Waterfalls, Museums, and Gilded Mansions: A Guide to Leaf-Peeping Fun in New York State

The best places for fall foliage in New York including NYC, Upstate, and Long Island.

Fall foliage at Carpenter Falls in Cayuga County
Fall foliage at Carpenter Falls in Cayuga County | Carpenter Falls, photo courtesy of Reel Inspired
Fall foliage at Carpenter Falls in Cayuga County | Carpenter Falls, photo courtesy of Reel Inspired

It’s that time of the year when sweater weather, all things pumpkin, and fall foliage reign supreme. And when it comes to leaf peeping in New York State, the region is especially known for its breathtaking views of changing hues.

Along with the help of the New York State Fall Foliage Report tracker of color change sightings, take note that the best time to explore Upstate is at the end of September into October, while Westchester, New York City, and Long Island will begin seeing colors in early October with post peak foliage in early November.

For your next fall outing, we’ve gathered the best places to partake in this classic seasonal tradition, along with fun nearby activities ranging from waterfalls and gilded mansions to the best of arts and culture. From New York City and Long Island to the Finger Lakes, here are beautiful and vibrant places for fall foliage in New York State.

Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery | girlseeingworld/Shutterstock

Fall Foliage in NYC

Skip tourist-heavy Central Park for the quiet expanse of this Brooklyn neighborhood with towering oak, gingko, and Japanese maple trees which light up fiery red and bright yellow during fall. Access the park at either its Flatbush, Parkside, or Lincoln Road entrances. The prime viewing spots are from Peninsula to the highest point in the park on Lookout Hill, Nethermead Arches to the woodland Ravine, and Grand Army Plaza entrance to Meadowport Arch. You can easily find these spots on Google maps for easy navigation.
How to get there via subway: The B train to Prospect Park, Q train to Parkside, or F/G trains to 15 St-Prospect Park
Nearby Arts & Culture activities: Stay within the theme at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden across from the park on Flatbush Avenue with fall foliage shrubbery and greenhouses. The nearby Brooklyn Museum has their popular Africa Fashion exhibit until October 22. Finish with dinner and a show at Nitehawk Cinema on Prospect Park West.

With their otherworldly ambience in a landscape of stone cherubs and gothic statuary, cemeteries also make for a great leaf peeping experience. And at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn—which dates back to 1838 and is renowned for its permanent residents like the artist Basquiat and conductor Leonard Bernstein—foliage can be seen in its spectacular arboretum (a dynamic living collection of trees). Within its 478 acres, the best spots are the Japanese maple trees on Vine and Cypress Avenues, around Dell Water, and ginkgo trees on Locust Avenue.
How to get there via subway: D, N, and R trains to 25th and 36th St stops; the D train to 9th Avenue; and F/G trains to 15 St-Prospect Park
Nearby Arts & Culture activities: A trolley tour of Green-Wood for its nature, architecture, and famous residents like Basquiat. Green-Wood also has niche onsite activities like Concert in the Catacombs or spirited tours of its fall foliage grounds throughout October.

Untermyer Gardens Conservancy
Untermyer Gardens Conservancy

Fall Foliage in Westchester and Hudson Valley, NY

This scenic horticultural landscape design preserves its original gardens that were cultivated by famed NYC lawyer and horticulturist, Samuel Untermyer. The best spot in the Gardens to view fall foliage is on the trees below the Persian Pool which turn shades of yellow and red; they should peak in the second half of October. The Gardens are free to the public but you can donate here for its upkeep.
Distance from NYC by car: 50 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: There are no activities within the vicinity of the Gardens so travel a few minutes away for the Hudson River Museum and its Planetarium, science collection, art, and history. Additionally, don’t miss a tour of the 1877 Glenview Historic Home (part of the Hudson River Museum) featured in The Gilded Age on HBO.

Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow

These towns are referred to as TaSH and are an easy ride from New York City. Sleepy Hollow is famous for Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen from Washington Irving’s story, but it’s globally renowned for leaf peeping during autumn. The best spots for fall foliage are the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground erected in 1685, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and Tarrytown’s historic Lyndhurst Mansion. View the trees by the Hudson River for even more spectacular sights or drive to Rockefeller State Park Preserve for vibrant fall colors. Peak foliage is in the second half of October.
Distance from NYC by car: 45 minutes
By Public Transit: Metro-North Hudson Line to Tarrytown at Grand Central Station
Nearby arts & culture activities: Visit historic Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow for living history of Dutch settlers and enslaved Africans that worked the land; Tarrytown Lakes with 3.6 miles of trail culminating in stunning fall foliage; or go on a self-guided tour of famous graves of Washington Irving, Rockefeller, Elizabeth Arden, and others at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Cascadilla Gorge Horizontal in Ithaca
Cascadilla Gorge Horizontal in Ithaca | Photo credit: Brad Marzolf, photo courtesy of Visit Ithaca

Fall Foliage in Upstate, NY

One of the most stunning fall foliage views less than two hours from New York City is the Shawangunk Ridge within Mohonk Preserve in the Hudson Valley. Hike the moderate trails and carriage roads to see canopies of fall foliage and fill your camera with beautiful foliage shots. For the brave (or delusional), climb the “Gunks” cliffs for even more stunning aerial leaf peeping scenes.
Distance from NYC by car: 2 hours
Nearby arts & culture activities: Soothe your cramped muscles with a relaxing spa treatment or a mineral bath at the luxurious Mohonk Mountain House twenty minutes away in New Paltz. Mohonk Mountain House is itself within 40,000 acres of preserved forest that displays vibrant reds, yellows, and greens in peak fall foliage. Visit Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz for over three centuries of Dutch settlers and enslaved Africans; finish off at Twin Star Orchards for apple picking, cider doughnuts, and cider.

