5 Places for Peak Fall Foliage in New York - My Family Travels

What’s the best place and right time to catch peak fall foliage in New York State? We examined the state’s 55,000 square miles (not quite) and chose the best places for families within a 300-mile/six-hour driving radius of Times Square.

New York State map of peak fall foliage around Columbus Day in 2021. Photo c. NY State Division of Tourism - I Love NY
Check out I Love NY’s interactive map for real time updates; this is a look at peak fall foliage around Columbus Day 2021. Photo c. NY State Division of Tourism – I Love NY

Our five picks boast fun attractions, exceptional lodging and good food in addition to great leaf peeping. Expect U-pick farms, interpretive nature centers, local culture, craft breweries and more. Determine your dates for peak fall foliage in New York State with the NY State Foliage Map maintained by I Love NY, the state’s tourism office. It reflects real time reporting on current leaf peeping conditions for last minute planners.

Go Wild at The Wild Center, Tupper Lake – 300 Miles North of NYC

Wild Walk, outside The Wild Center, elevates guests to the treetops in order to interact with peak fall foliage in the Adirondacks.
Wild Walk, outside The Wild Center, elevates guests to the treetops to engage with the peak fall foliage in the Adirondacks of New York State. Photo c. The Wild Center

Adirondack State Park, three times the size of Yellowstone, boasts six million acres of peak fall foliage. Hardy leaf-peepers are attracted by the Adirondacks’ unusual geography of forest, lake and mountain formed during the last Ice Age.

Start training now for spectacular foliage views and join the legendary ADK 46ers Club by scaling the 46 High Peaks (above 3,800+ feet). The altitude helps leaves turn early — from mid-September — on red spruce needles, hemlock, maple and birch.

We learned this and more indoors and out at The Wild Center. This sophisticated museum of nature and environmental conservation has shined a light on tiny Tupper Lake since 2006. Walk well-marked trails, canoe the Raquette River and adventure out to the elevated Wild Walk.

Families watch a nature show at Flammer Auditorium, The Wild Center, Tupper Lake, New York.
There’s so much to learn about peak fall foliage at The Wild Center, a nature conservation center in Tupper Lake, New York. Photo c. The Wild Center

Climb, jump and swing for an ideal view of changing foliage from this observation structure. Head indoors for terrific exhibits about the Adirondacks during the Ice Age, how indigenous tribes used the land and how residents today innovate to live sustainably in this eco-system. From playful otters to flesh-eating beetles, entertaining animal shows, award-winning films and a waterfront café, there’s enough to come back to over a few days.

What To Do and Where to Stay Adirondacks

In the town of Tupper Lake, grab donuts at the Washboard/Donut Shoppe on Park Street and explore vintage stores. Have a slice and a brew at Raquette River Brewing then bed down at the pet-friendly Park Motel and Cabins. It’s vintage Adirondacks, in business since 1942. Families with disabilities should explore the International Paper John Dillon Park, which is fully ADA compliant and has tents and lean-tos that are wheelchair accessible.

For a buzzier scene and pure comfort, book the Hotel Saranac at Saranac Lake. Once boasting a broken neon sign that read “Hot   Sara,” the ca. 1920’s red brick structure has a good restaurant and an elegant balcony bar on the ornately decorated second floor.

Roam Around the Finger Lakes – 271 Miles Northwest of NYC

Couple taking photos of the sunset over Lake Owasco, Finger Lakes, New York
The lakes and vineyards of the Finger Lakes make for especially captivating photos during the autumn foliage season. Photo c. Ron Bozman / RKR Media

Road trip through vineyards, over rolling hills and around the 11 Finger Lakes in late October for peak fall foliage in central New York State. The picturesque Finger Lakes region is best known for its local white and ice wines. Everywhere you go, watch for grape leaves to glow yellow amid a gold, red and green landscape.

Cayuga Lake, rimmed by vineyards, is home to the region’s first Wine Trail. Base yourself at one of the historic Inns of Aurora to enjoy small town life. Be sure to peek around Taughannock Falls State Park to see colors emerging at your visit.

Seneca Lake is surrounded by historic towns, as fans of “It’s a Beautiful Life” — filmed in Seneca Falls – can attest. Rent a boat to leaf peep along the verdant shoreline. Watkins Glen State Park is another popular leaf peekers’ destination that becomes crowded on weekends. Canandaigua Lake is one of the richest agricultural regions. Study the harvest from on high aboard Bristol Mountain’s Comet Express chairlift ($15 for ages 3+.) It operates for leaf peepers from Sept. 10 through fall, with live music on the mountain every Saturday.

What To Do and Where to Stay Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes are an easy day trip from Rochester, Syracuse and Ithaca. If you have teens in the backseat interested in the college touring process, book a room there.

For a real vacation, select among hundreds of B&Bs, Airbnbs and rental homes in the Finger Lakes. One special, very posh resort is Geneva on the Lake, a 29-bedroom Italianate mansion on Seneca Lake. Multigenerational families will appreciate the contemporary, two-bedroom townhouses surrounding the main villa. Watch the leaves from your balcony, one of their boats or by strolling waterfront Seneca Lake State Park.

