Fall Foliage in Parks
Fall foliage season is an excellent time to visit New York City’s parks. Some of the most popular parks in New York afford glimpses of spectacular fall colors—Central Park’s Literary Walk and Prospect Park’s Pond are two great places to begin—and Parks Department Urban Park Rangers organize fall programs to help you take advantage of the fall foliage right here in the city.
Since 1988, Parks’ Natural Resources Group and others have planted hundreds of thousands of native trees in an effort to reforest City parks. Over the years, Parks’ forests have been invaded by species such as the Norway maple, which was brought from Europe as an ornamental tree and which is blamed for displacing native trees by creating a dense shade that inhibits other species from growing. NRG’s Forest Restoration Team has worked with the Urban Forest and Education Program to remove Norway maples and replace them with native Tulip poplar, sweetgum, American maple, and oak trees.
Some trees to look for include white oak trees, the leaves of which develop a purple hue when they turn, and tulip trees and hickory trees, both of whose leaves turn yellow, and of course maple trees, whose reds, oranges, and yellow colors epitomize “fall colors.”
Find out about fall foliage tours and events on our Fall Foliage Events page.
Pelham Bay Park
Fall foliage walks through Pelham Bay Park highlight its oak, hickory, and sweet–gum forest. Urban Park Rangers call it some of the most exquisite fall foliage in the city. One special white oak tree on the Split Rock Golf Course is 400 years old and thought to be one of the oldest white oaks in the United States (other venerable white oaks, which can live to be over 500 years old, include the former Charter Oak in Hartford, Connecticut, which is depicted on the state’s commemorative quarter, and the Wye Oak in Maryland, which died in 2002).
One of the best places to look at fall colors in Pelham Bay Park is the Kazimiroff Trail which runs through 189 acres of Hunter Island and which was named for Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914–1980) in 1987. The Kazimiroff Trail reveals much of the natural beauty of Hunter Island including the tall Norway spruce and the white pines that provide a habitat for great horned owls.
Van Cortlandt Park
Van Cortlandt Park, New York City’s fourth largest park, comprises more than a thousand acres atop the ridges and valleys of the northwest Bronx, and its forests and trails are perfect for enjoying fall colors.
The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, which follows the remnants of the 41–mile–long Croton Aqueduct, runs north–south through the middle of the park and features a native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest. Earth berms along the trail show where the old water delivery system ran.
A native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest surrounds the Putnam Trail, a former railroad route named that operated in the park into the 1980s. Two tracks of the New York Central Railroad’s Putnam Division once ran here (look for the double wide railroad bridge) and a spur of this line provided a quick trip northwest through the park to Yonkers’ Getty Square from 1888 until 1943. What remains of the Van Cortlandt Station can still be seen just south of the lake.
The John Kieran Trail runs through a native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest and features views of Van Cortlandt Lake. The trail, established in 1987, leads visitors through some of the park’s most scenic natural highlights, beginning with Van Cortlandt Lake, which was created during the 1690s when Tibbetts Brook was dammed to power a gristmill.
Finally, Muir Trail, established in 1997 and the only east–west trail in the park, affords one the opportunity to see many parts of the park’s native hardwood oak–hickory forest. It traverses Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and is named for renowned naturalist John Muir. Enjoy the red colors of the oaks and the golden colors of the hickory trees.
Though the borough with the least percentage of parkland, Brooklyn is not lacking in scenic spots from old growth forests to landscaped vistas in which to view the colorful palette of autumn.
Fort Greene Park
One of Brooklyn’s most venerable open spaces, and its oldest major park, Fort Greene is the site of some of the most spectacular tree specimens, and the vantage point from its apex at the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument affords great views of the changing leaves and the city beyond.
The autumnal color of the park can be traced to the two distinct landscape eras of the park. Massive London planes trees, oaks, elms, and osage orange trees from the 19th century plan—slustered throughout the park, especially on its hillsides— contrast with a glorious stand of mature gingkos whose yellow–green leaves blaze as brightly as the beacon at the top of the Martyrs Monument which they surround.
Owl’s Head Park
This verdant park, a veritable arboretum, is distinguished by its splendid trees and views of New York Harbor. The land was deeded to the City in the 1920s by a wealthy manufacturer Eliphlet W. Bliss, who maintained an estate here. A large and diverse collection of established trees—including colorful oaks, maples, beeches and tulip poplars—make this an ideal venue for a fall foliage stroll.
