New York City is spectacular, but sometimes you just need to get away from it all. The drive from New York City to Niagara Falls in autumn will wash away your stress, calm your head, and center your spirit.
When you think of leaf peeping, you likely think of hiking and camping, which is certainly a great way to immerse yourself in nature. However, you can also frolic in the foliage on a luxurious adventure — particularly in the Adirondacks — enjoying first-class resorts, great wine, fabulous food, and the unbelievable display put on by the local deciduous trees.
Prime leaf-peeping season in Upstate New York runs from the last week in September through the third week in October. It is a busy time of year, and you’ll need to make reservations far in advance to ensure your trip is all that you hope it will be.
Here’s where to stop on a fall foliage road trip through New York.
New York City
New York City is one of the most impressive places in the United States. It is a fun place to spend a few days, but the fall foliage is essentially confined to Central Park. Why not take a traditional carriage ride through the park and enjoy the colorful trees? You can order your carriage ahead of time through Get Your Guide or come to terms with one of the many scattered around the park.
Whether you plan to spend a few hours or a few days in the Big Apple, you’ll want to head to this page for advice on what to see and do.
To truly enjoy New York State’s gorgeous fall foliage, you’ll need to get out of the city. Your first stop is just under 3 hours north of New York City: Albany, New York’s capital city. Another city, albeit a cozy one. The ride to Albany will whet your appetite for the glorious vistas that await.
John Boyd Thacher State Park is home to the Helderberg Escarpment, a must-stop on your foliage journey. The panoramic view from the top includes the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains. You can drive across the park, but the best way to view the foliage is to hike the easy half-mile Indian Ladder Trail.
Tucked away in the Adirondacks is the village of Lake Placid, which hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics. Known for its exceptional winter sports, the Lake Placid area is also famous for its spectacular leaf peeping.
The Northway Loop is a 2-hour scenic drive through the area with stops at Split Rock Falls on the Bouquet River and Roaring Brook Falls on Roaring Brook. If you are interested in rock climbing, Giant Mountain offers a challenging 6-mile out-and-back loop. You can watch the brave hikers scale the rock face from Roaring Brook Falls for a safer, vicarious climb.
The Whiteface Lodge will bring you back to the time when the Adirondacks were the summer playground of New York’s wealthy. Every summer, families would retreat to Upstate New York for rest and relaxation. The classic rustic decor, the mountain views, and the superb service will leave you feeling rejuvenated. Dine with mountain views framing the warm, cozy dining room; sip a fine wine by a roaring fire; and retire to your comfy accommodations during a pampered stay.
Saratoga is synonymous with horses — its racing, polo, and equestrian shows draw crowds from around the globe. Unfortunately, the races end in early September and do not run during the fall.
The Saratoga Casino provides a nice break from the outdoors with a neon color wheel for your gaming enjoyment. Whether you like to hit the slots, electronic table games, or Keno, the casino has something for every gamer.
While you are visiting the casino, you might as well stay the night. The Saratoga Casino Hotel offers everything you need in one place: a great location, entertainment, fine dining, and an elegant Adirondack vibe. It is a popular destination and books up quickly, so be sure to plan ahead.
For traditional American fine dining, try Morton’s The Steakhouse, which offers perfectly cooked steak paired with a bold red wine to finish off your day of sightseeing.
Plan a picnic lunch in Congress Park, a beautiful natural refuge. Then take a stroll through the historic park and immerse yourself in Saratoga’s culture.
Experience Saranac Lake from the water by heading to the Saranac Lake Marina and renting a pontoon boat. Stop at the Lakeview Deli for a takeaway picnic lunch — they offer classic, yummy fare to add to your cooler. Round out your plans with your favorite beverage and head out for a crisp autumn day on the lake.
End your day with dinner at the Left Bank Cafe. Dine on fine French cuisine such as poulet Basquaise followed by creme brulee — it’s the perfect end to a perfect day.
Chittenango Falls State Park
Chittenango Falls State Park is home to a 167-foot waterfall. Viewing the falls surrounded by the vibrant sugar maples is picture perfect. The viewing platform is at the top of the falls near the parking lot. The Chittenango Falls Trail is an easy half-mile walk down to the gorge, where you will be rewarded with a gorgeous, classic view of the falls.
Syracuse is more than a college town — it is a part of Erie Canal history.
The Labrador Hollow Unique Area is a glacial kettle lake surrounded by hills and has a 2,000-foot-long accessible boardwalk that winds through the bog-like hollow. The sensation of being immersed in the colorful trees and hemmed in by distant mountains gives a real feeling of being one with nature.
Avid adventurers can rent a houseboat and travel down the Erie Canal. Erie Canal Adventures will outfit you with a houseboat, offer instructions for navigating the canal and locks, help you plan the perfect itinerary, and send you on your way. What better way to discover New York’s autumnal beauty than spending a relaxing few days floating down the Erie Canal?
The Seneca Lake Wine Tasting & Tour in Rochester will transport you through the winding Finger Lakes region. Spend half a day enjoying local wines and lunch at one of the wineries. The best way to enjoy wine touring is to leave the driving to a professional.
The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge offers two easy hiking trails, one through the woodlands and one bypassing the marshy area. Both are just over a mile long and are well-trafficked trails full of crispy, colorful fallen leaves.
Niagara Scenic Parkway
The Niagara Scenic Parkway is a 15-mile stretch of highway skirting the Niagara River that is dotted with lookouts for your enjoyment. Alternatively, you can take the free hop-on, hop-off Discover Niagara Shuttle. The colorful autumnal backdrop of the roaring Niagara River will have you wanting to discover more of this beautiful area.
Niagara Falls State Park offers a 3-mile scenic trolley tour around the park. It is ideal for foliage viewing, since the driver knows all the best spots. The tour is narrated, and you can hop on and hop off to capture those picture-perfect moments.
Book a private Niagara Falls helicopter tour for a unique view of the Horseshoe Falls. This Niagara Falls adventure includes a flight over the falls, a Hornblower Cruise, a behind-the-falls walk, and lunch at Skylon Tower, renowned for its unparalleled views of the falls and rotating dining room.
Pro Tip: Upstate New York’s fall foliage is a spectacular show of crimson, orange, yellow, and green. This treasured trip requires advanced reservations for accommodations, dining, and tours.