highland park reservoir cover

Highland Park in Rochester

Highland Park draws international crowds numbering in the thousands during Rochester’s week-long Lilac Festival in May, though the lilacs are not the only sights to see.

Frederick Law Olmsted designed this park in 1888, along with Genesee Valley, Seneca, and Maplewood, to be enjoyed year-round. Highland Hill is part of the greater Pinnacle Range that lines the southern border between the City of Rochester and Brighton.

Every pathway, every tree, every vista and every relationship between the land and water is intentional.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Highland Park
  2. What’s Blooming When
  3. Plant Collections
  4. Highland Park Reservoir
  5. Lamberton Conservatory
  6. Sunken Garden
  7. Highland Bowl
  8. Memorials

We’ve embedded the Highland Park Conservancy’s video, Rochester’s First Park: Highland Park, toward the middle of this article.

Highland Park Lilacs
Highland Park Lilacs

Overview of the Highland Park area

Walking the paved paths weaves you up, down, and through a diverse collection of flowers, flowering bushes and trees, taking you from the Pansy Bed to the Poet’s Garden, Tulip Garden, Lamberton Conservatory and the reservoir.

Crossing South Ave. you can wander toward the stage at Highland Bowl (outdoor movies and Shakespeare in the summer) and the well-hidden Warner Castle Sunken Garden.

Venturing across Mount Hope Blvd. you’ll discover the beautiful Mount Hope Cemetery in which you can spend hours discovering where the various pathways lead.

Highland Park Magnolias in May

What’s Blooming When

You can witness something new in Highland Park every day of the year! But there are several very specific times I find myself compelled to visit:

Early April – carpets of blue Siberian Squill

Early May – Flowering trees, Magnolias, Lilacs, and shortly thereafter when the Buckeyes bloom

Late June – The Smoke Bush collection

Early November – Autumn foliage around the Conservatory, Sunken Garden, and Japanese Maple collection

For more information on what’s in bloom, we list everything at the bottom of this article.

Plant Collections

Highland Park lilacs
Highland Park lilac
Highland Park lilac
Highland Park lilac
Highland Park lilac

The Lilacs

The Rochester Strain of Lilac can have 8-12 radials. Older varieties have only 4.

yellow magnolia late april highland park

Magnolia Collection

Visit Highland Park in late-April into early-May to witness the magnolia collection in full bloom.

Pansy bed
Highland Park pansy bed summer

The Pansy Bed

The bed turns over twice a year. In spring, master gardeners plan a new design for the pansy bed. Once the pansies have past their prime, the bed gets a new design with summer flowers.

late april trees highland park
daffodils blossoms highland park
Walk-through Tree
Highland Park trees


Every season presents a new landscape. Just wandering among the trees and flowering bushes in lower Highland Park you discover something new around every bend.

Highland Park November Japanese Maples
Highland Park Japanese Maples
Highland Park walkway Japanese Maples

Japanese Maple Collection

The Japanese Maples are another fine example of extraordinary displays in every season. Autumn is my favorite!

poets garden highland park spring
poets garden sundial highland park

The Poet’s Garden

Many people list the Poet’s Garden as one of their favorite spots in Highland.

Highland Park late may

The Rhododendrons & Azaleas

All azaleas are Rhododendrons (note the capital R), but not all Rhododendrons are azaleas. And they’re all intoxicating!

On average, rhododendrons are larger shrubs than azalea plants, and they have larger leaves. Also, azalea flowers usually have five stamens, while the rhododendron flowers have ten. Learn how to tell the difference

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Highland Park pinetum

The Pinetum

The Pinetum contains 300 species and varieties of conifers from all over the world.

highland park tulips
Highland Park tulips
Highland Park Zinnia Monarch Butterfly
Highland Park August Zinnia Monarch Butterfly

The Tulip Bed

I always refer to this section next to Lamberton Conservatory as the Tulip Bed, even though it is replanted with extraordinary summer flowers once the tulips fade away.

highland park reservoir cover
Highland Park Reservoir
Highland Park Reservoir in December

The Reservoir

The City of Rochester, through the Department of Environmental Services / Water Bureau, maintains three finished water reservoirs, two of which are open.