Many landscape historians consider Prospect Park the pinnacle of the designs of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (who also designed Central Park and Fort Greene Park, among several projects on which they collaborated). Their park design dating to the 1860s is a rich palette of varied landscape and vistas from woodland to pastoral. Visitors to the park during autumn will not be lacking for a variety of thrilling fall foliage experiences.
At the Long Meadow—at nearly a mile long, the longest unimpeded greensward in an American urban park—the rolling lawns are punctuated by well established trees occasionally dotting the meadow and defining its perimeter. At the areas known as the Lullwater and the Peninsula, a portion of land that juts into the Lake, visitors are treated to open vistas of great color, where native and exotic tree species weave a tapestry of hues. At the heart of the park is the Ravine, where the borough’s last vestiges of old–growth forest combine with a designed woodland reminiscent of the Adirondacks. A stroll through this portion of the park grants views of fall foliage outbursts from native hardwoods, coupled with the asesthetically pleasing experience of meandering paths and artfully placed rustic boulders.
The trail that runs along the high ridge above the Harlem River Drive for the length of Highbridge Park from 155th Street to Dyckman Street is another fall highlight. The trail passes the landmarked High Bridge and High Bridge Water Tower, which were part of the Old Croton Aqueduct system that also ran through Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. One of Manhattan’s most picturesque landmarks, the water tower has looked over old High Bridge and the Harlem River valley since 1872. The city’s oldest standing bridge (1848), the High Bridge was built to carry the Old Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River.
Inwood Hill Park
Numerous trails wind through the last remaining naturally occurring native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest on Manhattan Island in Inwood Hill Park. In fact, Inwood Hill Park is a living piece of old New York. Evidence of its prehistoric roots exists as dramatic caves, valleys, and ridges left as the result of shifting glaciers; evidence of its uninhabited state afterward remains as its forest and salt marsh (the last natural one in Manhattan); evidence of its use by Native Americans in the 17th century continues to be discovered.
Many places in Inwood Hill Park became overrun by invasive Norway maple trees, which had killed the groundcover layer and suppressed native tree regeneration. In the early 2000s, the Natural Resource Group’s Forest Restoration Team, working with the Urban Forest and Education Program, removed many of the Norway maples and replaced them with Tulip poplar trees, whose leaves turn bright yellow in the fall.
Alley Pond Park
Numerous trails wind through native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest and the kettle ponds of Alley Pond Park.
Alley Pond Park was almost totally infested with non–native invasive vines and shrubs such as multiflora rose and oriental bittersweet. The Natural Resource Group’s Forest Restoration Team began restoring native species at the site in 1998, going on to plant more than 30,000 native trees and shrubs, like native oaks and maples.
Many trails wind through native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest in the rolling terrain of Cunningham Park.
The trails that wind through the native hardwood (oak–hickory) forest of Forest Park run through the largest continuous oak forest in Queens.
Forest Park contains many different species of old growth trees, including the Northern red oak, Scarlet oak, Tulip poplar, shagbark hickory, White oak, and Wild black cherry. Several trees here are more than 150 years old and create a canopy with an under–layer of Dogwood, Virginia creeper, Sassafras and Corktree. Fall colors will range from deep red (oak trees) to bright yellow (Tulip poplar trees).
Located in central Staten Island, the Greenbelt has some 35 miles of walking trails running along the crest of the Serpentine Ridge and winding through one of the last undisturbed forests in the city. Along its woodland paths are mature stands of oak, hickory, beech, maple, sweetgum, and tulip trees, as well as rare species of fern. The Greenbelt also boasts glacial ponds and a 16–acre lake, one of the finest natural watersheds in New York City, offering refuge to a variety of small animals.
Clove Lakes Park
Clove Lakes Park, another great fall spot, derives its name from the Dutch word “kloven,” meaning “cleft.” The particular cleft in question is the valley and brook between Emerson and Grymes Hills. This valley was deepened by the glacier 20,000 years ago. The brook which ran through the valley originated in Clove Swamp and ran to the Kill Van Kull. The damming of this brook over the years created the different lakes and ponds in the area.
The northwest section of the park is home to Staten Island’s largest living thing, a tulip tree. One hundred and seven feet tall and at least three hundred years old, this tree survived the extensive logging and clearing which occurred when the settlers came.