These Fall Hikes in Upstate New York Offer Peak Foliage Views
October 30, 2020
It’s no secret that one of the best things about living in New York State is the changing seasons. We have four very distinct seasons, even when winter feels like it lasts forever! But the very best? Fall! Every time I talk to people in other parts of the country this time of year, they always say how beautiful New York is in autumn. And they are right! So put on your hiking boots and check out these places for fall hikes in New York to enjoy the beautiful foliage colors.
LEAVE NO TRACE. When visiting any state park – whether those included or others – please be sure to leave no trace. It is incredibly important that we all remain vigilant in protecting the natural environment around us. Please stick to the marked trails, avoid stepping on native plants, and take all trash with you. Be sure to check if any of the trails are closed for maintenance – and do not use them.
Always remember: Take only photographs, leave only footprints.
When to See the Best Fall Colors in New York State
While many of the parks and trails are open year-round, the best colors are in the fall. To be completely honest, the timing changes each year, so it’s always best to keep an eye on I Love NY’s Fall Foliage Report. Volunteer ‘leaf peepers’ throughout the state keep the map updated with foliage color progress. But regardless, October is always a fantastic month to hike during peak foliage. September starts the changing of the leaves, and by early November they are mostly dark and/or fallen.
Does it Cost to Go Hiking in the Fall?
Several of the trails and recreational areas included in this article are completely free to visit. Even several of the state parks stop charging after Labor Day, so you’re in luck! For those state parks that do charge year-round, consider investing in an Empire Passport. For one flat fee you get unlimited entry into all New York state parks for a year. And now that the passport is offered as a card, you can even split the cost and share with your family!
Buttermilk Falls State Park
There’s a reason that locals say that ‘Ithaca is Gorges’ – the area is FULL of natural gorges. This makes for lots of waterfalls and beautiful trails to explore. And they truly shine in the fall. With so many different state parks to choose from, one always stands out: Buttermilk Falls.
I’ve seen Buttermilk both rushing with water and nearly bone dry, but the rock formation is always stunning. But if you get lucky, you’ll see the waterfall surrounded by the perfect frame of fall colors. While you’re there, walk/hike the gorge and rim trails. You won’t regret it!
Great Bear Recreational Trails
I’ve heard people talk about Great Bear for years. Friends raved about how it’s a great place to bring your dog and go for a hike. Yet it took me until this month to check it out for myself. What took me so long?! It’s incredible! We walked/hiked nearly 5 miles and it felt like we visited 5 different forests. Each section of the area had different trees and views, it’s quickly become a new favorite.
The recreational trails are midway between Fulton and Phoenix, bordered by the Oswego River. There are miles and miles of trails, both color coded and named. I recommend taking the purple trail out along the water, and then the white or yellow back.
While you might worry about getting lost in the forest – you don’t have to! The paths are all well-marked on the trees, and the trails are easily visible on Google Maps and other trail apps. So if you have a smartphone with you, you’re all set.
On their website, there are even designated paths for a 5k, a 10k, and even an accessible route.
Green Lakes State Park
What else can I say about Green Lakes? It’s clearly my favorite park in the Syracuse area, and I write about it a lot. These pictures tell the story of why – and the views are ten times better in person!
Keuka Lake Outlet Trail
Penn Yan, NY
The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail connects Keuka Lake to Seneca Lake, running from Penn Yan to Dresden. 7 miles of trails are perfect for walking, running, biking, and even horseback riding! It goes without saying that the main path goes along the water route, so the view is always beautiful. Plus, there are two waterfalls to check out along the way!
Letchworth State Park
Often referred to as ‘the Grand Canyon of the East’, Letchworth State Park is truly a natural wonder. The most popular time to visit? The fall of course! The layered waterfalls truly shine amongst the green, yellow, orange, and red leaves. There isn’t a much better way to spend a fall afternoon than hiking from the upper falls to the middle and then the lower, and then back up again.
Since it is one of the biggest (and most popular) state parks, you’ll want to plan your trip ahead of time. Be sure to give yourself enough time to hike the trails – there are 66 miles of them! But you should also make time to sit and enjoy the views, of both the waterfalls and the surrounding scenery. For an even better experience, book a campsite for the weekend. That way you’ll have all the time you need and you can explore some of the lesser visited sites within the park.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous – and want to splurge a little – consider taking a hot air balloon over the falls. You truly cannot beat the views. (This is on my bucket list!)
Pixley Falls has long-been a family favorite for my in-laws. And for good reason! The falls are beautiful, easily accessible, and are surrounded by hiking trails. Plus there are lots of little run-off waterfalls along the way.
I visited Pixley for the first time this fall, and it was a joy. We spent the cold autumn morning driving through the foggy hills of Oneida County, just to get to the park as the sun made its way into the sky. The colors were perfect and the falls were beautiful. Don’t miss them as you’re hiking through New York State this fall!
Three Falls Woods
Three Falls Woods in Manlius is truly a hidden gem. Very few people I know have heard about it, but the ones who do? They rave about how beautiful it is. And I couldn’t agree more.
The property, owned by the CNY Land Trust, has several trails through the woods with some of the most gorgeous views around. As the name suggests, there are three waterfalls along the paths – which are best seen when there’s been rain recently.
The woods are the epitome of fall in the northeast, the small stone wall running through the forest is proof of just that. So whether you choose the pond trail or the waterfall trail, you’re going to love it. Might as well choose both!
The dog-friendly trail takes you a mile through the woods to some absolutely incredible views of the nearby hills and farmlands. I’d suggest starting by taking the trail to the right, as it is less steep and therefore more enjoyable as you ascend the bluff. If you choose to close the loop by taking the other half of the trail down, please know that it is very steep.
At the summit of Vroman’s Nose is a rock clearing – the perfect spot for a picnic lunch to break up the hike. There is plenty of space up there, so take the time to enjoy the views!
Where is your favorite place to hike in New York in the fall?
It’s easy to see why New York State shines in the fall. The scenery is filled with every color oft he rainbow! So which park or trail is your favorite to take in the fall foliage? Did it make the list? Tell me about it in the comments!