There are some pretty amazing fall hikes in upstate New York. Fall in New York is absolutely incredible. Before we moved to New York, I had no clue how beautiful fall leaves could be. Over the past few years, we have really tried to explore every corner that upstate New York has to offer. Fall has consistently been one of our favorite times of year in New York.
Fall hiking in New York is extra special with the wonderful hikes being accented by gorgeous views of colorful leaves in every shade possible. This guide includes our favorite fall hikes in upstate New York and is divided by region.
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*****Everything in this article is my personal opinion and experiences. Check your own resources and choose to do anything I discuss at your own risk. Some of the things in this post may be dangerous and not recommended for every body.
When should I hike to see fall leaves in New York?
The exact best time for fall leaves in New York really depends on how far north you plan on going. The further north you plan on visiting, the earlier in the season the leaves will turn. I have found that the fall leaves in the Catskills are around 2-3 weeks behind the fall leaves in the northern parts of the Adirondacks (like the High Peaks Wilderness area).
Usually peak in the Adirondacks is sometime in the end of September to early October, while peak in southern areas of New York like the Hudson Valley is closer to the end of October.
The perfect time also changes each year depending on the weather, temperatures, and rainfall. Check an annual fall foliage predicter to help you plan your fall leaf viewing trip.
We liked spending the earlier parts of the fall in the Adirondacks in the middle to end of fall in the Catskills and Hudson Valley to see the most fall leaves possible.
Note: I know many people define “upstate” in many different ways and it is a debate that will never be solved. For the purpose of this post I am using the broadest definition of “upstate” in that it is anywhere above NYC.
The Best Fall Hikes in Upstate New York
Elk Pen Loop, Harriman State Park
Harriman State Park has a lot of incredible hikes, but I think that the one that best showcases the fall foliage is Elk Pen Loop. The Elk Pen Loop Trail is 7.5 miles and has several viewpoints, goes on part of the Appalachian Trail, and passes through the “lemon squeezer” (two big rocks the trail goes in between so that you have the “squeeze” through.
The Elk Pen Loop is one of the best fall hikes close to New York City. The forest turns all different colors, but also the bushes turn bright red and yellow, making everywhere you look a different color.
For more information on the Elk Pen Loop and Harriman State Park in general, check out my Harriman State Park blog post.
Shawangunk Ridge Trail and Red Trail Loop, Shawangunk State Forest
Shawangunk State Forest is a lesser visited state forest, but not to be overlooked. The Shawangunk Ridge Trail and Red Trail Loop is a fantastic fall trail that show cases many gorgeous fall leaves, and even has distant views of the Catskills on a clear day. The trail is 3 miles round trip. For the first part of the trail, you walk through the forest before the trail weaves through a small rock “canyon” prior to ascending up onto an open ridge with great views.
From the ridge, there are great views and also many bushes that turn bright red in the fall. Since this is a less popular state forest, it tends to be much less crowded than other nearby trails.
The trailhead here has limited parking, so try to arrive early if you plan on hiking this trail.
For more information on Shawangunk State Forest and this trail, check out my blog post detailing more specifics about the trail.
Sam’s Point and Verkeerderkill Falls, Minnewaska State Park
Minnewaska State Park is a great place in general to see fall leaves with good views, and a stand-out trail in the park is Sam’s Point and Verkeerderkill Falls Trail. This trail has large exposed stone ridges that are great for viewing the surrounding valley. It is full of twisted pitch pines and also many bushes that turn bright red in the fall.
The hike to Sam’s Point and Verkeerderkill Falls is 8.6 miles round-trip, with around 1000 feet of elevation gain. The trail goes along much of the ridge and also gives a view of Verkeerderkill Falls. The falls is on private property, so make sure to follow the signage surrounding it and the trail.
Sam’s Point is unique all times of year, but I find the fall to be particularly nice.
Due to its popularity, you must have a reservation to park at the Sam’s Point part of Minnewaska State Park in the fall. To make a reservation for Sam’s Point, visit Reserve America for New York State Parks.
For more information on Minnewaska State Park in general, visit my post on Minnewaska State Park.
Kaaterskill Falls, Haines Falls, NY
Kaaterskill Falls is probably the most visited place in the Catskills, especially in the fall. The hike to Kaaterskill Falls is gorgeous and surrounded by beautiful fall leaves in the fall season. There are a few different ways to get to Kaaterskill Falls.
There is the main parking lot on Laurel Hill Road that is the closest place to park to get to Kaaterskill Falls. Since it is such a popular place to visit, this parking lot gets very packed and there is no other parking nearby (the local town is very strict about not parking on the road leading towards the parking lot).
Some other parking options, which give different hiking routes include parking at North-South Lake State Park at the Escarpment Trailhead parking and hiking to the falls, parking at the parking lot on Scutt Hill Road, or parking at the Kaaterskill Rail Trail parking lot. All of these trails have different routes to the falls of varying lengths and difficulties.
If you are able, I really recommend hiking to the bottom of the falls as it shows just how large the waterfall is. There are many steps involved, but it is a nice trail through the forest (that will be full of bright yellow falling leaves all fall).
