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Lake Placid, Upstate New York, Lake George, Adirondack Fall Foliage and Colors Tours

Things to do / Travel Guide

Click for Fall, 2010 foliage report and map, updated every three days.

Adirondack and Upstate New York Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

There are many "leaf-peeping" options in the Adirondacks and the Thousand Islands – you should expect the fall foliage viewing experience to be different than in the neighboring New England states. The area is much larger, destinations more remote, and the atmosphere is more rustic. In the Adirondacks you are likely to have a lake, a trail, even a mountain peak all to yourself while enjoying the fall color display. Experience the autumn leaves while communing with nature on a multi-day canoe trip in the wilderness or from a lakeside café in the town of Lake Placid. Popular leaf-peeping options include hiking to the summits of the High Peaks, views from the ski lifts and gondolas, or on level ground in and around the lakes and rivers of the Adirondacks.

The roads between the various lakes and mountains are quite scenic and the road to the summit of Whiteface Mountain is one of the highlights of the region. The I-87 “Northway” will get you from Albany to Montreal in under 4 hours, the 100-mile segment through the Adirondack Preserve is especially scenic during the fall foliage season.

There are many short hikes through the forests of the region, as well. The Green Mountains of Vermont and even the White Mountains of New Hampshire are visible from some locations.

Fall colors in the lower elevations around Lake George, Lake Champlain, and Saratoga Springs peak about 2 weeks after the Adirondacks. The blue lakes and surrounding hills decked in their fall foliage make these areas a good choice for people who are looking for a more varied autumn trip. There are a selection of resorts and fine dining options in this area as well as a highly developed tourist infrastructure, including many family related attractions.

You won't find any mountains around the Thousand Islands, but you will get to enjoy the combination of the evergreen trees and changing colors of the sugar maples, birch, oak, and poplar trees dotting the blue waters of the St. Lawrence River.

Typical peak leaf viewing time changes with elevation - the High Peaks in the Adirondacks are first in mid- to late September, Lake George and the shores of Lake Champlain in early October, and the Thousand Islands are last in mid-October. Be aware that the distances between towns are greater than in other areas of the Northeast.

Adirondacks High Peaks, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, New York Fall Foliage

This area is one of the first to show fall color in the Eastern United States, due to its northern latitude and relatively high elevation. The show can start as early as a week after Labor Day. Peak fall foliage color is usually towards the end of September. Mix and match the fall foliage viewing options – High Peaks, lakes, forests – by hiking, floating, chairlift, car, railroad, or just sitting watching the ducks float by and the leaves change color.

Hikers up to the relatively strenuous trails to the summits of Mt. Marcy (the highest point in New York at 5,344 feet) or Algonquin Peak will be rewarded by some of the best panoramic views in New York State. Both peaks can be accessed from the Adirondak Loj, 9 miles from Lake Placid. The summit of Mt. Jo, at 2,876 feet, is reached by a moderate hike from the Adirondak Loj, as well. Great views of Mt. Marcy and Algonquin Peak are seen on this 2.2 mile loop. An easier hike through the forest, starting from the Adirondack Loj, will take you to Marcy Dam. Somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty, Ampersand Mountain, 8 miles to the west of Saranac Lake, offers views of the High Peaks to the south and the lake country to the north.

Panoramic viewpoints on Whiteface Mountain can be reached without hiking. Drivers can take the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway almost to the summit of the 5th highest peak in the Adirondack Mountains, followed by a short hike or elevator to the actual summit. Another leaf peeper option on Whiteface is the Whiteface Mountain Gondola, which does not get to the actual Whiteface summit, but at 3,676 feet provides breathtaking views of the lakes and surrounding mountains without having to drag your car up the mountain. For those who insist on seeing the Vermont Fall Foliage, The Green Mountains of Vermont may be visible from Whiteface.

The 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid gave the area a massive structure – the 120-meter Ski Jump Complex. The view from the top and from the glass elevator up in autumn is excellent and is only a 5 minute drive from the town of Lake Placid. Back in the towns of Lake Placid or Saranac Lake, pleasure boats can be rented to enjoy the view from water level on Flower Lake, Mirror Lake, Lake Placid, and Saranac Lake. Further west, canoeists and kayakers will enjoy the isolation and wilderness fall foliage colors of the lakes in the St. Regis Canoe area.