Highland Reservoir is the City of Rochester’s smallest uncovered finished water reservoir; having a capacity of approximately 26 million gallons. The City of Rochester’s primary water supply is from Canadice and Hemlock Lakes.

Lamberton Conservatory Bird of Paradise
Lamberton Conservatory holiday moss
Lamberton Conservatory flowers

Lamberton Conservatory

The Lamberton Conservatory is open year-round. In addition to its tropical forest display, desert plants, economic plants and house plants, the Conservatory features seasonal floral displays. The exhibits are changed 5 times throughout the year, so that there is always something new to be seen.

Warner Castle Sunken Garden looking down
Sunken Garden at Warner Castle Rochester NY

Warner Castle Sunken Garden

If you are starting near Lamberton Conservatory, head down Reservoir Ave., crossing South Ave. toward Mt. Hope Ave. Stroll around to the back of the castle and down the lawn, and there you will find the garden. It is the perfect escape from the crowds at the Lilac Festival!

Highland Bowl

Highland Park Bowl is an outdoor amphitheater used for summertime concerts, Shakespeare in the Park, and Movies in the Park.

Highland Park AIDS Remembrance Walk
Frederick Douglass Memorial Plaza Highland Park

Memorials in Highland Park

Memorials include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester, AIDS Remembrance, Crime Victims, Workers’ Rights, and the Frederick Douglass statue at Highland Bowl. The Warriors of Freedom memorial is under construction.

Newly constructed play-space

The kids love climbing around this natural playground build with logs.

Highland Park
late april white tree bench
Highland Park Benches Pinetum

A few of my favorite benches in Highland Park

I believe that park benches are set in a space very intentionally to enjoy the most scenic vista or perfect shade or private contemplation. There are hundreds of benches around Highland and I promise you’ll appreciate sitting on any one of them.

More information about Highland Park

Cost: Free

Located in the City of Rochester (get directions)

More information: cityofrochester.gov/highlandpark/ or monroecounty.gov/parks-highland

Map of the park. If you are using Google Maps on your mobile device, add this map as a layer to help you navigate and not miss a thing!

What’s in Bloom Each Month

Here are a few highlights from the Highland Park Conservancy website on what you can see each month:

March and early-April

  • Witchhazels – south of the Overlook
  • Helleborus foetidus – Stinking Hellobore
  • Helleborus niger – Christmas Rose
  • Galanthus – Snow Drops
  • Chionodoxa – Glory of the Snow
  • Scilla Siberica – Squill
  • Crocus
  • Primula – cowslip
  • Vinca minor – Periwinkle
  • Sanguinaria canadensis – Bloodroot
  • Narcissus – Poets’
  • Anemone blanda – Windflower
  • Hepatica acutiloba
  • Podophyllum peltatum – May Apple
  • Brunnera
  • Epimedium – Bishop’s Hat
  • Helleborus orientalis – Lenten Rose
  • Trillium grandiflorum
  • Mertensia virginicus – Virginia Bluebell
  • Asarum europium – European Ginger
  • Arisaema triphyllum – Jack in the Pulpit
  • Lathyrus vernus – Spring Vetchling
  • Tulipa – Tulip
  • Viola – Violet
  • Polygonatum biflorum – Solomon’s Seal
Highland Park Witchhazel
daffodils blossoms highland park

Late-April – early-May

  • Magnolias – southwest of the Reservoir
  • Forsythias and daffodils – south of the Overlook
  • Flowering pears – along South Goodman between Highland and Elmwood
  • Tulips – corner of South Avenue and Reservoir Drive
Highland Park Daffodils
late april highland park
Highland Park Forsythia
Highland Park Tulips
late april trees highland park

