Photo by: Shutterstock/littleny
New York City gets so much attention from people around the globe and rightfully so. However there are other parts of New York that provide gorgeous rural scenery and multitudes of outdoor activities just right for family fun.
From farm stays, hiking, skiing, lakes, and rafting to great restaurants, quaint towns, and historic villages the areas surrounding the mountains of the Adirondacks and the Catskills provide everything a family needs for either a short jaunt away or a longer stay.
Each area provides a charm all of its own. With farmlands, fishing holes, and rambling hills, nature is around every corner. The Catskills are closer to the city with remnants of the past, when tourism was at its heyday, made visible in some of the larger resorts that remain. The Adirondacks are located farther north with the storied history of two Olympic winter games held in Lake Placid but also magnificent lakes, unbridled forests, and many mountains to climb. The Adirondacks is the largest wilderness area in the East and is bigger than several national parks including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite COMBINED! There is a hike around every corner.
The Catskills are great to visit any time of year. Spring has maple sugaring, summer fishing and hiking; fall has glorious foliage; and winter offers up some great skiing. A recent visit brought us to the Hull-o Farm located in Durham. Hull-o Farm is an eighth generation farm that has run the gamut of dairy to beef to agri-tourism to keep the farm successful. Farmer Frank and Miss Sherry were super hospitable and introduced us to George, the farm manager, who entertained and educated the kids about farm chores AND let them partake.
From milking the cow and feeding the calves to collecting eggs and slopping the pigs, they did it all! After morning chores and a hearty breakfast cooked by Miss Sherry, we were free to explore the area or perform a few farm chores. We did a bit of both! We spent the morning moving bales of hay to storage on one day and then set off to explore on another. Nearby, we found a short hike to an amazing stream on a hot summer day based on Miss Sherry’s direction. We wiled away a few hours catching critters, snorkeling, and swimming. We returned back to the farm just in time for afternoon chores and dinner. Miss Sherry and Farmer Frank always had a fun activity planned for us after dinner. Whether it was s’mores at the fire with musical entertainment, a hayride, or fishing in the naturally stocked pond, we were thoroughly immersed in the experience.
Another choice location for a stay close to the ski mountains is Fisk House. Perfect for a large family, group outing, or family reunion, the quaint Fisk House has been meticulously renovated by a local antique dealer. Although this might sound a bit stuffy, the best word to describe it is authentic. We felt comfortable using the kitchen to make our tea and have a snack, and we relished the breakfast we were served in the morning prior to a day of skiing at Plattekill Mountain. The common room was a fun place to chat with other guests and play a game, keeping the kids off of their devices.
Activities in the Catskills
In addition to terrific hiking, skiing, and natural scenery especially at Kaaterskill falls, there was a decided cultural element to the Catskills. The drive past the Kaaterskill falls area in the winter was otherworldly. The curving road split the mountain range in two as we watched the cliffs covered in layers of ice rise up along either side of us. Funky restaurants and farm-to-table specialties were a big hit for us. At the Table on Ten in Bloomville, we gobbled up specialty pizzas with goat cheese and house-made sodas. It wasn’t much to look at on the outside, but inside we knew we were in for a tasty treat.
The rainbow-colored buildings of Tannersville are definitely an eyeful but also a place to get a belly full. The Krooked Café serves up a hearty portion for breakfast or lunch from an extensive menu. The walls are filled with pieces of art from locals undoubtedly some inspired by the glorious visions of the falls drive. The Catskill Mountain Foundation in Hunter has interesting local pieces and is worth a stop. The Piano Performance Museum across the street was a big hit for us as we have three blooming Beethoven’s. The curator brought us through the history of the piano from its inception to today’s pianos. The best part of the museum is that they allow visitors to actually touch the instruments. My youngest got to play a piano that was once owned by Liberace!
The swath of land encompassing the Adirondacks is gigantic. It covers many acres with natural beauty, attractions, and 2000 miles of hiking trails. Some areas like Lake George and Lake Placid are well-known and worthy of many repeat visits by vacationers. Other areas are less well-known but still filled with natural beauty and outdoor activities, arguably even more worthy to explore.
Lake Placid is a happening town. From the early morning hours as the sun rises over Mirror Lake in the Center of town and the runners strap on the sneakers to the late evening when music fills the air and people take to the streets to search the shops and fuel up at the restaurants, there is a heartbeat here. The hike at Cobble Hill allowed us to get away from the throngs of people and observe the town and beyond from an overlook on a rock outcrop. It was interesting to see it both up close and personal and from far away.