For more information on the different routes of hiking to Kaaterskill Falls, check out my Kaaterskill Falls post.
Hunter Mountain, Hunter, NY
Hunter Mountain is located near the town of Hunter and is a beautiful place to visit in the fall. Just like other popular places in the Catskills in the fall (like Kaaterskill Falls), it can be quite popular and there are many routes to the top. One unique thing about the hike to Hunter Mountain is that at the top of the mountain, there is a fire tower that you can walk up to have 360 degree views of all of the Catskills.
Hunter Mountain is a beautiful place to visit in the fall. It could be possible to see both Kaaterskill Falls and Hunter Mountain in the same day if you’re feeling especially adventurous.
As mentioned, there are two main routes to the top of Hunter Mountain. One starts from right outside the town of Hunter, while the other starts on the complete other side of the mountain. I prefer the “Hunter Mountain via Spruceton Horse Trail” route which is a little longer than the other routes at 9.1 miles, but is more gradual of a climb and is less busy.
Regardless of what route you choose, Hunter Mountain is one of the best hikes in the Catskills, especially in the fall.
For more information on the different routes to the top of Hunter Mountain, check out my Hunter Mountain blog post.
Bald Mountain aka Rondaxe Fire Tower Hike, Fulton Chain Wild Forest
There are so many incredible fall hikes in the Adirondacks, but one of the best in the fall is the hike to Bald Mountain which has Rondaxe Fire Tower at the top. The hike follows a ridge and ends at the Rondaxe Fire Tower which you can climb up for views of the valley and surrounding lakes. I was really surprised by how nice the view from the fire tower was.
We did this hike at the beginning of October and were in awe of the rainbow of colors covering the entire valley. It is popular hike and for good reason.
The hike to Rondaxe Fire Tower is 1.8 miles with 410 feet of elevation gain.
Blue Mountain Fire Tower
Blue Mountain Fire Tower is a great hike. We have hiked to the top of Blue Mountain in both winter and fall and it is a completely different world in each of the seasons. The view of fall leaves is unmatched on the trail to the top of Blue Mountain.
At the top of Blue Mountain, there is a tall fire tower where you can walk to the top and get amazing views of the surrounding area including views of Blue Mountain Lake and Lake Durant. The hike weaves through the forest and up some rock slabs before getting to the top.
The hike to the top of Blue Mountain is 4.8 miles with over 1,500 feet of elevation gain. The parking lot is decent sized, but I would recommend arriving there early in the day to make sure that you can get a spot at the trailhead.
For more information about the hike to Blue Mountain, check out my Blue Mountain blog post.
Jay Mountain was our first fall hike in the Adirondacks and ranks as one of my top New York hikes any time of year. The hike to the top of Jay Mountain climbs up and follows a ridge that has amazing views. There are various viewpoints and exposed parts of the hike that give good views of fall leaves in the fall.
The hike to Jay Mountain is 8.7 miles with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain. If you can, I recommend doing this hike at sunrise and you will be rewarded with amazing colors spreading over the already colorful leaves.
If interested in hiking to Jay Mountain, check out my Jay Mountain blog post for all of the details.
Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park
Watkins Glen State Park is a really popular place to visit in the fall. It is one of those places that often appears on the cover of magazines or on viral videos of being gorgeous in the fall. Even in other times of the year, Watkins Glen feels magical, with trails carved into the stone of a waterfall-filled canyon.
The trail through the “glen” on the Gorge Trail is 1.9 miles long round trip. You can make it into a loop that goes up out of the canyon and returns back to the starting point via a trail through the forest that makes the round trip trail 4.2 miles.
There are 19 waterfalls on this trail and colorful leaves drift down into the water and around the waterfalls.
For more information on the hike, check out my post on Watkins Glen State Park.
Gorge Trail, Taughannock Falls State Park
Taughannock Falls is one waterfall in New York State that really surprised me. It is a huge single drop waterfall, unlike other waterfalls in the state. I love this waterfall and it gets especially pretty in the fall when the leaves of the trees nearby turn bright yellow.
There are two ways to see Taughannock Falls. The easiest way is via Taughannock Falls Overlook View Point. However, my favorite way to view Taughannock Falls is by the flat trail into the gorge which ends at the base of the falls.
The trail into the gorge is called the Gorge Trail and is 1.8 miles long and is flat the entire way. It is a great trail if you want to see a beautiful waterfall and enjoy the fall leaves with not too much of an effort needed.
For more information on visiting Taughannock Falls, check out my blog post on the waterfall.
Hiking Gear I recommend in for Fall Hiking in New York
- The Ten Essentials: The 10 essentials include water, snacks, map, sunscreen, rain gear such as a rain jacket or rain backpack cover, first aid kit, head lamp, repair kit such as knife and tape, fire starter such as matches, and emergency shelter such as emergency blanket.
- Hot Hands Hand Warmers
- Sturdy Shoes
- Bug Spray
- Trail Snacks
Other posts you may like:
Overall this is my guide to the best fall hikes in upstate New York. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions below!
Thanks for reading!