Family Vacation Ideas in Upstate New York

By Maria Magher
The Finger Lakes region offers water play and many outdoor activities for family fun.
The Finger Lakes region offers water play and many outdoor activities for family fun.

The Big Apple is often big enough to sate the appetites of many travelers spending time in New York. However, the state is much more than the home of one of the world's largest cities. Upstate New York, which encompasses the area north of the New York City metropolitan region, including central and northern New York, has a wide variety of attractions and activities available for families, from lake regions with outdoor activities and water play to historic areas with child-friendly museums and notable attractions.

Buffalo and Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is known for lovers, but it's also for families, too. Kids of all ages will be wowed by the famous falls, both on the American and the Canadian side of the border. The falls are so large that you can see both from the American side, and kids might get a thrill out of "international travel" if you tip toe across the border. Boats tours are available to get an up-close-and-personal look at the falls, such as the Maid of the Mist or the Cave of the Winds. Be prepared to get wet. Though the falls are the main attraction in this region, there are plenty of other activities for families to enjoy. The Buffalo Zoo, Botanical Gardens, the Aquarium of Niagara and Buffalo Museum of Science all give kids a chance to learn about wildlife and nature. The Explore and More Children's Museum lets kids explore their creativity through hands-on exhibits, and the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum lets kids ride an old-fashioned carousel while learning about the history of this amusement ride.

Catskills Mountains

The Catskills showed Baby's family a good time in "Dirty Dancing." While the idea of foxtrot lessons at a summer resort may not appeal to all, the Catskills has plenty of other activities and attractions to offer families. In the northeastern Catskills in Walton, Healing Waters Farm has a petting zoo, animal-themed amusement park, and exhibits with what kids will likely view as "exotic" animals, such as llamas and emus. The Delaware and Ulster Railride in Arkville gives families a ride through the Catskills on a historic train, and costumed actors "rob" the train during the "Great Train Robbery." In Mount Temper in the southeastern Catskills, families can find the world's largest kaleidoscope at the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope Theater. In Phoenicia, families can float down Esopus Creek on inner tubes during the summer months, giving kids a chance to enjoy some water fun while adults enjoy views of the mountains and relax.

Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes region gets its name from the series of long, finger-like lakes that are found there. The region is well-known for its wines, but kids also have plenty of opportunities for fun. Families can head to any of the lakes in the region for water play, boating, camping, fishing and other outdoor activities. In Lake Ontario, The Corning Museum of Glass gives kids a chance to learn how glass is made, including a live demonstration and an opportunity to make their own creations. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and the Science Center in Ithaca all give kids a chance to learn about animals and the natural world. Other top attractions include the Strong National Museum of Play, the Skaneateles Dickens Christmas celebration, and a 96-foot-tall waterfall in the High Falls Historic District.

Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs offers everything from horse racing to water sports. The Saratoga Racing Course gives families an opportunity to watch fast-paced horse racing. Afterward, families can take a walking tour of the stables, see a thoroughbred horse up-close-and-personal, and learn how jockeys prepare for big races. Over at Saratoga Spa State Park, families can choose from a number of recreational activities, including skating in the rink, hiking on one of the many miles of trails, or swimming in the pools. Several amusement parks are available, including Six Flags, as well as museums, farms and water parks.

About the Author

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.