Mid- to Late-May

  • Crabapples – along South Goodman between Highland and Elmwood
  • Flowering Dogwood – south of the Overlook
  • Muscari – Grape Hyacinth
  • Convallaria majalis – Lily of the Valley
  • Doronicum – Leopard’s Bane
  • Allium
  • Hyacinthoides hispanica – wood hyacinth
  • Azaleas – southeast of the Overlook
  • Horse chestnuts – west of the Reservoir
  • Lilacs – along Highland Avenue
  • Pansy Bed – on Highland Avenue
  • Spirea – southeast of the Reservoir
  • Tree peonies – west of the horse chestnuts
  • Wisteria – southeast of the Reservoir
Highland Park June Smokebush
Smoke Bush

Early June

  • Rhododendron – southeast of the Overlook
  • Iris – near the magnolias
  • Hesperis matronalis – Dame’s Rocket
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Herb Robert
  • Virginia Waterleaf
  • Day Lily
  • Wild Columbine
  • Erythronium – Dogtooth Violet
  • Smoke Bush
  • Mock oranges – southeast of the Reservoir
  • Weigelas


  • Hydrangeas – southeast of the Reservoir
  • Hardy Geranium/Crane’s Bill
  • Thalictrum – Wild Meadowrue
  • Cimicifuga
  • Anemone syvestris
Highland Park August Zinnia Monarch Butterfly


  • Annual bedding plants and Shrub Althea
  • Hosta
  • Wood Aster
  • Gooseneck Loosestrife
  • Golden Rain Tree
Highland Park August Golden Rain Tree
Dead Man’s Fingers


  • Witchhazels – south of the Overlook
  • Decaisnea fargesii shrubs –  This plant’s ripened bluish-colored and finger-shaped fruit provides for its commonly known name–dead man’s fingers. The shrub is native to western China and other western Asia countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, and northeastern parts of India.
Highland Park November Katsura Tree
Highland Park November yellow leaves
Highland Park November Japanese Maples
Highland Park November leaves on the ground
Highland Park November yellow


  • Look for the Katsura Tree to turn gold, then drop its leaves over a short period of time. This is probably the largest specimen in the state, overlooking the Pansy bed.
  • Highland Park explodes with autumn colors
highland park reservoir
Highland Park Gate House February
Highland Park
Highland Park in February
Sledding Hills Around Rochester: Highland Bowl

December, January and February

Enjoy the quiet among the evergreens.

Lamberton Conservatory

Located in Highland Park, Lamberton Conservatory is the perfect place to enjoy a calm, colorful space warmed to tropical temperatures.

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Sunken Garden at Warner Castle

Take a stroll behind Warner Castle & down the grassy lawn. There you will find the Sunken Garden—a peaceful retreat anytime of the year.

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The Pinnacle Range

The Pinnacle Range along the Rochester’s southern border is a glacial moraine created by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier 12,000 year ago.

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Mount Hope Cemetery

It may seem odd to think of a cemetery as a family-friendly destination, but Mount Hope Cemetery is as park-like as Highland Park next door.

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Ellwanger Garden

While the Ellwanger Estate is private, the garden is maintained by the Landmark Society and is periodically open to the public for special events.

Read more

The Flower City: Exploring Rochester’s Extraordinary Flowers and Trees

Rochester became a global center for flower and tree nurseries in the mid-1800s, fostering our identity as The Flower City.

Read more

Where are your favorite spots in Highland Park?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!


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COVID-19 NOTE: Some of the information you find in our articles may currently be inaccurate due to closures and cancellations.

Please follow the most current recommendations from the CDC and New York State for spending time away from your home. The great outdoors can provide a well needed respite & escape during stressful times. Please move quickly through parking lots, trail heads, and scenic areas. If crowded, choose a different park, trail, or time to visit. Please day trip responsibly.