Making a family excursion with kids has never been more fun. In fact, it’s likely to lead to fewer refrains of what many parents dread hearing most: “Are we there yet?” With so many petting zoos, parks, farms — some with pick-your-own fruit, vegetable, or flower options; museums and historic mansions; athletic facilities; and amusement parks — there’s something for almost any age group and price point. Many activities are free or available for minimal cost, and facilities often have cafes and restrooms right on their premises. Here, we outline eight great outings for different age groups taken from Let’s Take the Kids, the updated version of the beloved classic from former Hudson Valley Editor in Chief Joanne Michaels. You’ll find that many of the choices will appeal to parents, even without a child in tow. Just don’t tell the younger set.
Jumpin’ Jakes, Middletown & Fishkill
Open year-round. This is a great stop to let kids blow off steam after spending time in the car traveling. The inflatable play structures here give children the chance to climb walls, crawl through obstacles, bounce, and zoom down enormous slides. There are toddler zones, video games, music, and a light floor. Facilities: restrooms, snack bar.
360 Rte. 211 E., Middletown; 845-343-5867
982 Main St., Fishkill; 845-897-1744
2600 South Rd., Poughkeepsie (Poughkeepsie Plaza); 845-849-1075. www.jumpinjakes.net
Petting Zoo at Love Apple Farm, Ghent
This is truly a special place that kids will love. In addition to the petting zoo (children may feed the baby animals from bottles and cups of dried food), there are dozens of varieties of apples to pick in season — along with peas, strawberries, cherries, and peaches. The doughnuts and home-baked fruit pies are first-rate and are for sale at the beautiful market on the premises. There is also a tree forest playground where children will enjoy running around freely.
1421 Rte. 9H, Ghent 518-828-5048; www.loveapplefarm.com
The right spin: Valley critters and scenery adorn the carousel at Bear Mountain
Photograph by Kelly Marsh
Catskill Mountain Railroad, Mt. Pleasant
Take a 12-mile round-trip train ride along the scenic Esopus Creek through the heart of the Catskill Mountains. The trains operate on the tracks of the historic Ulster & Delaware Railroad. The train stops at the Empire State Railway Museum on High Street in Phoenicia, where riders can enjoy a guided tour. Special events include a September Teddy Bear Train Ride, and October brings a Haunted Halloween Ride. During the summer months, you can tube the Esopus and take the train back upriver. This is a wonderfully relaxing way to take in the countryside if you are traveling with children. Admission: children under the age of four ride free. Bus and group tours available by advanced reservation. Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, snack bar, gift shop, parking area.
Rte. 28, Mt. Pleasant. 845-688-7400; www.catskillmtnrailroad.com
Bear Mountain State Park, Bear Mountain
This huge park contains enough activities to fill a week of vacation time. Lovers of the outdoors will enjoy the hiking trails and views that are found around almost every turn. There are bike trails of varying lengths suitable for all ages, a swimming pool, and lakes — paddleboats and rowboats may be rented during the summer. Even the youngest children will love the zoo here, the beaver lodge, and the reptile house. Colorful birds and fuzzy mammals — in the form of bears, foxes, coyotes, and raccoons — cavort in their zoo homes; outside, the beavers busily chip away at trees and gambol in the waters near their winter lodge. In the reptile house, face-to-face encounters with snakes and lizards will thrill adventurers of all ages. It may take up to an hour to see the entire zoo complex; it’s a good idea to bring a stroller for very young children. At the Trailside Museum, special exhibits explain the natural and human history of the park and surrounding area. A pavilion constructed of stone and timber houses a carousel featuring 38 carved renditions of native animals and hand-painted scenes of the Hudson Valley. Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, gift shop. Strollers and wheelchairs can be used on the paved paths throughout the zoo and museum complex. Pets are allowed, if leashed, in all areas except the zoo. The Bear Mountain Inn in Highland Falls (845-786-2731) is in the process of being renovated. As of early January rooms were not yet available, but the cafe and gift shop are now open; call ahead to check.