Downtown Ithaca 
Ithaca is renowned for its breathtaking fall foliage amidst cascading waterfalls and there’s a reason that its tagline is, “Ithaca is Gorges!”. Start at the lower trailhead in downtown Ithaca for secluded waterfalls with rock slabs and steps that require hikers to be in moderate shape to complete the hour-long hike. As you ascend, you’ll be blessed with a carpet of fallen red and orange leaves underneath overhanging branches of more colors emanating from above the rock face. Cascadilla Trail’s lower falls are accessible from Linn and Court Streets in downtown and its upper trail is adjacent to Cornell’s Schwartz Center for Theater Arts.
Distance from NYC by car: 4 hours 30 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: A walking tour of Ithaca’s murals on building facades, electrical boxes, and alleys is a great way to explore local artivism (art + activism). Continue your nature tour at the Museum of the Earth with rarely seen fossils. The historic State Theater of Ithaca in downtown Ithaca has an exciting fall lineup including a performance from the cast of Napoleon Dynamite.

Onondaga County 
This scenic byway is home to the Iroquois Federation, the beautiful Pratt’s Falls Park, and its 137-foot waterfall trail that blooms with fall colors. Drive U.S. Route 20 past the reservation and undulating terrain for views of colorful deciduous trees. At the southern part of the county lies the Appalachian Plateau with forests that display pinks and deep oranges.
Distance from NYC by car: 4 hours 15 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: Head to the town of LaFayette for its 50th annual Apple Festival on October 7 and 8. Learn about the local manufacturing legacy and furniture craftsmanship at Stickley's Manlius Factory. Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards has an onsite brewery and distillery.

Cayuga County 
This 90-foot waterfall on the west side of Skaneateles Lake within Bahar Nature Preserve plunges into a gorgeous pool below. There are four falls, of which two are accessible, and with extreme caution, one can walk behind some of the rushing water. Open year-round, the verdant trees and shrubbery above the cascading falls turn pale orange and amber gold in autumn for your own version of an enchanted forest. As with hiking waterfalls, please exercise caution, especially during and after rainfall as the area will be slippery.
Distance from NYC by car: 4 hours 30 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: The falls are situated between the villages of Skaneateles and Auburn with a myriad of unique activities like the Harriet Tubman Home. For history buffs, walk downtown Skaneateles for Skaneateles Historical Museum. Anyela’s Vineyards offers tipples while boasting its own fall foliage on trees and shrubbery. For city vibes, head 20 minutes to Syracuse for museums and tours on equal rights and abolitionist history, performing arts, or a local food tour.

This 76-acre site over 2,000 feet high gives stunning aerial views especially during autumn where tree canopies show out in reds and greens. Landscape scenes from this elevation are the Allegheny Mountains to the south and Chautauqua Lake to the west. The park closes on November 1 for the winter.
Distance from NYC by car: 6 hours 15 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: Enjoy birding and nature exhibits within a serene landscape that itself blooms with fall colors at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. The Roger H. Jackson Center focuses on the life of Supreme Court Judge, Robert H Jackson, and his involvement in the Nuremberg Trials. The Fenton History Center highlights major points of local history (Fenton served as the 22nd New York State governor).

This 600-acre wetland preserve in Chautauqua County has the classic fall foliage trees of sugar maple, birch, oak, and beech. There are observation towers and an ADA accessible overlook with gardens, an arboretum, and interactive exhibits. The draw in fall is of course, fall foliage colors, which is visible on the preserve’s many solid trees.
Distance from NYC by car: 6 hours 30 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: Drive 15 minutes to Jamestown for the National Comedy Center and learn about vaudeville and internet memes. Jamestown is the home of Lucille Ball (she was born in the nearby Village of Celoron) of I Love Lucy—head to the Luci Desi Museum and take photos on her apartment set. Also, walk the downtown area for its arts and galleries and spot all the Lucille Ball street murals.

Fall Foliage in Long Island

Sands Point 
This historic Gould/Guggenheim estate on Long Island with a castle is surrounded by a preserve with a blend of landscaped and natural trails and woods ideal for leaf-peeping strolls. Fall sees the deciduous trees bloom bright red and pale yellow within sight of the Long Island Sound.
Distance from NYC by car: 50 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: No need to venture outside the estate as you can book mansion tours for a view of its opulent interior; go on guided nature walks or a self-guided trail walk of the grounds; or visit Falaise, another Guggenheim historic home on the North Shore.

Stony Brook 
This preserve is often underrated with the NYC day tripping crowd for fall foliage or nature walks on Long Island, making it the perfect place to potentially avoid crowds. Opened in 2001, it restores and preserves the sensitive ecosystem of the area by promoting a Leave No Trace ethos. Within the preserve is an eastern forest canopy of classic fall foliage trees like oak and beech. Walk or hike the trails for leaf peeping opportunities during peak foliage season. The park is closed on Mondays.
Distance from NYC by car: 1 hour 15 minutes
Nearby arts & culture activities: Stony Brook Grist Mill for Long Island’s most completely equipped working mill; the Long Island Museum for an exhibition of the Carriage Museum; or walk down memory lane at Long Island Music Hall of Fame with inductees from the world of jazz, Hip Hop, rock, and pop.

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Kemi Ibeh is a Thrillist contributor.