November 15, 2017

8 Best Hikes to See Fall Foliage in New York

Attention leaf-peepers: These fall hikes in New York state provide beautiful fall colors and overall amazing views that you won't want to miss!

There’s something about those gold, orange, and red hues of fall that are both captivating and cozy. Between the vibrant leaves and the crisp air, autumn is the perfect time to head out for a hike in New York state.

Whether you live in New York or are heading there as a “leaf peeper” — yes, that’s a real phrase — October is a prime month for fall hikes, as colors typically peak this month. A stroll through your city’s park (say, Central Park) might be satisfying, but hiking through a forest of fall foliage is even better! This guide will help you pick a hike or two that will lead you through some brilliant colors this fall.

Easy fall hikes in New York

These trails are less than 3 miles long and have relatively minimal elevation gain (less than 700 feet), though they may have steep sections. They can be completed within a couple of hours.

Taughannock Falls Gorge Trail

Length: 1.5 miles round trip

Type of Trail: Out-and-back

Elevation Gain: Minimal (follows a creek)

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: All

Trailhead Location: Taughannock Falls State Park, parking near the South Rim

A 15-minute drive from Ithaca, this gentle but breathtaking trail is one the whole family will enjoy. It leads straight to a 215-foot waterfall that tumbles from cliffs made of sandstone and limestone. The forest surrounding Taughannock Falls is home to a variety of maple trees, making autumn a spectacular time to visit.

The Gorge Trail ends a safe distance from the base of the waterfall. For a bird’s-eye view of Taughannock Falls and to see the upper gorge, take the North Rim Trail (1.5 miles one way, 410 feet elevation gain), the South Rim Trail (1.2 miles one way, 430 feet elevation gain), or do a loop using both trails.

Blacksnake Mountain

Length: 2.7 miles

Type of Trail: Loop

Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: Summer, early fall

Trailhead Location: Parking area off Allegany State Park Rte 3 (42.00444, -78.7762)

Nestled within New York’s largest state park, the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park, Blacksnake Mountain Loop is a relaxing trail that lights up in the fall due to its variety of trees. The forest in this area is a mix of hemlock and hardwood — think beech, maple, birch and white ash.

The Blacksnake Mountain trail is unique because a small part of it snakes into Pennsylvania. Look for a concrete marker on the trail that sits on the border, and you can stand in two states at once! There is a network of trails in Allegany State Park, so if you’re interested in hiking longer, you can easily add on more mileage.

Gorge and Indian Trail Loop

Length: 2.6 miles

Type of Trail: Loop

Elevation Gain: 656 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/No

Best Seasons: Spring, summer and fall

Trailhead Location: Watkins Glen State Park, 1009 N Franklin St., Watkins Glen, NY 14891

You’re going to want a waterproof jacket for this hike even if it’s not raining, because this lush trail is perpetually damp and misty. On this trail, you’ll follow a stream through a gorge and pass 19 waterfalls — two of which you’ll be able to walk behind (Cavern Cascade and Rainbow Falls).

Dripping, moss-covered cliff walls are a staple of this hike, as are stairs. The Gorge Trail includes 832 steps, so parts of this trek might leave you breathless for more than one reason. In the fall, the gorge’s green turns to gold, and it’s a gorgeous sight.

This hike is a combination of Gorge and Indian trails, and is approximately a one hour and 45 minute drive from either Syracuse or Rochester in the Finger Lakes area.

Castle Rock

Length: 2.7 miles round trip

Type of Trail: Out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 615 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: Spring, summer and fall

Trailhead Location: Minnowbrook Conference Center trailhead parking area at the end of Maple Lodge Road

Among the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York is Castle Rock, a 700-foot peak (or hill, some say) that offers views of Blue Mountain Lake and rolling forest. The lake itself is something worth seeing, as it’s quite large — 1,220 acres with almost 13 miles of shoreline. In the autumn, the combination of the glittering water and the changing foliage leaves a lasting impression.

Most of this hike is gently uphill, except for a small stretch near the end that’s steeper. The view from the top is serene, so bring picnic supplies and enjoy the scenery before heading back down.

