As the days grow shorter, temperatures start to drop, and the forest begins its slow and spectacular shift to the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn, visitors travel from near and far to experience the Catskills fall foliage for themselves.
Whether you’re looking for a scenic drive or a challenging hike from which to enjoy fall foliage in the Catskills, this article will be your guide. Grab a cup of hot cider and read on to discover the best fall foliage destinations in the Catskill Mountains.
Explore more of the state! Here are our favorite places to enjoy fall foliage in New York.
Table of Contents
The Best Places to Enjoy Catskills Fall Foliage
Hannacroix Creek Preserve
Covering a lush 113 acres, Hannacroix Creek Preserve is a top spot for experiencing the colorful fall foliage of upstate New York. The preserve features a variety of well-marked hiking trails suitable for different skill levels, including a few easy and family-friendly options.
Hannacroix Creek Preserve is known for its water features, and one of the best can be found at the end of the Irving Trail. This peaceful hike culminates in a lovely waterfall—a nice reward for weary hikers. Throughout the trails, you’ll encounter scenic overlooks that provide panoramic views of the changing leaves.
The entrance to this preserve is conveniently located near the town of New Baltimore. For prime leaf-peeping, plan your visit during early to mid-October, when the fall colors tend to peak.
Hunter Mountain is the second-highest peak in the Catskills and one of the best places to immerse yourself in the fall colors. The closest town is Hunter, which is a charming place to base yourself for exploring the mountain.
From the town of Hunter, you can hike up the mountain via the various ski trails. Avid hikers can trek to the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower, a 4.7-mile, out-and-back hike with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. The hike takes around four hours, but you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the Catskills ablaze in fall colors.
If hiking isn’t for you, or you’re visiting with young kids, you can still reach the mountain top via the Scenic Skyride. During the course of this 11-minute chairlift ride, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the changing leaves. It’s a relaxing way to take in the surrounding scenery. At the summit, head to the cafe and relax with a cup of coffee before descending back to town.
Hiking to Kaaterskill Falls in the autumn is a short yet rewarding experience. The trail leads you to the tallest two-tiered waterfall in New York, a natural wonder that has captivated artists for centuries.
Hudson River School painters like Thomas Cole found inspiration in these waterfalls, immortalizing them in their works. The hike is easy, making it ideal for families and dog lovers. As you make your way through the woods to the falls, you’ll find yourself surrounded by foliage of vibrant hues.
When you reach the falls, you’ll be rewarded with more than just the spectacle of the cascading water. From there you can enjoy extensive views of the Catskill Mountains, adding an extra layer of awe to your hiking experience.
If you’re not interested in hiking, there’s an easily accessed viewing platform near the top of the falls. This platform offers an excellent top-down perspective of the waterfalls and the surrounding scenery without the need for a strenuous hike. Whether you choose to trek the trail or enjoy the view from the platform, Kaaterskill Falls in the autumn promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Catskills Mountain House
The Catskills Mountain House, a significant stop on the Hudson River School Art Trail, carries a rich history dating back to the early 1800s. This iconic establishment once served as a renowned hotel, hosting presidents, celebrities, artists, and other notable guests. While the structure no longer remains, the location is still a wonderful place to stop and enjoy the Catskills fall foliage.
Located along Route 23A and County Route 18 (North Lake Road), the nearest town is Haines Falls. The Catskills Mountain House site is accessible to visitors by car, making it a good fall foliage viewing spot for those who don’t want to hike. Early to mid-October is the peak foliage season and the ideal time to explore this historical landmark and its surroundings.
Although the original structure is no longer standing, the site of the Catskills Mountain House is a must-visit location for those interested in leaf-peeping and the historical heritage of the Catskills.
Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway
Spanning an impressive 52 miles, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway beckons visitors in search of an unforgettable fall road trip. This picturesque road winds its way through four charming Catskills towns: Olive, Shandaken, Middletown, and Andes. As you drive along this scenic byway, you’ll find vistas awash with stunning autumnal hues around every turn.
