Empire State Escapes: Five Family Activities in Upstate New York
From horse races to stunning waterfalls to enthralling museums, upstate New York is the ultimate playground for families looking to make lasting memories. While summer, with its warm temperatures that rarely exceed 85 degrees F, is by far the most popular time to visit the region, spring and fall are also pleasant and less crowded. Winter brings conditions perfect for skiing. Ultimately, whether your kids choose to learn about America's favorite pastime at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, build sandcastles on the shores of Lake George or take home a souvenir of their own creation from the Corning Museum of Glass, you're guaranteed a family vacation everyone in your travel party will reminisce about for years to come.
Feel the Rush at Niagara Falls
Give the kids an unforgettable encounter with Mother Nature at Niagara Falls, a trio of cascades on the border between New York and Canada. There are several ways to experience the flow: Get splashed on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which leads right to the base of Horseshoe Falls. Rides cost $18 per adult and $11 for kids between the ages of 6 and 12. Children 5 and under ride free. To get up close and personal with the cascades, take the Cave of the Winds tour, which leads you to within just a few feet of the spray via a series of wooden walkways. The tour costs $7 for adults and $5 for kids. Round out the trip at the Aquarium of Niagara (701 Whirlpool St., Niagara Falls, NY), home to penguins and sea lions. Admission is $13 for adults and $9 for children. Note that while restaurants and hotels in the area are open year-round, the Maid of the Mist and Cave of Winds tours do not operate in the winter, when the falls are typically frozen—a stunning sight in its own right —and temperatures tend to hover around the freezing point.
Catch All the Action in Cooperstown
Any young sports fan will relish a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (25 Main St., Cooperstown, NY) in Cooperstown, where the artifacts on display include a bat used by Babe Ruth and a jersey worn by Hank Aaron. Admission costs $23 for adults and $12 for children between the ages of 7 and 12. Plan your trip to Cooperstown between April and late October to delve into the agricultural history of New York State at the Farmer's Museum (5775 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY), a living history museum that features period buildings and artifacts, craft demonstrations and reenactments. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children between the ages of 7 and 12. Younger kids get in for free.
Family Fun in the Finger Lakes Region
Spanning 9,000 square miles in west central New York, the Finger Lakes region—named for the 11 long, slender bodies of water it encompasses—brims with attractions, including 26 state parks, making it perfect for a summer family getaway. Standouts include Taughannock Falls State Park, home to its namesake 215-foot cascade and beach, and Seneca Lake State Park, which offers a playground and Splayground featuring 100 water jets. You'll also have a slew of kid-friendly museums to choose from in the Finger Lakes region, like the interactive National Museum of Play at the Strong (1 Manhattan Square Dr., Rochester, NY), which explores the history of games and toys, and the Corning Museum of Glass (1 Museum Way, Corning, NY), where visitors enjoy a glass-making workshop.
Live It Up in Lake George
With several beaches and a smorgasbord of amusement and water parks, it's no surprise that the Lake George area of upstate New York is popular with families, especially come summertime. Enjoy free access to the 51-acre Lake George Beach, where lifeguards are on duty. Be sure to also pencil in stops at Magic Forest (1912 U.S. 9, Lake George, NY) and Water Slide World (2136 U.S. 9, Lake George, NY), two theme parks where kids can put their adrenaline to good use. If time allows, visit the Fort William Henry Museum (48 Canada St., Lake George, NY), a colonial fortress from the French and Indian Wars. Admission costs $17 for adults and $8 for children and teens between the ages of 5 and 15.
Go Skiing in the Catskills
Activities like skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing make upstate New York a viable destination even in the winter, when snowfall is heavy and occurs often. In this regard, families are best served in the Catskills region in southeastern New York, home to Hunter Mountain (64 Klein Ave., Hunter, NY) and Windham Mountain (19 Resort Dr., Windham, NY). Both resorts offers ski trails suitable for beginners and experts, as well as lessons for adults and kids as young as 4. Alternatively, the entire family can enjoy cross-country skiing at Mountain Trails Cross Country Ski Center (6198 Main St., Tannersville, NY), which offers equipment rentals for both children and adults. If the littlest members of your party get tired, rent pull sleds to transport them through the snow safely and enjoyably.
- Frommer's: 12 Reasons to Visit New York's Finger Lakes with Kids
- Niagara Falls State Park: Cave of the Winds
- Baseball Hall of Fame: The Museum
- Frommer's: Attractions in Niagara Falls
- Aquarium of Niagara: Plan Your Visit
- Maid of the Mist: Schedule and Pricing
- Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance: By the Numbers
- New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: Taughannock Falls State Park
- New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: Seneca Lake State Park
- Visit Lake George: Things to Do with Kids
- The Fort Henry Museum and Restoration: Visitor Information
- Fodor's: Lake George Guide
- Visit Lake George: Amusement and Water Parks
- Visit Lake George: Lake George Beach
- Frommer's: When to Go in New York State
- Niagara Falls State Park: Plan Your Triple - Niagara Falls Weather
- Hunter Mountain: Mountain Stats
- Hunter Mountain: Learning Center - Need to Know
- Mountain Trails Cross-Country Ski Center: Rates
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.