Moderate fall hikes in New York

These moderate hikes between 3 and 5 miles are great for people who are in good shape and want more of a challenge. The Giant Ledge hike can be extended to make it difficult.

Goodnow Mountain

Length: 3.8 miles round trip

Type of Trail: Out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,115 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: Spring, summer and fall

Trailhead Location: 1.5 miles west of the Adirondack Interpretive Center on NY-28N (parking is marked by a large white sign)

The Adirondack Mountains are one of the loveliest places in the state to view autumn colors. And this hike is one of the best places in the Adirondacks to find fall foliage as far as the eye can see. The trek up Goodnow Mountain is often muddy, so don’t forget your waterproof boots, but the view from the summit of the Huntington Wildlife Forest is well worth the effort.

At the top of Goodnow Mountain, you’ll be greeted by expansive landscapes and also a 60-foot fire tower built in 1922. It’s been recently restored, so if you have the energy, feel free to climb it and enjoy a panoramic view of surrounding High Peaks.

Bear Mountain

Length: 4.2 miles

Type of Trail: Loop

Elevation Gain: 1,227 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: Spring, summer and fall

Trailhead Location: Bear Mountain State Park, parking near the carousel

Bear Mountain is only a one hour and 15 minute drive north of New York City, so keep in mind that this trail can get busy on weekends. Regardless, hiking to the summit will provide a nice workout with fall foliage views to keep you happy along the way. From the trail, you’ll also be able to see Hessian Lake, the Hudson River and the forest of Bear Mountain State Park.

If your children can handle the uphill, this trail is great to include on a weekend trip because it’s right next to an impressive carousel and the Trailside Museums and Zoo, which houses injured or orphaned animals native to New York.

East Esker

Length: 4.7 miles

Type of Trail: Loop

Elevation Gain: 626 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: Spring, summer and fall

Trailhead Location: Small parking area in Mendon Ponds Park on Ponds Rd. between Douglas Rd. and Pittsford Mendon Center Rd.

East Esker Loop is one of several lovely trails in Mendon Ponds Park, a landscape shaped by glaciers that’s a 20-minute drive from Rochester. This trail has many ups and downs and will lead you through several kinds of trees, including maple, aspen and sassafras, whose leaves produce some of fall’s most vivid colors.

Make sure to follow the green trail markers to stay on East Esker Loop, as there are lots of little pathways throughout the park and it’s easy to get turned around.

If you’re in the mood for more adventure, Mendon Ponds Park is also a prime place to go geocaching with the family. As of writing time, there are around 50 geocaches in the park.

Giant Ledge

Length: ~3.2 miles round trip

Type of Trail: Out-and-back

Elevation Gain: ~1,050 feet

Family/Dog Friendly: Yes/Yes

Best Seasons: All

Trailhead Location: Giant Ledge Trailhead (42.026450, -74.403550)

Giant Ledge is a popular hike in the Catskills, and for good reason. If you’re willing to trek up a steep trail, you’re rewarded with multiple ledges where you can sit and enjoy panoramic views of the Slide Mountain Wilderness. There are actually five giant ledges, with the first being about 1.5 miles up the trail and the last being close to 2 miles up. No matter where you stop, the fall foliage is bound to be outrageously beautiful.

If you’re craving a difficult hike, or simply want a viewpoint with fewer people, continue up the trail another 2 miles and approximately 1,000 feet in elevation to the summit of Panther Mountain.

Prepare for your fall hikes

Temperature-wise, autumn is a comfortable time to hike in New York, with daytime highs in the 60s or 70s. Make sure to pack layers for cool weather, because a sunny, crisp day can turn out to be colder than expected.

Waterproof GORE-TEX® footwear is recommended for fall hiking in case of rain or muddy trails. GORE-TEX® jackets protect against not only rain but also wind, so they’re a valuable addition to your fall hiking wardrobe — especially if you plan to hike to a potentially windy viewpoint or summit.

If you want to soak up the stunning autumn scenery as many ways as you can, consider one of New York’s fall foliage train tours. Whether through a hike or a tour, enjoy those fleeting fall colors while they last.

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