Head in the Adirondacks

Read next: The Complete Guide to Hiking Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs in the Adirondacks
.

THE CATSKILL MOUNTAINS

Looking for brilliant fall foliage, local breweries, and autumn festivals? Head to the Catskills.

Located only 2 hours north of New York City, the Catskill Mountains are one of the best places to catch fall foliage in New York State. Whether you’re looking for a quick photo op, a craft cider tour, or a walk in the woods, the Catskills are where it’s at.

Stop for photos at Hawks Nest along the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, or taste small-batch hard cider at Wayside Cider & Taproom or Abandoned Hard Cider – Woodstock Outpost. And while you’re there, don’t forget to take a quick hike to Kaaterskill Falls!

Looking for even more adventure? Coast above the colorful treetops on a Scenic Skyride or Zipline Adventure Tour at Hunter Mountain.

Dominant deciduous trees: Red oak, chestnut oak, red maple

Foliage colors: Orange, red, bronze, yellow

Best time to go: Colors peak around the first to second week in October

THE FINGER LAKES

The Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York mixes brilliant fall foliage with dramatic gorges, spectacular waterfalls, and award winning wineries. Does this sound like the perfect leaf peeping paradise to you, too?

This region is mostly known for its long, wispy freshwater lakes. But the numerous streams that stem from the lakes have carved out breathtaking valleys and deep gorges, filled with hundreds of waterfalls and hidden treasures. These valleys are beautiful at any time of year, but are especially picturesque in the fall.

To check out all of the gorges and waterfalls this area has to offer, consider spending a few days near Ithaca. Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Grimes Glen, and Buttermilk Falls State Park are only a short drive from the town’s center and are some of the best places to see fall foliage.

Prefer to drive instead? Enjoy the autumn display on a scenic drive down Route 14S! This scenic drive winds through the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, so don’t forget to swing by one of the 29 wineries along the way to enjoy some wine tasting with a view.

Dominant deciduous trees: Red oak, white oak, cottonwood, box elder

Foliage colors: Red, yellow, gold

Best time to go: The first two weeks in October

Sunset over a lake during peak foliage in New York

BUFFALO AND WESTERN NEW YORK

The fact that the Buffalo area is one of the best places to see fall foliage in New York might surprise you. But, contrary to popular belief, Buffalo has a lot more to offer than just football and chicken wings.

Take a short drive outside of the city and you’ll find a whole lot of amazing leaf peeping opportunities, like Akron Falls, Stiglmeier Park,  and Niagara Falls!

And definitely don’t miss Devils Hole and Whirlpool State Park, overlooking the Niagara River Gorge. Follow the walkway along the gorge, or take the 400 stairs down to the trail by the water and hike to the whirlpool.

Want to venture a bit further? Head 80 miles south of Buffalo to Alleghany State Park. This 65,000 acre park is best known for its forested valleys, wildlife, and vibrant fall foliage. Take a walk through an autumn wonderland on the Three Sisters Trail and then stay awhile by booking a forested campsites or cozy cabin. You can also check out nearby Zoar Valley and the annual Ellicottville Fall Festival.

A 1 hour drive southeast of Buffalo will bring you to Letchworth State Park. Letchworth is known as “The Grand Canyon of the East”. For anyone who’s been to the Grand Canyon will know that those are some big shoes to fill, but Letworth really does try its best!

While not nearly as large as the Grand Canyon, the canyon at Letchworth is pretty impressive. The area is best known for its waterfalls, nature, and the vibrant colors that paint the sides of the canyon when the leaves change in the fall.

Dominant deciduous trees: White oak, red maple, sugar maple, black cherry, American beech

Foliage colors: Red, bronze, gold, orange

Best time to go: Second to third week in October

Camping in New York during the fall

THE CAPITAL REGION

Who knew that the capital region was one of the best places to see fall foliage in New York State? The leaves in this area of New York start turning around mid-October, which makes it the perfect last stop on a New York fall foliage road trip.

Located only 20 minutes outside of Albany, John Boyd Thacher State Park is known for its limestone cliffs rich in fossils, expansive woodlands, and wide open views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys. Take a hike down the Indian Ladder Trail or choose from any of the 25 additional miles of hiking trails this fall for some of the best leaf peeping in New York.

While you’re here, take a short drive north to visit the hardwood forests at Moreau State Park.

Dominant trees: Sugar maple, red maple, American beech, yellow birch

Fall colors: Red, orange, yellow, bronze

Best time to go: Generally around the 3rd week in October

 

TIPS FOR CATCHING PEAK FOLIAGE IN NEW YORK

HAVE A FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE

Having a flexible schedule is the best way to ensure you don’t miss out on peak leaf season in New York.

While there are certainly windows of time for peak season, these windows are only general time frames.

Peak foliage season is dictated by both summer and autumn weather. Rainy summers usually mean it’s going to be a great year for fall foliage. But frost, rain, and strong winds in autumn can knock down leaves prematurely, which greatly shortens peak foliage season.

So, the real time for peak foliage can (and often does) vary greatly, and remaining flexible will allow you to change your plans to accommodate peak season.

Use I Love NY’s Fall Foliage Tracker for weekly peak foliage reports!

Foliage in New York

HIKE AT LOW ELEVATIONS

A birds eye view is definitely the best way to enjoy fall foliage in New York. But don’t forget to keep your vantage point low!

This tip mostly applies to the Adirondacks, where people visit in order to conquer the 46 High Peaks (or any of the mountains above 4000’ in elevation).

However, if you’re trying to enjoy fall foliage in New York, then higher is not better! The higher you go, the more of a chance you have at only seeing the coniferous forests that grow at high elevation.

Since the goal is to have a great view of the deciduous trees, you’ll want to stay much lower. For the best leaf peeping, choose hikes below 3000’ (914m) in elevation.

MAKE IT A ROAD TRIP!

Can’t decide on just one spot? Well, that’s because the absolute best way to see amazing fall foliage in New York is to see it all!

You can easily craft all of these leaf peeping spots into one incredible itinerary to hit each spot during peak season.

Need help planning your New York fall road trip? Contact me for customized road trip itinerary planning, starting at $25/day!

***

And there you have it. All of the best places to catch fall colors in New York! As always, if you enjoyed this post or have any questions, feel free to drop a comment down below. I love to hear from you!

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO NEW YORK IN THE FALL? LET ME KNOW YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO GO FOR FALL COLORS IN THE COMMENTS!

PINS FOR YOUR PINTEREST

Leave A Comment

WANT TO SAVE MONEY TRAVELING?

Check out my list of reliable budget-friendly travel resources that are guaranteed to save you the most money, without compromising your experience.