As the days shorten and temperatures drop in the northeastern United States, tourists from all around the country flock to destinations like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia for great autumn events and activities. The fall season in the Northeast means the leaves are changing from green to yellow, orange, and red, creating a beautiful array of colors perfect for a quick hike or drive.
If you're heading to New York City between late October and early November, there are plenty of great places to see fall foliage within a few hours of the city, especially on Long Island, which is about 50 miles east of New York City. Whether you want to hike through forest trails or drive over scenic byways, these destinations are sure to please the senses this autumn. Stay up to date with the Fall Foliage Report, which informs the public on how much of a color change there is on Long Island and other regions of New York state.
Best Time to See Fall Foliage
Due to the brevity of the season—which starts in late September and ends in late December—tourists hoping to get a glimpse of fall foliage only have a short window to catch the colors at their brightest before winter chills set in and the leaves are gone.
Leaves typically start changing colors in early October, but some more resilient trees may take an additional week or two to fully turn. Once the leaves have started to brown, which usually takes a few weeks, it's only a short matter of time before the trees are bare for the long winter. As a result, the best time to see the most fall foliage is in mid-to-late October and early November.
Arboretums and Botanic Gardens
While there are many hiking trails and drives through nature, the best way to see a wide variety of fall foliage is to visit one of Long Island's many arboretums and botanic gardens. These nature preserves oftentimes feature trees and plants you won't find elsewhere on the island, giving you a great opportunity to see some uniquely colored foliage.
Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park: With over 400 acres of formal gardens, trails, and historic buildings—including a Tudor-style mansion—this former Gold Coast of Long Island estate in Oyster Bay blazes with brightly colored trees in the fall. Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park also hosts concerts in the summer and early fall. Address: 1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay, New York.
LIU Post Community Arboretum: This college campus in Brookville, a village within Oyster Bay, boasts more than 4,000 trees—125 of which are in the 40-acre community arboretum and some of which are highly rare trees—so there's plenty to see in the fall when the leaves start changing colors. Each tree is labeled with information on the name and species, so you'll know which lovely leaves you're looking at as you walk along a self-guided trail around the main campus buildings. The arboretum is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk and is completely free of charge.
The trail is wheelchair accessible. Address: 720 Northern Boulevard, Brookville, New York.
When in Oyster Bay, you may also want to check out Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the 23-room Victorian mansion where Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S. lived and made his "Summer White House." Also don't miss the Oyster Bay Oyster Festival in late October, a free event on the waterfront. Enjoy unique oyster, clam and other seafood creations, an oyster eating and shucking contest, pirate shows, arts and crafts, and more family fun at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park.
Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park: This 691-acre state park offers riverfront views of the fall foliage from along the Connetquot River in Great River, a community within the town of Islip. Most trees are labeled for visitors' educational purposes. The Long Island park's goal is to encouraging serenity, so no pets nor recreational activities such as swimming, sports, games, or bicycle riding are allowed. However, Heckscher State Park in Islip next to the Arboretum allows picnicking, canoeing, windsurfing, fishing, and other recreational activities, and offers large fields for soccer, cricket, lacrosse, and other field sports.
Like Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park's centerpiece is a large Tudor-style mansion, which was built in the 1920s. Depending on the season, tours of the mansion are available. Address: 440 Montauk Highway, Great River, New York.
Viewing fall foliage from afar is breathtaking, but you can also check out the many gardens and nature trails on Long Island to see some places in Nassau and Suffolk that feature hikes under canopies of yellow, orange, and red leaves to truly immerse yourself in the autumnal sights.
Sands Point Preserve Conservancy: Open all year during the daytime, Sands Point Preserve Conservancy in Port Washington features several Gold Coast mansions including Hempstead House and Falaise, which both have guided tours. In addition, the more than 200-acre former estate has six marked trails that lead you through lush woods, fields, and to a beach on the Long Island Sound. Along the way, take in memorable sights of lovely autumn leaves from the red maples, Norway maples, oak trees, and more.
Address: 127 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, New York.
While you are in in Port Washington, take a waterfront tour by foot. You can include seeing the town dock and some local restaurants, relaxing under trees in Sunset Park, getting inspired by the shops and eateries at Inspiration Wharf, and catching some views of Manhasset Bay.
Caleb Smith State Park Preserve: With almost 550 acres of a Nissequogue River watershed in Smithtown, a town in Long Island's North Shore, this pristine refuge offers a stunning view of autumn's colorful magic on its marked trails and beyond. If you're bringing the kids along, make sure to visit the Nature Museum/visitor center for natural history exhibits, and if you're into birdwatching, there are lots of opportunities in this outdoor venue. The serene preserve does not allow bikes, pets, or picnics.
Address: 581 West Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, New York.
As long as you are in Smithtown, take a guided tour of Blydenburgh Park historic district, on the register of historic places for its eight structures from the 18th century, including a mill complex and the Blydenburgh Farmhouse, all part of Blydenburgh County Park.
Driving Through Foliage
While hiking forest trails and wandering through lush botanical gardens may appeal to some, you can also witness the beautiful scenery of Long Island by taking the scenic routes crisscrossing the island instead of the major highways.
Try a drive down Northern Boulevard, which is also known as Route 25A. You can pass by areas including Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, and other scenic places.