To enhance your road trip experience, you can download an audio guide that will detail the region’s history as you drive. The audio guide covers the length of the drive and is set to dictate narration as you approach the various points of interest. It’s a unique opportunity to learn about the cultural and natural heritage of this region while simultaneously taking in the beautiful fall scenery.
If you’re looking for a leisurely drive through the Catskills, then the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway is the perfect way to cover lots of ground while enjoying some of the spectacular fall colors.
Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway
The Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway, a designated 41-mile route winding through the northern high peaks of the Catskill Mountains, promises a journey through breathtaking natural landscapes. As you drive, you’ll encounter panoramic mountain views, rushing waterways, and charming hamlets.
In addition to seeing the Catskills fall foliage, while driving the Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway you’ll encounter many opportunities to learn the history of the region. Stop at the Mountain Top Historical Society to visit the Hudson River School Art Trail and learn about this important period in American art. At Tannersville Painted Village in the Sky, stroll along the main drag of this colorful modern-day artists’ colony.
One of the best places for fall foliage along the Mountain Clove Scenic Byway is Stony Clove Notch. Located on NY-214 between the peaks of Hunter and Plateau Mountains, as you drive you’ll find some of the Catskills’ most dramatic scenery.
Vernooy Kill Falls
The hike to Vernooy Kill Falls is a pleasant 3.3-mile out-and-back hike that is perfect for taking in the fall colors. This forested trail weaves its way through the heart of the Catskills, immersing you in the vibrant foliage.
Along the trail are a series of footbridges that crisscross over meandering creeks. The hike culminates at Vernooy Kill Falls, a small yet powerful waterfall surrounded by forest. The pool beneath the falls is a popular swimming spot, although fall may be too cool for a plunge.
As you hike, keep an eye out for the remnants of the old Vernooy Mill which can be found along the trail.
Ashokan Rail Trail
Stretching across 11.5 miles, the Ashokan Rail Trail is a recreational gem that loops along the picturesque Ashokan Reservoir between the towns of West Hurley and Boiceville. This inviting pathway is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. The flat, well-maintained, family-friendly trail offers a scenic route that caters to both walkers and cyclists looking for leisurely strolls or bike rides along the lakeside.
Interpretive panels are placed at various intervals along the trail. These informative displays cover Catskills history, geology, and the current-day ecology of the region. If you’re looking to cycle or take a relaxing stroll through the fall colors, then the Ashokan Rail Trail is the perfect destination.
Catskill Mountain Railroad
The Catskill Mountain Railroad is a unique and delightful way to soak in the stunning fall colors. This scenic railroad journey promises captivating views as well as fun for the whole family.
During the months of September and October, the Catskill Mountain Railroad offers special fall foliage train rides, equipped with open-air cars, allowing passengers to fully immerse themselves in the fall colors. These fun rides provide an opportunity to witness nature’s brilliant display while relaxing in the comfort of a train car.
Rides last about an hour and fifteen minutes and cover a distance of 8 miles. This scenic experience caters to families and children of all ages. During the fall you can also book a special Pumpkin Express train. At the end of the ride, passengers get to pick out their own pumpkin to take home with them.
Mountain Top Arboretum
Up high at 2,400 feet is the Mountain Top Arboretum. This garden is dedicated to preserving and showcasing native plant communities found in the northeastern United States.
This sprawling sanctuary spans 178 acres connected by a network of trails and boardwalks. There is a wide array of ecosystems, including plant collections, meadows, wetlands, and forests. With regular nature programs and seasonal offerings, this is the perfect place to take in the fall colors while also learning about the native ecosystems of the Catskill Mountains.
Tamar is an avid traveler who loves to explore the world with her husband and two kids. She is passionate about helping busy parents plan culturally rich vacations with their children, even with limited time off. You can read more of her work at Worldbyweekend.com.