Relax at The Cove at Sylvan Beach, Lake Oneida – 234 Miles Northwest of NYC

Two boys on a kayak and inner tube, with pontoon boat in the background, enjoy the Erie Canal at Sylvan Beach, New York.
The calm, shallow water where the Erie Canal meets Lake Oneida at Sylvan Beach makes boating possible all through the autumn season. Photo c. Ron Bozman / RKR Media

Sylvan Beach is our most laid-back option for peak fall foliage viewing in New York State. Towering old oaks, birch and evergreens surround small beaches and summer cottages on Oneida Lake, as they have for nearly two centuries. The Oneida Nation, the Iroquoian Native American tribe that historically occupied a large region around the lake, are still stewards of the land despite many efforts to remove them during the building of the Erie Canal.

Your leaf-peeping base is The Cove at Sylvan Beach. The new Oneida Indian Nation development comprises 70 stylish, one- and two-bedroom, fully kitted out cottages. Each has a pier on the Erie Canal and pontoon boat. Enjoy the friendly staff and resort amenities such as a heated outdoor pool, gourmet market, ice cream counter, waterfront bar and snackbar. We love their playful and challenging climbing playground.

Hike the easy trails at Verona Beach State Park. Visit the Shako:wi Cultural Center to learn about the Oneida culture. Take little ones out for cotton candy and a ride at the historic Sylvan Beach Amusement Park, open Thursday to Sunday through fall.

What To Do and Where to Stay Oneida Lake

The Cove provides easy access to relaxed leaf peeping from a canoe, kayak or your cottage’s pontoon boat (NY State Boaters License required for use) on Fish Creek. Oneida Lake is calm and shallow, so the water stays warm enough for autumn swims and other water sports. From Aug. 27 to Oct. 1, two-bedroom units sleeping up to six start from $550/night, with a two-night minimum. Bring the grandparents to take advantage of five golf courses, 20 restaurants and two spas at the Turning Stone Resort, an Oneida casino a 20-minute drive away.

Float Over The Catskills on Scenic Skyride, Hunter – 128 Miles North of NYC

Guests in helmets wait their turn at New York Zipline, near Hunter Mountain, The Catskills, New York
A birdseye-view of the forest canopy in the Catskills from the (sadly) closed New York Zipline, near Hunter Mountain. Photo c. New York Zipline

Float above the tree canopy for a birds-eye view of glorious fall foliage in the Catskills. We mean floating, not soaring, since New York Zipline — said to be the second longest zipline in the world — closed. Instead, slowly relish the changing leaves at Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl. Spend 11 minutes in the crisp fall air, legs dangling, aboard Scenic Skyride, their quad chairlift. Dismount at 3,200 feet at the summit of Hunter Mountain. Those afraid of heights can stand on a firm observation deck to enjoy the view.

The 11-minute ride down offers a whole other perspective. Talk about stunning views, especially during the mid-October peak week! Look for annual fall festivities such as their boozy Oktoberfest, live music, food trucks and more. It happens weekends Sept. 30 through Oct. 15, 2023 at the ski resort’s base village.

What To Do and Where to Stay Hunter Mountain

Whatever you do, don’t miss a stop for the best fall produce and local goods at Vinnie’s Farmers Market on Rte. 32 in Saugerties.

After a strenuous day hunting for peak foliage in New York State, bed down at the Kaatskill Mountain Club & Spa. Hunter’s ski in/ski out accommodations in winter, this classy wood chalet boasts fully stocked suites with kitchens. After playing in the large outdoor heated pool, return to your suite for a Jacuzzi soak. There’s no better way to end an autumn night together than around the cozy, instant-light fireplace.

Climb for Leaves at Mohonk Preserve, Gardiner – 88 Miles North of NYC

Boat dock at Lake Mohonk with surrounding banks of changing leaves in autumn. Photo c. NY State Division of Tourism - I Love NY
Go boating in Lake Mohonk for an instant immersion in changing leaves during the peak fall foliage season. Photo c. NY State Division of Tourism – I Love NY

Leaf peep while mountain biking, hiking, climbing or rock scrambling in the Shawangunk Mountains. The Gunks, as they’re known, are best explored at the 8,000-acre Mohonk Preserve west of New Paltz. Peak fall foliage here is usually mid-October.

Start slow on the easier Copes Lookout and Eagle Cliff Trail before ranging out across 70 miles of well-tended carriage trails. From this vantage, colorful deciduous trees dominate Hudson Valley vistas and reflect on the surface of glacial Mohonk Lake.

The Mohonk Preserve land trust was created in 1960 by the owners of Mohonk Mountain House, the famous ca. 1869 historic hotel. Don’t miss Skytop, the ca. 1923 stone tower dedicated to founder Albert K. Smiley. The 1.6-mile loop trail overlooks the blazing leaves of six neighboring states. The Preserve is supported by day use fees of $15 per hiker, $20 for biking, climbing or horseback riding; kids 15 and younger enter free.

What To Do and Where to Stay Near New Paltz

Families geared up for cold weather camping have the Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground, open through mid-November. Well-heeled amenity-seekers opt for the (reputedly) haunted Mohonk Mountain House, where autumn Sunday rates run north of $839 per night including meals. Nearby Kingston has a fun alternative for active families. The hip Hotel Kinsley and its excellent restaurant are just 14 miles away on scenic Route 7. Park at the closest access point, the Mohonk Preserve Spring Farm Trailhead parking lot on Mohonk Road, and hike in.

If the backseat rebels against hiking, drive Route 44 through the Preserve’s beautiful foliage between the towns of Kerhonkson and Gardiner.

And press some rainbow leaves for us!

Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

0 Replies to “5 Places for Peak Fall Foliage in New York”

    Comment on this article

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.