Peak colors, or the peak time for viewing fall colors, is geographic, and subjective – and up to the whims of Mother Nature. Temperature highs and lows throughout summer, and then the regional accumulation of rainfall (and its effect on the trees) means that it’s a bit unpredictable.
Regarding the subjective part: some people like the tinges of yellow, orange, and red, while some like the big washes of color. Western New York’s array of parks, roadways, and neighborhoods provide great opportunities to experience fall colors on foot or during a car ride.
Following are some suggestions of where to see what our regional trees have been up to, with help from sun and rain.
Chestnut Ridge Park
Designated as the largest park in the Erie County parks system, Chestnut Ridge Park is a gorgeous place to hike or bike, visit a seasonal festival in the casino, or experience fall colors. The sledding hill (its three-story toboggan chute is hard to miss) is a great way to experience the expansive view of thousands of trees. Buffalo and Lake Erie are visible miles away and if it’s an exceptionally clear day, Niagara Falls can be seen on the horizon.
Chestnut Ridge does have a great mix of evergreens and deciduous trees, with an occasional sumac for some ruby red accents. If time allows, plan on hitting one of the roadways or more rugged trails: year-round the park is visited by hundreds of runners, walkers, and nature lovers daily.
There are so many roadways – and beautiful moments – driving along roadways from point A to point B that you will be tempted to pull over to marvel and photograph the views. Route 16 from East Aurora to Holland is an area to be explored for fall color viewing possibilities. And the way from Buffalo to Kissing Bridge in Glenwood is another jaunt worth making.
Whirlpool State Park/Niagara Gorge
Located in Niagara County just north of Niagara Falls (the cataracts and their accompanying NYS Park), Whirlpool State Park has fantastic views down into the gorge, and the gigantic, swirling whirlpool in Niagara River. The patchwork of trees – and their colors – is one of the best swaths of fall colors in the region.
It’s possible to hike down on well-marked trails to the water’s edge, or to enjoy fall colors from the top of the park. Parking is ample and free in a lot near the park’s visitor center that features information about the gorge. There are other fantastic colors to view along other spots on Niagara Scenic Parkway and is called that for a reason. Be prepared to make extra bonus stops.
Of special note is nearby Three Sisters Island, off Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park, where there are short and winding paths through colorful old trees. It’s a great mix of woodland and watery beauty.
Upson Park in Lockport, New York is one of several parks that border the Erie Canal; its surprisingly deep hills of forested area and pathway along the water are one of the most scenic areas in the city. Upson draws fishermen who stand on the bank and the park, despite proximity to busy Clinton Street and Lockport Cave, is a tranquil spot great for viewing fall colors.
There are a few tables for making this fall colors visit a picnic. The locks in Lockport, less than a mile from Upson Park, have more fall colors viewing ops. It should be noted that Lake Effect Artisan Ice Cream is situated near all of the above.
Letchworth State Park
On a recent fall colors viewing visit the colors at Letchworth (in Castile, New York) were just on the cusp of being at their prime. Several RVs were lumbering along the park’s roadways and signs noted that traffic could be congested. Despite the potential traffic notification, there is plenty of space in the park for everyone to have a breathtaking view.
The massive gorge in Letchworth State Park has the meandering Genesee River at the bottom, a few stunning waterfalls, and several lookout points. “Grand Canyon of the East” is the park’s nickname and it truly is one of the most breathtaking views year-round. Fall colors season sends the whole scene into the sparkly visual stratosphere.
It’s possible to hike down steep and uneven trails to water’s edge, but walking along at the top of the hills is also spectacular. Be prepared to spend a full day here. And if hunger hits the historic Glen Iris Inn serves lunch and dinner. Then find another vantage point at a scenic overlook because this is the peak of the peak.
This 2020 fall foliage prediction map estimates that peak foliage colors will be near October 12, 2020 (source: smokymountains.com)