New York day trips: Fun paths to educational adventures

July 24, 2018 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Vacations can be hard work.

It seems like you spend days making lists; packing the car; rounding up kids; battening down your home; and inevitably forgetting something.

Last year, we went to Cape Cod with another couple and their grandchildren. We had a lot of fun. But it wasn’t always relaxing. Kids get cranky whether you are home or away, and busy itineraries can be stressful.

I know we are very fortunate to be able to do family getaways, but it sometimes feels like you need another vacation to recover from your vacation. When you get back, there are several rounds of unpacking, cleaning, and, ‘’Whew, what just happened?”

With the Fourth of July holiday now over, we are entering the thick of summer. We aren’t taking a family vacation this year.  Instead, we are hoping to do more day trips and a few camping weekends. I want my kids to have fun, but I also want them to be engaged in as much active learning as possible to help beat the “Summer Slide.”

In a recent Parent Today article, we offered some tips on how to avoid Summer Slide. One of the tips we are going to try is discovering new places we can visit in a day and have our children research them ahead of time. Our hope is that rich learning experiences will help build them into stronger students, who can use their newfound perspectives in the classroom. We’ll also save a little money along the way.

New York State is very much a daytripper’s dream. There is so much do throughout the state, you couldn’t possibly see everything in a lifetime. But many of the attractions are not often front and center.

With input from my friends and family and looking back at places I have visited before, here’s a list of some affordable roadside attractions and museums you can visit on your next day trip in the Empire State to help your kids beat the Summer Slide.

Capital Region

New York’s Capital Region has a lot to offer in the summer, with many day trip options to keep families busy.

Saratoga Springs has always been known as the August place to be because of its historic horse racing track. But it is also home to the National Museum of Dance.

Down the Hudson River, at the Port of Albany, a warship that saw service during World War II is docked. The USS Slater saw service as a destroyer escort on Atlantic convoys. When you step on board, it really feels if you are stepping back in time. They even play 1940s music and the cabins are decked out with period furnishings.

Not far from the Slater, is the site of the original Fort Orange, built by the Dutch in 1624 as a trading post. Fort Orange is long gone, but the New York State Museum this summer has an excellent exhibit on the fort and New York’s early Dutch history.

Finger Lakes/Southern Tier

New York’s Finger Lakes region has long been known as wine country. But there is also a lot of family fun to be had.

Watkins Glen State Park is well known for its 19 beautiful waterfalls. There are plenty of geology lessons to be had from a visit there.

In nearby Ithaca, there is the Sciencenter. This is not a dusty old museum where an alarm bell sounds when you lean too far over the exhibit railing to get a better look. This is a prime specimen of fun, interactive learning for kids.

The Corning Museum of Glass is also another great attraction where families can learn not just about the history and process of glassmaking, but can actually make their own glass.

The Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich is a must-see for car lovers and history buffs alike. With more than 170 antique, vintage and classic cars on display, the museum is not just about automobiles. There is also an emphasis on culture.

Hudson Valley

The Hudson Valley not only offers some great scenery in the Catskills, the river itself is one of our favorite places to visit. Every year we try to visit Mills-Norrie State Park.  The Hudson River has undergone transformational changes since the 1970s and 1980s. It’s cleaner and there is much more recreational access.

Much of this is change is due to Pete Seeger and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which in 1969 helped cultivate a tradition of environmental stewardship.

That tradition is also evident at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, which actually predates The Clearwater by a decade.

One of the other more unique Hudson Valley attractions is the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, where the  Pioneer, World War I and Golden Ages of Aviation are celebrated through air shows. Period costumes and activities are a great draw for both aviation and history buffs.

Mohawk Valley

When you visit the Utica area, you might be tempted to skip the family attractions and go right for the food. Seriously. It’s that good.

There are Utica greens, chicken riggies and tomato pie.

But once you are done eating, there is still plenty of fun for families.

Utica is perhaps best known for the Utica Zoo which is home to more than 99 species of animals. But the city also hosts the Utica Children’s Museum.

For fans of Colonial and Revolutionary War history, the Mohawk Valley has some of the best and most accessible attractions in the country. From Fort Stanwix in Rome to the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction, there are dozens of forts, farmsteads, museums and historic sites that piece together the pivotal role played by the valley in the nation’s history.

The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown might be more than home run-distance away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but not by much. Both museums are institutions that celebrate the rich texture of American history.

Northern New York/Adirondacks

New York’s northern frontier can be quite a haul from most of the rest of the state. You either have to drive through or around the Adirondacks. So what is there to do up there?

Well, one of the more interesting attractions is the Almanzo Wilder Farm in Burke. It is the original farm where the Almanzo Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame spent many of the early years of his life. The farm is a living time capsule of the mid-1800s.

Heading west from the Almanzo Wilder Farm, one soon gets to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands. There is a lot to do in the Alexandria Bay area, but a great place to set up camp or just visit for the day is Wellesley Island State Park.

The Adirondacks are an outdoor lover’s playground and it’s where my family loves to spend time hiking, fishing and camping, but there are also some other great attractions in the mountains.

The Wild Center in Tupper Lake is a deep dive into the natural world through the use of adventure and interactive learning.

For history buffs, it really can’t get much better in New York State than Fort Ticonderoga, which was of vital importance during the French and Indian War and played an important role during the American Revolution.

Western New York

Letchworth State Park southeast of Buffalo is known as the Grand Canyon of the East and offers a huge range of learning activities. The park was recently named the best state park in the nation, which is quite an accolade.

When I asked my Western New York friends what attractions should be highlighted on the list, The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester was quickly mentioned by everyone. How could you go wrong with a museum devoted to play? But it isn’t just about play at The Strong. There is a butterfly garden, lots of exhibits and wide range of programming.

Another frequent mention was the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, which features historic motorcycles and automobiles, as well as our permanent exhibits include the history and legacy of Glenn H. Curtiss, the history of Hammondsport, wine making in the Finger Lakes and women in aviation.

Jake Palmateer is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. He is the father of an 8-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Their adventures include camping, hiking, metal detecting, painting, stargazing, reading, fishing, soccer, mowing the lawn and baking cupcakes.

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