Follow a switchback trail through high-altitude pitch pine barrens and enjoy stellar views on your way to the main attraction at Sam’s Point Area Ice Caves. In the twists and narrows of the chilly crags, snow can linger even in summer, so bring a jacket. Also be aware that the caves have ladders: kids and pooches might need a boost. A 2,000-acre wildfire in 2016 caused closure of some trails at this popular spot, but the main Ice Caves Trail and Loop Road remain open. Arrive early, especially on weekends: parking is limited! (400 Sam’s Point Rd., Cragsmoor; 845.647.7989; www.parks.ny.gov)
For a less strenuous adventure, head to tourist gem Howe Caverns (above), where tours of various lengths take you some 150 feet underground to take a Willy Wonka-style boat ride through a glorious dripping world of multicolored ancient limestone caves. (255 Discovery Dr., Howes Cave; 518.296.8900; www.howecaverns.com)
Walk Over Water
You don’t have to spend big bucks to have an awesome outdoor experience. Take a family-friendly hike over the 120-foot-long wooden suspension bridge at the small but charming Black Creek Preserve, where trails lead to the Hudson River shoreline and spectacular views, not to mention bald eagle activity. (Winding Brook Rd., Esopus; 845.454.9649; www.scenichudson.org/parks/blackcreek).
See the river from a different perspective at Walkway Over the Hudson, which at 1.28 miles is the world’s longest elevated pedestrian walkway. It connects Dutchess and Ulster counties and their rail trails for hikers and bikers. (Entrances in Poughkeepsie and Highland; 845.834.2867; www.walkway.org)
Hike the Best
Mohonk Preserve has so many heavenly hikes of varying lengths that you can surely find one to suit your mood. Locals love the Bonticou Crag Hike, a moderate, 3-mile roundtrip that rewards with valley views. Get the full scoop, including information on day passes, by visiting the preserve’s website (Visitor Center, 3197 State Rte. 55, Gardiner; 845.255.0919; www.mohonkpreserve.org).
At 260 feet, Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills (above) is often called the state’s tallest two-tier waterfall, and it is certainly the most famous, being one of America’s oldest tourist attractions and the subject of Hudson River School painters. Good news: The DEC has revamped the site with a new walkway and observation area to make the mostly vertical one-mile roundtrip easier to navigate. (Route 23A, Haines Falls; 518.357.2161; www.dec.ny.gov/lands)
Get the lay of the land by taking an aerial trek over the valley on Independent Helicopter Tours (below). The Hudson River, Bannerman Island, Mount Beacon, the Shawangunk Mountains, and West Point Military Academy look even more amazing from the air. You can always customize, too! (Stewart International Airport, 1032 1st St., Building 118, New Windsor; 518.796.4306; www.independenthelicopters.com).
Departing from Westchester Airport, Wings Air Helicopters will fly you over great estates, state parks, landmarks like Kykuit, the Tappan Zee Bridge, and even down to NYC. Especially recommended during fall foliage season. (Westchester County Airport, 136 Tower Rd., Harrison; 866.445.5434 toll-free or 914.202.3440; www.wingsair.net)
Ski It or Zip It
Two ski resorts double as challenging zipline courses. At Catamount Aerial Park (below) in Columbia County, 12 separate aerial forest challenge courses spread out over a 10-acre wooded setting near the base of the ski area offer varying degrees of difficulty. Some 170 tree platforms connect with cable, wood, rope, and zip lines to form bridges that test balance, agility, and arm strength. Tip: Head out in the fall, when changing leaves make the experience even more magical. (May through October; 3200 State Highway 23, Hillsdale; 518.325.3200; www.catamounttrees.com)
Across the river in Greene, NY Zipline at Hunter Mountain resort features the 600-foot-high twin zipline Skyrider, billed as the largest and longest (4.6 miles) canopy tour in North America, reaching 50-mile-per-hour speeds (there are also tamer options). Operates year-round, including at night! (64 Klein Ave., Hunter; 518.263.4388; www.ziplinenewyork.com)
Embrace H20 at Zoom Flume in the Catskills, and its recently unveiled Typhoon Twister mega-slide for an intense centrifugal experience. Don’t worry, it’s not all high-octane. There’s also a lazy river, wave pool, raft rides, and an interactive water play area for kids. (Open mid-June to Labor Day; 20 Shady Glen Rd.,
East Durham; 518.239.6271; www.zoomflume.com).
Despite billing itself as “America’s biggest little water park,” SplashDown Beach is actually growing, with the new Arctic Mammoth family raft attraction and the Water Whirler, a spinning bucket ride. We’ll always love the Monster Wave Pool. Cool reptile zoo, too! (Open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends; 16 Old Route 9W, Fishkill; 845.897.9600; www.splashdownbeach.com)
Explore Castle Ruins
In a glorious state of decay on Pollepel Island in the mighty Hudson, Bannerman Castle (below) was built by a Scottish immigrant who became a wealthy trader in surplus military ammunition and artillery. You can tour the storied spot several ways: walking tours through the Bannerman Castle Trust, via passenger boat, and through kayak tours. See the website for all the details and individual tour websites. www.bannermancastle.org
Tube It in Phoenicia
The New York Kayak and Canoe Club will keep you posted on reservoir water release dates, and also offers group outings (www.kccny.com).
Come summertime, the funky Ulster town of Phoenicia is overtaken by fun-seekers looking to take a 3- to 4-mile trek through Esopus whitewaters in tire inner tubes converted to flotation devices. Diehards look forward to Schoharie Reservoir release days, when you can ride frothy rapids to water depths reaching six feet. Town Tinker Tube Rentals (www.towntinker.com) offers all the gear rental and transport (below).
Play All Day
More than an amusement park, Playland (below) is a historic treasure and the only large-scale government-run park in the country. On the National Register of Historic Places, this Westchester classic on Long Island Sound dates from the 1920s and still has some of its original rides — including the wooden Dragon Coaster — plus contemporary thrill attractions like the gravity-defying Super Flight and the G-force scrambling Double Shot. (Open mid-May through Labor Day weekend; 1 Playland Pkwy., Rye; 914.813.7010; www.playlandpark.org).
For thrills for the smaller set, check out LEGOland Discovery Center at Ridge Hill and its brand-new 2,300 sq ft interactive play area, Ninjago City Adventure (39 Fitzgerald St., Yonkers; 866.243.0770; www.westchester.legolanddiscoverycenter.com) and Poughkidsie for creative play and crafts. (50 Springside Ave., Poughkeepsie; 845.243.3750; www.poughkidsie.com)
Go Beyond Rock Climbing
The Gunks (short for Shawangunks) in Ulster County has world-class climbing cliffs; try ice climbing in the winter for an extra thrill. Know before you go: take a class with Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. (3124 US-44, Gardiner; 845.255.3280; www.emsoutdoors.com)
In Putnam County, the Ice Pond Conservation Area, which was once a mecca of ice harvesting, is now a great place to go bouldering; it’s like rock climbing without the gear. (Ice Pond Rd., Patterson; 845.278.2808; www.pclt.net).