The myriad of shops and restaurants can certainly keep visitors busy as many walk up and down the streets poking in and out of storefronts. There is also a trolley bus that runs the distance should your feet tire. We stayed at the recently renovated Hotel North Woods right in the center of town with a fabulous view of Mirror Lake. Hotel North Woods also rents bikes for a leisurely ride around the lake.
Music fills the air when the sun goes down in Lake Placid. From outdoor free concerts at the shell on Mirror Lake to the entertaining cover singer at the Delta Blue restaurant which is part of the Hotel North Woods, we were immersed in all types of music. The manager of the Hotel North Woods has created an annual Blues Festival in Lake Placid as music is so much a part of the feel of the town.
Lake Placid Activities
Other than nearby shopping, hiking, paddle boarding and kayaking on Mirror Lake, there are other ways to spend some time in Lake Placid. As this quaint village was host to two winter Olympic Games there are nods to the Olympics all around. We stopped in to see the ice on which the Miracle on Ice happened in 1980 when Jim Craig, the U.S. goalie, victoriously skated around the rink with the U.S. flag draped over his shoulders. It is an indelible memory from my childhood and was a jumping off point for teaching the kids about the Cold War. While they were only moderately interested in that piece of U.S. history, they were rapt with attention watching young, Olympic hopefuls figure skate. The skaters were about their age and were practicing theirs axels and salchows as they trained with their coaches. It was difficult to drag them away.
We got them back outside to learn about the ecology and natural history of the Adirondack area with a visit to the Wild Center at nearby Tupper Lake. The recently opened Wild Walk which gives a raised bird’s eye view of the wild Adirondacks. Visitors of all ages can tour the accessible walk designed to bring them closer to nature and learn about the Adirondack area. The kids played on a giant web and sat in a replica of an Eagles nest which seemed unbelievably large. The Wild Center has exhibits detailing the natural history of the Adirondacks as well the flora and fauna abundant in the area. Watching the otters swim and creating a watercolor keepsake of the lake scene are some favorite activities here.
While Lake Placid and Lake George are well-known areas of the Adirondacks, there are other opportunities for family fun. A ride in a vintage car on the Saratoga/North Creek railway brought us to the funky village of North Creek. The railway stops at various locations along the track that has been in existence for years. As a matter of fact, Theodore Roosevelt learned he would be president at the station in North Creek back in 1901. The ride itself allows a peak at the natural beauty of the Adirondacks, but a ride in the top floor car with luxury seats, food service, and wider views is better. As soon as we got off the train we were met with the Gore Mountain shuttle. This free scheduled shuttle brought us to the base of Gore Mountain Ski area for some summer activity on the mountain. The kids jumped, climbed, and as a family, we rode the Gondola to the top for a hike and of course, enjoyed some ripening berries!
North Creek is a burgeoning area. There are cute shops and restaurants with a couple of outfitters for hiking and rafting when the water is released on the Hudson. Square Eddy Outfitters is the tops. We found our guide, Lori Phoebe, to be ‘real’ people. She was genuine, excited, and fun. She took us on a guided hike of newly acquired state land and taught us about the history of the area as well as showing us some natural plant remedies and artifacts. She even brought homemade snacks!
Home base for our stay was the Copperfield Inn. We enjoyed a quick breakfast in the lobby before heading out for the day. The desk clerk provided us with the game of Pictionary which made for some raucous fun coming from our room. She also recommended places to visit to get a sense of the history of the area.
North Creek Activities
A quick hike from the lot at the Siamese Ponds at Thirteenth Lake provided us with a beautiful lake with only 10 other people at the shore. The kids and Dad went snorkeling and looking for berries while I enjoyed my book in the quiet solitude of the beach.
Nearby we went to the Barton Garnet Mine. While mining for gems sounds exciting, it should be noted that the garnet mines are still in existence in this area and the garnets used are ground down to make everyday sandpaper. I can’t help but think the next time I use sandpaper it might have remnants of my work. The kids loved mining for the gems and actually got to keep those that they found. The part of the mine we were taken to is now defunct due to water coverage, but there are plenty of gems to be found. The kids kept thinking they were going to hit it big with the next pan after hearing a story of a man finding a gem quality garnet big enough to fund a boat. Luckily the management keeps all mining activities to a 1 hour time frame so we were able to shoo them away!
There is so much to do in the Mountain regions of the Adirondacks and Catskills. Village or rural, the mountain retreats of Upstate New York are a great place for a family getaway. At any season, you can find a place to hang your hat and enjoy the beauty of Upstate New York without the crowds.
Disclosure: Many thanks to Adworks and I Love New York Tourism who hosted us for the purpose of writing this article at several hotels and attractions throughout the Catskills and the Adirondacks. I was not required to provide any specific review and all opinions are my own.