Fall Foliage on Long Island

Autumn Leaves on Long Island, NY
Photo © Linda Tagliaferro

As the days shorten and temperatures drop in the northeastern United States, tourists from all around the country flock to destinations like New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia for great autumn events and activities. However, fall in the Northeast also 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. Whether you want to hike through forest trails or drive over scenic byways, these destinations are sure to please the senses this autumn.

Best Time to See Fall Foliage in Long Island

Due to the brevity of the fall season—which technically starts on September 22 and ends December 21, 2018—in the northeast, tourists hoping to get a glimpse of fall foliage on their trip to New York only have a short window to catch the colors at their brightest before winter chills set in and the leaves completely fall.

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 a great 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: With over 400 acres of formal gardens, trails, and historic buildings—including a Tudor-style mansion—this former Gold Coast estate blazes with brightly colored trees in the fall. Located in Oyster Bay, Planting Fields Arboretum also hosts concerts in the summer and early fall. 1395 Planting Fields Road, Oyster Bay, New York.
  • L.I.U. Post Community Arboretum: With more than 4,000 trees on campus—126 of which are in the 40-acre community arboretum—there's plenty to see in the fall when the leaves start changing colors. Each tree is labeled with info on the name and species, so you'll know which lovely leaves you're looking at. The arboretum is open to the public seven days a week and is completely free of charge. The trail is wheelchair accessible. 720 Northern Boulevard, Brookville, New York.
  • Bayard Cutting Arboretum: This 691-acre state park offers riverfront views of the fall foliage from along the Connetquot River in Great River, New York. Like Planting Fields, Bayard's centerpiece is a large Tudor-style mansion, which was built in the 1920s. 440 Montauk Highway, Great River, New York.

Hiking Trails

Seeing 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.

  • Sand Point Preserve Natural Trails: Open all year from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sands Point Preserve features several Gold Coast mansions including Hempstead House and Falaise. In addition, the 200-acre former estate has six marked trails that lead you through lush woods, fields, and to a beach on Long Island Sound. Along the way, take in memorable sights of lovely autumn leaves from the red maples, Norway maples, oak trees and more. 127 Middleneck Road, Port Washington, New York.
  • Caleb Smith State Park Preserve: With 550 acres of a Nissequogue River watershed, 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 free nature museum, located inside the main building, and if you're into birdwatching, there are lots of opportunities in this outdoor venue. 581 West Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, New York, (631) 265-1054.

    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 from the comfort of your car by taking the scenic routes crisscrossing the island instead of the major highways.

    If you'd like to sit back and relax in your car as you pass a tableau of fall colors, then 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.

    To see how much of a color change there is on Long Island and other regions of New York State, you can visit their Fall Foliage Report online.