There are only a few roads in the Adirondacks and most are quite scenic year round - especially in the fall. These are the best for fall foliage viewing:
  • State Road 73 between Lake Placid and Underwood at I-87, passing through Keene
  • State Road 30 between Paul Smiths and Long Lake, passing Tupper Lake, Racquette Lake, Long Lake and Blue Mountain Lake.
  • State Road 86 between Saranac Lake and I-87
The entire family, including the driver, gets to sit back and enjoy the views from Adirondack Scenic Railroad. The route is free of roadside distractions and is at a quite leisurely pace - 45 minutes for the 10-mile journey in each direction between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.

Central and Southern Adirondacks, NY Fall Foliage Tours and Guide

Coming from the major population centers to the south, east, and west, the Central and Southern Adirondacks are much closer. Drivers from New York City or Boston can reach the Southern forests and lakes of the Adirondacks in about 2 hours. Expect the colors to peak a week or two later than the higher elevations to the north.

The best views of the fall foliage is from on and around the lakes in the area. Combine a stay in one of the small rural towns with hikes in the forests and boating on the lakes. Lakes recommended for the fall colors are - Schroon Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Lake Pleasant, and Indian Lake. Fall foliage cruises on the Fulton Chain of Lakes are run out of the town of Old Forge.

The Upper Hudson Railroad runs special fall foliage runs in the Southern Adirondacks from North Creek to Riparius. New York City commuters and European visitors may not be impressed by the average speed (10 mph) or frequency (once on some weekdays, two runs on weekends) of this historic train, but will definitely enjoy the fall colors supplemented by the deep blue of the Upper Hudson River.

These are the best and most accessible roads for fall foliage viewing:
  • State Road 28 west from Blue Mountain Lake to Old Forge
  • State Road 30 north from the Adirondack Forest Preserve border at Mayfield to Long Lake.

Lake George, Lake Champlain, and Saratoga Springs, New York Fall Foliage Tours and Routes

Towards the end of the September, after the summer crowds have disappeared, fall foliage season starts in Lake George. The colorful balloons of the Adirondack Balloon Festival add to the deep blue color of Lake George and the multi-colored hues of the autumn foliage on the surrounding hills.

A popular foliage viewing spot is Prospect Mountain, just outside of the town of Lake George. Hikers are welcome to make the moderate climb to the 2,030-foot summit and drivers are welcome to reach the top via the Prospect Mt. Veterans Memorial Highway. Either way, leaf peepers will enjoy the “100 mile view” to the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

By Car, head north out of the town of Lake George on State Road 9N, as it parallels the 32-mile lake, passing through the scenically located and historic town of Bolton Landing. Further north, the road reaches Lake Ticonderoga. While Lake George seems to be the preferred choice of leaf peepers, the shoreline of Lake Champlain offers a more remote experience with the Green Mountains of Vermont across the lake.

Quick, inexpensive and practical, the Lake Champlain Ferries are a great way to enjoy the foliage on both the New York and the Vermont sides of the lake, while actually getting to where you want to go. Choose from either the northern crossing between Plattsburgh, NY, and Grand Isle, VT, the central crossing between Port Kent, NY, and Burlington, VT, or the southern crossing between Essex, NY, and Charlotte, VT. The Northern and Southern crossings depart several times an hour. The Central crossing is less frequent and reservations are required for car crossing. Expect to pay about between $15 and $30 for the one-way with a loaded car or under $10 for a single foot passenger going round trip.

The Sagamore, a resort and spa located on private Green Island in Lake George offers a complete fall foliage experience, including cruises on its own vessel, The Morgan.

Saratoga Springs is the first major fall foliage destination in Northern New York for travelers coming from the south. Enjoy the foliage experience on hiking trails in Saratoga Spa State Park and the cultural and historic sites of Saratoga Springs. As a base for autumn activities, Saratoga Springs is not far from Lake George, the Adirondacks and even the prime foliage areas of Vermont.

Thousand Islands in Canada and New York Fall Foliage Cruise and Routes

The St. Lawrence River accommodates those who missed the peak foliage season in the other areas of Northern New York. The climate allows the trees to peak in mid-October.

By land, State Route 12 and State Route 12E parallel the river and provide excellent fall foliage views of the Thousand Islands. Across the border, in Lansdowne, Ontario, the 1000 Islands Skydeck offers a bird's-eye view of the Thousand Island's fall foliage from 400 feet up.

The resorts and restaurants of Alexandria Bay as well as the fall foliage boat expeditions make for a popular destination during peak season. Try to include Boldt Castle and Singer Castle on Dark Island in your itinerary.

For die hard foliage lovers, the Great Lakes Cruise Company offers 12-days sailings through the Hudson River, the Erie Canal (yes, it still works!), the St. Lawrence River, and all the way up to Quebec City and more.