Rte. 9W, off the Palisades Interstate Parkway, Bear Mountain. 845-786-2701; http://nysparks.com/parks/13/details.aspx
Illustration by Bob Daly
Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, Beacon
An evolving global center for research and education, this organization is dedicated to rivers, estuaries, and their connection to the world. The activities offered here will interest most children. The institute is housed in a couple of locations in the city. Building 1 (a visitors center), at Dennings Point along the waterfront, focuses on educational activities. The structure has solar panels, composting toilets, and a “green roof” filled with plants that act as natural insulation. Make sure to take a walk on one of the two short scenic trails. The Dennings Point State Park trail offers wonderful views of the Hudson and is an easy loop less than two miles in length. The Riverside Trail connects this area to the train station and is less than a one-mile walk. The main building will be a state-of-the-art environmental research facility with labs, conference rooms, and a center for advanced technology that will be under development in the future. There are other continually changing venues to explore as well. The Web site contains up-to-date information about the array of exciting exhibits and events taking place here, so it’s a good idea to check in advance and discover what will be happening when you visit Beacon. Free. Facilities: restrooms, picnic areas, bookstore (Main Street location).
199 Main St., Beacon 845-838-1600; www.thebeaconinstitute.org
Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park
This imposing Beaux Arts mansion used by Frederick Vanderbilt and his family as a spring and fall residence is a great example of Gilded Age living. The pathways on the grounds offer phenomenal views of the Hudson River; the property also has some of the most amazing trees you will see anywhere in the region and most children will be delighted seeing them. The restored formal Italian gardens feature a reflecting pool, terraces, and a pergola; there are three levels of annuals, perennials, and roses. Older children interested in American history would enjoy the house tour, but those traveling with younger children are advised to tour the grounds on their own. There is an excellent gift shop on the premises open free of charge and it has a terrific selection of regional books. The Music in the Parks programs held on the mansion grounds during some summer months is free and open to the public. Facilities: restrooms, gift shop, hiking trails. Stroller and wheelchair accessibility.
119 Vanderbilt Park Rd., Hyde Park. 845-229-7770; www.nps.gov/vama
Zipping along: Take an exhilarating ride on Hunter Mountain’s Zipline
Photograph courtesy of Zipline Adventure Tours
Hudson River Maritime Museum & Rondout Lighthouse, Kingston
For almost 200 years, the Hudson has been a major water highway linking Manhattan to Albany. One of the ports of call along the way was the Rondout Landing, once a bustling area of boatyards and rigging lofts that echoed with steam whistles and brass ships’ bells. But when shipping on the Hudson fell into decline, so did the fortunes of the Rondout. In 1980, the museum was opened and has since restored several riverside buildings and historic vessels; kids will enjoy seeing a working part of the Hudson’s legacy here. An exhibit hall features shows on maritime history. Outside there is a changing display of river vessels, including the 1899 steam tug Mathilda and the cruise boat Indy 7. Visitors to the landing have included the presidential yacht Sequoia and the sailing ships Clearwater and Woody Guthrie. Special weekend festivals are a great time to visit; they are usually held during the summer. The season opens in early May, and there is usually a harvest festival in October, with lots of local color and fun activities for children. Check the Web site for a complete schedule. Facilities: restrooms, gift ship.
50 Rondout Landing, at the foot of Broadway, Kingston. 845-338-0071; www.hrmm.org
Zipline Adventure Tours at Hunter Mountain, Hunter
This is the longest and highest zipline tour in North America and it opened at Hunter Mountain in 2010. Starting from the summit of Hunter, the most daring in the family can zip to seven platforms on over 10,000 feet of cable at 50 miles per hour. If this is too intense a recreational experience, there is an excellent alternative for the majority of families — the ecological canopy tour. Short zips, suspended walking bridges, and other wooden features to climb on and over are an exciting part of the tour that lasts over two hours. Afterward, kids can play on the 60-foot Adventure Tower filled with obstacles and fun climbs. This is definitely a unique attraction in the Catskills and will appeal to all ages. Facilities: restrooms, cafeteria, gift shop, snack bar.
Rte. 23, Hunter. 518-263-4388; or www.ziplinenewyork.com